Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2005, so be sure to adjust for inflation. That said, Wayne Goddard’s $50 Knife Shop book is the next step if you’re looking to get started on a minimal budget.
The short answer: A few thousand dollars if you want to get serious about knifemaking, and considerably less than that for hobby projects.
At most forging demonstrations I do, I try to use only minimal tools because I want people to see what can be accomplished with just a few basic implements—a hammer, a few tongs, a good anvil and a forge. Most folks are not set up with every type of tool that can be used in bladesmithing. As you have seen, with just a few basic tools you can make much more than just a basic knife or hawk.
Using only basic tools does require a bit more sweat. This may be fine if you are a part-time blacksmith or bladesmith, but may not be the most efficient avenue for someone trying to make a living at it. If the latter is the case, you can quickly run into thousands of dollars setting up your shop.
For starters, if you do not already have a place to set up your forge, then the biggest expense will be for shop space. Obviously, the space cannot be an old woodshed. Keep in mind that you are working with hot metal and fire, and that you need to set up the forge where the metal sparks will not fly where they could cause trouble.
The room also will need good ventilation, no matter if your forge uses gas or coal.
If you already have such a place to use as your forge room, then you can start setting things up. Your next biggest expense will be the forge itself, either gas or coal. I recommend a gas forge because it is cleaner and you have more control of the heat. Such a forge could run about $600.
You need a good anvil; my preference would be at least a 125-150 pounder. You will need a sturdy worktable with a quality, heavy-duty vise, a bench grinder, and a few well-chosen tongs and hammers. This will be all you need to do most of your bladesmithing.
However, whoever told you that you can spend thousands of dollars setting up a shop with all the tools was not pulling your leg. Power hammers, various dies, a drill press and other tools of the trade will make your work easier. Specialized knifemaker’s grinders from Burr King, Bader or Square Wheel will cost you but will be worth the investment.
You could write a whole book on tools that would make your life easier and your pocket emptier. Visit a well-established blacksmith shop and you will be surprised how much tooling will be there. Of course, you do not have to purchase everything at once, but over the years as time and funds allow, you probably will.
My opinion is that you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to set up a shop where you can create a great variety of beauty and function. However, if bladesmithing is your chosen trade, to not invest in the equipment that will save you time and sweat is not a smart option.
Like they say, you need to spend money to make money.