Renowned Makers Across The World Talk About The Tools They Use To Craft Their Metal Creations.
A good craftsman needs good tools. Without a well-stocked shop, knifemakers are held back from creating to the best of their abilities. This trio of makers from around the globe talk about what they use and how it affects their knifemaking.
American Bladesmith Society master smith Jim Crowell has been making knives for over 40 years. A member of the ABS Hall of Fame, he is known for his masterfully hand-forged blades. His Mountain View, Arkansas, shop is well stocked, and he leads off with the Wilmont TAG and Beaumont KMG belt grinders.
“Wow!” he said of the Wilmont. “You talk about smooth running and great and easy tracking, with a swing-out work rest it doesn’t get any better. I really like the work rest, as you just swing it out and lock it—no wrenches or Allen wrenches, adding or removing parts. Worth every penny and then some.”
He continued with praise for the Beaumont KMG.
“I have used many of these in different schools and have had three myself, to include the one I am using now. These are great grinders and the broad range of excellent attachments makes them top contenders in my book. Both have 1.5-inch tool arms, which means you can switch tooling between the two—a good idea, I think. The small wheel attachments for both are great, and the Beaumont rotary platen is something special.”
Broaches and file guides by machinist/ABS master smith John Perry are next.
“When John designs and makes a tool for knifemaking, there is no compromise, nor anything you don’t need,” Crowell commented. “He knows what the tool needs to do and makes sure it performs in an exemplary manner. There is no reason one’s tools should not be pleasing to the eye. Just hold the gingerbread, please!”
Jim credits the broaches for definitively solving the age-old problem of fitting a square peg—or really a rectangular hole—into a round hole. He calls them indispensable in the shop and they are available in numerous widths. The filing guide eliminates concerns with getting the guard to fit flush to the shoulders of the ricasso.
“Oh, the stories I’ve heard,” Jim smiled. “John’s shoulder fixtures are precise and have several other uses besides filing the shoulder on the tang, but that’s how I use mine the most.”
Crowell tipped his hand a bit in identifying the “Widget” as one of his favorite tools. “This is a handy little thing I added to my slack belt assembly on the Beaumont KNG grinder,” he remarked. “It fits in such a manner as I can run the belt underneath it and use the slack belt feature. You can also run the belt over the top and have a radius that, if properly used, will make minor adjustments to the plunge lines, as well as the choil area under the ricasso. An added benefit is that the sanding lines are lateral now and alleviate trying to sand longitudinally in the radius of the plunge line that was created vertically. Love it!”
The maker summed up his preferences for each of his top tools by identifying their best characteristic. “Realistic design by folks who are intimate with making knives,” he reasoned. “My tools and equipment are not fashion statements. They are not necessarily ‘pretty.’ They were made to do a job and do that job well. There is a subtle beauty in that.”
Danish custom knifemaker Jens Anso zeroes in on a combination of purchased and self-made shop tools that give him the edge in a full day’s work. He describes his shop as sometimes cluttered, though that’s often a hallmark of a busy and productive craftsman.
The first tool he cites is his horizontal grinder he built about 20 years ago.
“At that point in time I was used to building grinders and put this one together from parts I had lying around, including a two-speed motor with about 2.2 horsepower, so it will not slow down regardless of what I throw at it. This grinder was fundamental in creating the career I have,” he noted. “Even though I now have new, fancy machines, this one just performs really well. I finished more than a thousand folders using this grinder, especially the frames. It uses a Hardcore small wheel attachment and is super fast to change wheels and belts. It has a small platen that goes on and off really fast, too. This is what all my handles with ANSO texture were ground on!”
The purchased tool side of Anso’s shop is occupied by, among other implements, a Hardcore Maximizer.
“It’s kind of the industrial version of the grinder I described above, though this can do a lot more,” he remarked. “Lots of wheels and platens. It’s slower to change belts and wheels on, but once done will perform! Between this and my other two conventional Hardcore grinders, I am pretty much set. I used to build all my grinders because good commercial grinders for knifemaking are not available in Denmark, and it used to be difficult to import them from the U.S. But I have imported two of these Maximizers and two conventional grinders since then because I prefer making knives rather than making machines.”
A lengthy search also produced the ideal drill presses for Anso’s knifemaking. Though it took a while, they fill the bill to his exacting standards.
“I had been on the hunt for a great drill press for ages and finally found these vintage Danish-made CLOU machines,” he recalled. “They are heavy duty but precise, have excellent depth stop and two-speed motors, as well as pulleys for changing speeds. This is a fantastic machine for knifemaking. I have had as many as eight of these at the same time but am down to three in active use. With CNC making its entrance into my shop, I still need a few good drill presses but I don’t need eight.”
Lucas Burnley takes a philosophical approach to the development and use of functional implements.
“Like any skill, time is one of the most valuable assets you have,” he observed. “However, buying or building the right tools and equipment will go a long way in speeding your improvement. My tool purchases usually come down to application or interest. The tools I list are considered necessary at a base level and would be able to work well in almost any shop regardless of what type of knife is being made.”
He points to his burly Bader B3 2×72 variable-speed belt grinder as a key player in the day-to-day function of his shop.
“When someone asks what piece of machinery they should buy first, this is usually my answer. For me, the grinder is the single most important tool in a basic knifemaking shop. With this machine, you can profile blanks, grind blades, shape handles, and about 100 other small steps that make it worth its weight in gold. Buying a quality machine is going to pay off more than you can imagine in the long run.”
Lucas recently added a TW-90 grinder from Wuertz Machine Works and advises that if a maker’s budget allows for it, the TW-90 is a fantastic addition that allows even more complementary functionality to the 2×72 platform. Also, he noted, “If you’re on a limited budget the KMG 1 from Beaumont Machine is a great option. You can skip the variable-speed drive and use the step pulleys and add the VFD [variable frequency drive] down the road.”
A 15-inch belt-top drill press is another valuable component of Burnley’s shop. “One thing the belt grinder can’t do is drill holes,” he laughed. “While you can use a hand drill, a bench-top drill gives you a lot of capacity for short money. Adding a keyless chuck will increase your speed with tool changes. I’ve had a number of these machines over the years, and there are a number of good options on the market. I currently have a model from WEN but will be replacing it with a comparable model from Jet Tools shortly. Quality here matters but much less so than with the grinder. These are not meant to be precision machines, but for 90 percent of the tasks you give them they will be just fine. When I first started building folders, I didn’t have a milling machine and was able to use my drill press to cut the lock relief, lock slot and face on a number of knives with a little creative problem solving.”
A metal cutting band saw and CAD (computer aided design) capability round out the top pieces of equipment for Lucas. The band saw delivers greater speed and efficiency. He has a 14-inch Delta wood/metal band saw made in 1951 that his dad found at a yard sale 17 years ago.
“The only reason I have it in third place is that your belt grinder will allow you to profile both blades and handle parts if you start with a narrow bar stock,” he related. “With a band saw you will be able to buy larger sheets of material, nest your parts more efficiently, and ultimately use less abrasives, saving time and money through every step.”
Taking time to learn CAD can be a game changer. “One of the best pieces of advice I could give any maker is to learn CAD,” Lucas noted. “Even if you don’t have the money to buy tools or a shop to work in, if you have a computer you can start building a skill set that will help you for years to come. Fusion360 offers free software for hobbyists, and there is an endless number of tutorials available online.”
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