Custom Survival Daggers- Design, Process and Finished pictures.

Kailash Blades

Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Nov 21, 2015
While we're not currently taking any new full customs we thought it would be nice to share what goes into some of these projects as we work through our backlog.
Today we're going to be having a look at some very unique survival daggers! Going into this, please note that this was a very complex and involved custom process with a large budget to match. If you were to commission a blade from us, this level of effort may not apply to smaller commissions for lower amount of blades, cheaper blades or briefs that are just plain less interesting.

We were approached last year by a longtime customer of ours for this commission. We made our assassins creed spear for previously so he was no stranger to long wait times, and more involved, pricier builds. He came to us with a solid idea of what he wanted- a 12-13"dagger that would be sturdy enough to rely on in the woods but with a focus on fighting. He wanted runes engraved and sent us a fantasy Goddess Athame dagger and a simple almost industrial shortsword from Sabersmith for reference. Oh and he wanted 5 of them. This works well for us as it helps justify the costs and effort of high effort design work and lets us spread those costs over multiple blades.


After some tossing and turning on details and if the blade needed full tang or not, how beefy the build needed to be for the tasks at hand (hunting, camp tasks, defence against beasts of for or two legs) we got to discussing the group of people who would be using the knives. Modern elements were welcomed into the field as well as the heritage of the different party members to match the non negotiable runes.
Here's my first sketch, along with my description and rationale at time of sending.


"I've really enjoyed this brief- it's quite broad and and has a lot of design freedom while still having a lot of structure through the mixed backgrounds of your group.
I started by lining up a bunch of key features from blades of each culture, then mixed and matched them in a cohesive and functional way. A fighitng blade that's still sturdy enough for bushcraft and camp tasks screams a celtic dagger for me. The tip is strong and can pierce very well but it also has a sturdy spine for batoning and splitting. The five lobed viking pommel is a beautiful and effective way to bring viking design elements in- we can also do five dots/lobes for each member of your group. The african is a little harder to integrate- though there a lot of daggers of similar form from africa. I went with choosing an african dagger's handle shape as it has a great way of acting as a guard without breaking the lines of the dagger too much. I've also included some figure eight wire wrapping that can be found on african blades to bring a bit more of that culture into it. This is just a rough sketch and isn't to scale currently. plenty to be changed on it and I'm happy to start up a fresh sketch if this isn't what you're thinking.
Dirk Reference:
Viking pommel reference:
African dagger reference:"

The customer then got back to us saying he as excited, that he'd like to see some more guard options and that he'd like to change the runes to say family as a unifying gesture between the members of his group.

"I've redrawn the dirk concept with a viking style guard as well as some african holes in the blade.


Hole reference:
Guard reference:

I also cooked up two alternate designs that utilise different blade lengths etc


SEAX: a bit of a simpler and cleaner option that utilised the asymmetry of the different blade forms to produce something a bit more modern and utilitatatian looking. Not to scale but could easily stab and carve or even chop when sliding back on the handle knob. I've also included a small amount of belly for surface work, just enough to save the point from excess wear.

Blade reference:
Guard reference:
Handle reference: Bottom left

LEAF BLADE: A heavier hitting option which takes african blade shapes and aims for a smatchet style combat chopper/dagger type role. very not to scale but an interesting and very different take on the same brief.

Guard reference:
Handle reference:
Blade reference: sword handle&ved=0CH8QMyifAWoXChMIuKf065Kw8AIVAAAAAB0AAAAAEDg"
Last edited:
At this point we locked onto the general dirk design and started to hone in specs, materials and features with it in mind. I brought up the cord wrap and it took a bit of discussion to settle on it- it's something that's new for our team as well so the hesitance is expected. At this stage the blade is not completely to scale- typically my designs start with broad distinct designs that emphasise character, features and utility of the blade then go through a second pass to refine it down for ergonomics, edge utility, balance, integration of discussed specification and general visual polish. Note that I sometimes use paper overlays to isolate alterations to specific parts of the blade. This helps with visual communication and reduces the time needed to redo entire sketches. I'm always working on paper at full scale at this point to ensure the ergonomics and profile are valid.

Here's some sketches from this stage of the process.

"I've redrawn your blade to a more exacting scale while keeping its utility as a fighter and camp survival blade in mind. The blade has gotten a touch more slender with a sharper tip and the blade has been proportioned with balance in mind. The blade will have a bit of heft to it but it'll be concentrated near the handle, which paired with the guard will make for a large amount of tip control for fighting and carving when choked up as far as possible. With the longer handle if you choke back to the pommel you'll then have the guard and thick part of the blade in front of your hand, making for meaty chops and slashes. A key point here is the back pommel. I have a feeling that the cast brass guard we had in mind previously will offer too much counterweight at the end of what's already a very long handle. In this drawing I've finalised a form for it which could be either cast or carved directly into the underlying micarta if needed to keep the balance ideal and preserve the intent of the ornamentaiton. If this appeals to you we could potentially pick an underlying micarta colour for contrast- it won't look very historical though. we can also shorten the handle so it has less leverage but I like the concept of the longer handle on this dagger for the utility reasons mentioned previously.


As an alternative here's a pommel redesign that keeps the necessary flare for retention but continues the wrap around the whole pommel. This will cut weight at the rear significantly and we can relocate some viking flavour onto the now wider guard- the five dots, some engraving or even the lobed shape as seen in this blade here.


I've also attached two tip variations. The first shows what it would look like with a tip grind line that bisects the blade for more of a longsword/faribarn sykes type look at the tip. It'll be weaker at the tip and less scottish looking but pierce better.


I've also attached a blade that extends the tip by 0.5" and also introduces a slight edge bias (more curve at belly than back edge). This is seen on some historical dirks and I could integrate this into the larger curve of both blades if you'd prefer.


Let me know your thoughts so we can get these badboys finalised and into production."

From here we discussed the variants, reassessed specs, finishes and thicknesses with this in mind as well as discussing sheaths and pricing. From here we do the final sketch- the workshop drawing. This needs to be visually very clear for the smiths to work off and includes visual annotations for bisnu to oversee details of the design. Some details are communicated to the team through the invoice to keep the workshop sketch as visual as possible. This needs to be perfect as the workshop sheet metal pattern will be created based off this. It also usually gets a pass through a photo editing program for maximum visual clarity and also a touch of flair. It's not uncommon for customers to get this printed out and display it alongside the finished blade.


Next up- Manufacturing!
Last edited:
This process went pretty smoothly, with no errors or remakes needed. It's helped that the team have had a lot of experience with these kinds of daggers by making dirks and Bhutanese dozums previously. The team were unsure about the handle shaping and wrap so completed one blade fully for confirmation before finishing the other blades.

Forging and Rough Grinding:



Guard fitting and further shaping:



Micarta wrapping and Finishing:





Last edited:
Without further ado- here are the finished blades!
Overall we're extremely happy with the outcome. Sometimes these things look better on paper, run into some issues making the leap from 2d to 3d or prove challenging from a manufacturing perspective even though we got to try some new things. In this instance from the brief, through to the design and manufacutring was fun, smooth and satisfying. The end result is something the team is very proud of.


Underneath the cord is a formed micarta base. The hemp twine is lightly soaked in epoxy for durability- it has incredible grip!


5 blades- each with personalised runes in the polished fuller.


Quite a beefy spine for prying and chopping but with a swedge for extra penetrating capability.


Guards have been left with forge black for a rustic look.


The handle has a hidden tang that goes the whole way to the donut hole on the back and is quite beefy.

So what do you guys think?
Would you carry this thing into the wilderness? If you were to make any changes what would you do?
How did you like hearing about the design process? Would you like to see more of this kind of thing in future?

Take care,
Andrew and the team at Kailash
Those are beautiful. Really impressive blending of styles in a way that doesn’t look pasted together. They look like artifacts, which I mean to be a compliment. And the execution looks superb. Well done!

Edited to add: it may be my phone, but I can only see the finished photos. None of the others you embedded came through for me (though the linked references work).
Those are beautiful. Really impressive blending of styles in a way that doesn’t look pasted together. They look like artifacts, which I mean to be a compliment. And the execution looks superb. Well done!

Edited to add: it may be my phone, but I can only see the finished photos. None of the others you embedded came through for me (though the linked references work).
Dagnabbit! I was trying to embed these from google photos without luck. It's looking like they're working now though- for the timebeing at least. Thanks for letting us know!
I think calling them artifact-like is a great compliment. It imples that they look cohesive and authentic, with an implied social and historical context to them. Practicality and function are important parts of design, but so is telling a story and creating an emotional connection.

I really like it!
Great to hear!
In this picture, what is the heat line in the middle of the blade? Is it from annealing the tangs?
Nope- this is just a temper line from the heat produced cleaning the front of the blade and grinding in the swedge. This is pre quench so it'll all get sorted out later on.
Appreciate the walk through! I liked the design effort and the creativity. Execution also looks good, although I think the handles are a bit big and could have been refined a little.
Appreciate the walk through! I liked the design effort and the creativity. Execution also looks good, although I think the handles are a bit big and could have been refined a little.

The length was provided by the customer as an essential spec, the other dimensions fall in line with the ergonomics we usually go for for hard use outdoors blades. Compared to something like a Fairbairn Sykes or another historical fighting dagger they're definitely chunky handles, however these are also going to primarily be used in different applications.
Wow - when you do open up the custom books - I would take two (2) of these - the exact same way!!!!! I have been looking for that style/shape for a long time.
Once we open them up again we'll make sure to do a post so people know!