You don’t need a forge to make a knife.

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Larry Schwartz

Agood friend of mine, Paul Kish, men­tioned that the next step in his jour­ney to learn­ing black­smithing was to make a knife from a file. I knew this would be some­thing Amer­i­can Sur­vival Guide read­ers would find in­ter­est­ing, and he agreed. So, with Paul’s per­mis­sion and his able as­sis­tance, here is how he went through the process.

This Celtic dag­ger is the first knife he has at­tempted on his jour­ney into black­smithing.

It’s crafted us­ing only a 1-inch belt san­der and a Dremel-type grind­ing tool. No forg­ing, an­neal­ing or hard­en­ing was needed for this project.

What fol­lows are the six ba­sic steps Paul used to turn the file into a nice, Celtic-style dag­ger.


Step 1: Pick the Right File

Paul started this project with a vin­tage Bell Sys­tems axe-sharp­en­ing file, but any file will work—as long as it is a flat file with a wide han­dle. The type of teeth on the file doesn’t mat­ter ei­ther, be­cause you are go­ing to grind them off. He de­cided on this one, be­cause the full han­dle makes for a nice, wide tang. A file with a rat­tail han­dle, one that nar­rows, will also work, but it will be harder to fit to the scales of the knife han­dle.

An­other rea­son Paul chose this file is be­cause it was an older file. He had heard that modern files are of­ten only hard­ened on the out­side, so be care­ful. If the sparks com­ing off the file change as you go deeper into the metal, you are prob­a­bly hit­ting soft metal.

Step 2: Smooth and Shape Your File

Once you have se­lected your file, it is time to put on your pro­tec­tive gear and get to work. At­tach your ground­ing strap to some­thing metal—and to your­self. Paul didn’t use one at first and got shocks in his hands about three sec­onds apart the en­tire time. It’s gen­er­ally not es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous, but it got old re­ally fast.

Us­ing the 1-inch belt san­der, be­gin re­mov­ing metal to make the rec­tan­gu­lar file into a pointed blade. You can do this by eye; al­ter­na­tively, if you want a spe­cific shape to the blade, you will want to mark the out­line with a pen­cil or felt-tip marker.

Once you have the shape you are look­ing for, you can work on grind­ing off the file teeth. The file is hard­ened steel, so this will take awhile. Be pa­tient, be­cause rush­ing your work can re­sult in an un­even thick­ness to your blade.

With the teeth re­moved, you can now start curv­ing the flat down to make the cut­ting edge.



Take care shap­ing the cut­ting edges. You want to get them close to sharp­ened, but don’t go too far. Bet­ter to leave a flat “edge” of 1/8 inch that you can sharpen by hand later rather than tak­ing off too much and then hav­ing an odd-shaped blade.

Step 3: The Tang and Guard

Paul wanted to put a brass guard on the knife, so he pur­chased some solid brass line cleats from a lo­cal boat store.

To make the slot in the cleats for the knife’s tang to go through, you will need to re­move the brass be­tween the screw holes. The best way to do this is to use a round- or tri­an­gu­lar-shaped file. Start in one hole and work your way across

to the other hole. A line drawn be­tween the two holes will help you get a straight slot in­stead of a curved or wavy one. Go slowly with this, be­cause you don’t want to re­move too much metal. If you make the open­ing too large, the guard might not fit snug­gly.

Once you have your slot in the guard, start grind­ing the tang so it will fit into the slot you cut in the guard. Paul got the guard to slide just over the base of the blade.

If you don’t like the size of the cleat/guard, grind it down to the look you want. Brass is very soft, so go care­fully here. Use a fine-grit belt to pol­ish it up.

If the guard moves around against the blade too much, you can still con­tinue to the acid-etch­ing step; just se­cure the guard with J-B Kwik­weld when you at­tach it to the han­dle later on.

Step 4: Acid-etch­ing Your De­sign

It is time to ap­ply your de­sign to the blade.

Put your de­sign on pa­per. Paul chose a style of Celtic braid so it could fol­low the blade. You will need to trans­fer or free­hand it. Reg­u­lar pen­cil will show up on the metal and is the eas­i­est way to ap­ply the de­sign.

Use a metal­lic Sharpie to ap­ply the im­age to one side of the blade, and then put the mir­ror im­age on the re­verse side. Paint the parts you want to stay shiny with the Sharpie. Cover the blade edges and tang with elec­tri­cal tape so they do not get etched by the acid bath. Be­cause the metal­lic Sharpie and elec­tri­cal tape block the acid from reach­ing the metal, you are ba­si­cally cre­at­ing a neg­a­tive im­age of the fin­ished de­sign.

Next, put on your eye pro­tec­tion and Nitrile gloves. In a well-ven­ti­lated area, pour one part muri­atic acid (e.g., 1 pint) into a plas­tic con­tainer (Paul used a plas­tic paint roller tray). Then, add two parts (2 pints—which equals 1 quart) hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide to the muri­atic acid. Don’t add the acid to the per­ox­ide, be­cause it will bub­ble up and splash acid.

Care­fully place the blade into the bath.

The longer you leave it, the more de­fined the etch­ing will be. Paul left his knife in for around three hours.

Once it’s done, rinse the knife thor­oughly to re­move all the etch­ing solution. Use 300-grit wet-dry sand­pa­per (un­der wa­ter) to gen­tly re­move any re­main­ing metal­lic marker.

A note on the block­ing ma­te­rial: The metal in the metal­lic Sharpie will be eaten by the acid, leav­ing a “weath­ered” or “an­cient”-look­ing patina. For cleaner, more pro­nounced lines, fin­ger­nail pol­ish and re­mover work very well.

Step 5: Han­dle and Scab­bard

Paul chose wal­nut for his knife han­dle, be­cause he liked the nat­u­ral color when wet.

Cut your wood or other han­dle ma­te­rial into suit­able sizes for the han­dle and scab­bard. Trace out your tang with the guard in place; do the same with the blade with­out the guard.

You will need to sand a spot for the guard to sit in later.

Start grind­ing the wood away un­til you get to half the thick­ness of the tang for the han­dle. You will want it to be a lit­tle more than half the thick­ness of the blade for the scab­bard. Test-fit them of­ten un­til the two pieces of wood meet with­out gaps.

The scab­bard should al­low the blade to be drawn and in­serted smoothly. Make sure there is ex­tra room for the point to go into, be­cause you will still need to sand things down.

Once your fit is good, fit the guard to the blade, fill both sides of the han­dle with epoxy, and clamp tightly, with the blade end point­ing up. If you have it point­ing blade down, the epoxy will run out of the han­dle and all over the blade. If there is space be­tween the guard and blade, fill it with a lit­tle J-B Kwik­weld.

A note of in­ter­est for those who want to make a knife they will ac­tu­ally use as a cut­ting tool: As de­scribed, this dag­ger is suit­able for dec­o­ra­tive use, such as cos­tumes or wall dis­plays. If you only at­tach the han­dle to the tang with epoxy,

the han­dle might come off in hard use. If you in­tend to use it hard, drill two or three holes through one han­dle scale, through the tang and out the other han­dle scale. Then, fix pins in the holes you just made and sand them flush.

For the scab­bard, put a thin line of epoxy on the mat­ing sur­faces and clamp them, point end up, un­til set. You don’t want epoxy set­ting up on the in­side, be­cause this will block the blade. Once the epoxy is set, sand the wood to the shape you want. On the scab­bard, sand, carve or grind notches for the guard to set­tle into. Use pro­gres­sively finer grit to smooth things out.

Step 6: De­tail­ing and Fin­ish­ing

Now that you have the blade, han­dle and scab­bard com­pleted, it’s time to add some em­bel­lish­ments to your dag­ger. Paul used 4mm leather strip­ping and an old dirk frog (ba­si­cally just a leather loop) to dress it up. You can do what­ever you want: For in­stance, carve a pat­tern into the wood, stain it a dif­fer­ent color, em­bed real or syn­thetic gem­stones in the han­dle and scab­bard, or in­lay it with sil­ver or gold wire. Once it’s to your lik­ing, fin­ish it with polyurethane to pro­tect it and keep all the leather se­cure.

Your dag­ger is done. If your file was made from good steel that is hard enough to take an edge but not so hard that it is brit­tle, you should be able to sharpen it to a pretty fine edge, if you are so in­clined. If the qual­ity of the steel isn’t that good, you will still be able to put an edge on it, but it might be best for cer­e­mo­nial or cos­tume use.

One fi­nal—but im­por­tant—note: Re­mem­ber to check your lo­cal laws re­gard­ing the length of knives you can carry with you.


Right: There are many types of Celtic de­signs to choose from. This one is more in­tri­cate than Paul’s and is bet­ter suited for wider blades.

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