So I’ve been slowly rebuilding my set of carving tools that disappeared when we moved.
I found a dremel-style rotary tool at a ridiculously low price at Harbour Freight, and an X-acto knock-off set, along with a set of needle files, on the clearance aisle at Walmart for a dollar each. But what I was still missing my good carving tools.
The rotary tool works great for most projects, but sometimes you simply need a knife. The not-really-X-acto set works okay for a lot of it, but the blades wear out fast, and replacing them was going to quickly add up to more money than I want to put out for tools that only work “okay.” So, I needed knives.
There’s the rub; I’m too cheap to pay for the high-end commercial knives, and too picky to settle for the cheaper ones. The solution: make my own.
I started by researching, naturally, and decided that stock removal was the way to go. And since the whole point was to avoid a massive layout of cash, I needed steel that I didn’t have to have heat-treated. The solution? Use a knife to make a knife. In this case, I used a stainless steel table knife, more commonly known as a butter knife.
I found an Instructable that fit the bill, and set out to make my own. I chose a simple design that I’m familiar with, and got to work.
Here’s the result:
Start by choosing a butter knife with a minimalist design to the handle; this will make attaching handle scales or cord wrapping much easier. I found mine at the local big chain mart at $0.98 for a four-pack. Give the blade a quick flex to make sure it springs back into line; if it does, then it will work just fine.
To prevent marking the blade and make cutting easier, next time I’ll cover the blade in masking tape, a step I skipped in my impatience. This should make laying out your design much easier, as well.
I used the rotary tool and a heavy-duty cutoff wheel to cut the blade shape and establish the edge. Care must be taken not to overheat the steel, so I doused it regularly with water. This had the extra benefit of keeping the majority of the steel dust out of the air. Obviously a bench grinder or belt sander would make the whole process easier, but the point was to make do with what I had.
After that, I roughed up the handle of the butter knife with some sandpaper, and attached the wood scales, which are simply craft sticks I found around the house, using contact cement. Since a bottle of this stuff costs around $4, and I’ve never actually known anyone who went through an entire bottle, the cost of the tiny amount of glue needed was negligible, much less than 1 cent. The handles could be just as easily any piece of scrap wood you have lying around.
Those familiar with Japanese knives might recognize the shape as a kiridashi, a common utility knife. The X-acto knife is simply a disposable-bladed kiridashi. Unlike traditional kiridashi, however, I went with a double-bevel edge grind for greater utility.
Once the edge was established, a few minutes on a diamond sharpening stone (use the sharpening system of your choice, however) had it slicing paper-thin curls of wood from a test block. I plan on doing more of these, in different blade profiles. I’ll update this post with those results. I’ll also update when I see how long the edge lasts before needing sharpening again.
Survivalists/hikers/campers might find a few of these to be a useful afternoon project. Are they top of the line? No. Will they perform on par with even an entry-level bush or field knife? Probably not. But at $0.25 each, they could definitely prove useful for a myriad of small tasks, and allow you to preserve the edge on your “good” knife for more important things.