View Full Version : Jigs: Curse or Cure?

06-12-2010, 10:52 PM
I had an interesting discussion at dinner Saturday night of the Blade Show with Don Cowles (my dad) and David Broadwell about jigs. Both were adamantly against them!

David held up his hands and said, "These are my jigs." They both were of a mind that they were the only jigs you needed or should use and the trick was plenty of practice practice practice. They said using a physical jig will not get the job done right on knives with more complex curves or styles and learning to make knives while using jigs was in many ways limiting your evolution as a knifemaker. I am paraphrasing a bit, but I thought it was a warning worth heeding and an interesting topic for further discussion. huh1

I don't think a child should get velcro shoe straps before they can tie their own shoes, digital watches before they can tell time, or calculators before they can do basic math. I'm not being old fashioned. Learning to tie ones shoes teaches hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, process, and builds confidence. Math teaches everyone, even non-scientists and engineers, to think. Sometimes progress is progress. I can't read smoke signals worth a hoot. :D

Brad Anderson
06-12-2010, 11:27 PM
I agree with your dad and Mr. Broadwell. If you want to be able to grind whatever idea comes to mind, you are best to do your grinding freehand. Yes, there is a learning curve and you will toss a few blades when starting out but thats a small price to pay for not having to design and make a new jig every time you want to make a different style of knife.

Patience and practice doing it freehand will pay off in the end. Try to make a jig to do a grind like a nightmare grind on a Strider and youll see where the limitations of a jig are.

Jigs work great for production work, but most of us aren't grinding the exact same blade size and shape 100's of times in a row.

06-12-2010, 11:53 PM
Jigs just may be tools that the maker decides if, when, where and how to use them. There're lots of other jigs besides blade grinding ones. Many folder makers will time their locks and springs with jigs as well as precision dimension stock. The plenty of practice part makes a lot of sense. It might take hard earned experience to decide when to use a jig well.

Just thoughts, Craig

06-13-2010, 12:14 AM
My one year old boy has velcro shoes. I think he would really struggle to tie his own laces. I think it would be a bit unfair to make him do without until he can learn to tie knots. ;)

06-13-2010, 06:49 AM
As I see it we use jigs to do many tasks every day. I’m a computer guy been working with them for over 30 years. Suppose I told you that you had to learn to spell before you could use a spell checker :( or learn HTML before you could post on a Knife forum. Let’s go a little farther and say you have to be able to build your own car before you can drive or even learn to cook before eating. Like Craig said a jig is just a tool and like any tool there is a proper way to use it. Not all of us on this forum are ever going to be anything other than recreational knife makers. Jigs just help us to try different styles and let us produce a better product with less effort and time. Just like a spell checker lets you express yourself without having to know how to spell.

06-13-2010, 08:02 AM
I don't use a jig. I think a jig is part of the learning curve not the whole journey. I would agree that it gives recreational makers a leg up.

Ernie Swanson
06-13-2010, 08:29 AM
Just letting everyone know to keep any arguments to a minimum. And argue nicely!

This can be a very touchy subject and we do not need this thread closed.

06-13-2010, 08:31 AM
My topic refers to using jigs for grinding. Thanks.

Brad Singley
06-13-2010, 08:58 AM
Jigs for grinding=no. Jigs for fitting guards=yes. IMO

06-13-2010, 09:10 AM
there are some strong feelings about this but I'm not sure why. I guess because if one camp says you don't need jigs and the other says you do, there is lack of respect implied some how. The reality is there are jigs used by *a lot* of people in virtually every aspect of knife making. It's a common industrial technique to improve production and quality.

It seems most of the debate comes from learning to grind free hand vs. using a jig of some sort. I can see the value in learning how to grind free hand as that is how I've learned but I can also see the value in not having to grind a couple hundred blades before I got something I could really appreciate too had I used a jig. Many (most) veteran knife makers will tell a noob to learn free hand first, then use a jig if you want. That's how they did it, that's how the noobs should do it. Free hand grinding is a higher skill level it seems. Learn the higher skill first so you have that to draw from. Maybe noobs should be encouraged to learn grinding with a jig first and then learn the higher skill as a natural progression?

My opinion, FWIW, is a maker should learn free hand grinding at some point but if they want to use jigs, I think that is fine also. I use a tool rest often. It speeds things along for me. I don't get a better grind, I get a faster grind. I can free hand the grind just good as using the tool rest. If I add a jig into the process, I won't get a better grind but I will get a faster one and sometimes that is good.

Justin King
06-13-2010, 09:42 AM
If one is using a jig to accomplish something that they are not practised enough to do by hand, then a jig is a crutch. Otherwise it is just another piece of tooling that helps insure repeatability and increase output volume.

The same could be said of using a pattern to scribe profiles before cutting them out. I bet there was a time when scribing a center-line on the edge of your blank was considered to be cheating by the old timers who learned to line everything up by eyeball. For my money's worth, if one is truly a "hand-made purist", then forging and filing is the only way to go.

Ernie Swanson
06-13-2010, 10:05 AM
I built a jig to grind a better flat grind. I ground my first 14 blades free hand and I will continue to grind free hand. The jig I built showed me exactly how flat a flat grind should be. There are some knives I will still use the jig with and alot I will not. I also plan to Free hand hollow grinds as soon as I get my grinder built.

06-13-2010, 11:09 AM

One of the things that repeatedly sets you apart from many new makers is teachability. You are willing to learn and try new things and by no means do you habitually take the easier, softer way. It shows in your work and your work ethic.

David commented about some new makers asking how to do things, and then not only flat out rejecting the advice, but arguing about it. That type of arrogance will make the fountains of knowledge dry up in a heartbeat! The majority of the folks here are very teachable.

A few of the things I have learned (often the hard way) are:

Take what you want and leave the rest.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Success leaves clues.

Never call a lady police officer "Fatboy".

Ernie Swanson
06-13-2010, 11:12 AM
Never call a lady police officer "Fatboy".


Lol, Thanks now i have pepsi all over my laptop.

Thanks for the compliment Rock!!

06-13-2010, 11:47 AM
THe only jig, per say, I have used thus far has been a file guide (used it once). Don't get me wrong, I've considered it and feel that if you want to it's your decision. THe main reason I haven't used one is that I feel I need to learn to do it freehand for my own personal fulfillment.

With that being said, I feel it's up to the maker. Make the decision that is going to give you the best "warm fuzzy" about your work. As long as you are proud of the product that you produced at the end of the day, does anyone else's opinion really matter?

Just my $0.02 guys/gals.

06-13-2010, 02:45 PM
This is often a topic of much contention between factions. However, I think if it's discussed without folks getting angry, it can be a very good learning topic.

Do I encourage people to grind with jigs? No. Do I use jigs? Yes.

Let me explain.....unless an individual has the mechanics down, and some experience under their belt(s), jigs can cause more harm than good. Why? Although there is a small learning curve associated with how to use a given grinding jig, for the most part they tend to create a situation where the individual using them does not have to learn much (I'm speaking of beginning/newer makers here). Although a grinding jig might give some that instant gratification they desire, it's very often times a severe limiting factor in the future. I've seen it MANY times...an individual who started out grinding with a jig becomes accustom to the results they achieve, are not willing to settle for anything less, and rather than apply the time and effort to learn some free hand grinding, remained very limited in the knives they designed/make....all because they could only grind one or two blade profiles by using the grinding jig. Where as IF they had learned to free hand grind, their creative abilities would be nearly limitless.
In other words, by a beginner using a grinding jig, it creates a dependency situation...the individual simply cannot, or will not grind a blade without the jig, and in the process robs themselves of learning one of the greatest skills in knifemaking. I guess in a nutshell I'm talking about versatility. Often times a jig can produce one type of grind, on one type of knife profile...learning to grind freehand gives an individual MUCH more versatility in that they can adapt to just about any knife profile imaginable.

OK, now for the second part. I mentioned that I do use jigs.....however, there is nothing that I can do with a jig, that I cannot do free hand. All the jig allows me to do is save time in certain situations. For example, when I produce stock removal, stainless steel EBKs. With a jig I can rough grind these knives in 1/4 of the time it takes me to do is freehand, but I can still do it freehand if necessary. In that instance it's no different than the air hammer or the press that I have in the blacksmith shop. I can do all the operations of those machines by hand, the machines just save me tons of time. The other reason is that I realize that as I get older, and my body starts downhill, I may not be capable of being as steady as I was in my youth. In short, I'm planning for the inevitable.

Jigs and fixtures used for grinding, are very often a double edge sword...and as with most things in knifemaking, if you choose to become dependent on a jig, your going to give something else up. It's up the the individual if the pros outweigh the cons....but for me, I would much rather be able to grind any blade profile a customer throws at me, rather than have to make up an excuse as to why I can't or won't build them the blade they want simply because I know that my grinding jig will not allow me to do it.

So, in the end it's really going to be up to each individual. My opinion is to learn to grind freehand. It will make you much more versatile, much more confident, and in the end will only make you a better knifemaker. If you're going to use jigs, use them for redundant operations, where they are a time saver, rather than a crutch.

LR Adkins
06-13-2010, 02:46 PM
The whole world considers a true craftsman to be the person who makes a beautiful piece by hand.

I showed my brother-in-law a bowie I made several years ago and he took it to his shop(he is a machinist)and duplicated it using his equipment. It looked every bit as good as mine and he had way less time in it. It was his first knife by the way.

If you didn't know how the two knives were made who would you call the craftsman?

I started out forging and filing my knives many years ago as a hobby. I graduated to some stock removal after I bought a homemade knife grinder at an auction. Later I made some jigs to help me. I found they limited me to very few knife blade shapes, so I used the jigs some and hand ground the rest.

I agree you should learn to hand grind or you will be limited on what knives you can make. This discussion could go on forever and it won't ever be settled. I say make your knives however works for you and be happy. The end results will tell the story.

I still think you're missing out if you don't try it by hand:)


LR Adkins
06-13-2010, 02:55 PM
Ed, your post popped up as I submitted mine. You said exactly what I was thinking and I don't think it could have been said better.

Every one needs to remember, we are trying to help those who are starting out to be the best they can be.


06-13-2010, 04:43 PM
I think a thing to be wary of is too great of a dependence on our tools. Anyone can go out and buy a half dozen solid dependable, well thought out and executed production knives for less than they can set up a decent shop. I think the feeling of satisfaction would be much greater spending the time to make a knife by hand and learning those skills first. I don't think the truly great makers are working on volume, but exclusivity; making a limited amount of extremely beautiful custom knives. Productivity is certainly important when making a living, but the basic skills well learned will take you further faster overall.

Keith Willis
06-14-2010, 03:44 PM
I have never used a jig for grinding,although I sometimes think of the many many
blades that I have thrown away or just stuck a handle on and give them to friends
or family.I feel it is a personal thing,and I am sure if I had one that worked,there would be times that I would use it.I would like to fix me a work rest.I see where it
would be a big help.

I also would like to have a jig to help me do the final edge,to get it sharp.
This is where I have my biggest problem.
Anyone have any suggestions?

God bless,Keith

06-14-2010, 05:14 PM
Power grinders are Ok .. but jigs are bad....that's funny.

if you want real handmade you have to unplug all your power tools.

As for me I'll use any tool that makes things easier.

Rudy Joly
06-14-2010, 05:55 PM
I made these sharpening blocks a while ago and help get that bevel started.
I cut different angles on my chop saw and attached them to 3/8" plywood with just the right amount of gorilla glue. I only use these with higher grit trizac belts because there is some hazard sharpening edge up. A "toothy belt will grab and possibly twist your blade out of your hands. A light touch is the way to go. Once I establish an even bevel I finish the edge with an 8" stone. So far it's worked well.


06-14-2010, 06:36 PM
I was taught that you are only as good as your tools. I was also taught that your hands are tools. So I guess what I'm trying to say is there are a lot of different paths to get to the same place and in this case jig or not it starts with your hands. You have to use your hands to freehand,use a jig,or use a mill in a machine shop. You have to have the skill in your hands no matter what method you use. My 2 cents no matter what your hands are the most important tool in the shop.

06-14-2010, 11:34 PM
Being relatively new to the knife making world I have found myself trying to come up with ways to simplify the tasks at hand(especially grinding), the problem is there is nothing simpler than just using your hands... Jigs take practice just like anything else, but with any jig I truly feel that you are limiting yourself and constraining your possibilities. Using a jig will produce constant results but it will hinder creativity to a point to where I truly do not see the advantage. Speaking for myself of course, I believe that making a knife is no different than painting or sculpting, it's those small imperfections that make them so attractive. If someone wanted an absolutely flawless piece of cutlery or artwork for that matter, your local big box store sells them all day. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I find something wrong with every blade that leaves my shop. There is a reason people are willing to pay more for a "hand made" knife, it involves more than the knife, it has just as much to do with the person behind the tools. Am I condemning those that choose to use jigs, absolutely not, I'm simply suggesting that one should at least have a firm grasp on the principles of free hand grinding before they use something that may put a strangle hold on their progression as a knife maker.

Rudy Joly
06-15-2010, 05:17 PM
I still grind my blades free hand, but after breaking my left wrist two years ago, I still havn't regained that muscle memory I used to have. These little blocks made the difference between having lots of shop knives or actually moving them. They're the only jigs I use and really keep me from sharpening the tips right off my knives.:eek: I wish I'd thought of it 20 years ago.


06-16-2010, 08:38 PM
I have a significant amount of experience with steel in other areas, if jigs and fixtures where not used in machine work you would never get past the protype stage of many things. Prototypes are hand-crafted and in many cases works of art. With out jigs and fixtures we would not have some of the incredible antique or modern woodwork we see. With out jigs and fixtures we may as well go back to the stone age; obsidian knives anybody?

On the other hand early on Ed and a couple of others made valid points on becoming to reliant, on jigs and not learning the basics. I for one will use jigs because of the limited time I have for practice but will continue learning the basics as I go.2thumbs

C Craft
06-17-2010, 08:23 AM
This subject has been done to death and there is no answer that satisfies everyone!

Myself in my life before I really got into knife making I was a carpenter first and cabinet maker and furniture maker. I learned that there was an advantage at times to letting the machine do the work for me. I could expect the same results time after time.

However I also learned that there were some things when it came down to it, that no machine could duplicate, and to achieve the same results over and over required the task be done by hand.

The only way you learn to do this kind of a task is to buckle down and do it entirely by hand. Sure you’re going to screw up but, learn from your mistakes and do it again and again and pretty soon. People will look at your work and say, "you must have done that on a machine". Then you have the pleasure and telling them there is no machine made that can duplicate the same results.

Now I am not saying a jig may help you to get the basics down but until you learn to solo you will never fly! 2thumbs

Keith Willis
06-17-2010, 04:18 PM
Thanks Rudy,I left this one and just came back.
It may be a handicap to work with jigs,and I am ok with that.
After being born with Spinal Bifida,having 4 back surgeries
and looking at,at least 1 more,2 hand sugeries,knee sugery
and looking at 1 more,among several other sugeries.What's
1 more handicap?:D
This will be my only jig I use,and unless someone shows me
a jig that may work better,i'm going to make me some of these.

Hey Rudy,what angle are they cut at?
Thanks brother,2thumbs

God bless,Keith

Rudy Joly
06-17-2010, 07:53 PM
I cut a few of them starting at 22.5 degrees and going down 5 degrees at a time. You really can't cut just one. Which block you use is dependant on how wide your blade is and how high your grind is. For example...if your blade is 1-1/4" wide with a full flat grind, I'd use my 17 degree block because the bevel ground in the blade takes away from the 17 degrees block and actually makes the grind shallower than 17 degrees. Hopefully you wind up around 20- 25 degrees +/-.
I'm with you on the 4 back cuts and one busted wrist.

Hope it works for you.

06-17-2010, 09:19 PM
I think I have had a personal breakthrough on the "jigs debate" and it came through a metaphor.

Jigs can be like training wheels or tricycles. It is not only one way to learn, but it can be a way to continue indefinitely. I think a lot of old schoolers would say that you will never really understand or appreciate what you or the bicycle are capable of if you learn with the safe way or are afraid to try without it after you have gained proficiency with it.

There are just things that cannot be done on a tricycle or without taking the training wheels off and learning balance and developing strength.

Keith Willis
06-17-2010, 09:44 PM
I cut a few of them starting at 22.5 degrees and going down 5 degrees at a time. You really can't cut just one. Which block you use is dependant on how wide your blade is and how high your grind is. For example...if your blade is 1-1/4" wide with a full flat grind, I'd use my 17 degree block because the bevel ground in the blade takes away from the 17 degrees block and actually makes the grind shallower than 17 degrees. Hopefully you wind up around 20- 25 degrees +/-.
I'm with you on the 4 back cuts and one busted wrist.

Hope it works for you.

Thanks Rudy,I am sure it will help me a lot.2thumbs

God bless,Keith

Frank Niro
06-18-2010, 03:25 AM
What I have been reading here is that the blade grinding jig is going to limit your advancement. For sure I would then have to say "you better throw it away". On the other hand if it is used like the milling machine that is set up to be used by jigging the piece be it a blade or otherwise, or like a CNC machine that can work off of a programe but must be set in a "jig", or the water cutting machines that many make use of a set positioning of material wheredoes the harm exsist? A maker using the CNC seems as pleased with his work as the one cutting his blade on the milling machine or hand grinding the blade.How can anyone sit back and decide for anyone else where or when the jig for grinding or anything else be used or not? And why is it that a jig for many things is okay but not for blade grinding? If the work is successful to the person doing it then the results are good. If we are saying to makers you will need a lot more than a grinding jig to get you great looking blades we may be right. Again I say so what? Several years ago I remember reading that in order for the knife to be hand crafted you had to hold the part in your hand or the tool that was being used. There would not be any jigs there and nt many surface grinders. Today, as I see it , it isn't either how the knife (blade) is made, or the materials used but how good the results are. So, if the grinding jig helps someone to get there, why not? It is being used as the lathe, milling machine or surface grinder. It's the results that count and where experience wants to suggest that the jig is bad or good, the advice is only that and doesn't ensure any positive results either way. We all advance or not at our own speed. We change the styiling, finishing of what we make and change the tools to do the work with as we go. I certainly don't feel that I'm condeming someone to poor work in the future by showing them how at this time in their progress when they have decided help is needed to suggest a jig for grinding blades can improve their work. It seems to me it is no different than suggesting a surface grinder for certain work could be a real help. There are many known makers that use all sorts of equipment to make their knives. Is there advancement at a stand still because they aren't hand grinding? Frank

James Terrio
06-18-2010, 05:48 AM
I think it's true that relying solely on jigs or ultra-modern machinery is limiting in ways. However...

If the work is successful to the person doing it then the results are good... Today, as I see it , it isn't either how the knife (blade) is made, or the materials used but how good the results are.

I also agree with Frank. Coal, gas or electricity, forged or stock removal, CNC or files and sandpaper... I honestly don't care. As long as the maker isn't pretending to do something he didn't, which I doubt anyone here would ever do. If the maker is achieving the design he wants and the customer is happy, it's all good!

As for me, I have a few blades profiled by Dave at Great Lakes Waterjet because I wanted a consistent batch and it turned out to be cost-effective, but the only jig I use currently is a file guide. I do 99% of my grinding and sharpening by hand partly because I just like doing it that way. Just my $.02 :)

Fletch Helical
06-18-2010, 08:08 AM
This is one of those debates that can go in forever. Like some have said there are people who believe that "doing it the way they had to do it". And others that don't think it's necessary to screw up "x" amount of blades and whatnot either. Take woodworking for example there are jigs used all the time in that craft for all kinds of things. Should someone "have" to become a master at hand cutting dovetail joints before grabbing a router and a dovetail jig? If so why?

Think of all the different tools and jigs used in wood working that are used to make joints, edges, etc. Who would agree that they believe that a person interested in wood working should be able to perfectly make box joints, dovetail joints, mortise and tenon joints, etc. by hand before making them in a jig?

There are people in almost every aspect of life who have become extremely proficient at something and it took them a lot of practice to master that. Now no matter what that craft or skill set it is it took a lot of practice and likely blood, sweat, tears, and likely some heartache to get there. Maybe some people believe that others should have to "suffer like they did" so to speak to get to a certain stage. But If there is something that can cut the learning curve down quite a bit I don't see where the harm is.

There is a debate among archers that has been around as long as the compound bow has been invented between compound shooters and traditional (recurve, longbow) shooters. The traditionalists talk about the "training wheels" on a compound and how there are guys who can literally shoot asprin out of the air with a stick and string that compound shooters can never do. However the VAST majority of compound shooters have and will maintain more accuracy than probably 99% of the traditionalists do. Their argument is "Man has hunted like this hundreds of years before the "training wheels" came out".... Of course they often leave out that the bulk of it was done in groups and everyone was flinging arrow at the same target, eventually a few of them will hit something vital :D.

Personally I think the bottom line is: If what you do helps YOU accomplish YOUR goal then who really cares. If someone grinds freehand, with a jig, with a file,, or with their feet does it make them any less of a knife maker?

Rudy Joly
06-18-2010, 10:23 AM
I'm convinced some people really over think this stuff.
In my case I've done everything free hand since starting this adventure. Did I have to ? According to what I've learned along the way, I now realize...NO. I figured out how to compensate for an injury, plain and simple. If you read Keith's post on his injuries and surgeries, who can fault him (or anyone else) for finding ways to continue doing what he enjoys doing. I'm starting to wonder if my cross pein and anvil when used together could be considered jigs too.huh1:D

Fletch has it covered pretty well.


Mike Carter
06-18-2010, 10:41 AM
I will wholeheartedly agree that equally good knives can be made freehand or using jigs. It's just that some people prefer to make their knives freehand and some people prefer to buy knives that were made freehand.

I do think it takes a bit more skill to grind freehand. Another consideration is the uniqueness of a freehand grind. Unlike knives made using templates, jigs, guides or other pre-set tools, every freehand ground knife will be a little different. The differences are a result of the makers experince, interpetation, judgement and feel of when it is right.

Those little differences are what gives a handmade knife character and makes it unique to that particular knifemaker.

Rudy Joly
06-18-2010, 10:59 AM
I agree with you 99 percent. I think I'd loose intrest pretty fast if all knifemaking operations required some sort of set up for jigs to complete a knife. Having already gathered the ability to go free hand is definately an asset....but circumstances change in life. The original topic between Keith and I was related to just plain sharpening....the genie got out of the bottle again.:eek:


Les George
06-18-2010, 11:48 AM
Jigs are just tool, tools are nothing more than what you do with them. Knifemakers make knives with tools, simple as that.

I dont use much jigs for much of anything, not because I don't like them.

Funny observation I have made in the last few years about jigs, CNC or whatever it is that is currently threatening the purity of handmade knives, is most people that are against a thing only have a passing knowledge of it....

Not all but most. Just my observation. :)

Frank Niro
06-18-2010, 01:54 PM
There seems to be another common tone here that a grinding jig will create knives the same from the same blank or outline. Here again this is only true perhaps with a certain particular jig. I can make dropped points, trailing points, clips. spear points, skinners, Persians and boot shaped blades from the one simple jig I use, and I can make them different one from another in the same pattern. BUT, I do believe too that it requires more skill to do it free hand as Mike said.As well if it helps to accomlish your goals as Fletch said, then why not?
I see on very accomplished maker who is using CNC equipment to produce repeated patterns. Some could be very involved to make by hand. Hisd work looks great and his styling is in every knife he makes. His prices always seem to be far lower than would be expected. He certainly is supplying a market that wants what he makes. Now THERE is a real jig for you !

06-18-2010, 09:48 PM
If some one has their blades cut out on a water jet and then does everything else by hand and some else does everything by hand except grind their bevels is one of those knives less handmade than the other? I don't think so.

I to used to be a carpenter and still make the occasional piece of furniture. Through the years I've used lots of different jigs for different tasks. One thing has always been the same if you tell 100 hundred guys to build a house you will see 100 different techniques to get to the same destination. If the end result is the same who really cares. There's craftsmanship involved in the process no matter what. I've seen carpenters that couldn't read a print to save their lives work right alongside some of the best print readers in the business and they both ende up with the same result. Why? Because they are craftsman just like every body here that takes a piece of steel and turns it into a beautiful and functional knife.

Bottom line is do your best,strive to get better and use what you are comfortable using to get your end result.

06-22-2010, 01:46 PM
I really like Les's point about people having a passing knowledge of something.

I think about 98% of the folks who get their panties in a twist about machining equipment would have a change of heart if they actually signed up for a couple of machining classes.

It's only easy when you don't actually have to prove that you can or can't do it. ;)

It's always fascinating where people draw the line on what's okay in the way of tools.

Keith Willis
06-23-2010, 11:04 AM
I really like Les's point about people having a passing knowledge of something.

I think about 98% of the folks who get their panties in a twist about machining equipment would have a change of heart if they actually signed up for a couple of machining classes.

It's only easy when you don't actually have to prove that you can or can't do it. ;)

It's always fascinating where people draw the line on what's okay in the way of tools.


I ran a CNC milling machine for 8 years Nick,and I agree.When I first started
learning to write programs,using G-code programming,it all looked easy,but I never got real good at writing programs.I will say that even after you learn the programing,that was just half of it,you have to know where you want the part,how and where to clamp it to start off.There is a lot more to it than most would think.
I dream of the day I can have just a simple milling machine in my shop,but I would hate to know I had to go back in a machine shop to make a payday after being out for 7 years:bud:.It aint easy.

God bless,Keith

06-23-2010, 08:47 PM
"It's always fascinating where people draw the line on what's okay in the way of tools." by Nick & quoted by Keith
I agree. Dozier

I pretty much wonder (get irritated) why some people think their lines are better than someone else's lines?

06-28-2010, 08:46 AM
:DI used to be able to dance a little jig!dancing dog.

06-29-2012, 10:53 PM
Here is my take on jigs. They are a tools and should be treatef as such. With that said I think what set makers apart from one another is not ne the grind but rather the fit and finish of the final product. if a person chooses to make a particular style knife and the jig fits their purpose, I say go for it. As collector and aspiring maker, for fit and finish is what matters. the grind is just one part of the process. Heat treating is a major part of the process and yet alot of people send their blades out. In that case, there is major part NOT being done by the maker.

Calvin Robinson
06-30-2012, 07:14 AM
I don't use a jigg to grind my bevels,I do use a tool rest to rest my hands on,I don't rest the knife on the tool rest,just my hands. This keeps my hands from hurting so bad at the end of the day. I learned to grind bevels and sharpen free hand and still sharpen free hand but switched to a tool rest for grinding bevels after attending Bill Rupel and Rusty Preston's Texas Slipjoint School and seeing how fast Bill can grind bevels using this method. Speed of getting the job done was the reason for switching to this method and a side benefit is that my hands don't ache as bad at the end of the day.
I have a good friend that I taught how to make knives,I showed him how to hollow grind freehand but he will not attempt it because of his fear of failure, he uses a jigg to grind flat bevels and they turn out very nice. I don't hold this against him.
I'll tell you all,I can MESS UP a knife just as badly using the tool rest as I can using the freehand method and I'll tell you this too,my knives are perfect untill I start grinding bevels and after that every pass is an attempt to correct the mistake I made on the previous pass. That is why I say, it is only by the Grace of God that I can make a knife at all!

06-30-2012, 07:20 AM
I too agree we all need to learn to free hand grind. I have ground all my blades this way but I have also looked into a jig for my larger orders simply to get the job done faster and get the knife off to the customer in a reasonable amount of time. I will never allow the jig to replace my free hand grinding but to only assist me when I need to speed things up a little. But this statement I completely agree with " I don't think a child should get velcro shoe straps before they can tie their own shoes, digital watches before they can tell time, or calculators before they can do basic math." we except maybe the velcro strap thing. My son is 1 1/2 and he has velcro straps so he can put on his own shoes.

Matt Bufford
06-30-2012, 11:42 PM
I personally learned To flat grind using a jig. While it definitely has limitations when it comes to more exotic curvatures or complex grinds, it really helped me learn the basic mechanics of grinding.

My first attempt at a blade was freehand on a 1x30 grinder. This was well before I even knew any other knife makers or that forums like these even existed. I butchered that first one, so I cut off another 8" chunk, and went to grinding again. I kept making the same mistakes because I just didn't understand the mechanics, movements, or even angles for grinding. After that I decided to fabricate a simple jig that would fit on the tool rest of my 1x30. I used that on a few blades, and was amazed at how it improved the outcome. So, I put on my big boy shorts, and tried again freehand... And success. It wasn't a perfect grind, but it was good. The jig mostly taught me how to hold the blade against the grinder and how to move it. Later on, I buy by 2x72 grinder. And holy cow, my grinds go to crud again. I built a new jig, and went to town with it. Made some great blades, and after a few successes I again tossed it aside and went freehand. Getting good grinds since.

I hear a lot of people dog jigs, and say things like "they are a crutch.". I love that analogy, but because it is a crutch. You just have to realize that crutches are just there until you are strong enough to walk without them. Some people may never be able to walk without crutches; but that doesn't mean they should be patronized simply because they can not do something as well as you can.


07-08-2012, 07:24 AM
good morning,
my tuppence. i have not seen jigs/guides/fixtures for sale except four ones to use with sharpening stone. i have several basic jigs i use to get repeatability. i designed and made them. i think we are wandering into a right brain left brain area. i know what i want my hands to do but sometimes they don't do it the way i want. i can visualize a fixture that would help, make it, modify it and use it. in addition, i am 60, i have early arthritis in my fingers, hands, wrists, elbow, shoulder, ......... so FOR ME using a fixture makes some tasks physically easier.
Is my knife better because i cut the blank out with a file and hacksaw while you had your blank water-jet cut?
on the comments made about computers, i started working on computers in 1972 when you could look and see each bit of memory and you didn't have a power supply but a dedicated DC generator in the basement.
have a blessed day

"I'm trading my sickness and pain, I'm laying them down for the joys of the Lord."

rick c
07-08-2012, 12:33 PM
I think using a jig should be fine.I learned to free hand grind so it's more versatile for me.When using a jig it is controlled by hand so there is a great degree of skill needed.I would destroy a blade trying to use a jig.Jig or no jig if you are having fun making knives then to Me it's OK.


Shane Wink
07-12-2012, 06:34 AM
I have been making knives for the past couple of years and quietly doing so in a vacumm meaning save for the internet I did not have anyone to teach me anything. I built my grinder, smithy, quench tanks and tools and when it finally came time to grind I knew very little. I purchased a jig from Tracey and used it for a year. It worked very well on the style of knives I am doing but even then it was not easy as there was still a learning curve. Now I no longer use the jig and freehand my blades but educating my hands and body to grind with the jig prepared a platform to build on when I did go free hand.

I am the least of makers here I reckon and no authority on anything knife wise but using the jig did help me and if you are cut by a knife made with a jig will you not still bleed the same as cut by one that was not? I would also add that if a person has not ever used a grinding jig and just their hands to learn they are limited in their understanding of what the jig can teach a beginner without formal instruction.


Fred Rowe
07-12-2012, 05:35 PM
I do have a dog in this race, Bubble Jig and stand by its merits 100%. Just wanted to make that clear.

Sled stye jigs are very restrictive and add little to a makers grinding skills.

People who do production work would be at a serious disadvantage without using jigs.

I spent a life time welding and with the use of numerous jigs my work was passable.

As a life long wood worker I pride myself on the ingenious jigs created for turning out quality furniture. My fellow woodworkers would laugh at me if I went to build a Queen Ann table with a hand held circular saw and a screw driver.

Work smarter not harder has always been a favorite adage of mine. If your building a bridge, work smarter, if your digging a ditch, work smarter, if you are making a knife, work smarter.

I try to always post on these threads, wherever I see them. Not so much to promote a product I market, but to impress on knifemakers to work smarter not harder, whatever direction that takes you.

Happy grinding, Fred

Shane Wink
07-12-2012, 06:31 PM
I do have a dog in this race, Bubble Jig and stand by its merits 100%....., Fred

The jig I used was the bubble jig. Thanks Fred!

07-14-2012, 04:59 PM
My first several knives were made using only handtools.I was a teenager and had lots of energy! lol. I purchased a grinder in the 90's ,I think Koval knives,,dont know if they are still around or not.Going over the order on the phone,I say throw in one of those hollow grinding fixtures too,,he says I wouldnt recommened it! I say,huh!! thinking to myself,this guy is talking his self out of 300.00 ,whats up! hes loosing money! He said its a crutch,learn freehand! I say,,oh just throw it in there! He talked me out of getting the fixture! Im glad he did! I learned freehand,lots of mistakes! but I learned! with time! Today,I use jigs,that I make myself,because of poor eye sight! blind in one eye, and no depth perception. I couldnt grind without them! I tried,and almost gave up,thats when I made my first jig.!!!

07-14-2012, 07:37 PM
The jig I used was the bubble jig. Thanks Fred!

Me also! :60: Fred is the man!

09-17-2012, 01:14 AM
As a new knife maker with less than 50 knives under my belt I will relate my experiences with a jig. I dived in with enthusiasm and bought a lot of serious equipment, and had hoped to learn to grind freehand. I first tried for a scandi grind, then a full flat when the scandi was botched. Finally I resorted to a convex grind to salvage what would otherwise have been a wasted piece of steel. My second knife was much the same. botched scandi to botched flat to salvaged by a convex.

The third thing I built was a nice wide table for my grinder and a grinding jig. I understand the limitations that this imposes, particularly with extremly upswept tips and inside curves. But without this jig I would have wasted hunreds of dollars worth of steel. I simply cannot afford to waste that steel, particularly when being new and unrecognized, I cannot charge as much for my work. Since building the jig I have not had to discard a single blade due to a botched grind. And I have not yet felt limited by it because I haven't graduated to building designs that it can't produce.

However I do understand that it is limited. I have even designed certain features into knives (like removable bolt on scales) to allow ease of resharpening using a jig.

Is it limiting? Yes, absolutely. But by the same token there are unlimited variations within the jig's capability that I am content to explore for now. If and when I decide I want to make a knife that cannot be produced using my jig, I will find a way to get that done, and if it means wasting a bunch of steel learning to grind freehand then so be it. If I want to do it bad enough I will do what it takes.

But I do take issue with the idea that an electric grinder used without a jig is more "handmade" than one used with a jig. Ultimately both methods use a heck of a lot of technology. And getting precise and even plunge lines with a sloppy, too-fast grinder like my grizzly takes a great deal of care and patience, even with a jig. All the jig does is eliminate rotation along the knife's long axis, and support the blade. All of the other variables are still controlled by hand. As another member mentioned earlier in the thread, contracting out for heat treat is a common practice as well. Someone using a jig to grind can still claim sole authorship where a freehand grinder who subs out the HT cannot. And then there are the gus who "make" knives by handling blades that are already ground and heat treated. I attended a county fair last month and saw a stunning pattern welded knife with an antler handle and asked the maker if he bought his billets or if he forged them himself. When he told me he bought the blades already finished and just added the handles I was a little shocked. What's worse is he told me he used to make them by hand but stopped because this was easier. It seems he had built up a name for himself making knives and then cashed in on the name recognition by selling pre made blade blanks as his own. It is discouraging as an aspiring maker to see someone with an established reputation (at least locally) get away with cutting corners like that. But by the same token I'm sure there are a lot of freehamd grinders who feel like they put in their time and that it isn't fair for knives ground with a jig to be classified the same as knives ground freehand. I think the subtle distinction is a lot less important to the average knife customer than it is to the guys making them. (And so is sole authorship if the guy at the county fair is any indication.)

Ultimately without the jig I would not have been able to make knives I was satisfied with. With it, I have made knives that I am pretty proud of, even if they are rudimentary compared to the incredible works of art you experienced guys produce. I guess what I'm saying is that if a jig makes the difference between making satisfactory knives and not making knives at all, then it is a "cure", not a curse. For makers capable of grinding without one, being forced to use one might be a curse of sorts if it limits their artistic vision. When I made my third knife, using the jig, I was thrilled at how nice it turned out compared to my first two. I had found salvation!

Les George
09-17-2012, 09:10 PM
Why do you disparage the guy just adding handles to blades? If he is being honest about it and his customers are happy the why does it bother you?

10-22-2012, 01:27 AM
Why do you disparage the guy just adding handles to blades? If he is being honest about it and his customers are happy the why does it bother you?

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

To answer you question, I guess it was how the knives were presented. I was under the impression, as was my wife who was with me, that he made the knives entirely himself. If I'm honest, I suppose it's also a bit of jealousy at his success. Here I am wasting time trying to do the "sole authorship" thing whenever I can get some time to make a knife, and this guy is cutting corners and is apparently pretty successful. It made me feel a bit foolish for taking the extra time and trouble to make knives from bar stock, cutting out the profiles, grinding, heat treating, etc. when I could have just ordered a blade and glued a piece of antler on it. Then I could be a knife "maker" and crank out 4 or 5 "handmade" knives in the time it takes me to make one of mine.

I don't mean to disparage him or his customers. And I won't pretend to know what other people are thinking. That said, if any of his customers thought as I did before I asked, they would be buying his knives under the assumption that he made them from raw materials, not pre-made blades. If all of his customers buy his knives knowing full well that he didn't grind or heat treat them, then I don't have an issue with that at all. But if the only way to find out that they aren't made entirely in-house is to ask him, then I think that's a little misleading.

I had a look at your website and your statement there about no secrets and no lies really speaks to this very issue. The guy didn't lie, and he did tell me exactly how his knives are made. I wouldn't have even mentioned him in the first place if he made that fact known up front without having to be asked about it. I know there is a lot of debate on what 'hand made' means. And I know it means different things to different people.

I hope that helps to better explain why I came away with the impression I did. And I apologize for taking such a big step away from the original topic of jig vs. freehand grinding.

Les George
10-22-2012, 09:13 PM
Don't let what other makers do bring you down, or up for that matter.

If someone bothers you or ya get a little envy (and it happens to us all) don't try to tear them down, try to out grow them! :)

10-22-2012, 10:40 PM
Don't let what other makers do bring you down, or up for that matter.

If someone bothers you or ya get a little envy (and it happens to us all) don't try to tear them down, try to out grow them! :)

Thanks for the words of wisdom! :) You are correct, we should focus on what we do as individuals and strive to be the best we can. I perhaps lost sight of that.

Frank Hunter
10-23-2012, 12:13 AM
Finally getting into this long, seasoned thread. Good reading, you all...here's my experience with it. When I was fitting up a lot of weld-stud concrete imbeds for a different industry jigs could be worth a lot...200 of the same unit with the same six studs on them, same location, that sort of thing. For even my batches of 5-10 knives though, I find I might as well just do them by hand versus setting up a jig and figuring out it's quirks. I definitely agree on the potential speed issue, and I guess my only real contribution is my definition of "Authorship".
If you make the knife, even if you're running a crank drawing the jig over the wheel, you made it. There's a point to be had with full disclosure of your investment in the piece, I certainly credit the damascus I use occasionally to the actual source instead of allowing the customer to assume I made it myself. Deception, even when it's omission, is a nasty thing. I think when it's a series of fourteen guys, a CNC machine hollow grinding farmed-out waterjet blanks, on to CNC cut scales and a stamp-die leather cutting machine for all the sheath parts, that you've entered "factory" status and there no longer is any individual authorship. Running equipment, even complex tooling, solo, with hand assembly? Definitely not a curse there.

10-23-2012, 03:45 AM
Ah.... the seemingly endless debate: To jig or not to jig!?

I've kind of held off responding to this discussion, since for one, I didn't feel like I had anything to add, and two, I didn't really know what to say anyhow. But after giving it a little more thought, I think I'll add my two cents:

When I initially started making knives, I was personally against using jigs, and taught myself to grind free hand (while using a work rest to support my hands and/or the blade). Since then, I have made and used a couple of jigs, but it seems like I always come right back to free handing.
I guess for me personally, it boils down to this: I want to contiually push myself to my own personal limits as a maker, and THEN move above and beyond those limits until I find another one. That being said, I just can't see doing that if I rely solely on jigs to make my knives.

When I see a knife, no matter what kind it is, I want to one day be able to say: "I can do that", or even "I can do that better". Many types of knives (mainly fixed blades and neckers) I can honestly look at and say "yes, I can do that". But then I see masterpieces from guys like Bruce Bump, Ed Caffrey, T.A. Davison, (I could go on and on and on with fellow Knife Dogs who's work I admire), and I can't yet say "I can do that".

For one, in order to reach that limit, I'm gonna have to pick up a hammer, anvil, and a forge, and/or start making slip joints... :D Secondly, I'm going to have to address my weaknesses as a maker and overcome them. Part of that for me personally, has been learning to grind the best grinds I can without aid of a jig. The next part will be tools, then finally, practice, practice and more practice, all while continuing to absorb all that these generous makers (and more) continue to offer and pushing myself to try new projects like slipjoints, takedown bowies, etc.. etc...

Now don't take this the wrong way: I'm not saying that jigs are the sole reason that we don't have a million more Mastersmiths registered with the ABS. I'm just saying that I personally feel that this was one of many areas I needed to address if I'm going to become a better maker.

For some, this is a moot point, as they may never aspire to be much more than they already are. For some that do have certain ambitions and aspirations, jigs may play a vital role in getting there. Some yet may attain greatness without every using a jig. For me though, part of that journey has been to set jigs aside, lest I become too comfortable and stop pushing.

In my opinion, as long as you're continually pushing and trying to better yourself as a maker, how you get there is kind of beside the point. For those that may be perfectly satisfied with where they are at? I guess that's fine too. ;) I'm just wired a little different.


10-23-2012, 04:48 AM
Don't let what other makers do bring you down, or up for that matter.

If someone bothers you or ya get a little envy (and it happens to us all) don't try to tear them down, try to out grow them! :)

Great advise Les! I think a lot of us will need to remember this from time to time.