Woodworking: Making a carving knife


This tutorial shows how I made a chip carving knife from an old saw blade and and a birch dowel.

It follows my progress, step-by-step, through the following tasks:

  • Cutting out the knife blade
  • Filing the blade to shape it
  • Creating a handle from a 7/8 inch birch dowel
  • sharpening the blade
  • gluing the blade to the handle with a 2-part epoxy
  • finishing the wood handle


So here's a step by step record of my progress and process. Enjoy!

Cutting the knife blade

I had an old backsaw blade laying around that I used for this blade. It was originally from a Simonds backsaw that was made in the 1920s. The steel was hardened and straight. I figured if it was good enough for a saw that has lasted 100 years, it was good enough for my carving knife.

I marked the blade dimensions on the backsaw blade with a marker. These three blades will be 6 3/4 inches long by 1/2 inch wide.


I've found the best way to cut a high speed steel, hardened blade is with a rotary tool and a cut-off wheel. It takes a few passes but it works well. I make several shallow passes while cutting so the blade doesn't get too hot and ruin the temper and hardness.


The tip of the curved blade (at the bottom) heated a little too hot for my liking. It blued a bit as you can see. I didn't see it glow cherry red, so I'm hoping it didn't loose it's temper and hardness. It's only a little bit on the tip so if I find that it doesn't hold a edge I can always file it off and resharpen the slightly shorter blade.


The next step was to file the blade flat and smooth out the curve on the top of the blade. I used a regular metal file and a vise to do this. The marker line shows where the 5 inch handle ends and the 1 3/4 inch blade begins.


Making the handle

I used a nice hard birch dowel for the handle. I like the light color and hard, durable characteristics of birch (or beech) for tool handles.

First, I cut the dowel down the length to create a grove for the blade's full tang. It was a bit tricky finding a saw that cut the perfect thickness to match my new blade's thickness. I ended up using a Japanese razor saw. This cut a groove half the thickness that I needed. So I inserted an old razor saw blade into the existing groove and cut again right next to it. This doubled the thickness of the groove and my new blade fit perfectly into it.


Next, I began shaping the handle. I planed the sides flat to establish the handle's thickness.


I used the planed thickness as a reference point to shape, round, and curve the rest of the handle. I used my spoke shave, scrapers, and wrasps to do the rest of the work.

At this point I also clamped the blade to the edge of a oak board and filed the cutting edge into it. I put a marker line about 3/16th of an inch up the blade. I filed this area flat until I reached half the thickness of the blade. I turned the blade over and filed the bevel into the second side. A few turns and fine tuning and I had a pretty good cutting edge.


Next, I mixed a two-part epoxy and used a putty knife to push it into the groove in the handle. I used blue painter's tape to protect the wood on the handle. I also roughed up the tang of the blade with coarse sandpaper and a file. This was to help the epoxy stick to the blade and really lock it into the handle's groove.

Here's the knife glued up and curing.


Next I put several coats of finishing oil on the wood to give it a nice soft luster. I put three coats of wax over that and it was done. I also finished sharpening the cutting edge on a diamond sharpening stone. I found that the tip doesn't hold an edge as well as I'd like. So I'm going to file a 1/16th off and resharpen the tip.

Here's the final knife: