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Handcrafted blade handle Handcrafted blade handle

Bladesmithing for Beginners

Have you long been fascinated by the blades represented throughout our history, fantasy blades in blockbusters like Lord of the Rings, or the process of bladesmithing in reality shows like Forged In Fire? Are you an adventurer or worker constantly using knives made by other people and thought to yourselves, I can do this!?!? Look no further, this article will breakdown the basics like “What is Bladesmithing?,” outline the basic bladesmithing tools necessary, and help guide you in your journey to becoming a bladesmith.




So You Want To Be a Bladesmith?

Merriam-Webster defines “Bladesmith” as a cutler who makes blades. You may be familiar with the term blacksmith, which is a smith who forges iron. The subtle difference is the specialization of working on steel used to cut, strike, or chop in the form of a blade. This will also serve as a reference for knife making for beginners, which is a subset to the larger category of blades ranging from axes to swords.

What Are the Modern Duties of a Bladesmith?

  • Purchasing materials for blade, handle, sheath, and any other needs of your customer
  • Sketching your blade design to serve specific function
  • Complex metal forming, shaping, & forging of blades
  • Grind blades to have professional finish, ideal sharpness, and high-quality end product
  • Administrative work such as communication through email, networking, and social media
  • Knowledge of leatherworking, woodworking, sewing, to craft handles, embellishments, and sheaths



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Understanding Bladesmithing Fundementals

Now that we covered what a bladesmith is in the simplest terms, lets dive into the fundamentals of bladesmithing and what you would need to master to become a modern bladesmith. First let’s discuss the two major bladesmithing methods: Stock Removal vs. Forging.

Two knives in hand and a third knife resting on scrap metal Two knives in hand and a third knife resting on scrap metal

What Is Stock Removal?

Stock removal refers to the removal of metal stock from your blade using saws, grinders, and sanders. A typical stock removal blade starts with a sketch that is cut out of your blade material, then shaping it with a belt sander, beveling, heat treat / reheat / temper, and then finalize through beveling and sharpening. Some prefer this method over forging as it allows you to create standard blade shapes faster.

Pros:

  • Easier to get started with as a beginner
  • Easily replicate CAD designs / drawings
  • Less equipment necessary

Cons:

  • Pollutes with debris (Can be reused for Canister Damascus)
  • Requires patience for more intricate designs
  • Requires flat stock material

Blacksmith hammering a piece of steel Blacksmith hammering a piece of steel

What Is Forging?

Unlike stock removal, where the blade is primarily formed through removing materials, forging uses extreme heat and pressure to form the finished blade. This could range from heating metal over a coal/charcoal forge to modern day gas-powered temperature-controlled forges. This process involves heating material, shaping/flattening on an anvil with your hammer, normalizing / quenching until desired results are achieved, and sharpening into your final product.

Pros:

  • Can form your blade from different shaped materials
  • Easier to accomplish more intricate designs
  • Less debris and pollution

Cons:

  • Harder to master
  • More equipment required than stock removal
  • Certain steels can be more difficult to forge



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Illustration of a variety of knives Illustration of a variety of knives

Blade Design and Sketching

This process cannot be overlooked if you are seeking to be a bladesmith. The best bladesmiths have a basic philosophy for how they design blades, and we really fell in love with this video by swordsmith Walter Sorrell in which he lays out 10 pro tips for blade design. We’ve outlined a shortened text version below to get you started.

Start With Function

Most bladesmiths get started creating blades for a particular use whether it be hunting, camping, cooking, or many more end uses. We recommend doing initial research and getting your hands on similar use knives and testing them out for features you like or features you feel can be improved upon.




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Material Mastery

To master bladesmithing, you must also master the material you are working with. With so many uses for blades and ways to achieve them, there are a few constants you need to grasp. This section will serve as a high-level introduction to heat treating your blade and applying different finishes.

Steel bar being heated in a forge Steel bar being heated in a forge

Heat Treating Your Blade

While extremely scientific and complex, heat treating is simply a process that helps harden your blade steel to reach specific properties. This requires three main steps:

  • Normalizing your material by reaching a specific temperature in your heat source
  • Quenching with oil to slowly cool the blade and control any changes to the blade's makeup
  • Tempering with your heat source to soften the steel and relieve built-up stress in the material
freshly made Curt Haaland knife in the palm of curts hand freshly made Curt Haaland knife in the palm curts hand

Different Blade Finish Types

After properly strengthening your blade, applying a coating or surface finish can help separate it from the pack aesthetically. Aside from making a great looking blade, coating and finishing a blade can help prevent corrosion, scratching, shine, as well as drag in some instances. While there are several different options, let’s go over 5 of the most popular methods:




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Handle Construction Basics

As mentioned in the prior section, blade design needs to consider both the blade itself and how you intend to handle it. Both aspects deserve dedicated time to master and require skills outside of metalworking. If you would like to learn more about handles and the basics, we have crafted an article dedicated that that specific topic.

Read More About Handle Construction



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Blacksmithing hammer resting on anvil Blacksmithing hammer resting on anvil

Bladesmithing Tools To Get You Started

It is easy to overinvest in bladesmithing as a beginner by adding flashy professional grade tools that are above the minimum requirement to get started. To save you some money and grief, we have curated a list of essentials with the help of professional bladesmiths to keep you under the $1,000 mark. This is the best way to give yourself a 6-month trial period to see if making knives is something you genuinely enjoy.

The first 5 investments should be:

To ensure a safe learning experience, we also recommend these products:




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Bladesmithing master assisting a student Bladesmithing master assisting a student

Paths to Becoming a Full-Time Bladesmith

While there is no single path to becoming a successful bladesmith, we generally find that graduating high school is the minimum requirement and the rest is up to you!

Let’s layout your options starting from there:

  • Head to the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) and investigate their approved course selection.
  • Seek out an Apprenticeship with a professional bladesmith
  • Find bladesmithing courses near you:

Continue learning through a collection of highly recommended books:


We hope you have found this resource useful as you begin your journey into bladesmithing. This is a very high level overview, and as such we know there are sections and aspects we can dive deeper into so don’t hesitate to reach out through the phone (888) 527-3331, our onsite chat, or email us at [email protected] with suggestions or recommendations.



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