I was brought up around all sorts of crafts and the outdoors. Woodworking and leather crafting seemed to be interwoven into my genes, but really didn’t have much in the way of knife making, although my dad did make a knife or two in his younger days.
I’ve seen some of my buddies making wooden spoons, which for any of a million reasons seems to hit a chord with something deep inside. Rather than buying some of the necessary knives for spoon making, I thought why not see if I could make a decent knife that might get me closer to making spoons.
I initially took an existing X-acto blade and created a handle in which I could house it, which was sort of like making a knife, in some small way. After a few other iterations, adjusting the blade types on each one, I decided I wanted to try making one that was a bit more substantial.
I bought a sheet of metal that was around 1/8″ thick, with which to create the blade on this knife build. I drew out the shape of what I wanted, and then marked it onto the sheet of metal, and used a cutoff wheel in my Dremel to trace most of the shape and then a Milwaukee Sawzall for the majority of the through-cutting on the blade. I finished up some of the connecting cuts with a hacksaw, so I had the most control over the blade as it broke away from the blank.
I took my blade over to the grinder and set the rest so it was 90-degrees to the wheel, as initially I only wanted to clean up the surfaces, removing any jaggedness or ridges. As the blade was still full thickness all the way to where the cutting edge would be, there was less chance of drawing out the temper as long as I didn’t linger.
Next it was time to start working on the bevel(s) for the blade. I began by testing a completely free-hand presentation of the blade to the wheel, but this felt like it was still out of my league (even though I’d free-handed a couple of hatchet heads with decent success), at this point.
I’ve owned a Tormek wet grinder for around 8 – 9 years, but I’d decided I wanted to give my newish Baldor grinder some work, even though I knew it would require a much lighter touch as well as closer attention. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Tormek is the adjustable metal frame on which the accessories ride, and I know some will install the same in front of their dry grinders, so they can use the same gear. One of the Tormek accessories that came with my kit, the SVM-45, is made for sharpening knives. I decided to see if there was some way I could use this jig to make my grinding on the knife blade better. As it turned out, I was able to set my grinder rest at the correct distance away from the wheel, and then keep a ledge on the jig against the outside lip of the rest. This gave me a solid pivot that allowed me to quickly create a good bevel on each side of the blade, with a geometry that looks good to my eyes.
I used a flat diamond Dia-fold hone for the first stage of sharpening, which is pretty easy, as the grinder creates a hollow bevel. The hone just needs to stay in contact with the very edge as well as the other side of the hollow, which most people will feel, or learn to feel in short order. After I had the full length of the cutting edge, on both sides, showing a consistent surface from the hone, it was time to stop. Next I used a 4000-grit Japanese water stone that is about 4″ long and 1/8″-3/16″ thick, and with it soaked in water, use the same motion on the blade. When the edge on both sides is changed, and consistent, it’s time to again stop. The last step I use is a piece of hard wood, about 6″ long x 1″ wide x 1/4″ thick, with some of the Tormek honing past spread over the wood. The wood is then used just like the previous hone and stone, and should result in a completely polished cutting edge. Depending on your steel, this will be shaving sharp or close.
I used a piece of Avodire (white mahogany) as the knive’s handle, which I shaped so it felt good in my hand, and was large enough to contain the tang of the blade. I decided to split the handle on the band saw, and then I marked around the tang on one side.
I used my Lie-Nielsen No. 71 to remove enough wood from the first side, so it was half the thickness of the tang. I mimicked this procedure on the inside of the second half of the handle, and obtained a very nice fit. I roughed up both sides of the tang, to make sure the glue would have the best chance to create a solid bond. I mixed up a fair amount of epoxy and spread it on all inside surfaces, to make sure everything would end up bonded tightly. I used a couple of clamps to keep a consistent pressure across the handle until it was fully cured. I used an X-acto knife to trim away any epoxy that ended up on the outside of the knife’s handle, and then followed up with a very light cut with my spokeshave.
I recently purchased some Birchwood Casey True-Oil, and wanted to use this as the finish for the handle. I found during some experimenting, that using a paper towel to apply this finish, ended up a much thicker application than was needed. Instead a small piece of linen material was the optimum application tool, as it kept the oil very thin, which was perfect. I applied two coats of True-Oil, which ended up providing some good protection, but didn’t get so built up that it was slick in the hand. After the oil dried, I used some 0000 steel wool to make the surface feel as nice as possible, without loosing control.
I decided to take a leap and do a little bit of file work on the back of the blade, as I’d always thought about trying this and this seemed the perfect opportunity. I found some aspects were easier to accomplish after I got going, so this may just be something I’ll do on any knife I make. I used a small conical diamond Dia-fold file as I liked the look and feel of the recess surface. I made five divots on the back, which has some personal reasons I’ll keep to myself at this time.
Yesterday, my best bud was in town, and we had the chance to mess around with a couple of the knives I’ve made, as well as a few of my hatchets (the Plumb, the Sears and the Gransfors Bruks – large carving version). I found a dead ~4″ limb on one of our Osage Orange trees, which I was able to pull down. After cutting a couple of 12″-18″ pieces from the long limb, we used the hatchets to remove some of the bark until we were down to the brilliant colored heartwood.
Now that we were at the heartwood, we used the knives to work on some paring cuts and different hand positions. One of my knives has a single bevel, while the most recent knife has a dual bevel. My buddy was having a little more difficulty using the single-beveled knife, which wanted to dig into the wood rather than providing the easy control of the other knife. As he mentioned the issue, I looked over and knew exactly what was up. My buddy is left-handed, while I’m right-handed. Why is this important? When I used the older knife, the bevel was on the downward facing side of the blade, which allows it to start down into the wood, and swoop back out easily. For my buddy, the flat side was down, and if it even just barely dives into the wood, it will want to keep going deeper. So, if you make yourself a knife, for the most flexibility, make it with a bevel on both sides of the blade. If you decide to make it with a single-bevel, make sure it is on the correct side of the blade, so it is against the wood when you are holding the knife in your most comfortable position.
I also made a hand-stitched leather sheath for both knives, which protects the knives during transit as well as protects those around the sheathed knives. You can use some cardboard, wrapped around the blade a few times, followed by some strong tape, if you just need to provide basic protection to the knife’s edge.
I was nicely surprised at how well the knives behaved, and mostly with the newest knife. It held its edge nicely, even while we were working on some really tough mostly-dried Osage Orange. The surface on the Osage Orange looked completely polished and felt almost waxy. This knew knife was a complete success for both me and my bud.
Thank you for checking out this article and please let me know if you have any questions or comment.
I posted a Tweet yesterday that had some shaped leather, and a few tools, on a leather-working board from the 1960’s. It’s interesting how different certain items can look, especially when they are in their basic 2-D form (even though the leather of course has it’s thickness, making it 3-D, I’m referring to the flat nature), prior to completion.
The leather will end up as a more fully-formed head-cover design, for my old Plumb hatchet. I wanted to get the “what is it” question out of the way early on, so this article would put more focus on the design and/or how it’s made.
I’m betting some may wonder why I’d spend more time making a second head-cover, for this old hatchet, when the first one seemed to “cover” the bases. (Ok, ok, I won’t give up my day job!) While my previous leather head-cover allowed me to add some “chops” to my repertoire, as it was my first hand-stitched piece, it almost immediately became obvious that I needed to pay closer attention to the order of my operations. I was so excited to get after the “meat and potatoes” of the stitching, that I didn’t fully take into consideration how I would handle attaching rivets, straps or snaps, after the two main pieces were essentially locked together. For those who have never installed any rivets or snaps, it can be an interesting experience, which I’ll provide a tip or two a bit later. I may still play around with modifying the first head-cover, at some time, even if just to test ideas.
As some of my followers will know, I made the first leather head-cover for this hatchet out of some really heavy-duty saddle leather. I used this type of leather for two reasons: it is very robust and strong, and it’s what I had on hand! I’ve since purchased a range of leather types and colors, so I can make more of my decisions based on design rather than simply inventory of materials. As I examined a range of commercially made leather head-covers, the differing designs and heft of leathers used seemed to run the gamut. This was time well spent and definitely broadened my thought on the matter, which at the very least aided my choices for the updated head-cover.
I started the new head-cover in much the same way I do for most projects, with a sketch of my design, laying out all of the parts and any perceived pitfalls. The learned pitfalls are important in most every type of creation or design work, and some are avoided purely using your logic, while others take time doing the work. After my initial sketch on paper, to scale, I cut my design out and compared it directly to the Plumb hatchet. The design looked like a decent fit (the 3-D nature of this type an item can add complexity, so keep that in mind), so while the pattern was around the hatchet’s head, I marked where I would place the rivets and the snap. Marking directly from your workpiece is so much more accurate than measuring one and carrying it over to the other.
Now that I had confirmed the pattern looked viable, a quick trace onto my chosen leather, and then I cut to my line. As information, the leather I used is decently textured, and even though it is a very light color, no pencil lead showed up on it. I ended up choosing a super fine-tipped Sharpie to mark this puppy, including where the rivets and snap would attach.
After I cut out the main part of the head-cover, I took it to the hatchet’s head to test, just to make sure I wasn’t wasting time on a piece that would never work. As everything was still in the green, I found a piece of dark leather to use for the strap. I used the head of a snap I purchased for this type of project, to help determine how wide I should cut the leather, for this strap. After using the grooving tool to mark out the width of my strap, I used a metal ruler as a guide for my X-acto knife, while cutting the leather. Just remember that many similar blades have bevels on both sides, which can require a bit more attention to follow your guide. I cut the strap intentionally long, as I planned to trim it to final length, after the head-cover was complete and on the hatchet.
I had an old adjustable-headed punch that was having some trouble cutting cleanly through materials, and when I examined it, the jaw that has the anvil was bent so the punch only hit on one edge. As this tool wasn’t very robust, I upgraded to a heavy-duty design, that still has a similar adjustability. I knew I needed holes for a snap as well as a couple of rivets, and I decided to use a scrap piece of leather, to determine which of the punch’s cutters would be the correct size. It turned out the shaft of the rivets was a bit smaller than that of the snap, and there was a one-size difference, on the punch’s head. Now that I knew which punch number related to each, it was time to punch a couple of holes in the leather. I punched the hole for the snap first, as there was only one at this point. After changing the punch for the smaller size of the rivets, I punched only at the mark that was deepest from the leather’s edge. Then I punched the same size hole in the strap, just centering the hole across it’s width, and slipped the shaft of a rivet into the leather body and placed the strap down onto the rivet. This will keep the two pieces aligned, while I punched the second hole through both the body and the strap, at the same time. Before I pulled the trigger on the second rivet hole, I compared the strap’s orientation with a mark I made on my pattern, which pointed toward the intended pathway of the strap.
With all three of the holes punched, it was time to set the rivets and the male portion of the snap. Both the rivets set and the snap set came with small anvils and a driving tool each, to apply the pressure in each’s needed manner. *(Tip: Make sure you are working on a really solid surface, when setting the rivets or snaps, as it can make a huge difference. I initially was setting the snap, while on a workbench with a 1/4″ plywood top. Even with a strong smack, the snap wouldn’t completely seat. I took my setup to my shop workbench, and using the same hammer and strength of blow, the first hit almost completely snugged it up. The thin top of the other bench was absorbing enough of the impact to effect the outcome.) Make sure you choose and orient the snap parts correctly, as a snap is made up of four individual pieces. The anvil is slightly curved on one face and flat on the other, so you will also want to make sure the correct side is facing up. The curved surface is used when setting the female portion of the snap, and the flat surface for the male portion. On the rivet kit that I have, the anvil is like that included for my snaps, but the flat side is the only one used, when setting the rivets.
With the rivets both set, and of course the strap attached, and the male portion of the snap set, its time for some pre-stitching work. I planned to use some contact cement along the stitching edge, to prevent the parts from moving around, like occurred in the last head-cover. On the inside surface of the mating edges, where I will later stitch, I drew a line about 3/16″ from the edge. This was just as a visual guide for me, as I was applying the contact cement, and no one would ever see it again. I used the corner of a small paint brush, to keep the contact cement into such a small pathway, and lightly covered the designated areas. The directions for my contact cement says to wait 15-25 minutes after applying, so it is no longer tacky, but no longer than a couple of hours, before bringing the two surfaces together. I tested it after about 40 minutes, and it was perfect, so I very carefully aligned an edge and then gradually brought more area together. After all of the mating surface was together, I gave it a good squeeze, and set it to the side for a couple of hours. I had something else on my plate at that time, or I would have moved forward on the stitching, without the extra delay.
I set my grooving tool so it marked where I wanted the stitching to occur, and ran a line between my start and end positions. I setup my Thonging tool with the thin 3-toothed head, and placed my backer board on my bench top, to keep both the tool and the top protected. I used a little paraffin on the chisel tips of the Thonging tool, every so often, to reduce the effort of removing the tool from the leather. I placed all three of the chisel tips into the line I made with the grooving tool, and made a couple of hits with a Japanese hammer, piercing both sides of the leather. I found it was better for me, if I made one pass over all the stitching area, just barely coming out the back piece of leather. Then coming back for a second pass and going deeper. It seemed more difficult to remove the tool from the leather if I went deep on the first pass. Your milage may vary. On this cover, the placement of the Thonging tool was perfect, as I didn’t end up needing to change to the single-chisel head as I reached the corner. Its nice when things work out like that.
With all of the stitching holes created, the cover went into my Stitching Pony, and I put some waxed thread into my needles. I followed the same stitching pattern that I used on the previous cover (seen here).
After the stitching was complete, I put the cover onto the Plumb hatchet, so I could determine where the female portion of the snap would go. I pulled the strap so there was no slack, but not stretching tight, and made my mark between 1/8″ – 1/4″ shy of directly on top of the male snap below. I took the cover back off the hatchet and used the punch, set again for the snap’s shaft diameter, to make a snug hole. Since this is the female portion of the snap, the curved face of the small anvil faced upward, with the cap of the snap resting in the center. A few focused blows with the hammer set this part of the snap.
I again put the head-cover onto the hatchet, and brought the strap up under the shoulder of the head, and snapped it in place. Since I offset the location of the snap slightly, there is a little tension when you reach the attaching point, which is just what I wanted.
If you have a hatchet or an axe, currently without a head-cover, you may want try making one, too. I personally love that feeling of accomplishment that comes from making what I have, even better!
I hope you enjoyed the article and let me know if you have any questions or comments.
I have a few different hatchets from over the years, but the one I’m most partial to (now) is one that belonged to my grandfather, and was made by Plumb for the Boy Scouts of America. I don’t know the exact date this was made, but it looks to be in the 1930-1940 range. The handle is hickory […]