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Best CAD Software for Knifemakers

Best Knife Design Software CAD for Knifemakers

Does computer-aided knife design ultimately take away from the knifemaking art or result in knives that can’t be considered handmade? It is a debate that comes up more often than not, as custom “handmade” knives are in some eyes, no longer as handmade as they used to be.

In the past, if you walked into a knifemaker’s shop, you expected to see knife templates hanging from hooks all over the shop. Today you’ll still potentially see knives hanging in shops but they are probably precut knife blanks fresh from laser cutting or the water jet.

In truth, knifemakers have to varying degrees adopted modern technology for improvements in consistency, tolerances, and or streamlining their processes (time savings). Clients can in turn expect a higher quality product. Win:win.

To deliver a better product, computer-aided knife design is a growing skill set for knifemakers, with some even turning to highly advanced computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), CNC, and 3D modelling for their knife production.

Designing a knife may sound easy enough, but if you’ve seen designs scrawled on napkins you’ll know that it’s not as simple to translate this to the picture the artist had in their mind’s eye.

It’s not to say you won’t be able to obtain the results you desire without a solid graphics designing tool, but if repeatability and or high-quality results are what you are after, then you will need a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program that can handle both 2D and 3D design and can also support further exporting the design as a compatible file format.

Knife Design Process

If knife design can be broken down into levels and or steps, these might be it;

  • Freehand / no design “I let the steel tell me where it wants to go” (not repeatable)
  • Hand-drawn design on paper (quick, decent results, not repeatable)
  • Ready-made templates (good results, fairly repeatable)
  • Computer-aided Design (CAD) (excellent results, repeatable, but new skills are required)
  • Computer-aided Manufacturing (CAM): high tolerances, repeatable, but not as easy as it looks.

Computer-Aided Design Software

The best knife design software in the world is capable of making your knife designing task easy. It is a platform where you can seamlessly create your knife design and get a 3D view of your progress.

There are some free and paid-for options to fit any budget, but like many things in life, it’s best to start. As your skills grow you can always upgrade to newer more expensive options.

Below is a list of popular software packages most makers are using.

  • Inkscape: Free: Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor.
  • NanoCAD: Free/Paid: a full-featured, fast, lightweight, and reliable 2D design tool. This is what I use and I find it adequate for my needs. Having watched my father use Autocad for many years, it is very similar and we can exchange files back and forth if I need to check something or his help on anything.
  • Sketchup: Free: Google SketchUp is a free, easy-to-learn 3D modelling program with a few simple tools to let you create 3D models
  • LibreCAD: Free: Open Source, fully comprehensive 2D CAD application
  • Knife Print: Free/Paid: The first cloud CAD service specifically for knife design.
  • Autocad LT: Free (student)/Paid: Design, draft, and document with 2D geometry with access to a comprehensive set of editing, design, and annotation tools.
  • Autodesk Fusion 360: Free: Fusion 360 is available for free personal use for individuals who are doing home-based, non-commercial design, manufacturing, and fabrication projects. I’ve started using this for modelling my folders. The idea is to develop my knowledge so that when (not if) I progress to CNC I’ll be ready.
  • Draftsight: Paid: World-class CAD with greater performance and flexibility.
  • FreeCad: FreeCAD is an open-source parametric 3D modeller made primarily to design real-life objects of any size.

If you are ready to take the plunge into CAD, and transfer your existing patterns to a digital format, I have a tutorial on how to “trace” your designs. [Read the guide here]

NanoCAD Tutorial:

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