Cost to Get Started Japanese-style Knife Making

Discussion in 'Shop Talk' started by Fred in PA, Apr 22, 2019.

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  1. Apr 22, 2019 #1

    Fred in PA

    Fred in PA

    Fred in PA

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    I got a kind response from Matus to my introduction to this forum post, where I indicated that I wanted to get into making Japanese-style kitchen knives. He warned me that this is not a cheap hobby. Of course, "cheap" is a qualitative judgment, but I thought I'd post what my initial thoughts are and see if I'm way off base, missing something, etc.

    First warning is that I've only really started my reading on the topic, and have way more of that to do before spending dollars.

    I'm hoping to start out by purchasing steel blanks, then shaping blade with grinding and other metal removal, then sending the blade out for heat treatment, followed by doing the finish work. So I'm not planning on getting the furnaces, etc. needed for forging and heat treating at this time, though I tend to get reasonably obsessed with my interests so who knows that the future might hold.

    With this plan in mind, these are the major expenses I've thought I'd encounter:
    • A good 2 x 72" belt grinder. I realize I could go smaller (2 x 42), and there are some cheap grinders out there, but as this seems like it will be the workhorse tool, and I've never ever regretted buying a good tool over a not-so-good one, I'm kind of figuring that I'll be somewhere in the $1500 to $2500 range for this. I'm researching a KMG, but also saw what look to be nice units on ebay by starcrust2000. Is anyone familiar with these units? Also of course exploring Bader. I'm thinking I'll go with a 2HP variable speed setup, and will want some kind of grinding wheel (thinking 8 - 10" to start out?).
    • I have a small bandsaw, and hoping i can use it for the time being, though may eventually need to upgrade to a 14" model.
    • I need to replace my drill press, (what I have is one I inherited from my father, but it's extremely old and the bearings are totally shot), but again I'm thinking a decent quality bench model should do.
    • Safety equipment, most especially a respirator half mask with good goggles or perhaps a one piece respirator/mask (would appreciate advice on this). I'll happily spend whatever is necessary on PPE.
    • Various hand tools and abrasives, though I already have a lot of this.
    I have good stones -- Shapton glass 500, Naniwa Chosera 800 and 3000, a nice compressed buffalo hide strop, an Atoma 400 diamond stone and several older King stones I've used for years for sharpening woodworking equipment. I also have a bench grinder, radial arm and table saw (very old but they work ok) -- I doubt if I need anything for wooden handle making, and besides which, I like to use hand tools for woodworking as much as possible.

    Is this plan sound for getting started? Anything I'm missing here, especially major purchases?
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  2. Apr 23, 2019 #2

    milkbaby

    milkbaby

    milkbaby

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    Clamps... you can never have too many clamps. Just when you think that you have enough, then you'll end up needing more! :eek::D

    2 HP variable speed means you'll need 220V electrical wired up.

    You may want to think of some sort of air filtration/dust collection system. Breathing metal dust, wood dust, and abrasive dust (from your grinder belts) is no bueno. I grind outside on my front porch always wet grinding so less particles floating around but it's there. It's basically in the open, so I don't have to worry about walking back and forth into a room with a lot of particulate in the air because I just keep the door closed and go through a different one back into the house.
     
  3. Apr 23, 2019 #3

    GoodMagic

    GoodMagic

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    Check out Pheer grinders, Jose is great and the grinder is good value. Belts-check our Pops. Rhynowet sheets for hand sanding. Epoxy- 3M. Good drill bits. Mosaic pins. Handle material. . Steel-NJ Steel Baron. Finish for handles-Tru Oil, tung oil work well on wood. Agee with clamps-for handle. Knife vise . Painters tape.
     
  4. Apr 23, 2019 #4

    RDalman

    RDalman

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    Right on with the 2x72. You'll be running through lots of abrasives. It takes a ton of time by the grinder learning to grind knives well. The reason for doing your own heat treatment would be to make your process more efficient and also quality of the heat treat. Learning every knife steel and model, how close or not you can grind it before heat treatment, makes a world of difference when making monosteel knives. When sending out you will make up for it in extra hours by the grinder and abrasives. Have fun and be safe
     
  5. Apr 23, 2019 #5
    Your list sounds right. I would add - consider how much space you have (and where). Ideally you would like to separate the power tools from the rest of the shop because of dust. Plus you still want to invest in some kind of dust reduction (what you need will depend on how you will setup your shop) as after grinding (wood or steel) fine dust will stay in the air for hours, so if you have to keep working in the same room - you should keep your respirator on even of you do not grind/sand anymore. I have a tiny shop and can not divide it in two parts so I implemented a bit more involved dust reduction system (still not perfect, but helps a lot already).

    The investment in general is also a question of how many hours per week you want to spend making knives.
     
  6. Apr 23, 2019 #6

    Bensbites

    Bensbites

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    I make handles, not blades, although I have dabbled in making blades. I like to work these things backwards.

    Make a couple handles.

    Wood, epoxy, sanding/buffing supplies. I find my tablesaw invaluable here. I prefer different sanders for handles than grinders for blades.

    ——-
    Grinder.... belts. Lots and lots of belts.

    You might want to consider outsourcing your heat treatment to peters heat treat to start.
     
  7. Apr 23, 2019 #7

    Fred in PA

    Fred in PA

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    Thanks everyone, and please keep suggestions coming.

    I agree with Milkbaby you can never have too many clamps. I have a lot (inherited from my Dad, who would come home from his job as a carpenter, eat dinner, then spend the rest of the evening in his shop), and found it hard to believe I'd need more when I did some woodworking projects. I was wrong.

    I will definitely be making my own handles, starting out with Wa type. (I found pretty complete instructions for a good process to follow on this site from mkriggin. Learned a lot from this post.) But that's not where I'm going to have to invest significant money to get started -- I have lots of woodworking tools. Also, down the road I may invest in heat treating and even forging, but want to make sure I enjoy and am able to develop adequate skill in the grinding processes before doing so.

    But you guys have me thinking about setting up a dust control system. Probably should have done that a long time ago, though my woodworking projects have been very intermittent, and again, I tended to do an awful lot of work with hand tools which generate less dust, especially of the finer variety. Also, I'm now retired. Not saying this was good -- like I say, probably should have done this a long time ago.

    My shop is quite small, and especially it's pretty narrow. One of the attractions to knifemaking is the product I'm trying to make is small, where as handling big pieces of lumber in my shop is kind of difficult. But I'm sure I can find room for a dust collection unit. Plan B could be to talk my wife into having us park out cars outside and take over the garage. Clearly that step would be down the road.

    Thanks for the tip on the Pheer grinders, Goodmagic. Looks like a very nice platform based on the pictures. Anyone else have other grinders they recommend?

    New question -- what size rubber grinding wheel would y'all recommend to get started. OK, if I get into this I'll probably have several. Also realize I'll want at least one or maybe a set of small wheels for getting into a choil, fashioning a Western style handle, etc. But I want to make Gyotos, and am thinking I may want to make a shallow hollow grind. Should I start out right away with a 14" or is say a 10" fine for this? Down the road I may want to make single bevel Debas and Yanagibas, but have already read on the BladeForums site about making a wooden jig to attach to the flat platen to imitate a much larger radius to grind the urasuki.
     
  8. Apr 29, 2019 #8

    erezj

    erezj

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    my 2c, grinding a knife Vs forging, cost and romanticizing:

    first of all which one will come out better...probably grinding a blank :-(
    the forging process is quite 'dangerous' you could burn the steel, create stress points and a S*** load of other mistakes.

    BUT !

    the following is mostly a personal view, each might have his own subjective view, for me, most of the fun IS the forging, grinding is a very tedious and accurate work, more machine type working, while the forging is more soul and magic.

    Is cost a real challenge for building a forge, NO. all you need is an old vacuum machine to use as a blower, a few fire bricks...not that expensive, the only substantial expense is the anvil, but you can start with a used 50KG.
    I think the real challenge in forging is the location, you need a ventilated space where you can make a lot of noise.

    If you have the location, I would highly recommend building a forge. If you need advice will be happy to share my own lesson learned.
     
  9. Apr 29, 2019 #9

    playero

    playero

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    Go to blade show they’ll have lots of information. Maybe if you can attend a knife making class.
     
  10. Apr 29, 2019 #10
    After forging always comes ... grinding. So learning grinding first makes more sense to me. And it is much easier to learn grinding starting from a nice flat piece of steel, than starting from an uneven forged blank. From the fun point of view though - ignore what I just said and get that forge!
     
  11. Apr 30, 2019 #11

    Chef Doom

    Chef Doom

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    You will need at least 2 million dollars. Time to hit up a rich uncle.
     
  12. May 6, 2019 #12

    John N

    John N

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    I have got a massive pile of kit, but withing the last year or so purchased a disk sander - might be a 12", or there abouts. cost was about $200/ It is hooked up to a dust extractor that might have been another $300 (think 'machine mart' or whatever your local equiv is)

    I bought a load of sanding disks for it from ebay, with the velcro backing. The crazy thing is, the sander is still on the 1st abrasive disk that came with it. Probably roughed out 30 + handles on it, plus other use. Might be getting near to changing it time. I can rough out a 'Wa' handle on it in about 5 mins. Wish I had got one years ago. A lot of 'bang for the buck'

    Note, I have not ground metal on it, and would not do so as the extractor would go up in flames. I have a 2x72 & a 2x48 belt grinder I use for the steel work, with a trusty bucket of water to catch the sparks, and a bit of the dust.
     
  13. May 13, 2019 #13

    Dan P.

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    Wise words, but I have to say I really love grinding. Maybe I'm weird.
     
  14. May 13, 2019 #14

    tgfencer

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    You have those awesome water wheels though! In comparison, a 2x72 is a bit less exciting.

    @Fred in PA -One thought might be to find a maker near to you in the Mid-Atlantic/NE and see if you can get some insight into the process, maybe even make a knife of your own under their tutelage. Some experience might help you get an idea of what you might need/want and how you want to proceed moving forward in your own efforts. It may cost you a bit, but it may also save you some when it comes to pulling together your own setup
     
  15. May 13, 2019 #15

    osakajoe

    osakajoe

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    Title confused me. You’re asking for minimum cost to get started making Japanese style knives with western methods? Not the costs to get started doing it the Japanese way correct?
     
  16. May 14, 2019 #16

    WildBoar

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    The thread title was not a question, but a statement, I am guessing since it was not written with a question mark. Seems more like a listing of what it takes, but without actually listing the OP's costs after all.
     
  17. May 14, 2019 #17

    osakajoe

    osakajoe

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    Well whatever the method is I agree with most you’re heading into one expensive venture. Get ready to drop a good amount of money alone on just initial setup.

    I recommend having 15,000 - 30,000 (USD) to play with for starting up.
     
  18. May 14, 2019 #18

    Dan P.

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    The methods may vary but given that most Japanese equipment is similar to (based on) Western equipment I imagine the costs would be about the same. But he is talking about stock removal, as stated in the first post, which would be considerably less expensive than a forging set up.
    Concerning what it would cost, it depends on what you can make yourself, or buy second hand, and how much money you have to spend.
    The Old adage about getting the best you can afford is very applicable here, and that includes the best customer after purchase care when dealing with machinery.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  19. May 21, 2019 at 11:27 AM #19

    erezj

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    Obliviously initial price range may vary pending on your personality and ability, the sky is the limit, and it is easy to reach $20K easily, however, I started by targeting the low part of the expense range, my cost were:

    Post forging tools (Stock removal) : $200
    1. Angle Grinder: $80
    2. Belt Sander : $100
    3. Belts, Sand paper, Sharpie : $20

    Forging equipment: ~$1900

    1. 70 KG second hand anvil: $1500
    2. Fire Bricks: $150
    3. Blower: 0 (used old vacuum cleaner)
    4. Coal....depends on amount, not that expensive
    5. Hammer and Thongs: $250

    With the initial setup, I had succeded in creating:

    1. Monosteel
    2. Damascus
    3. Wrought Iron, Nikel, 1095 SanMai
    4. S*** loads of other forging gadgets (hangers, spice racks...)

    Now, slowly slowly, once I found that I enjoy the process, I am buying some more high end specific tools...
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019 at 11:43 AM
  20. May 21, 2019 at 12:10 PM #20
    That is an interesting list, but the stock removal part does not really make much sense to me - especially compared to a $1500 anvil. Yes - one can start with a $100 belt sander (I did and it worked OK even if super slow), but then also with a piece of rail instead of a proper anvil.

    If one wants to stock removal more seriously, than a proper 2x72" belt grinder grinder with a VFD is going to cost about as much as a proper anvil for the smith. Belts - $10 - $20 per knife I would say.
     
  21. May 21, 2019 at 1:20 PM #21

    erezj

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    Matus, Totally agree that the list above doesn't make sense in general, but I already had a grinder and belt sander, so pretty much the only thing I bought was the Anvil. I preferred to buy a really good one to last or to easily sell if I dont get hooked.

    Besides, the whole process from the initial thought: "it would be cool to learn how to forge a knife" to giving my son a finished forged knife for his 4th birthday took about a month.
    It was more of a spontaneous passionate project that a well planned one.

    In the list above I was hoping to balance previous posts by giving an example that it is possible to start VERY cheap, and get really good results (tones more of elbow grease though).

    I for one would be happy to see more amateur knife makers out there.

    Its really fun
     
  22. May 21, 2019 at 1:22 PM #22
  23. May 21, 2019 at 1:27 PM #23

    erezj

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  24. May 21, 2019 at 3:32 PM #24

    CoteRotie

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    You hammer while wearing thongs? I guess it's hot work....
     
  25. May 21, 2019 at 3:46 PM #25

    osakajoe

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    The reason I was asking on which method to use is because I’m probably the only person on here who doesn’t think in terms of belt grinders. They are pretty foreign to me. And from what I’ve seen and experienced, far slower.

    Big water wheels and buffing machines is what I know and why I asked earlier. So getting started Japanese to me meant going with the Japanese method, and being prepared to sell your benz. I’d be happy to share my knowledge but let’s wait for the flood to stop.
     
  26. May 21, 2019 at 4:00 PM #26

    scott.livesey

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    Rather than trying to do Japanese-style knife making, why not make knives that have their best qualities. High hardness, good edge stability, good geometry, light weight, comfortable handles. You are not going to find Hitachi blade steel in the states, so you will have to make do(cue the tears) with stuff like 52100, O-1, A-2, and the newcomer 26C3 and do stock removal. Your budget list is reasonable. For a beginner, IMHO, start with 1 Hp and a flat platen. Learn the basics before trying hollow grinding(do Japanese makers hollow grind?) A basic tabletop drill press will be fine. Plan to spend 200-300 on stuff like drill bits, pins, belts, and related stuff. A basic furnace can be found for cheap if you Shop. Just some ideas.
    the old sailor
     
  27. May 21, 2019 at 8:07 PM #27

    Dan P.

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    You are confusing "Western" methods with "hobbyist" methods. Large diameter grinding wheels, glazing wheels and buffing wheels originated in Europe, and are still used there, albeit to a much lesser degree than in the past. Belt abrasives have improved so much that even where hand grinding is still done belt abrasives are preferred over traditional glazing wheels for quality and consistency, though they are more expensive, but even then within industry belts used will 3000mm, 4000mm or longer, not the 27" common amongst hobbyists and micro manufacturers.
    At the end of the day, it depends on who you are and what you are doing and where you want to go with it. A brand new water cooled grinding wheel would set you back maybe £4k, and you will probably want at least two different grits. The guy who taught me about big grinding wheels gets through one 40"x7" a year, and the stone itself costs £900-1500, but he is grinding 300-500 pieces a day. Glazing wheels in rough to fine grades would probably only cost you £200 or so, maybe more if you needed to get somebody to make up some wheels for you out of wood or whatever.
    Or, in the event that you are not going to be cranking out hundreds of pieces a day, you could get a really nice variable speed grinder for a couple of k and be done with it.
    In terms of forging set up, a good used power hammer will cost £3-4k, depending on where you live. A forge you will want to make yourself for under £100, and an anvil, again depending on where you are, would probably be £200-500.
    Whatever tools you go with, however, your most important tools will be your body, your mind, and your experience, and you can do a lot with a little with a bit of initiative.
     

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