Small knife

This guide tells you how to make an authentically-shaped blade from an old kitchen knife and mount it on a wooden handle. You will end up with a very simple yet functional knife suitable for food and craft use.

Anglo-Saxon knife finds invariably show whittle-tanged blades with no signs of rivets or nails used to hold the handle to the blade, suggesting that single-piece wood, bone or antler handles were simply hammered onto the tang. If you use the right wood, this makes a very strong knife. As a rough guide, woods like walnut can be too hard - they can require so much force to be mounted on the blade, that the blade will slip down in the vice used to hold it before the handle can be fully mounted. On the other hand, wood that is too soft will split. Choose your wood at least a few weeks before making your knife: take a suitable branch that has no green in it and leave it in a dry place to season. This ensures that the wood has finished drying and shrinking before you make the knife.

What you need

  • An old kitchen knife - plastic-handled bread knives with the handle removed are a good size
  • Seasoned wood for handle - diameter approx. the width of your blade at the point where the tang starts
  • Hobby drill with metal cutting blades
  • Fine grindstone or ginding bit for above drill
  • Penknife
  • Coping saw or similar
  • Sandpaper
  • Vice
  • Wooden mallet (a hammer will damage your handle).
  • Plane (optional)

Preparing the blade


1) Draw a seax shape and tang on the blade as shown in the diagram above. Note the length of the tang: when you hold the handle, your hand should cover the tang. So for a small blade like the one we're making, the tang will probably be as long as the blade. Note also that the end of the tang will be pointed.

2) Cut out the blade using the metal cutting disc.

3) Use the grindstone to remove any modern machine marks, lettering and serrations from the surface of the blade. Don't sharpen the blade yet.

Preparing and mounting the handle
1) Using the saw, cut a nice straight section of the branch to use for the handle. Strip away the bark using the penknife.

2) If you want your handle to be any shape other than cylindrical, now is the time to shape the handle using the plane or penknife. *n.b.* if this is your first knife, it might be better to leave this step until the end in case you don't mount the handle centrally. Whether or not you have shaped the handle, give it a good sanding until it is smooth.

3) Secure the blade, vertically with the point down, in the vice. Leave only the tang showing above the vice plates if possible. If your vice does not have plastic guards, you will need to place thin pieces of scrap wood or a few sheets of paper between the blade and the vice plates to avoid marking the blade. Place the handle onto the end of the tang and position so the blade will slide into the wood nice and centrally and in a straight line.

4) Hold the handle with your non-working hand to keep everything vertical. Now you get to hit the end of the handle with the mallet! Use firm, dead-on blows to mount the handle quickly and neatly. Stop when the handle just covers the beginning of the blade proper.

Finishing off

1) Voila! You now have a knife! Now is the time for a final sanding and any dressing of the handle you require. Possible decorations could include:

  • Whipping with cord
  • Burning a design into the wood
  • Carving
  • Colouring

2) Once your handle is as you want it, give it a good rub with linseed or olive oil to condition and waterproof the wood (note that this will darken the wood).

3) Sharpen the blade

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