Making a Head Knife

Here is my endless  loop.  I make stuff to make stuff to make stuff.  Seriously.  I have a theory that a leather tool box might be ideal.  In any case I want to experiment.  One thing that I need for this is a few leather tools.  A lot I have bought, but one of the tools that I want can be fairly expensive for one as nice  as I want to have.

I want a top notch, none better head knife.  Sadly the economy is destroying my economy, so to afford a great tool, I will have to make it.

To start with, fortunately, I have a bit of Classic NOS Sheffield O1.   Best stuff for holding a great edge, and stropping easily, so the next step is laying it out.  I usually make a couple of tools at a time,  in case I mess up.  In this case,  I decided to go ahead and make a few.  Since I have scant leatherworking knowledge, I may make a few mistakes on the way.

Here is my initial layout.

Sadly the cuts were not going to work with the tools I have at hand for cutting.  I had to make a less efficient layout that I could actually cut.

As this is nice tool steel, I tried to cut out to make good scraps for other tools.

After drilling and cutting, they are beginning to look more like head knives!

Now I need to be able to mark a center point of the blades arc and perfect the blade to that arc.  This will enable me to rig a jig to sharpen it more easily later.  This means, I need to be able to scribe a consistant line from a center point.

So I need to make a tool for that purpose.  Fortunately the Texas heat has cooled down a bit this week.


12 comments to Making a Head Knife

  • Skip J.

    Hey Bob;

    Good to see you making tools again! I don’t know a thing about working leather, so I’ll be along for the ride……


  • Good to be back making tools. All I needed was a bit of cool weather, I have tons of tool plans.

    No problem with the lack of leather knowledge, I am no great expert when it comes to leather myself. Leather is something I can work indoors without making a lot of sawdust, so I may get lots of practice over a year or two though.


  • Skip J.

    Ahhhhh….. I hadn’t thought about working it indoors tho…. need to think about that some. I have no object to working leather at all, I just have never done any so far….

    Ummmm… exactly how do you make a leather tool box that is not a tool roll anyway?????


  • If you consider luggage of old, much of it was leather. wood can reinforce and give rigidity. Leather boiled in wax can become amazingly stiff and hard. I just need to get the methods down.


  • Skip J.

    Ah, old luggage. Actually, I have an old leather briefcase from the ’70’s made that way that is in such good shape I could never throw it away. Always thought it mite make a good tool carrier, and it’s big. I could carry 4 or 5 planes in it and they would be protected fairly well. I’ll be watching this one…


  • I think this is one of those projects that will take me a while. But I think the learning curve is well worth it.


  • Matthew

    I want one I will pay upfront mail me a reply. Thanks

  • Paul Fowler


    Being gunsmith I use similar method to make one of parts(actually make two, always have spare) I drill around the outside of original part if avalible, profile oversize for fitting after heat treating.
    your pattern should have a small hole at the center of the head radius. The center of the radius could be transfer punched into the stock and drilled at same time as clearance holes.
    Several blanks could be bolted together for grinding the head radius.


  • Bill Foote

    Hi Bob, I am a knifemaker that is making a head knife for a saddle maker. In return, he is making me a few sheaths for four of my hunting knives. His complaint about his current head knife is it dulls easily and requires a lot of time consuming sharpening. I am looking for cpm-D2, but your O1 is a great choice, if I remember working O1, it holds an edge for quite a while. Your full tang construction is a good way to go. I will be making at least two, again for the mistake factor. One I will make will have a down-swept left side to use as a pull cut, otherwise known as a French model. Did you decide on a handle material? I’ll be using some of my mastodon tusk bark ivory-it has blues and greens in it. Good Luck to you, Bob!

  • Bob Strawn

    I love D2 but for a leather worker I would advise 01. O1 will hold an edge with a very low angle blade and is one of the easiest metals to sharpen. It almost wants to be sharpened! As a result it is ideal for leatherworkers who like to strop constantly to keep their blade at their constant sharpest. D2 will hold and edge longer and is tougher for serious wear, but I have not been impressed with it at low angles and takes a bit more to sharpen. For a travel knife, the D2 is probably much much better, especially as it is not as prone to rust as O1 is.

    I ended up using osage orange for mine, but I love the choice of mastodon tusk. I tend to avoid rare materials, but since mastodon tusk does not endanger any rare trees or animals, I love it!


  • Bill Foote

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for the reply. One more question. I will be making one head knife w/D2 & one w/O1. 3/32″ x 5″ ordered, but the knife will be 4.5″ unless the user changes his mind soon. Would you advise an infinity grind (“V”) holding edge up against the wheel direction while grinding, or a convex (apple seed) grind. I have a Bader III with a slack belt area by taking the flat platen off, or the longer slack belt area on top, with the edge pointing in the direction of the belt travel (like the first step when I sharpen a knife). For accuracy I thought an angled work rest with a pin, and drill a hole at the pivot point, hopefully under the brass bolster of the handle.
    If D2 will hold an edge a long time, which is what he prefers, a convex bevel would work well, but I would have to sharpen it for him occasionally, depending on how much he strops it, preferably before every use.
    Thanks For the Help!, I’ve never ground a head/round/ulu knife and want the whole 180* to be uniform.
    One of them will have one side dropping down 3/4″ and sharpened inside to be used as a pull or draw knife.

  • Bob Strawn

    If you go to my article on making a LeatherWorkers Tool Holster You can see the one I kept for myself. If you are making a few, then here are a few tips that will save you a lot of work.

    First, if you don’t already have a set of good ceramic belts, go to SuperGrit and get a few 36, 60, 120 and 220 ceramic belts for your grinder. A head knife requires a lot of metal removal so starting out rough will save time.

    The second trick is to make a hole at the center of the planned blade arc. If you make a wedge to match the angle and mount that on a board that can be clamped solidly to your tool rest, the angle can be easily matched, If you bolt the blade being shaped to that wedge, through the hole at the center arch, grinding the arc and sharpening the tool will be easy. With the platen present or absent, the result will be a slack belt or flat face. A slack belt grind will be sturdy, but without the same rig you used to make the blade, anything but stropping will leave a pretty mangled finish later on. If you are going to have a second bevel, then a second wedge will also be advised.
    Depending on the shape of the slack belt grind, the knife may end up having issues with really thick or multiple layers of leather.

    The third tip is to attach the handle using Chicago Bolts or some other method that allows the removal of the handle for sharpening. I epoxied mine, and so it is all sharpen by hand. It does nicely enough, but the finish left on the blade is no longer uniform. 🙁

    The fourth tip is for the user. At least for O1, there is no better strop and no better grit than what comes fresh on the flesh side of veg tan leather. The grit does not hold up long, but that is never an issue when you are working veg tan leather. Scraps will do fine. This may be the reason you will see all sorts of sharpening supplies but no strops in a leather working catalog. 🙂


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