Making the Alec Steele Sheeps Foot Knife

It’s finally time to make the @alecsteele Build-A-Knife-Box. I got the kit for a Sheeps Foot knife from the @alecsteelco a while ago. It took some time to gather the tools and confidence to start making it and it was totally worth it. With these kits it’s not too difficult to get started with knife making. Just get yourself some oil hardening steel or one of these kits, start grinding, hardening and attach the handle. With some care you will be able to do it and as you see in this video there’s no need to buy all kind of expensive professional tools. Although a 1×30 belt grinder might be very useful…

Video transcript

Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Tony Needs Hobbies. My name is Tony and in this video I am going to do something that I have been looking forward to for a while. I’m going to build this Alec Steele Co Build-A-Knife-Box. It’s the sheeps foot knife and I’m going to have a lot of fun building it. Have fun watching!

Before building it, let’s have a look to see what inside the box.

In this branded box comes all the material needed to make a sheeps foot knife. I’ll talk more about the knife design later. I bought this kit from the Alec Steele Co website. If you don’t know Alec Steele, he is a very enthusiastic YouTube blacksmith. Currently they’re doing a clear out sale so you might be able to pick up some materials at discounted prices. Back to the contents of the box. This kit came with two pieces of stabilized African mopane handle scales, a drill bit, a nickel brass pin and the knife blank, which is made out of 1075 high carbon steel. It’s pre-normalized so it should be easy to work with before hardening.

The first thing that I’m going to do is take off this sharp point with a file since I don’t like it that much. Using the same file I will then take away the scale or oxide on the location where the bevel will be filed in. This allows me to scribe two lines so I know how much to file away. First I use a blue marker to color the surface. The blank is 5mm thick so I will scribe two lines using an old caliper at about 2mm to leave enough steel after grinding the bevel in. I learned from my previous blade that if the primary bevel is too sharp before hardening, it might damage during the hardening process. That’s why I will not file away too much at this stage.

Since I don’t own a belt grinder yet at this stage of making the video I will use the knife filing jig that I made on this channel a while ago. With the blank clamped securely I file at a set angle. When the scribed line is almost reached, I lower the file guide and continue filing. These steps are repeated until the full primary bevel is ground in. On both sides of the blade of course. It took me a couple of hours and after a while I couldn’t resist ordering a small 1×30 belt grinder to speed things up a bit. The grinder came right on time before finishing this knife. You can see the grinder I got later on in this video. As you can see the filing job isn’t perfect but I will spend a lot of time perfecting it after hardening and I promise you it will look much better after that. If you can’t get a belt grinder and want to make a filing jig, click the link in the top right corner to learn all about it.

There is one more step before the hardening process. The three holes in the blank for the pins to go through are a little smaller than the diameter of the pins. Using the supplied drill bit you’re supposed to ream out the holes to get a perfect fit. Do this before hardening when the steel is still soft, otherwise it can be very tough on the drill bit.

All the important steps that need to be done before hardening have been done right now. It’s now time to move on to the next step which is hardening the steel.

I’ve mentioned often on this channel that I’m not an expert in most of the things that I do. That applies to this as well. I just google a lot, watch many videos and then go for it. In this case I learned that the steel needs to be heated to around 815 degrees Celsius and keep it there until the blade is evenly heated. To check this I used an infrared thermometer as well as a magnet, since steel loses its magnetism right before it reaches the hardening temperature. For heating I use this little DIY charcoal forge. When making my Kiridashi I had some issues with it burning the edge of the blade. I got a tip from viewer Frank to keep the edge thicker and heat the blade edge up when using a charcoal forge. That’s what I did this time. If you have any tips for me regarding anything, please put them in the comments. I’m always eager to learn and all advice is appreciated. When it’s the correct temperature I quench it in warmed up vegetable oil. On video the steel looks too hot, but I’m doing this at dawn to better judge the color of the hot steel. The camera adjusted it’s settings and as a result the steel looks much hotter.

After quenching I let it totally cool down and clean off the oil. The next step is tempering the blade. After quenching it is very brittle and we need to get some toughness back. Before doing that I sand off a bit off the scale to be able to see the straw color after tempering so I know I used the correct temperature. For tempering it goes in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for two hours, then I let it cool down and put it back in the hot oven for another two hours.

Then comes the fun part… Taking off all the oxides and scale by means of hand sanding since I don’t own a belt grinder… Yet. I clamp a piece of sand paper on a flat tile of granite to make sure I’m sanding flat surfaces. It isn’t a lot of fun but it has to be done to make the knife look better and to get a better bond between the steel and the handle scales.

I literally spent hours and hours hand sanding this hardened steel without getting the results that I desire. I decided to get a 1×30 belt grinder and see if that can speed up the process a bit. Let’s see how it goes.

The 1×30 that I got is similar to the ones that you can get at Harbor Freight in the US and Canada. I live in Europe so I got to source one here. I’ll put a link in the description to where I bought it. Of course, safety first. Wear all the PPEs to prevent anything nasty from getting in your eyes or lungs.

Boy am I amazed with this little machine. It only costs me a hundred euro’s and saved me so much time. With only a couple of passes it already looks so much better that I wonder now, why I didn’t buy this tool much sooner. The build quality is good. Important bits of the machine are made from metal. It is definitely a hobbyist tool, not a pro tool, but it fits my needs perfectly. I started with an 80 grit belt to quickly clean up the bevel, then I moved to a 200 grit belt for the final touch. In between passes I cool down the steel in water to prevent it from getting too hot and to lose its hardness. The secondary bevel is ground in as well, but I don’t sharpen it yet. I have to do many more steps and don’t want to run the risk of cutting off some of my body parts. That’s why I wrap the rough edge in tape as well.

Moving on to the handle. The kit came with two pieces of stabilized African mopane wood. They seem reasonably flat but in order to get a perfect glue up I will make sure both scales have one perfectly flat side to glue to the tang of the knife. I again do this by sanding it on a flat granite tile. Then I shape the bit that I cannot reach after it is glued together. I round it off nicely and bevel it at a 45 degree angle using a small disc sander. Be sure to use small passes or otherwise the wood will get hot and will get burn marks that will not look good.

When the shaping of that one side is done I tape and clamp the tang of the knife and both scales together and drill the three holes for the pins straight down using the drill press and the drill bit that was supplied with the kit. A tip from experience: be sure to keep track of which scale goes to which side of the tang. The middle hole is not in line with the other two holes in this kit, so after drilling, the scales only fit one side.

The last parts that need to be made are the nickel brass pins. With a hack saw I cut the nickel brass rod into three parts and file the ends. With this all parts are done: we have three pins, two scales and the blade.

All the components are now ready for assembly. I’m going to degrease the blade first using some acetone. Then I’m gluing to glue everything using some ten minute epoxy which should give me more than enough time to assemble this thing successfully.

At least, that’s what I thought when recording it. Ten minutes turned out to be barely enough time since I made the mistake that I warned you for when fitting the scales. Indeed, I tried to put the left scale on the right side and the right scale on the left side. This doesn’t fit so I had to pull it all apart but it was a tight fit so that didn’t go very easily. Also, in excitement I forgot to put on gloves. That’s not smart because skin can become sensitized to some of the chemicals in epoxy and as you can see, it can get very messy… So more tips: be sure to wear gloves when working with epoxy and get 30 minute  or even 60 minute epoxy. Ten minutes seems like a long time, but it isn’t.

With everything put together I clamp it all together using these C-clamps. Not too tightly because the epoxy holds everything together and you don’t want all of it to be squeezed out. I let it cure for 24 hours before moving on to shaping the handle.

As you can see, is was a messy process but everything turned out fine. It doesn’t look very good still though. Time to work on that. I start with the hand tools. First I trim the excess of the pins off with the hack saw and then use a Japanese saw to cut some larger pieces of the wood off. Too save the new belts on the 1×30 grinder I use this old belt sander to sand the pins flush too the wood. Then I use the new belt grinder to make the handle fit my hand really good.

This is a careful process. You don’t want to sand away too much too fast as you will hit the steel and grind away that as well. This will alter the shape and that is not desired. I take slow passes and don’t use too much pressure. This will prevent the wood from burning and it also allows me to make good decisions and judge the shape the handle is taking really well. Slow and steady is the key. And compared to the hand sanding from the beginning of the video, this is going at warp speed.

After hand finishing some details I applied oil to the handle to make the wood pop and protect it against the elements. A couple of coats are applied after which I let it soak in overnight before sharpening the blade.

For sharpening I use ceramic stones. The secondary bevel came off the grinder with a 200 grit finish so I’ll continue with the 600 stone, then move up to the 1000 grit stone. I normally don’t go higher but I do strop the blade to polish the edge. A bit about this blade shape. Sheeps foot knives are first responder blades. They don’t have a pointy tip and are short and strong. Perfect for cutting straps and seatbelts in case of emergencies. Since that is the intended purpose, let’s see if this blade is up for the task by cutting a seatbelt nylon watch strap.

So is this the best knife ever? No it isn’t. Could I have done a better job? I probably could have. But am I happy with the result with this being my first real knife? Absolutely! I had a blast making it and what is even more important: I learned quite a few things so let’s quickly go over some of the things that I learned making this Alec Steele Co sheeps foot knife.

  • Knife making isn’t easy. A lot of attention is required to get the wood and steel in the perfect shape. For a perfect glue up, the steel and wood need to be perfectly flat and achieving that is difficult.
  • Also, grinding without mistakes is difficult. It goes much faster than filing and hand sanding, but you need experience to do it well. This was my first attempt so it isn’t perfect, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.
  • When using epoxy, always use gloves because it can get messy. In addition to that, go for epoxy with a longer working time. No matter how well the glue up is prepared, 10 minutes is probably too short.
  • I improved some of my metallurgy experience as well and as a result was able to successfully harden this blade, with an improved process over when I did that for the first time.

All those learnings resulted in this beautiful knife:

Alright, that’s it for this video. I hope you have enjoyed watching it. If you did, then don’t forget to hit that like button. I will probably make a sheath for this knife in the nearby future. If you don’t want to miss out on that video then don’t forget to subscribe to this channel for more content like this in the future. That’s it for now. I would like to thank you for watching. Bye, bye!

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