This page is part of the official archive copy of the pioneering but abandoned Sticking Point website on knife throwing.Copyright and details

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The Sticking Point Homemade Knife Page
Ed Sackett Notes on Homemade Knives

A Word About Design

What matters more than anything else in a throwing knife is durability. A few minutes' practice will convince you of this. A thrown knife absorbs a lot of punishment, especially when it doesn't stick; that ringing blang! when a knife hits sideways or handle-first is something you have to get used to. Steel that is tempered too hard will develop cracks, or simply break without warning. Fragile handles, guards, and narrow points will tend to disintegrate pretty quickly under the stress of throwing.

Just about everybody starts throwing with a knife he didn't make, sometimes casually with a hunting or kitchen knife (that seldom lasts long), sometimes with one of the numerous commercial throwing knives on the market. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against store-bought throwing knives. But I believe that you'll soon develop ideas of your own about what a throwing knife should look like. Maybe you'll search the cutlery catalogs and sporting goods stores for a knife that fills the bill. Maybe you'll find it. But when you see what it costs, and reflect that good practice calls for two, three, six, or more knives, you'll start thinking in terms of Homemade And Proud Of It. When you do, come back to this site. Your home-built knives will cost less than commercial models, and they'll give you more satisfaction, because, in fact, they'll be custom-made.

Making Your Own Knives

Now don't complain that you aren't handy with metal-working tools. Neither am I. All you need to make first-rate throwing knives are a supply of flat steel stock of the right dimensions, a vise, a hacksaw, a file, and a bench grinder with one medium stone and one wire brush wheel. If you intend to drill holes in your knife, you'll need an electric drill and a bit.

First, draw a full-size knife pattern on paper. For symmetrical designs, fold the paper lengthwise, pencil the design on one half of the paper, and cut out along the pencil line. Then unfold, and there's your perfectly symmetrical pattern.

It's a good idea to assess your paper pattern by gripping it as if it were steel. If a blade is too wide (anything over two inches will be awkward to throw by the blade) or a handle too narrow, if the general appearance doesn't please you, cut some more paper and try again; paper cuts easier than steel. You can even determine the balance-point with a paper pattern: just mark the center and balance the pattern across your index finger exactly as if it were metal. Be careful that you don't get so intrigued with patterns that you never get around to the steel at all. This can happen.

When your pattern is satisfactory, carefully glue it to the metal stock you intend to use for making your knife, and hacksaw around the edge of the paper. Small-radius curves where a hacksaw won't reach can be finished with the grinder or file.

A point about elaborate designs: At the paper pattern stage, it's fun to add flamboyant shapes and prongs. At the hacksawing stage, complex outlines become less appealing. Many a fancy curlicue winds up angrily sawn off and kicked into a corner. Generally speaking, simple shapes and straight lines will be easier to make, especially in quantity. Also, it’s a common occurence for a knife to strike another knife that's already sticking in the wood. Projecting guards will make this happen oftener than you'd like. Take note that the knives thrown by professionals usually have very simple, smooth profiles, to reduce the chance of on-target collisions.

Sackett image GIF-no clickThe illustrations (Figures 1. and 2. -ed.) show some designs for throwing knives that work well, some chiefly for handle throwing, some for blade throwing, some for throwing by either handle or blade. They can be sawn out of quarter-inch (6.35 mm) cold-rolled steel, edged quickly with a bench grinder, and used without further muttering or shuffling.

While you're still experimenting, this is a good enough way to go. However, plain cold-rolled steel will make rather unbeautiful knives, and they'll bend a bit too easily. A more satisfying procedure is to start with higher-grade steel and harden the finished product just enough to provide some resiliency. Key stock is a good choice, since it can be bought in practically any dimensions. A thickness of 3/16", or 7/32" (~ 5 to 6 mm) is enough when working with tempered steel, because of its greater strength compared to cold-rolled steel.

After cutting out the basic profile, grind the edges, smooth your saw-cuts and grinds with a file, buff the surfaces to a satin polish with a wire wheel, and have your finished knives heat treated to the right degree of hardness (ca. Rockwell 30 to 40) by a good metals shop. Explain to these professionals exactly what your needs are, and provide them with information on the type of steel you're working with; don't be shy about requesting just the right temper for throwing knives; metals people love a challenge.

After heat treating, the knives may require a final polishing, again with a wire wheel, to a smooth satin finish. Avoid giving them a high polish, as this tends to become clammy from the sweat of your hand, and will stick when the knife is released during throwing. (Some buckskinners even leave their throwing knives file-roughened, to increase the friction between blade and target. This helps keep knives from falling out of the wood during competitions.)

Another approach to knife making, one that appeals to growing numbers of hobbyists, is to buy steels already tempered to the correct degree of springiness, work them by cutting and grinding, and bypass the heat treating step altogether. Consult with other hobbyists (the good old internet is tailor-made for this) to locate suppliers, determine the best choice of steels, and exchange experiences.

Remember that when it comes to the best temper for throwing knives, soft and springy is better than hard and brittle. A knife that bends a little can be straightened (lay it on the ground and step on it), but a knife that broke is junk.

About handles on throwing knives: Most professional knife throwers don't bother with them, first to reduce expense, and second because handles tend to break. But for us amateurs, there's something unsatisfying about calling a simple steel blank a knife. Also, throwing with a handle grip is sometimes more comfortable if the bare tang of the knife is helped out with some kind of material.

Remember that durability is the most important feature of a throwing knife. This means that riveted grips are a bit chancey; rivets can crystalize and break, and many handle materials are too brittle to withstand the shock of throwing. On the other hand, riveted handles look classy and give a knife a substantial feel. If you want to try riveted handles, use large steel rivets -- a 3/16" shank is not too big. Make your grip scales from vulcanized rubber or some other slightly flexible material, to cushion the rivets from blows and from the vibration that causes crystalization. Heavy cape leather comes in thicknesses up to a quarter-inch, if you need a traditional material, say to make your knife acceptable in a buckskinners' competition. Leather is not as resilient as rubber, but has some of the same shock-absorbing properties.

If you want a non-riveted handle for your knife, try thin scales of leather fastened with epoxy. Leather is durable, cheap (if you can’t locate a supply of cape leather, an old shoe can provide big enough scraps for this purpose), and easily worked. Roughen the suface of the tang with a file before applying the glue, and clamp the whole assembly tightly during curing. Finish the leather to a smooth but not highly polished texture, to assure a smooth release when throwing with a handle grip. Should you maintain your leather grips with saddle soap and oil dressing? Of course!

Note that the illustrations shows handle scales stopping short of the end of the knife's tang; they’re also narrower than the width of the tang, by a small amount. This is so that when the wrong part of the knife hits the target, the handle scales don't take the direct shock of impact.

Even if you don't require grips on your knife, it's a good idea to paint the tang a bright color. This gives the appearance of a handle, adds a bit of flash to your throwing, and makes the knife easier to find when it lands in grass or sand. A single layer of adhesive tape serves the same purpose, but this will have to be replaced pretty frequently as it gets torn and dirty. Wrap the tape starting at the pommel and moving toward the hilt (see illustration) to avoid lifted edges that can interfere with a smooth release when throwing with a handle grip.

Sackett GIF - no clickIf you don't throw with a handle grip, a bright cloth or cord wrapping makes a handsome touch. Here, you can allow yourself a few flourishes with dangling tassels or ribbons (the illustration suggests some possibilities) as long as these don't create too much aerodynamic drag. Shucks, everybody likes to decorate his weapons.

Sharp edges are something to avoid in a throwing knife. First, they aren't necessary, particularly if your knife is adequate in weight; thirteen or fourteen ounces of steel pack enough authority to penetrate well, even if a knife is only moderately keen. Second, a sharp throwing knife is a menace to yourself and bystanders; a ricochet could result in serious injury. Third, a sharp knife is difficult to throw using a blade grip. Finally, a sharp edge won't survive the rough treatment of throwing for very long, so why bother with one in the first place?

Knife Tips GIF - no clickEven a super-sharp point is unnecessary, for the reasons given above. Note the detailed drawing of the last inch or so of the point. This shows how the angles of the point can steepen at the very end, to achieve durability without sacrificing penetration. This last quarter-inch of the point is the part that does the work of sticking. Keep it free of burrs and bends, and it'll do everything asked of it.

Professionals, who must be concerned with safety, sometimes use knives with slightly rounded points (see illustration). These will penetrate softwood boards perfectly well when thrown with a vertical grip, but are less likely to inflict dangerous wounds if they accidentally hit someone. A chisel- or screwdriver-type point can also be used. These have the advantage of not breaking or bending easily.

The illustration shows how the edges of most throwing knives are ground: Short, steep, and extending only two or three inches back from the point. Full-length edges, if left dull for safety, are perfectly all right too, particularly for looks, and will make it easier to adapt your throwing knife to cutting purposes if you ever need to. (For example, knives used for throwing competitions at muzzle-loading jamborees must have one full-length edge.) If your hand is small (mine is), removing some extra steel by grinding edges can make a knife easier to throw with a blade grip.

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Last updated 07/15/98
Copyright © 1997, Common Logic, Inc.
This page is part of the official archive copy of the pioneering but abandoned Sticking Point website on knife throwing.Copyright and details