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How to Choose the Best Metal File for Knife Making

Creating a knife from metal is a hard enough job without adding some wrinkles to the plan. Some files are made with cheaper steel with a ‘soft’ inside that will never form once worked into a blade. It takes time to get things just right when creating a knife. Don’t be scared off by failing a few times. So read on and learn the best metal files for knife making.

Using a file to work on a knife blade

The Best Files for Knife Making

One of the first things you need to decide when making a knife is what kind of process you will use. We have all seen the Forged in Fire episodes to see how apprentices and masters make their blades by reforging steel bits. Using a file for your base steel or as a tool during stock removal is an essential part of the process.

The Different Types of Knife Making

A table full of various types of pocket knives

To use a file during knife making, you follow one of the four processes associated with bladesmithing and blacksmithing. First, a file must be selected for the quality of the steel and the rasps on the face. If you are using the file as a stock removal piece, you must heat it to ensure it will sharpen to an edge; otherwise, you are wasting time and energy.

The four main types of knife-making are as follows:

  • Stock Removal – Stock removal is taking a file or machine and eating away at the steel until you have the desired shape. Files are used during this process to make sharp turns and edges that a grinder might miss. A good file is essential for sharp edges. If your steel doesn’t sharpen, you must find another piece.
  • Welded Lamentation – Welded lamentation is a process where several small pieces of steel are welded by packing them in the same form and heating them. Welded lamentation makes Damascus steel a fantastic pattern for any cutting instrument. Lamentation creates a unique aesthetic for knives while maintaining integrity.
  • Forging to Shape – Forging is the most popular method of knife making. It involves a forge and all the tools associated with hammering out killer pieces of steel. Unfortunately, forging requires tons of additional tools, and files are always used to place edges on the steel.
  • Investment Cast – A way to make several knives at once is by investment casting. Investment casting involves molten metal and patterns that allow the maker to pump the molds full and crank out several blades at once. Unfortunately, investment-cast knives are mass-produced and often designed to fail. 

The different types of knife-making are critical to files. The adage “iron sharpens iron” only works if you have a hard enough edge to make a blade. If you have tough steel, you must choose an equally hard file. If not, you can grind away and only make a faux edge for decoration.

The Different Types of Files

If you are making a knife and using files as a tool, you must understand that different abrasives can come in several other metals. If you are looking for something ceramic, there’s sandpaper that will do the same thing as a file. Most importantly, companies have stopped producing files that are 1090 steel, but there are ways to check.

Some of the different things to look for when choosing a file are as follows:

  • Break It – One of the best ways to tell if your file is 1090 steel is to break a portion of it off. By looking at the inside of the file, you get an idea of what it is made from. You should break something off the end and not the tang. Remove a small portion and check the color of the steel inside. If it is a dull gray, then you are in business.
  • Made In – Another way to ensure that you have a quality file for knife making is by seeing where it was made. If it was made in a country known for selling cheap items, chances are it has a hard outside or a shell, and the inside is soft steel. The USA makes files that are high carbon 1090 steel unless otherwise noted. 
  • Case-Hardened – One of the cost-effective ways that companies make files is by case-hardening. That means they add a layer of grit on top of soft steel. This allows the companies to sell several files because they wear much faster than high-carbon American-made files.

The best files are the ones that are made from high-carbon 1090 steel. Not only are the rasps tough and rugged, but they last much longer than other files. In addition, files with a name-brand stamped on the side are often made of high-quality steel. Remember that if none of the different methods of verification work, you must heat the steel to ensure it is workable.

Survival and Bushcraft Knives Laying Next to Each Other


“Bladesmithing and knife making is a fun but frustrating pastime,” Says Jason of Bama Knives. “You must have the appropriate type of metal, or you won’t get a hard enough edge to be sharp. If you use files as a metal or tool, you should choose something made from high-quality steel.” So what are the best files for knife making?

The best metal files for knife making are made from high-carbon steel. A few ways to tell if your file is made from high-carbon steel, like breaking off the tip, are much more straightforward than heating and working the steel. A hard file is necessary to get the sharp edge a knife requires. If the steel is soft, it will not hold an edge and be worthless as a hunting or survival tool. 

To create knives, you must understand the role that files play in the process. They are involved in the beginning to test the steel’s strength and brush debris away on other minerals that could be close to the surface. Hardened files make the best knives as they create edges; when worked, they become excellent platforms for creating knives.

For more, check out How To Choose the Best Knife Blanks for Knifemaking Projects.