I have a really beautiful Japanese skiving knife that my daughter and son-in-law bought for me, while in Japan a couple of years ago.
I was using it to thin some leather from a piece where it would blend with a joint, and I noticed it wasn’t sliding through the leather like it had when I got it. My eyes aren’t what they once were, so I looked at the knife’s cutting edge under some magnification, and what I saw just blew me away! The edge was chipped something terribly!
I’m the only one who has ever used this skiving knife and I always handle my tools very carefully, and it has never fallen from the workbench or come in contact with anything other than leather. I even made a leather sheath for this knife when I received it, so it would be protected.
It is possible that the steel used in this skiving knife is not flawed at all, even though it would seem at first glance that the heat treatment possibly left the blade too brittle. This isn’t uncommon in the blade making world, as the outside (what I might call a skin, for lack of better terms) can be a bit too far towards the brittle side, but once this skin is removed, the remaining body of the blade is both hard and resilient.
Ok, so how the heck can I fix this, without spending hours at the water stones, and without using up half a stone? Now this is going to sound crazy to some, but you hold the cutting edge perpendicular to the 1000-grit water stone, and move the blade down the stone. I know someone is cringing just thinking about doing this to a blade, much less with the damage it will do to some water stones, but stay with me here. This is one of the places that the Shapton Glass Stone series of stones really rock (not that they don’t rock all the time), when you have a narrow tool (something like a 1/16″ chisel or the working the edge of a card scraper), that can plow furrows into your water stone(s). The Glass Stones have a much harder matrix that most water stones I’ve used, and I find they do a better job of withstanding these focused pressure situations, without leaving deep depressions in the stones. Ok, back to the skiving knife… I visually check the knife’s cutting edge after each pass on the water stone, so I don’t waste my time, the water stone or the knife’s steel, and continue until there are no remaining chips on the blade’s edge (not a cutting edge at this point, as this process creates a flat at the edge) of the skiving knife. You may be wondering why I would use this technique, rather than working the bevel as you normally do when sharpening. I find this technique to be much faster and very reliable.
Now that the chipping is removed, its time to work the bevel on the 1000-grit, until the created flat at the tip is gone. This will prepare it to be a very sharp blade! This skiving knife has an amazingly acute honing angle, and the handle can get in the way of some honing guides, when trying to work at this low an angle. I decided to use my Kell honing guide, as it could hold the blade for this type angle, even though I found it was just barely able to retain it. What I mean regarding retaining the blade, is the blade would try to pivot ever so slightly during use, even though I had applied recommended pressure with the Kell honing guide. It turns out the back section of the skiving blade has a little taper to it, rather than two parallel edges. I found I had to put strong finger pressure down onto the rear part of the blade, while I was moving the Kell guide and blade up and down the water stones, which kept the blade static. One way to determine if you have actually removed enough steel, so that the back and bevel meet in the perfect “zero radius”, is to hold the blade with the cutting tip facing up towards some lights. If you can see any reflected light from the tip (not the back or the bevel) then you still have a flat on the tip and should continue to remove steel from the bevel. When you reach the point where there is no longer any light reflected back from the cutting tip (and you can feel a small burr all along the edge, from the back of the blade), it is time to shift to your finishing water stone, which should be at least an 8000-grit or higher. I prefer to use my 1000-grit water stone to remove the burr from the back of the blade, as it only takes a couple of swipes, but it really depends on the situation. Now on to the finishing stone, for both the bevel side and then the back.
You should be left with an amazingly sharp tool! I tested my skiving knife on a piece of leather, and it cut through it like it was going through soft butter. This is a wonderful tool that is back in business!
Thank you for reading the article and please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.
@LeeLairdWoodworking – Instagram
I’ve been using quite a few different types of hatchets / axes lately, and many of them feel decent enough in my hand, but one of the older handles is top notch for me. The range of handles are from a number of makers that even the casual user would likely recognize, but the one that stands out for me, is a hickory one in my old Plumb hatchet. Other than the handle on my older Sears hatchet, which is fairly round in cross-section and unfortunately feels like it would be in a lower quality hammer, the rest have some aspect of similarity. These all have a cross-section that is somewhat oval (a bit flattened) or perhaps even leaning towards teardrop in shape, which I find much better than a round cross-section, at least for a hatchet/axe.
The handle in my old Plumb hatchet is much more “delicate” in grip girth, but it has been up for the task. I’ve used this hatchet for a number of years, and it was my grandfather’s before it made it to me, and it’s still rocking the original handle. Pretty impressive for a slim little handle!
When I find something that both feels great and works well, I take as many notes as possible, to help determine what it is that lends to the overall excellence. If applicable, I’ll replicate the design to see how it behaves, and how much time it requires to make by hand. This new version can end up as a replacement for the original, if needed, as long as it feels good in the hand. You never know when you might swing and unintentionally damage a handle, no matter how long its previously lasted.
I made a simple pattern for this handle, using a previously used Priority box from the Postal Service, as the box was of decent size.
I measured the dimensions of the existing handle, and found an off-cut in my bin that was close enough to call a match. I honestly didn’t know what type of wood I’d chosen (not 100% sure even now), as the majority of the piece had a dark colored and very rough cut exterior. I used a pencil to trace my pattern onto my blank, and quickly cut it out on my bandsaw. This was the only piece of powered equipment I used to make this handle. After cutting the blank close to my pattern lines, as well as then diving in at the pommel, and cutting a very light taper to create some swell at the end, it was obvious the grain was not nearly as straight-grained as the original hickory version.
From this point forward, I used a draw knife, my flat and curved versions of my Lie-Nielsen spoke shaves, a carving knife I made last year, along with a couple of chisels and scrapers (one was a purpose-made card scraper, but even though the other was a bit makeshift, it worked wonderfully for very light cleanup).
I find I have a tendency to work much more cautiously when performing the first of a given process, and with finding the blank lacked pure straight grain, I made sure I didn’t bite off too much with the drawknife. Even using the drawknife with the bevel down, as I did on this handle, you could dive into the grain, splitting away so much wood that you’d ruin the planned shape. On this handle, I also wasn’t sure whether I might end up going with an octagon faceting rather than the continuous curve of the original, but as I gradually approached the final dimensions, I decided I’d stick to a good likeliness of the original.
After using the scrapers, I applied a coat of Watco’s Danish Oil in the natural color, which provides a small level of protection as well as enhancing the wood grain. I also decided to sit the handle outside on the hood of my car, during the midday sun, to see if it would get a sun tan. Some woods are known to change in color, with direct sun light exposure, but I’m not sure whether this unknown species really changed all that much, if any. I took before and after photos, and it wasn’t completely obvious to my eyes.
I hope this might spur some of you to try making a handle or two for yourselves, and you might just find you can tweak them so they fit your hand better than anything you’ve ever purchased.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for stopping to check out this posting!
@LeeLairdWoodworking – IG
@LeeLairdWW – Twitter
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