Knifemaking is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of humans, they are arguably our first tool and as such have had thousands of years of design put into them. Today we have hundreds and thousands of different knife designs that have been tried and tested through the years, and likely the knife you want to tackle next has plenty of thought already given to it for you to base your own ideas and ideas on.
What are knife templates / Patterns?
Knife templates are designs that you make or want to make that aren’t simply sketched freehand onto the steel. A lot of bladesmiths have been heard to say that the steel “spoke to them” when forging a knife…. and that’s well and good, but patterns are very handy in getting a set design off of a piece of paper and tracing it onto a bar of steel.
Good knife design is something that evolves over time and your knife designs will evolve as you gain experience and knowledge. Knife templates are the simplest and easiest way to get into knife design and a lot of concepts can be learned by looking and what other people do well or not so well. I myself have been through a number of templates before finally transferring those knife designs to CAD and having the blanks laser cut. One of the biggest mistakes I made initially was designing a knife on the computer and having it laser cut without printing it or testing it with wood. The blades were wrong in every way and are still lurking in a dark corner of my workshop.
If you look up “knife templates” on Google, you’ll be flooded with hundreds of images. Often you can look up the type of knife you want (Bowie Knife Templates, etc), and if you’re lucky you’ll find the one you want and you can simply print it off and stick it onto your bar stock. If not, at least you will have an idea taking shape and reaching for the paper, pencil, rule, and French curves. Read Best CAD software for knifemakers.
Why would you use a template?
- Sanity Check
- Make the same design over and over again
- Keep track and make subtle changes
- Maintain tight tolerances
Materials to make patterns out of?
There are many materials you can make your design patterns out of but their function remains the same in that the design can be transferred onto your steel and the resultant knife, matches the design.
Below is a short list of various materials you can use, and arrange in order of increasing longevity. If it’s a design you make regularly, it makes sense to commit that design to a material that will last many years.
- Paper (simply print and stick)
- G10 / Tufnol
- Mild Steel
- Stainless Steel
- Hardened Knife Steel Blank
Many makers like to use plywood or other cheap materials like cardboard for quick prototyping, as they are great for testing the feel of a design before cutting your knife out of steel. Are the proportions right? Is the handle the right size? etc
From Template to Steel
There are many ways of transferring a design from a template onto a bar of steel. The easiest is simply a pencil, or marker pen but these lines can be rubbed off when cutting and profiling the knife blank. Markers blue is also in this category as heat can erase the dye. Marker pens can leave thick lines on the steel, so while not a terrible thing, introduces some variance into the design as you can profile to the outside or inside of the line. A millimetre here and there can make a big difference.
Arguably the best option is a metal carbide scribe. This leaves a thin scratch on the steel (or marking blue) that can’t be erased. If you don’t have one, an old sharpened drill bit will usually suffice.
Online Free Template Libraries
The pattern resources below are not to be the de facto design for any knife, but rather a starting point for your knife projects. Get comfortable playing with the designs on paper, grind a few first, and then modify some existing designs to make them your own.
- Karim at Tharwa Valley Forge has a library of templates you can access here.
- Jay Fisher has a library of templates you can access here.
- D. Comeau Custom Knives has many templates available here I, II, III, IV, V, VI.
- Pinterest has thousands of templates available here.
- Chris Crawford has a couple of folders (slip joint, lock back, liner lock) designs available here.
Again, with a quick Google search, you can likely find any design you want and with a bit of reverse engineering on your part, create a great template to use going forward.
If you’re not quite there yet, you can buy pre-cut knife blanks (Shop online at SDKnives.co.za) that you can grind and attach your own handles to.
With that, have fun, challenge yourself and make some great knives.