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My First Budget Knife Grinder - The 1 x 30

My First Knife Grinder – The Ryobi 1×30 EMBS-200

I started making knives after being challenged by a friend. That probably sounds familiar, something akin to peer pressure. We’ve all heard the cautionary tales and should really heed the advice of our parents and avoid these situations. However, my intentions and those of my friend were coming from a good place. You see I was looking for a custom chef knife for my sister, who had just past her first year at chefs school and I wanted to give her a practical gift.

Chef Knife with N690, Copper and Red Ivory
One of my first chef knives was made on the Ryobi. 8-inch Bohler N690 blade, copper ferrule, and African Red Ivory handle.

So off we went to the annual Durban Easter Knife Show (DEKS) to track down a knifemaker who would be willing to make this knife for me. After chatting to a number of makers, I eventually caved to the pressure being applied to my ribs by my friend’s elbow and his challenge of, “Hey, you could do this”.  Well, of course, I could do it.

In truth, knifemaking is a great hobby and blends metal craft with woodworking and allows for artistic expression. Like most hobbies, it can be an expensive/black hole for your finances in the beginning. Oh who am I kidding, I’m still investing in tools and machinery to make my life easier. The only difference now is that the money I make from knife sales is now used to reinvest in the business, rather than my monthly salary.

Do you need R30k to start making knives? No. You can start making knives with a good file and a simple jig, or if you watch the YouTube videos, an angle grinder. There are better, faster options out there that won’t set you back a huge amount of money and are arguably better than both the aforementioned options.

I myself opted for the Ryobi mini belt & disc sander (EMBS-200) from Makro (only R1200 at the time). This little belt grinder is sold all over the world in different guises and you’ll find lots of videos and discussions from the USA regarding the 1″ x 30″ Harbor Freight belt sander, which is “same, same but different”.

Ryobi Belt & Disc Sander

It’s massively underpowered when compared to a professional, purpose-built belt sander, but for someone starting out, it is impossible to beat for the price, does the job, and is easier than using files. I do however recommend ordering yourself some proper ceramic belts as it will make your life easier. The belt size is 25 x 762mm and the VSM XK760X / VSM XK870X are both great ceramic options for removing hardened steel. (Shop SDKnives.co.za)

The added benefit of having a 5″ disk sander will also be greatly beneficial when it comes to preparing your handle sales and getting things like your tang flat.  I did feel it gets in the way of your right hand when grinding but if you put a wider table on the unit, it really helps with this issue.

Pair this with a decent drill press and you virtually have all the equipment that you need to start making knives.

Recommended Upgrades:

There are loads of little enhancements that people have made to this machine to make it better for making knives. Most of them are really inexpensive and will make a big difference.

  1. Upgrade the flat platten to one that is taller and stiffer.
  2. Upgrade to a wider table.
  3. Upgrade bearings and true the wheels.
  4. Remove the velcro from the disc. Contact adhesive spray is better for sticking sandpaper directly to the disc. (Shop SDKnives.co.za)
  5. High-quality 25 x 762mm ceramic belts from Pferd: VSM XK760X / VSM XK870X  /  VSM KK711F (for wood) (Shop SDKnives.co.za)


While the little belt sander can’t compete with the big boys, it remains a popular option when starting out in the hobby. It helps you hone your skills and dial in your processes. If you can’t grind symmetrical plunge lines on this you won’t magically be able to do them on a bigger machine. You’ll just make mistakes faster.

When you’re ready to upgrade to a 50mm x 2000mm (2″x 72″) belt grinder with variable speed, you can always keep the little Ryobi for sharpening knives or handle shaping. So not only is it a great beginner’s machine to learn how to make your own knives, but it will serve you well in the future.

I upgraded to a 0.75kw 3-wheel variable speed grinder with disk attachment made by Herbst. As a benchtop belt grinder, I have been very happy with it and will be upgrading it with a 1.5kw motor.

If you’re not ready to lay out the cash for a 50×2000 grinder there are more options on the market these days than when I started. Vormac and NorthWest Knives both make a “compact grinder”. I haven’t used either one so I’m just linking these as options if they fit your needs.