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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For those that follow me on my other social media, I mentioned I’d write an article describing how I am burnishing the edges of my leather projects, as it is relatively simple and doesn’t require much “elbow grease”! So let’s get after it and I hope this may make it easier for anyone that is trying.
I’ve been making some leather sheaths for knives and some other items for a few months now, and have a basic background with working leather as a young kid, but it was focused more towards putting together pre-created pieces together or carving basic enhancements. My current projects are getting better in all aspects, as I’m fine tuning little by little. The edges on all of my recent items were left “raw”, as in the same surface texture as the cutting device transferred. I’ve looked at a number of professional leather pieces and almost all have edges that are what I’d best describe as “finished”.
I don’t recall ever see anyone finish the edges like that when I was young, at least not on the things we were making, but I really do appreciate this look. With that in mind, I decided to try a number of things in the attempt to create a similar look on my edges. I started off with some sand paper, and depending on how consistent the flow of the lines were, started at 100-grit or 150-grit, followed by some 220-grit. I read where some were using different types of waxes, during the burnishing stage, and others used oils. I decided to go with a blend, by using Jojoba oil, which is a waxy oil. After applying a coating to the edge, I tried a number of different smooth/hard items, but nothing really seemed to occur.
I decided to apply a light coat of Liberon Black Bison wax to the edges, and left it to dry. This time I tried using my Dremel with one of the felt wheels, to see if I could cause some friction action, and get the look I was after. This still left it a long way from my target look.
Next I put a 12″ length of hard maple onto my Teknatool Nova XP wood lathe, and using a gouge, created a groove a little bit wider than the widest width on my current pieces. The gouge left a very smooth surface in the groove, and I applied some wax all the way around the shaft, so the groove was ready to do the work for me. (or at least I hoped so)
I turned on my lathe and brought the speed up to 1800 rpm, moved the rest out of the way, and then brought the edge of my sheath under the groove. I raised the sheath enough so it was touching the rotating groove, and started working the sheath slowly along so that all of the edge received the results of the spinning groove.
The results were nothing short of surprising! The mix of wax, oil and the friction provided by the spinning piece of maple, provided a nice sealed surface to the edge and raised the overall level of the sheath.
I brought two other recent sheaths out to test to see if this was a fluke, or if I could repeat it at will. I decided to again apply the Jojoba Oil, followed by Black Bison wax, and the maple shaft did the rest. Both of the test sheaths looked equally as nice as did the first sheath.
I will keep this maple shaft for any future leather projects, and mount it on the lathe whenever it is needed, so it won’t take up any real space in the shop in between uses.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it helps you improve your projects. As always, please make sure to 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 […]
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