Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives

Building the Prototype

What is a prototype and why are we building that instead of the knife you really want to build?

For the purposes of this tutorial, a prototype is a cheesy version of the knife we want to build. Here are some reason's why I do it this way:

1. The prototype will be made of cheap materials so if you screw it up you won't be out very much

2. If this is your first folder, the odds are you will screw it up

3. All those places where I said 'about' this much or 'a little extra' there will be refined to a more exact specification

4. If you are new at this, building the real knife will probably take days, maybe even weeks. The prototype will take much less time

5. When you are done you will know exactly how the knife will feel in your hand

6. And the best reason: when the prototype is finished it will be an exact, permanent set of patterns to use for the real knife.

Now to get started, we first need to collect our materials. I prefer to use metal but some plastics will work for everything but the lock itself. You can use aluminum (very easy to work) or mild steel, or any cheap carbon steel you might have around. There will be no heat treat required for the blade and titanium is not needed for the lock. It may surprise you to read this, but even a thin sheet of aluminum will work for the lock on this prototype.

The one thing you will want to do is try to have the blade material and the handle material be the same thickness as what you want to use in the real knife. In the real knife you may want bolsters mounted on top of a liner or you may want a solid metal handle like a Sebenza(R), it doesn't matter as long as the slab of aluminum or whatever you use is close to the same thickness. The only reason I suggest this is so that the knife will feel about the same in your hand, otherwise it could be half as thick or twice as thick, no problem.

You will also need a sheet of Micarta or some similar material suitable for use as a back spacer. Ideally, this material will have the same thickness as your blade plus the two washers we will put on each side of the blade. Micarta comes in 1/8th size so if your blade material was 3/32nds material (.093 thickness) and you were using .015 washers, then that would be about the same thickness as the Micarta and you won't have to worry about thinning it down later.

Here are our materials, already cut into rectangles just big enough for our knife. What you see is two slabs of 1/8th aluminum for the handle (one has the pattern glued to it), one piece of 1/8th Micarta for the spacer, one sheet of .040 aluminum to use as a lock, and a piece of 1095 for the blade with the blade pattern glued to it:

I used an ordinary office style glue stick, available at any grocery store, to stick the patterns onto the metals. You should use a carbide scribe or a felt tipped pen to trace around the pattern, in case the pattern comes off before you finish shaping the metals.

The first part we'll make will be the blade, and the first step for that will be to drill the pivot hole in it. On a folding knife, it is important to have the sides of the pivot hole perpendicular to the plane of the blade - this means the blade must be exactly 90 degrees to the drill bit. To make this easier, I clamp my blades into this jig:

This is a very simple jig, one of the few I use. You do not have to make one of these if you have other methods holding a blade securely. But, for those who are interested, here's what it is.

The base is simply a block of aluminum (could be any metal) 5" long because that's big enough for most folders, 1/2" thick because that's what I had available, and 2 3/4" wide, because my cross sliding drill press vice only opens about 3". There are 3 holes drilled along each side of the base - two visible holes are marked with red arrows, two are marked by the clamps attached to them. and two are concealed under the blade. The holes are tapped 10-32, again, because that was what I had and any fair sized screw would do. The spacing of the screw holes was just eyeballed, far enough in from the edge for the support screw to have something to stand on. Here is the jig plate by itself:

The clamps are nothing but a bar of 3/16th aluminum about 3" long. There are several holes drilled along the length to allow the tension screw to be placed in different places. The tension screw holes are clearance holes, only the support screw hole at the end is tapped. Here is a close up view of the clamp:

In this tutorial, we will only use the simple clamp seen above. But, when building the real knife there are times when a more versatile clamp is useful. The clamp shown below has a slot milled in it to allow more flexibility in positioning. Another very important feature on this clamp is the recessed area at the rear that allows the screw head to get even with the bottom of the clamp. This allows the clamp to hold very thin materials extremely well. These clamps are made from 3/8ths aluminum:

Here is a picture of the jig, with the blade clamped on it, sitting in the vise, ready to drill the pivot hole. Notice that the jaws of the vise have been replaced with thick brass jaws and those jaws have a groove milled into the top of them to hold the jig. The slot was milled with a half inch end mill held in the drill chuck. This means that the slot is guaranteed to be as perpendicular to the drill chuck as possible. That in turn means that as long as all sides on that aluminum jig are square and parallel to each other that anything clamped to the jig and then placed in the vise will automatically be perpendicular to the chuck. Simple, fast, and easy. Best of all, if you don't own a mill, you can buy aluminum bars that are already clean and square.

It's a good idea to drill the pivot hole a few thousandths undersized and then ream to the proper size. If you use this jig, just drill the hole and then put the ream in the chuck and ream the hole. That assures the best alignment this system can provide.

After drilling, profile the blade to the pattern by whatever means you have. A belt grinder is best but a hacksaw and files will do the job too. Here's the finished blade:

Continue with building the handle when you're ready....

Building the Handle

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Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives