How to Make a Whittling Knife

Written by finn mccuhil
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Whittling on the front porch is as American as apple pie. Before television and the internet, sitting on the veranda and shaping a piece of wood with a knife was one of the most popular pastimes. You can transport yourself back to the good old days or inspire a friend or family member by giving yourself or them the gift of a homemade whittling knife. By making the knife yourself, you decide the shape of the blade and the fit of the handle.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wood stove or charcoal grill
  • Wood or charcoal for fuel
  • Long-reach pliers
  • Reciprocating saw blade
  • Insulated work gloves
  • Metal pan at least two inches deep
  • Sand
  • Metal file
  • Bench grinder
  • Safety glasses
  • Kitchen stove
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Water
  • Wet/Dry sandpaper (400 grit)
  • Epoxy glue
  • Disposable glue brush
  • 2 pieces of hardwood, ½" x 1" x 4"
  • Small woodworking clamps

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  1. 1

    Start a fire in the stove or grill. Allow the fire to burn until you build up a bed of coals at least three inches deep.

  2. 2

    Use long-reach pliers to place the saw blade into the coal bed. Leave the blade in the coals until it turns red.

  3. 3

    Fill the metal pan with sand to a depth of about one inch. The blade will be extremely hot when removed from the coals. The sand will allow the blade to cool slowly without damaging the surface below the pan.

  4. 4

    Put on insulated gloves and remove blade from coals with long-reach pliers.

  5. 5

    Place the saw blade in the metal pan on top of sand and allow it to cool to room temperature. This will anneal, or soften, the blade sufficiently to shape it with a bench grinder or file.

  6. 6

    Shape the blade with a bench grinder or a metal file. The shape of the knife blade is up to you. Keep in mind you will need at least four inches of metal left for the tang, or handle, of your knife.

  7. 7

    After shaping, use the grinder or a file to put a 30-degree bevel on both sides of the cutting edge on the blade.

  1. 1

    Place the blade back into the bed of coals. Leave it in the coals until it turns red again.

  2. 2

    Fill the five-gallon bucket with water to within six inches of the top.

  3. 3

    Remove the blade from the coals and place it immediately into the bucket of water. Allow the blade to cool to room temperature.

  4. 4

    Preheat your oven to 204 degrees C. Place the blade on the centre rack in the oven and allow it to heat for one hour.

  5. 5

    Turn the oven off and leave the blade in the oven until the inside of the oven returns to room temperature.

  1. 1

    Remove the blade from the oven and polish with 400-grit sandpaper.

  2. 2

    Trim your wooden handle blanks to size and shape.

  3. 3

    Brush epoxy onto both sides of the tang and on the inside of the handle blanks. Clamp the handles in position and allow the epoxy to dry for 24 hours.

  4. 4

    Sharpen knife and start whittling.

Tips and warnings

  • The process of annealing and tempering the blade is important. Do not skip any steps or rush the cooling process.
  • The blade blank will be extremely hot during most of this process. Use caution when removing the blade from coals.
  • Always wear safety glasses while grinding, filing or sanding.

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