How To Make A Survival Knife From An Old File - Survivalist Hacks

How To Make A Survival Knife From An Old File

By Matt

Cold Steel…

The best survival knife it’s said, is the one you have on you at the time of need. It’s a basic necessity of any personal survival kit
and whilst there are many handmade survival knives about, good ones command (and rightly so) a premium price.
So why not make your own?

I found this great tutorial on Instructables, and the best thing is, you don’t need a whole load of expensive equipment to get started. If you got everything together that you needed, this knife could be made in less than a weekend.
Here’s the full tutorial by Cas and how he made his knife out of an old file.

You can see the full tutorial on Instructables here.

1 – Tools And Materials

This knife is made out of an old steel file, some hardwood like oak or walnut can be used for the handle and some epoxy to hold it all together.
You’ll need some basic workshop tools to work the metal like a hacksaw and some files as well as a selection of abrasive paper.
A drill, hammer, and vice will also be needed and if you have an angle grinder, it will save a lot of time grinding the shape, but you don’t really need it for this example.
To make the file metal workable – which is usually pretty hardened high-carbon steel – you will need to anneal it first and this can be done with a small drum filled with charcoal or a small fire.
A small barbeque will work well for this.

2 – Finding The Right File

1 Finding The Right FileImage Via Cas and Instructables

A lot of old files and car leaf springs are made from high carbon steel which is good for knife making. Unfortunately, newer files, especially the cheaper imports, are made from mild steel that has been case hardened. Unfortunately not really suitable for knife making.
It’s better to rummage around junk shops and swap meets where you could probably pick up a handful of good old files for just a few bucks.

3 – Designing A Survival Knife

2 Design Your BladeImage Via Cas and Instructables

Cas’s design is for a full hidden tang knife.
The handle tang extends all the way through the length of the handle but isn’t visible and makes for a really strong survival knife, If you like you could make yours full tang and use wooden or micarta handle scales riveted through, but that’s for another day.

4 – Annealing The Knife Blade

3 AnnealingImage Via Cas and Instructables

You will need to anneal the steel so it can be made soft enough to work with.
You can do this by putting it in a fire of wood or charcoal and blowing air through to speed up the heating process. Much like a small blacksmith forge.
A vacuum cleaner, hand pump or garden blower will do this pretty effectively.
This will get the steel hot to the so-called “austenitizing temperature”.
Leave it in the fire for a while before allowing it to cool down slowly. (You can let it stay in the fire until it has gone out and cooled down completely)

5 – Profiling Your Design On The Steel

4 Profiling The DesignImage Via Cas and Instructables

If you are using an old file you can grind or file off a lot of the serrations before marking your design profile on the metal. Some knifemakers choose to leave the texture on one or both sides for aesthetic appearance. It’s your knife, you decide what you like.
Hold the steel in a vice and cut the rough shape out with a hacksaw.
Next use a file or bench grinder to finally get to the shape you like.

6 – Grinding The Bevel Edge

5 Grinding The Bevel Edge on Your Survival Knife BladeImage Via Cas and Instructables

Before starting to grind the bevel it’s wise to mark out how far up the blade you would like it to go.
You should be aiming to get a bevel of between 20 – 30 degrees, less than this will make the blade sharper to cut but you will probably lose some edge durability.
Then gradually file or grind the bevel to the angle you want.
While the steel is in the workable soft state get the surface of the steel filed smooth and clean with abrasive paper

There’s a good discussion on blade angles here on

7 –  Tempering And Quenching The Blade

6 QuenchingImage Via Cas and Instructables

This is a 2 step process to get the steel to a hardness where it will hold an edge and be robust enough to put to use. If you skip this step, your knife will bend the first time you use it.
Tempering and metallurgy are a skill of their own, but for this knife, it doesn’t need to be like rocket science.
Heat the blade up in the fire again to austenitizing temperature .
Don’t heat all the entire tang as the end needs to stay soft so it can be peened when you have fitted the handle if you are sticking to this design.
Then quench the steel in some oil and let it cool

8 – Making And Fitting The Bolsters

7 Making The BolstersImage Via Cas and Instructables

These are cut from the offcut bits of the file. It’s best to drill the holes for the tang before you finally shape the bolsters. It’s pretty difficult holding onto small bits of metal, and you don’t want them flying around the workshop.

Make the hole in the top bolster tapered so you can peen the end of the tang when you have glued it, to hold it all permanently together.

9 – Making And Fitting The Handle To The Tang

8 Making The HandleImage Via Cas and Instructables

Choose your piece of hardwood for the handle and drill a hole lengthways through the middle.
It needs to be a snug fit over the tang.
Fit the lower bolster and check everything for fitting before you glue the handle in place using epoxy.
Fit the upper bolster over the end of the tang and peen it over to hold it all securely together.
It’s a wise move to tape over the blade as epoxy tends to get where you least want it and is a bitch to clean off.

10 – Finishing

9 Peening The TangImage Via Cas and Instructables

Shape the handle to the grip profile you like. Here’s a good opportunity to make it really comfortable to hold and use.
Use a rasp or files to get the profile you want then smooth with varying grades of sandpaper until you are happy with the result.
Polish or seal the wood with oil or varnish – your choice.
Shine the blade if that’s your thing but give it a good sharpen with an oilstone to get a slick cutting edge.
Blunt knives and tools are a liability so do a good job here.

10 The Finished Handmade Survival KnifeImage Via Cas and Instructables

There you have it, a handmade survival knife made by you, cool or what!
Now you have to make a sheath…