We all know that you need only a few basic knives making tools, to begin with. But what if you want to make your work much easier and boost your productivity through the roof? You are lucky because in today’s article you will find out what tools you will need to achieve just that.
Here are 7 important power tools for knife making:
- Belt Grinder
- Drill Press
- Angle Grinder
- Chop Saw
- Hydraulic Press
- Disc Sander
- Heat Treat Oven
Note that there are many more power tools but these 7 are considered most commonly used for knife making purposes. So without further ado, let’s begin with the first one.
Belt grinder is one of the most important knife making tools to have in the shop. Instead of spending much more energy and time by using sandpaper or file, a belt grinder makes your work incredibly easier and faster. The primary use of a belt grinder is to grind steel and it has to be robust enough to grind bevels and general outlines of knives.
Besides steel, you can use it for grinding wood and pretty any other material in the shop. A good thing to keep in mind that belt grinders are typically referred to by the size of their belt. The most common belt size is 2×72 inches. Just to make things clear, the first number indicates width while the other number indicates its circumference.
While you can go for a belt smaller than that (something like a 2×72,1×42 or 1×30) in the beginning phases, you will quickly realize that those small grinders are not sufficient for serious work. Small belt grinders are typically not as accurate and durable as the larger ones like 2×72.
So, if you absolutely cannot afford 2×72, consider buying a smaller one. Note that the frame of the belt grinder is also an important characteristic. Namely, the heavier the frame is the better. Whenever you work with high-speed rotating tools for removing metal, you have to deal with vibrations that make it harder to work accurately.
So, the heavier and more rigid the frame, the fewer vibrations it will produce, and therefore your grinding will be more precise. Some grinders may use heavy casting while others use large steel plates that are welded or bolted together.
Don’t forget about the motor. The larger the motor, the more powerful your belt grinder is. Generally, you should choose a motor according to your belt size. A general rule of thumb is that 1 hp (horsepower) is enough for a 1×72 belt. So, a 2×72 would require a 2 hp. Now, if you reduce the length, for example, 1×72 may require only a 1.5 hp motor.
Typically, belt grinders either have one or more variable speed controls. If you are a beginner knife maker, I would suggest buying one with variable speeds as there is less chance of making mistakes.
Belt speed is another vital factor when choosing a belt grinder. Keep in mind that metal requires a much higher belt speed for grinding than wood does. So, your belt speed should be in the range of 4100 to 7000 depending on the type of steel. High carbon steel is on the higher end while stainless and tool steel is on the opposite end. By using the following formula, you can easily calculate belt speed:
SFPM = (π x drive wheel diameter) x motor rpm
I remember my beginnings in knife making. I couldn’t afford any belt grinder so all grinding was done by hand sandpaper. As you can imagine, that took a considerable amount of both energy and time. I have always wondered what it was like for those who have a belt grinder? And finally, after a year or two, I bought myself a nice 2×72 belt grinder which serves me to this day.
Recommended belt grinders
Cost-effective option: EX ELECTRONIX EXPRESS Mini 1 x 30 Belt Sander 3400 RPM (affiliate link)
Higher-end option: JET J-41002 2-Inch by 42-Inch 3/4-Horsepower Bench Belt and 8-Inch Disc Sander (affiliate link)
A drill press is a motorized power tool used for drilling holes in various materials, including steel, plastic, wood, and many others. Everyone who is serious about knife making should have this in their workshop. Yes, even beginners. It is good to know that there are various drill press types.
In most cases, you can choose between a stationary and benchtop drill press. The stationary drill press is more powerful and has more features. On the other side, the benchtop drill press is typically smaller, lighter, and easier to move.
Like the previous tool, the heavier it is the better as with more mass comes greater stability. A nice large drill press is generally stable which increases its accuracy. As you can see, accuracy comes with stability. Drill press allows you to make different sizes of holes in your blades.
A drill press is especially vital if you plan on making folding and stock removal knives. A drill press is much superior compared to a hand drill. It has a rotating handle that controls the spindle which is moving only up and down. With this mechanism, you have greater control and accuracy.
Note that if you are planning on buying a large drill press, you should carefully pick a place where will you place it. It is not that easy to just grab it and move it elsewhere. Swing and spindle travel are also important factors. Swing presents a distance between the machine’s central column and the spindle, multiplied by 2. Swing primarily determines the material width you place on the drill press.
Spindle travel refers to how much you can move the spindle down by using your rotating handle. For instance, large prill presses can move up to 5-6 inches while benchtop models usually move only 2-3 inches.
Power is a crucial factor to consider. To know how much power your drill press has, simply calculate watts. All models should display amp and volt numbers. So, to calculate the watts just multiply those two. Of course the higher the wattage, the more powerful your drill press is.
Don’t forget about rotation speed. It is another vital factor to understand when buying a drill press for knife making. Namely, the harder the material you are working with, the lower speed you need. Since most of today’s drill press has various rotation speeds, you shouldn’t worry so much about it. Benchtop models usually offer 5-6 speeds while the stationary types often offer more than that.
Typically, the smaller the machine, the more range of speed it has. For instance, one of my drill presses runs between 570 and 3050 rpm while my other (a large one) runs between 340 and 2800 rpm. I would recommend having a drill vise (affiliate link) that allows you to secure the blade to the table. That way you will make even more precise holes.
Recommended drill press
Cost-effective drill press: WEN 4208 8 in. 5-Speed Drill Press (affiliate link)
Higher-end drill press: WEN 4214 12-Inch Variable Speed Drill Press,Orange (affiliate link)
Angle grinders which are also called disc grinders are crucial power tools for serious knife making. It is used for grinding and polishing purposes. The angle grinder is usually generated via compressed air, electrical motor or petrol engine. The most commonly used model is the handheld angle grinder.
In terms of discs, the two common sizes are 4.5” (115mm) and 9” (230mm). Larger discs are typically designed for heavy-duty operations whereas smaller ones are excellent for finer work. Also, angle grinders with smaller discs generally have a high RPM but at the same time, they are less durable.
Power is predicated on the amount of wattage (W) it has. The required wattage level primarily depends on the size of the disc. Corded angle grinder input power is rated in terms of amps (A) whereas cordless models are rated in terms of volts (V).
When buying angle grinder, you should be familiar with their types, including:
- Cordless Angle Grinders
- Corded Angle Grinders
- Pneumatic Angle Grinders
- Variable Speed Angle Grinders
Cordless Angle Grinders
A cordless angle grinder is used across many worksites. The greatest benefit of these grinders is that they can be a move to any area of the workshop without worrying about power connection. Note that if you choose this one, make sure you buy one with high capacity batteries so you don’t quickly run out of power.
I personally do not prefer them as I don’t like to worry about that the battery problem. Another disadvantage of cordless angle grinders is that they are heavier due to the weight of the battery.
Corded Angle Grinders
On the other side, corded angle grinders are widely used in knife making. The assurance of connection to the power supply removes worrying about running out of power. Corded angle grinders are much lighter because they don’t have any batteries.
Pneumatic Angle Grinders
Pneumatic angle grinder offers a unique blend of durability and performance. These are ideal for shaping and cutting metal pieces. They are typically used for work that requires high levels of precision. However, this model requires a connection to the air compressor unit.
Variable Speed Angle Grinders
As its name suggests, they have different speeds at your disposal that are suited for a variety of applications. For example, if you set the disc at the maximum speed, that allows for the better finishing of high-precision work. Some models also contain paddle switches for greater control.
Straight Angle Grinders
This type is ideal for grinding the inner and outer parts of the workpiece due to the 90-degree positioned wheel. In some cases, straight angle grinders are a better choice than the standard angle grinder.
The three most commonly used discs in knife making are cutoff grinding disc, grinding disc, and flap disc. The cutoff grinding disc is made to cut hard materials such as metal. Grinding discs is an expendable wheel that is made from an abrasive compound. It is primarily used for grinding purposes. These types of discs allow for more efficient cutting of the material. Finally, the flap disc acts similarly to the wire brush but it has flaps instead of wires. This makes a better combination of the material and weld beads.
Recommended angle grinders
Cost-effective angle grinder: Bosch 4-1/2-Inch Angle Grinder 1375A (affiliate link)
Higher-end angle grinder: DEWALT Angle Grinder Tool, Paddle Switch, 4-1/2-Inch, 11-Amp (DWE402) (affiliate link)
This tool allows you to cut through the metal safely, quickly, and easily. For a knife makes this means precise, smooth, and clean cuts with minimum effort. Before you buy a chop saw, power source and blade type are two points you should keep in mind. Choosing the right kind of power source allows you to do your work properly. Gas-powered chop saw has a powerful motor and cuts tremendously.
However, it is expensive, noisy, and heavy. The corded model is powered by electricity. Lightweight and good control are their biggest advantages. On the other hand, it restricts its usage to a limited area of the workshop due to its power cord.
The cordless model is powered by energy from a rechargeable battery. This one is less powerful than the first two types. However, it is ideal for light-duty tasks and you also don’t have to worry about the power connection.
In terms of blade types, there are two of them that most people use. Cold saw blades are heavy and cut through the metal without producing sparks or heat. However, they are expensive. Abrasive disc blades are a lighter and more affordable option. They are usually recommended for beginner knife makers. Keep in mind that they produce sparks and can leave cuts so always wear safety equipment.
Recommended chop saws
Cost-effective chop saw: PORTER-CABLE Chop Saw, 15-Amp, 14-Inch (PCE700) (affiliate link)
Higher-end chop saw: DEWALT Metal Cutting Saw, 14-Inch (DW872) (affiliate link)
A hydraulic press is a machine that uses a hydraulic cylinder for producing a compressive force on the material. It contains a piston that provides the mechanical force to a small area of the material. The hydraulic press also contains a large piston which produces significantly more
Frame, hydraulic ram, removable dies, and electric pump are other components of this incredible machine. Presses are ideal for compressing a few pieces of metal at once, especially for billets. The downside of a hydraulic press is that it cools down the metal quickly so you have to do your work quickly.
If you are planning on making Damascus knives, the hydraulic press is your greatest friend as it can compress thick metal pieces. Another advantage of using the press is the fact that you can quickly change the dies. For instance, if you want to draw out the material, use round dies. On the other hand, if you want to squash the metal, use the flat ones.
The hydraulic press is also easier to DIY and cheaper than a power hammer. Another good news about them is they produce a minimum noise which is great news for your neighbors.
In terms of safety and maintenance precautions, it is recommended to:
• Regular replenishing of oil
• Regular pump maintenance
• Regular motor maintenance
• Changing the tank filter as needed
• Wear safety glasses
• Installing shields
• Removing trip hazards from the work zone
Recommended hydraulic press
Cost-effective hydraulic press: JEGS 81518 Hydraulic Shop Press 6-Ton Bench Top Mount (affiliate link)
Higher-end hydraulic press: Titan 12 Ton Hydraulic Shop Floor Press H Frame 24000 lb w/Heavy Duty Steel Plates (affiliate link)
The disc sander is one of the oldest types of sanders. It is made up of abrasive paper which is mounted on a circular plate. Disc grinder is ideal for finishing knifemaking work and shaping subtle corners. They are usually intended for smaller projects rather than large ones. The Disc grinder is supported by a flat table which stands in front of the disc.
Since disc sanders operate at a high rate of power and speed, it also has a high potential for injury. This is why keeping safety measures and wearing safety equipment is a must. Many knifemakers use disc sander in conjunction with others such as angle and belt grinder. There are also combo models that have belt grinder and disc grinder, like this one (affiliate link) for example.
The abrasive discs are available in a variety of grit sizes. Disc grinders excel at making the material flat, so you can use them to flatten handle scales, blades, bolsters, and many other things. The grinder also has an adjustable table for grinding at various angles. So, if you want to grind something at an exact 90-degree angle, just set the table at 0. This is a great way of profiling stock removal knife blanks.
Recommended disc sanders
Cost-effective disc sander: WEN 6502T 4.3-Amp 4 x 36 in. Belt and 6 in. Disc Sander with Cast Iron Base (affiliate link)
Higher-end disc sander: Delta Power Equipment Corp 31-140 Disc Sander, 1/2 Horse Power, 12-Inch (affiliate link)
Heat Treat Oven
Proper heat treatment is a crucial component of knife making. Without precise temperature measurement and control of time, the blade may become too brittle for use. It doesn’t matter if the knife is pretty. If the knife cant holds an edge, it is useless. While there are other techniques of measuring temperatures, having a heat treating oven doesn’t leave anything at chance.
Ideally, a heat-treating oven will not only heat the steel to specific temperatures and holds those temperatures for a specified time but it can also be ramped up or down so you can cool the blade very slowly. All in all, it works almost like a kitchen oven. It has a heating element and temperature control. An important thing to keep in mind is not to buy a larger oven than you actually need.
Recommended heat treating ovens
Cost-effective heat treating oven: Hardin HD-2341SS Stainless Steel Tabletop Melting Furnace with 1kg Crucible 110 Volt (affiliate link)
Higher-end heat treating oven: Table Top RapidFire Pro Metals Melting Furnace / Kiln (affiliate link)