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21 November 2010

How to make a crooked knife

I was doing a bit of searching for  crooked knives and found this interesting short article by a chap called Wallace McLean.

The crooked knife I got is an old one that I got from an old Indian feller a long time ago. I made one myself about five years ago.

A lot of people, when they makes a crooked knife, got to have a certain kind of wood to make their fire burn. Some says it got to be birch. Some says it got to be balsam. Me, I don't care what it is.

Crooked Knife by Wallace McLean

You take a set of knives or a bunch of axes, they all look alike, but you get some good ones and some bad ones. 'Tis the same with crooked knives. My one, I made out of an old trap spring, which is the best steel you can get. You might make one that will turn out number one, and you might make a dozen and not get a good one among them.

First you got to take the temper out of the steel. What I do is this. I red hot the steel and cut it to shape with a file. Once you burn the temper out it becomes easy to cut, so then you files it down to the shape you wants. When 'tis finished you heat it up again. Now you dip it in salt water, weak pickle. When you take it out of the pickle, you run your file over it. If the file won't take hold, well, 'tis too hard, and if the file digs in, then 'tis too soft. If 'tis too hard you heat it up on the stove until the file will take hold to your likin'. If 'tis too soft you heat it again and put it back in the pickle.

Wallace McLean

You file a crooked knife on one side. A crooked knife, a plane and a draw-knife is only bevelled on one side.

What I can't do with a crooked knife I can't do at all. The crooked knife is the most tool I ever used in my life. There's lots of people who don't know how to use a crooked knife. I've seen people use them upside down. You can't use it like that. If I was goin' to make a shavin' with a pocket knife. I'd cut away from me. If I was makin' a shavin' with a crooked knife, I'd cut towards me. That's how 'tis done.




  1. That´s a great piece. I could not help but notice how easy the author seems to make it look. "Take that steel and do this and that to it, if you do this, then that will happen".

    I often wonder if we don´t make a big fuss about our knowledge about steels, industrial and such, instead of just doing it. Got a "Selim" knife on a flea market from the son of a Turkish peasant now living in Germany, made from junk metal (spring steel), roughly filed, an olive wood handle fitted to it and a sheath made from some tin can with a leather wrapping. It´s sharp as a razor "out of the box", cuts very well and does not break. What could one expect more? The author is about the same: he does not rant about K110 or 440C Steel. He does what works, and goes straight about it.

    Thanks for sharing, it strengthened my perspective (once more)!Does he have more How-To´s?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Excellent post, thank you.

  4. This guy knows when to stop: when the knife can do what it's intended to do. The knife's got to pay it's way and do a job: he does not care what wood he's using, as long as it does the job efficiently. I think we in the Western world are addicted to what we see as perfection: perfect straight line, micro-millimeters accuracy, 58rc hardness and so on, and if we don't get that, we get withdrawals symptoms.

    I think I have seen another picture of this guy somewhere before but can't find it at the moment. I'll post it if/when I find it.

  5. Found this link:


    Seems to be worth watching...;-)