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Make A Knife From A File

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by c10darren, Dec 1, 2011.

  1. c10darren


    Nov 30, 2011
    Hi everybody. I'm just a new guy here making my second post now.

    I am going to try making my own knife for bushcraft and general camping/survival use. I am going to start with a Nicholson 12" Mill Bastard file as my steel. My end goal is something similar to a Ray Mears Woodlore knife. I have been looking around and it seems there is a whole lot of really good info here about how to get started, but I do have a few questions...

    First, since I am making a knife from a file rather than a fresh piece of steel, is there anything in particular I should be concerned about? I think the biggest thing is that I have to anneal it and then grind the filing off. And I'm not entirely confident about how well that is gonna go. Anything else to worry about?

    Next, I'm trying to make my first knife (and the first few after this) out of recycled parts. I guess I have the blade figured out with a file, but what about the other parts? Does anyone know of a good place to find scrap wood for the handle? I was thinking about finding a company that installs wood floors and asking them if they had any small scrap. What about for rivets? I may just have to buy a copper rod and cut it to pin my knife together. Thoughts on supplies?

    I'm excited! This weekend, I am going to put together a grinding jig and I'll start the knife soon after that.

    Thanks for any advice you might be able to offer.

    Edit: Oh yeah, most of my guidance is from an article posted by Woodsmonkey and some articles/videos by Greenpete.
  2. mgysgthath


    Dec 15, 2009
    The biggest issue is not knowing what kind of steel it is made from, how much carbon etc and therefore not knowing how to properly anneal, normalize, harden, etc. A lot of decent knives have been made from files, but there's an element of luck if you don't know what steal it is. Have a look at this sticky, there's a lot of good information in it.

  3. grizzled gizzard

    grizzled gizzard Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 31, 2010
    Can one determine the file steel with a spark test or something?

    I've seen some cool looking blades made from files where they don't remove all the teeth from the file. Were I making a file knife, I would try it. WAY less finishing time.

  4. tryppyr

    tryppyr KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 5, 2010
    Would you like a piece of known steel and a block of wood (or a pair of scale sized pieces) to use for your first knife? I can hook you up for free. I'll bet someone else would be willing to help in other ways too.

    - Greg
  5. crimsonfalcon07


    Dec 27, 2010
    Nicholson files are 1095. I've made a few knives from those just via stock removal. No work with heating it at all. They keep a pretty decent edge, although it's HARD to grind them down. If you do it that way, you'll also have trouble drilling holes. I just ended up epoxing on my wood slabs and calling it good on a few of the ones I made for EDC. They do a reasonably good job of holding an edge, even chopping on wood. As for wood, what you had in mind should work fine. I buy mine at an exotic hardwood store, but if you're happy with the usual basic hardwoods, you can get slabs from hardwood makers. You may want to saw those scraps in half though to get a reasonable width.

    Other things to consider are using a sharpy to draw your blade on, and drawing a line down the middle of the edge to help keep your grinds where you want them.

    Check out some of the stickies on here for more helpful tips.
  6. Robert Dark

    Robert Dark KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 27, 2004
    Are you "REALLY SURE ABOUT THIS?" Can you direct me to your source of information?

    Not trying to be "picky", but I sure wish I knew for certain what they are made from. In addition, hasn't Nicholson moved much of their manufacturing "off-shore" (or at least out of the continental U.S.)

    Again, not trying to stir anyone's pot, but I would love to see a current MSDS.

  7. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket Moderator

    Apr 15, 2010
    Good luck with that ;)

    I've made several file knives, and will say this: it is possible, in fact pretty easy to make a knife from a Nicholson file that will take a very fine edge and hold it fairly well. The way to do it is to temper it back a bit and grind it while still hardened. 350F-450F degrees in a kitchen for two cycles of two hours each will bring the hardness down to a point where the file won't be so dang brittle, and will be a little easier to grind. Start at the low range, sharpen it and see if the edge seems "chippy". If it does, re-temper 50 degrees hotter.

    If you have the means to anneal and re-heat, and/or don't have a belt grinder and plan to shape the knife with hand-tools, just get you a bar of 1084 from the New Jersey Steel Baron and use that. 1084 makes excellent knives IF you don't need extreme edge-holding or high-corrosion-resistance, and can be HT'ed reliably with very basic equipment.
  8. HardedgeKnives

    HardedgeKnives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 1, 2010
    Anza Knives of the Southern California makes a lot of knives out of Nicholsen files. I hear good things from the people who work with and use them. There are a couple of YouTube videos on these. No I don't work for or even know the makers of Anza, I've only seen a few and talked with people how have them. I think the files are probably tempered back with a heat soak at somewhere between 450 to 500 degrees F but I'm only guessing. The thing I'm really intrigued with is there are no pins in the handles of these knives. The guy makes a lot of knives and has for many years and would have all kinds of complaints if they didn't stay on so what is he using to keep the handles from coming off over long periods of time? I reasonably sure that no hidden pins are used because there is more work to make a hidden pin knife vs a pin that runs all the way through.


  9. Robert Dark

    Robert Dark KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 27, 2004
    James, I have made "ump-teen" knives from Nicholson files over the past few years, and they have all been great blades. Sometimes, when someone posts that Nicholson files are made from 1095, I just have to question their source of information.

    I'm old and set in my ways.......... If you say they are made from 1095.......... show me some proof.

    As a side note, I love knives made from some of those old Nicholson files. They are "cuttin' fools" if they are heat treated right. I use one in my shop every day.



    Sep 19, 2011
    I get brass rod for handles at ace hardware or just use some old wire hangers, and for wood home depot has some craft wood that is like 12 feel long and a inch wide and 1/4'' thick red oak, or get some of the free samples from there and use them.
  11. J. Hoover

    J. Hoover KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jul 2, 2006
    I tried to find out what they were made from and the best I could ever come with was they may be 1095, W2, or W1 with or without a proprietary mix to ensure the best product for our cusomers.

    That being said I have made some good knives from nicholson files and like Robert use one in my shop all the time. It holds a tough sharp edge that has cut many sheath patterns.
  12. tryppyr

    tryppyr KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 5, 2010
    Why is it every time I offer someone free knife supplies they disappear forever? Is free knife material that scary?
  13. mgysgthath


    Dec 15, 2009
    I'm surprised they don't take you up on it tryppyr.. it's extremely generous ! A very nice thing to do.
  14. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket Moderator

    Apr 15, 2010
    I think we're on the same page, I'm cantankerous that way too. I do think it's fair to say that if you treat them like 1095 or W1/2, you will get good results.

    It occurs to me that Michael Morris also makes a lot of file knives, he has a very good series of videos on youtube.
  15. Darrin Sanders

    Darrin Sanders Knifemaker Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    May 6, 2009
    And I was even gonna offer to H/T it for him for free. I think its because a lot of people who know very little about knifemaking hear that an old file makes a good knife. An old file does make a decent knife but they don't realize how much more work is involved when compared to starting with a known piece of annealed steel. Nice of you to make the offer.
  16. Danbo

    Danbo Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 28, 1999
    Maybe it's cuz yer avatar pic doesn't look like mine! :D
  17. c10darren


    Nov 30, 2011
    I am very interested! Sorry about the delay. I've been busy with work. What exactly would you be willin to part with? I don't know what I might need exactly.
  18. tryppyr

    tryppyr KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 5, 2010
    I have quite a lot of Aldo's 1084 at the moment in two thicknesses... 1/4th inch and 1/8th inch... both are 1.25 inches wide. I'll cut you a piece to any length you want (up to 12 inches). As for the scales, assuming you want to make a full tang knife, I have some interesting stabilized wood that I have no use for... sort of a blue and yellow material. I think you'll like it, and you definitely don't need to process it in order for it to be useful. It's ready to be shaped, sanded and buffed as is. Much better than cast off flooring scrap. If you prefer hidden tang or some other type of wood, I have dozens of stabilized blocks that could be cut into scales, mostly burl, but some other types too (e.g. big pieces of oak). Or if you prefer unstabilized wood, I have some of that too... a piece of Lignum Vitae, perhaps... or some unstabilized oak. Your choice.

    Just let me know what you want and send me a PM or an email (tryppyr at comcast.net) with your mailing address and I'll get it out to you.

    - Greg
  19. mgysgthath


    Dec 15, 2009
    This should become a WIP for his first knife :)
  20. Darrin Sanders

    Darrin Sanders Knifemaker Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    May 6, 2009
    When you get ready send it to me and I'll heat treat it for you.

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