What’s On Your Workbench: Steel

Every custom knife designer started somewhere, their designs were not always perfect.  Creating the perfect knife takes time and effort.  It’s a hobby that takes a lot of work.  But, for the determined knife guy, it can be a hobby that pays off in a big way.  So what are you working on?  What’s on your workbench right now?
One of the hardest parts of any project, not just knives, is getting started.  Finding that motivation to get up and create something.  The world of custom knives can be a daunting one.  With so many different designs and options, the task can seem overwhelming.  How do you find the inspiration you need to get something going?
First and foremost, you have to design your knife.  You can’t go in just “winging it”.  Ask any custom knife maker.  Before they even approach their work bench, they start by designing something.  So grab a blank piece of paper and begin sketching, drawing and doodling.  Create a plethora of different knife designs.  Give yourself options to work with.  Once you have decided on a design, play with it a little.  Can it be improved?  Can you add something more to it?  Does something need to be removed?  Don’t be afraid to really create something.  Don’t re-invent the wheel, but definitely find something unique to you.
One of the biggest questions when starting is “Which steel should I use?”  This can be a very difficult decision, and it will definitely affect your overall finished product.  So how does one go about deciding on the perfect steel to start with?
If you are just beginning your venture into the world of knife making, you are going to want a type of steel that is, at least, a little forgiving.  Something that, if you make a mistake, can easily be fixed.  Tool steel is a very popular steel for custom knife makers.  There are several different variations of tool steel out there, giving you more than enough options to work with.  Most would suggest beginning with a 01 tool steel.  It has about 1% carbon and small amounts of chromium and tungsten.  This is one of the “easier” steels to work with, for the beginner knife maker.
SPARROWS POINT, BALTIMORE, MD--APRIL 24, 2003--This is a detail from a huge pile of raw materials that are added into the steel-making process at Bethlehem Steel. This is for a story about the rise and fall of Bethlehem Steel Corp. The company will change hands in late April/early May as part of a $1.5 billlion sale to International Steel Group Inc. (ISG) Its steel mills, including the Sparrows Pint complex in baltimore County, will continue to operate. Digital image #0166 by Algerina Perna/staff MD Beth Obit U Perna.
Next you have D2 tool steel.  This steel contains about 1.5% carbon, while also adding chromium and molybdenum.  This steel has a significant resistance to resistance and water corrosion, when compared to the 01 tool steel.
440C Tool steel is one of the more popular steels for pocket knives.  It is a stain resistant steel, great for knives that are not used as often.
154CM Tool steel is a on the higher end of tool steels.  The experienced knife maker would be better off with this steel, while beginning knife makers would find it difficult to work with, at least until you become more comfortable and experienced.  This is an exceptionally strong steel.  The corrosion resistance is top of the line.
Choosing the right steel for you can be tricky.  Make sure to do some research so you know the steel you are choosing is the perfect one for you.
Hopefully this gives you some idea as to what is needed to get started creating your knife.  Next month we will be going over the best ways to cut your steel, how to temper, but for now, just make sure you are choosing the right steel.
While we are on the topic of custom knife designers, make sure to help out one of our favorite designers, Lucas Burnley with Burnley Knives.  He currently has a Kickstarter for his new “Sling Pop”.  Head over to this site and show him some support.
We want to see what’s on your workbench.  Send us pictures or comments so we can see what custom knife you are working on.  Or, if you have any tips or tricks for the beginners out there, feel free to post them in the comments below.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and start making something!

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