How to Make Wilderness Survival Knives

Make Wilderness Survival Knives
Make Wilderness Survival Knives (Image:,

Any knife is a survival knife, if it is the one you have with you when you have to stake your life on it. A true tactical knife has several important features, and none of them involve hollow handles, compasses or fishing line. A tactical knife must be usable with only one hand, even if it is a liner lock knife. Most welded or soldered hollow handle knives will fail against a good tactical liner lock or a full-tang, parachute cord-wrapped shank knife with a form fitted sheath and a belt pouch.

This article assumes that the reader is an experienced metalworker and knife maker, and understands basic knife-making and metalworking terminology. It assumes that the reader has access to a fully-equipped metalworking shop, and understands the safe and correct use of the power tools and safety equipment used in metalworking and bladesmithing. Read all books, articles and other resources associated with this article, the eHow article, "How to Make Your Own Knife," by Jane Smith, and the article, "Poof, You're a Sword Smith," before attempting this or any other knife making project.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 Stitching awls
  • 1 piece Hardened, high carbon spring steel
  • Wraparound eye protection
  • Heavy leather work gloves
  • NIOSH-approved respirator
  • Coffee can full of water
  • Bench, angle or body grinder
  • Wire wheel for bench grinder
  • Grinding wheel
  • Yardstick or other thin wood
  • Rubber cement
  • Electrical tape
  • Several yards of paracord
  • Black marker
  • 1/2 yard of Medium quality, vegetable oil-tanned leather
  • Contact cement
  • Sharp awl
  • Sinew or heavy waxed leather stitching thread
  • Newspaper

Follow the directions in my previously-published article, "How to Make Your Own Knife," to make a full tang, Green River skinner-inspired knife.Take particular care to temper the steel slowly, a minimum of three times. You want a happy medium between steel that is tempered enough to resist shattering or snapping when it it dropped, struck or twisted and steel that is so flexible that it bends without returning to shape.

Design your knife with as few parts as possible. Be sure that your knife had a full tang incorporated into the design. A shank knife is usually more reliable in a survival situation than a folding knife. Although tactical liner lock knives have many great features that make them an excellent knife to have with you in a survival situation, the more moving parts a knife has, the easier it is for one of them to fail.

Design your sheath for a quick, one-handed draw. You may be fouled in climbing gear or need to fend off a grapple from a human or animal attacker. A snap closure is preferable to a buckle on your sheath.

Make your sheath and belt pouch from vegetable oil-tanned leather if you will be forming the sheath to the contours of the knife. A contour-formed sheath will fit the knife better, preventing loss. Use the information in Chapter Four: Sheathmaking in Tim McCreight's book, "Custom Knifemaking: 10 Projects from a Master Craftsman," published by Stackpole Books in 1985.

Fill your belt pouch with two or more disposable lighters; a flare pistol and flares; a reflective, insulating sheet of Mylar to use as a blanket, chunks of cut up firestarter in a loosely woven cotton or burlap bag; fish hooks and fishing line; a mini first aid kit and two weeks worth of water purification tablets.

Tips & Warnings

  • According to 20 year veteran industrial and artisan blacksmith, knife and sword maker, Gypsy Wilburn, "I carried the same Green River skinner-inspired knife for over ten years, using and abusing it in all situations while on the road and in my forge. I drove that knife through oil drums to make forges, used it as a hot chisel, cold chisel, pry bar and screwdriver. I finally broke it using it as a hot chisel, cutting a piece of steel to make a hinge for an ice machine. After 10 years of serious abuse, I'd stake my life on that knife any day. If you're worried about the knife not being durable enough, carry two. They're light."

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