I was recently working on one of my hand-made knives, and while finishing my curly-maple handle, I remembered a technique I’d use on some of my smaller wooden products that I don’t think I ever wrote about before. I decided it would be something good to share with my readers, beyond the aspect of it truly working, but it may also push some to start thinking outside the box a bit more. Anyways, lets get into it.
The handles I use on my knives may be of different types of wood, but I usually go with the same finish on them all, which is Tru-Oil by Birchwood Casey. Ok, if you’ve read my other articles, you already know that, but I’m just filling in the blanks for those who haven’t read any of my previous writings. As with most finishes, you apply a thin coat, wait for it to dry, lightly sand and wipe the residue off. Basically repeating this process until you get the desired results. I follow the basic design of this, but will give a bit more specific information regarding what I’m using that helps get a better final surface.
In between the first two coats, I use some 400-grit paper to just very lightly touch the surface, removing any nibs or roughness and then wiping away any residue. Just before my final coat, I use a foam backed sanding sheet that is rated 1200-1500 (their specs, not mine), and again just almost letting gravity apply the downward force on the wood, as I’m not trying to do anything but smooth anything that is out of line.
After the last coat is applied, I make sure to let it sit long enough to really totally dry, which can be 24 hours or even slightly longer. On an inconspicuous spot, I just lightly touch a finger. If it has any feel of stickiness or my finger doesn’t slip like its on glass, I leave it until this occurs. After the finish is completely dry, I shift to something that might seem strange; a Viva paper towel! And no this isn’t just to wipe some residue. I know many of us don’t look at paper towels like they are a type of sandpaper, but they do have some graininess to them (Viva just happens to be our paper towel of choice, but other may work as well, but may not be quite as fine a grain), and one time long ago, I ran out of some crazy-fine sandpaper I’d been using. On a whim, I decided to give these paper towels a shot. I find I get the best results if I apply a bit of pressure and move back and forth quickly. Basically starting to burnish the finish. After I’ve done this to all sections of the knife’s handle, I go one step further. I use a small section of a thick leather that is somewhat soft, but not really what I would call buttery. Using the smooth side of the leather, I use exactly the same routine as I did with the paper towel. This provides a nice burnish to the handle’s surface, which just feels so good in the hands.
Since the burnishing heats up the finish during the process, I again clamp the knife (via the blade) for another 24 hours, to let the finish harden again. This leaves a handle that is super smooth, but unlike some waxes, doesn’t seem to want to slip out of your grip.
If you are working on a smallish wooden project, like a knife handle, or even a little box, you might want to give this a try. You might just amaze your friends/family/customers regarding how “smooth” it feels. Even if you aren’t trying to get the extra response, it’s cool to use a couple of everyday type items to increase the touch-factor of your projects.
I hope you enjoyed this article and may find it useful. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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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.
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