How to Fashion a Make Shift Knife

In a survival situation, a knife can be one of your most important tools.  It’s a weapon and an eating utensil.  You can cut rope with it.  You can dig with it.  You can peel bark from a tree to use as fire fuel.  You can skin an animal with it.  It’s a very verstile tool that can come in handy in any number of situations.  You should keep one in your Go Bag, but for some reason or another, if you lose that knife I’m going to show you how to manufacture a field expedient knife to use until you can get your hands on a new knife or can forge yourself a new one.

First of all, a knife performs three basic functions: piercing, slashing, and cutting.  Ideally, a knife will do all three, but in some cases a field expedient knife will only ever be able to do one or two.  You can fashion a knife out of all sorts of material: metal, wood, stone, bone, glass, plastic…  It all depends on what you have available.


Your obvious first choice for a knife material, metal is going to probably be scarce and especially metal that is small and thin enough to be used as a knife.  However, if you’re lucky enough to stumble on a piece you will be able to fashion a knife that will last you a very long time and that you can resharpen.

If you don’t have tools to work on it, most metal is nearly impossible to manipulate.  So if you can’t find a piece that is pretty close to what you want you might not be able to make a knife.  You can try hammering the piece into the shape you want, but this will only work on soft metals.

Once the rough knife is in the general shape you want, you need to sharpen the edge.  This can be accomplished by running the edge across any rough surfaced stone (including pavement).  You will get a better effect if you get the stone wet before attempting to sharpen it.

If you want to get a REALLY sharp edge, rub the edge of your knife on unpolished ceramic.  If you look at the bottom of a coffee cup, you’ll notice that rough ring that the cup sits on.  That ring is unpolished ceramic and will even sharpen forged knives, including the knives you have in your kitchen right now.  Yes, this tip applies to non-survival scenarios too!


Stone is one of the most reliable and sturdy materials to make a knife from.  Since its such a sturdy material, you will need a couple of specialty tools to make the knife:

  • Chipping Tool – a chipping tool is a blunt tool used to break off pieces of stone
  • Flaking Tool – a flaking tool is pointed to break off flat pieces from the stone

The first consideration you need to make is the actual stone you will make into a knife.  You need to use a soft enough stone that you’ll be able to carve it with your tools.  Secondly, it’s totally up to you how long you want the blade, but you need to account for a handle or a tang to attach a handle.  If you can find a rock that’s already close to the shape of a knife you;re in business.  If worse comes to worst, you can use your chipping tool on the edge of a boulder and try to knock a piece loose to make a knife from.

Get the general shape of your knife using the chipping tool.  Strike your soon-to-be knife with one end of the chipping tool repeatedly until the knife holds the desired shape.  Try to keep your knife relatively thin – the thinner it is, the easier to get a sharp edge.  However, don’t get it too thin or else you run the risk of the knife breaking under stress.

The flaking tool requires a little more finesse.  PLace the flaking tool against the knife near the edge and apply pressure until pieces break off from the knife.  Don’t press too hard, or you could end up break off a chunk of your knife that you didn’t want to lose and it won’t have a sharp edge to it.  Continue doing this down the length of one, or both, sides of the knife until you have a blade edge.  Make sure to leave enough unsharpened length to be the handle or tang.

If you choose, you can attach a seperate handle to your knife.  Just tie a piece of wood or some other material to the base of the knife.  Make sure to secure it tightly or else you’ll have problems with the handle coming loose later (which could in turn cause injury).


Bone is a step up from wood, but it isn’t going to be as easy to find.  So given the choice between the two, go for bone.  Your first consideration is the size of the bone.  If it’s too small, you won’t be able to make a knife out of it.  To make a knife out of bone, you’re going to shatter the bone so a larger bone is going to create more shards.  Once you’ve found a suitable bone, place it on a hard surface and smash it with something heavy like a rock.  Go through the shards and find one appropriately pointy with the potential for a sharp edge.  Sharpen the edge of your shard against a rough surface (like cement).  Don’t forget to leave a portion unsharpened as a handle or tang to attach a handle.


Wood is easily the most abundant resource you will find in most of the world.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for an ideal knife-making material.  If you make a knife from wood, you will only be able to use it to puncture things and the point will go dull fairly quickly at that.  If you look at a piece of wood, you can see the grain is either straight or in a circle.  The straighter the grain, the further from the core of the branch/tree the piece is.  If there is no grain, it means the piece of wood is from the pith (the layer of wood seperating the tree from the bark).  You want to avoid wood that is from the core of the tree/branch and you want to avoid pith.  Both types of wood are weak and will crumble or snap if used as a knife.  Select a piece that’s roughly a foot long and shave the tip down to a point using a rough surface (like cement).  Once you’ve sharpened the point to the desired point, place the blade over a fire and let it slowly dry until it is lightly charred.  This process is known as “fire hardening” and will make the point hard and it will take longer to dull.


Fashioning a blade out of bamboo is very similar to wood.  However, bamboo is capable of holding an edge.  When shaping the knife, remember that the hardest part of bamboo is the out shell so try to keep as much of this layer as possible.  When fire hardening bamboo, only char the inside


When glass is broken, it naturally make a sharp edge so it is ideally suited as a knife.  Unfortunately, glass is incredibly brittle so you can’t use it for heavy duty work.  All you need to do for a handle is wrap a piece of cloth around the base of the shard.


The ceramic used to make coffee cups is similar to glass so in a pinch you can break a coffee cup and use the piece attached to the handle as a knife.


Have you ever stabbed yourself while trying to open up a new piece of electronics?  If not, you’re lucky but if so you are painfully aware of how effective plastic can be as a knife.  You can also sharpen plastic—if it is thick enough or hard enough—into a durable point for puncturing.

Further Reading

How to Build a Shelter

Shelter is one of the most underrated and important aspects of survival.  A shelter provides you with three things: protection from the elements, a place to hide from predators, and a place that provides psychological and physical comfort.  Face it, you’re going to need to sleep some time and which sounds more appealing: a tent and bed of pine needles or laying under the stars on miscellaneous twigs and branches?  If you’ve never slept on the ground with no padding, let me tell you – it sucks!  You get poked in the back all night by twigs and rocks, you get cold and shiver yourself awake, and you wake up as tired as (if not more tired than) when you went to bed.  Building a shelter, however paltry, will improve your condition phenominally.

Shelter Site

More than the materials you use, the site you build on is important.  Nature can be a bitch and ruin the best established shelters. 

It’s pivotal that you stay dry overnight so you want to avoid being too close to water sources or potential water sources (like dry river beds).  It could rain and the water source could flood and get you wet or you could drown if its bad enough.  Insects tend to reside near water also, so you could have a big problem with them if you’re too close to the water.  You also don’t want to be too far away from water sources either.  The further from water you are, the further you have to travel to get water and food (indirectly).

Look for a place with a lot of fallen, dry wood if you can.  You can use this wood to build your shelter or for firewood.  Dead trees could potentially fall at any time so be wary of setting up to close to them.  However, a fallen tree can make a superb backbone for a shelter.

Avoid ravines and valleys.  Low ground like this can collect moisture and become incredibly damp and soggy at night.  Cold air sinks too, meaning that you’re going to be sitting in all the accumulated cold air while you’re trying to sleep.  You also need to be mindful of wind and how to avoid it.  Large logs, boulders, and dirt berms are all good ways to block wind.  Your shelter will only do so much against the wind and the more you can block it outside your shelter, the better.

You’re basically looking for a dry, well drained area that is either flat or on top of a hill.

Basic Guidelines

No matter what type of shelter you build, there are some basic guidelines and suggestions to follow when building.  First of all, make your shelter no bigger than necessary.  The larger the shelter, the harder time you’ll have holding in the heat.  Fir tree branches make excellent insulation so use them as the roofing of your shelter if feasible.  If you are building a shelter in sub-freezing temperatures, pour water over the roof of your shelter if it’s thatched.  The water will freeze and create an insulative layer.  You may be tempted to use scrap metal you found to build a shelter.  This is not a good idea.  Metal is reflective, which means it will reflect most of the heat from the sun when you want it to be absorbed.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, snow is one of nature great insulators.  The more you use it, the greater the amount of body heat you’ll retain.  Why do you think the eskimos built shelters out of snow (igloos)?  It wasn’t because of it’s pretty white color!

If you plan to have a fire inside your shelter, make sure you have some sort of ventilation in the roof of your shelter.  Smoke inhalation isn’t fun when you’re out in the woods.  If you don’t plan on having a fire inside your shelter, you can always heat some stones up on a fire outside and then bring them into the shelter with you for warmth.  You won’t have to deal with smoke or potentially burning your shelter down, but they won’t stay warm as long as a fire will.

Don’t leave the opening of your shelter wide open after you enter it.  Have some way of closing yourself off from the outside world.  Be it a large boulder, a snow plate, or just a few tree branches every little bit counts.


As I said before, sleeping on the ground saps the heat right out of you.  80% of your body heat is lost to the ground while at rest.  Grass and pine needles make an excellent mattress and insulate against the cold ground very well.

If it’s dry, you can simply dig a hole in the ground and cover it with large sticks, followed by smaller, dense boughs.  If it’s raining or wet, avoid burrowing in a hole and get off the ground. If this isn’t possible at the time, make cover on flat or sloped land so rainwater can drain.

You can build a cot to keep you off the ground if you have the time, energy, and resources.  Find two long, sturdy branches and roll them into whatever you are using to lay on (a poncho, tarp, blanket, etc.) like a long scroll leaving about a foot of wood exposed at each end.  If you don’t have any material to do this, you can lash branches perpendicular to the long branches (this will look similar to a ladder when finished), and use grass, pine needles, and any other plant material as a sort of bedding on the cot.  Then simply lash the cot to trees a few feet off the ground.  If there are no trees to accomadate, you can use branches stuck firmly into the ground.  This is particularly useful in a swamp or other damp environment.

Debris Hut

A debris hut is a very basic shelter that is great if you are in an area with lots of dead wood available.  The basic design mirrors how animals build their dens or nests in the wild.  To build a debris hut:

  1. Find a long sturdy branch to use as the central pole of your hut.  This is called the ridgepole.  Place one end on the ground and the other against a tree, stump, boulder, etc.  If there is a fallen tree that makes the same angled shape, you can use it as your ridgepole.
  2. Create a ribbed frame by leaning branches against, and lashing them to, your ridgepole all along its length.  Make sure to leave enough space between two of the ribs so that you can fit through (this will be your entrance).
  3. You will eventually be placing insulating materials over your frame, but before you do that you need to create a lattice that will hold your material.  Place smaller sticks crossways over the ribs of your hut.
  4. Now, when you start putting leaves and pine needles on your frame, it won’t fall through.  Pile this stuff on top of your frame so that it’s at least 2 feet thick – the thicker, the better.  This is where the name of the shelter comes from, because you can use whatever debris is laying on the ground.
  5. Find something to cover the entrance to your shelter: a rock, a pile of debris, etc.

A one man shelter is very similar to a debris hut, the only difference is that a one man shelter uses a poncho, tarp, or some other similar material to cover the frame instead of debris.  You could very easily combine the two concepts to create an even better shelter.

Tree Pit

If you find yourself in a deep snow environment, a tree pit may be the best possible shelter you can use.  By deep snow, I mean snow deep enough that it reaches the bottom branches of a tree.  To build a tree pit:

  1. Find an evergreen tree that has low hanging branches that reach out far enough to cover you.  The snow needs to be deep enough that the branches are essentially touching the snow.
  2. Break away one or two of the branches so that you have access to the underlying snow.
  3. Dig away the snow under the tree to a depth and diameter that is comfortable for you.  Just remember the smaller the space, the more easily you’ll retain body heat.  One thing to keep in mind is that cold are sinks, so it might be wise to build a platform to sleep on that is at least a foot higher than the floor of the pit.
  4. Pack the snow on the walls of your shelter as tightly as possible to avoid a collapse.
  5. Use the branches you broke off earlier and any other found branches to cover your entrance.

Beach Shade Shelter

A beach shade shelter is exactly what it sounds like: a shelter to provide shade on the beach.  Obviously, this shelter is ideal for the beach, but is also useful in any hot, sandy region.  To build a beach shade shelter:

  1. Dig a trench in the sand running in a North-South direction.  The direction is important because it minimizes the amount of sun exposure inside the shelter.  Make sure that the trench is big enough for you to lay down in comfortably.
  2. Mound the sand you dig out of the interior of your shelter on three of the four sides of the shelter (the fourth side will be your entrance).
  3. Lay wood or other materials across the trench to make a framework for the roof of your shelter.
  4. Lay a blanket, tarp, poncho, or grass over top of the trench to make shade inside.

Further Reading