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I Forge Iron

Economical shop tools for a beginner knife maker (some past experience)

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As you may have seen a past thread I start I was asking about a forge. In this thread I'm asking about economical tools and machines needed to make knifes. From your experience as knife makers, what tools did you guys start your craft using and what will work best for a beginner knife maker with some past experience? Also to mention I don't have space in my workshop for any bulky equipment.


Mod edit: Do not post other people blades.....

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Other than the obvious (forge(s) hammers, and anvil) I use several different size and cuts of files and loads of sandpaper. On rare occasions I have used a bench grinder or angle grinder. I use a coping saw or band saw to rough cut the handle materials. I also use cheap permanent markers and pencils.

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I forgot to mention that one. I use one that's about as old as I am turned upside down clamped in a bench vise for rough shaping wood handles. I got mine for free otherwise I probably wouldn't have one. It's easy to get carried away with it so I'd suggest using higher grits to slow you down some.

If you decide to get one don't use it on metal unless it's designed for use on metal otherwise the grit can damage some important parts. I priced the bearing to go on the motor for another old belt sander I used to have and it was going to cost about $10 plus $15 shipping, needless to say I didn't fix that one. When the bearing when out the whole thing went to the trash (except for the brushes :) ).

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What built/collected when I started:

A Copy of the 50$ Knife Shop, A Arron Gough style file jig, A Bruce Bump style file guide, 1x30 Harbor Freight belt sander (get the warranty, it will fry.), Vise with soft jaws or "knifemakers vise", Electric Angle Grinder, Hack Saw (band saw if a option), West Systems G-Flex epoxy, Assortment of sand papers, Materials.. lots of materials.

This leaves out heat treatment equipment.  Heat treating is a big investment.  There are many places in the US that do heat treatment inexpensively that when I got into making knifes, if I did not already have a heat treat oven for other stuff, I would of just sent them out. If you want to HT your self, start with alloys that are more forgiving. For instance O-1 Tool steel is a common steel new folks go to but it requires a soak time at tempature that is difficult to obtain in a forge or with a torch. Steels like 1084 or 1075 would be a better choice.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have the cheapo Harbor Freight 1x30 belt grinder, and have had it for a year, and honestly, it is the most reliable bit of junk I have gotten from there. 

I have burned through probably 10+ angle grinders from there. but I am still on my original 1x30 belt grinder, for the cost, it was easily one of the best choices I ever made. 

Belts are cheap for it, but it takes some time to grind, and I second the Gough jig, I used one of those for a while, and it worked great, but BOY did it take some time to throw a bevel on a blade.


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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

When I first started in 2014, I was in a small 1.5 bedroom apartment in NJ, but I had yard access. This meant I could forge outside, but didn't have electricity.

That said, this is how I got started:

  • Books: I was suggested to get Goddard's $50 Knife Shop, which is by far one of the most useful and frustrating books I've read on the topic. There are some good ideas for tools in there, though, so it's worth checking out. The others I grabbed were mostly grabbed due to suggestions, but they really are mixed in my opinion.
  • Forge: Started with a modified version of Goddard's soft fire brick forge, then tried a home-made version of the Atlas forge (with burner). Got tired of the bricks falling apart (went through 6 firebricks due to experimenting and fragility), so caved and picked up a Diamondback within my first three months of smithing. Pricey (about $500 for what I got), but I love it.
  • Anvil: Another given, but I had a bit of a misadventure here. A local smith suggested I start with one from Harbor Freight, claiming that, as a beginner, I'll "ding it up anyway." Let's just say I now have a $50 blue doorstop.
    There are tons of alternatives, so you'll need to pick something. I ended up with a nice Budden thanks to a local smith that was selling it, and I've found a ton of railroad track anvils for low prices locally (getting one for the shop later).
  • General hand tools: I picked up my first hammer, files, and punches/chisels from Harbor Freight. Not great tools, but they are a good start at a low price. Tongs had to be ordered new (prices vary), but once I hit the local flea markets, my tool options opened up and I was finding many of the tools I needed for a few dollars each (my most expensive tool at a farmer's market was a $10 brass hammer; monkey wrenches, files, and the like were just a few dollars each).
  • Power tools: While most people would suggest a belt grinder (great tool, don't get me wrong), they do have a hefty price tag for a good one and take up a good bit of space. Instead, I was suggested to get an angle grinder.
    Granted, my first one was a battery powered Rigid (good tool, but batteries make it almost worthless), but I've been using one from Harbor Freight since January without issue. With the right setup, it's a versatile tool that's well worth getting, and with various types of wheels (polishing, flap, grinding, saw, wire, etc), it's a nice go-to machine. It will take some time to get used to, and I don't think it's as precise as a belt, but you can get away with a cheap angle grinder for a while.
    I also went with a cheap HF drill, again battery powered. It's not the best thing in the world, but with a full charge and the right bits, it's gone through metal. I've also used it as a low-cost buffing/wire wheel; not powerful, but it helps get the job done.
  • Heat Treat: Depending on what you are making, you can get away with anything that can hold your quenching solution and deal with heat, followed by an oven. My current setup uses a turkey fryer (snagged one for under $20) to heat up oil for quenching, and I use my oven for tempering. Not the best setup, but it's not high cost, either.


That covers my first basic setup. Over time, I added more tools (other hammers and tongs, guillotine hardy tool, other cutting tools, peens, etc), but it is a slow process unless you have a chunk of money and space to work with.

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