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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Not long ago I was shifting from flattening the face side of my massive Soft Maple boards (8 1/2″ W x 3 3/4″ D x 75″ L), to one of the edge faces. On one board both of the edge faces were about equal in perceived work, as each had some twist and similar nasty rough characteristic. Many times I’d grab my old Bailey #6 hand plane set up with a decently cambered iron, and start with the iron way out there, just to expedite the process, as I hate just getting a whisker or two on a pass, at least at this stage. Oh, and I am talking about wood that I purchased that is basically rough, to the point where it has some fuzzy all over.
On this board, I reached for my #6 and I’m really not sure why my hand re-directed to my 9-grain Auriou Rasp, which is my medium grit, as I also have a 5-grain for really heavy stuff and a 15-grain model makers for the super fine work (Auriou rasps 1-grain – 4-grain are intended for working stone, while 5-grain – 15-grain are good for wood).
From my perspective, the far right corner of my board was elevated, as was the near left corner, as you’d expect when you have some wind/twist. I stood the board on it’s opposite side, with a wedge under one corner, to keep it from rocking (or at least too bad). I grabbed the 9-grain Auriou with it’s handle in my right hand and the tip in my left, and held it in an almost 45-degree position with my left hand leading the way. As I touched the wood, I tried to keep both of my hands at a similar level from the floor, and started near the far end of the board. Since I already knew the high area was on the right, it was easy to use that to confirm I was keeping my hands fairly level, as I expected to see wood removed on the right and nothing on the left, and the area removed shouldn’t slope to the right.
Since I’d never tried using my Auriou like this before, I made a couple of passes and then stopped to see if it was worth continuing, or if I was just wasting my energy. Surprisingly, this medium-grit rasp was rapidly bringing the high sections down, and as is somewhat usual for Auriou, it was leaving a very decent texture to the surface. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t chewing it up and/or ripping it to shreds! With the positive results, I really got into it and gradually worked my way to the other end of the board.
After the I had all of the major high areas lowered down, I shifted over to my #6 hand plane, with it set at a much more reasonable bite, and rapidly completed this edge face. When I was done, I wondered if I might should’ve tried bringing in the 5-grain Auriou, but that bad boy was probably overkill, at least for this level of stock removal.
For those who haven’t yet had the chance to use any of the Auriou line of rasps, I’ll share a tip that I found during my time with these tools. I think my first tendency with a rasp (maybe just because I’m a guy, but I can’t say for sure) is to lean into it while applying pressure, to get the wood out of the way. While this tactic will certainly remove wood briskly, the overall surface can seem like a chainsaw hit it. I’ve found that using a light touch on the downward force, and controlled strokes can still rapidly remove wood, but ends up leaving a much better surface. This seems to go for any of the Auriou rasps I’ve used (the three I listed are all the cabinet maker’s shape, with one flat side and one that is curved from side-to-side, but I also have a 13-grain in their handle-maker’s style, that has the same side-to-side curve, but also curves on the long axis, towards the tip), so if you buy or are lucky enough to receive as a gift, try this to get the best results from your rasps. Oh, and Auriou make their rasps as either a right-hand or a left-hand rasp, based on how the teeth of the rasp are created. If you are a right-handed person, and are using a left-handed rasp, you’ll end up roughing the surface rather than the teeth actually cutting like they are intended. Just keep that in mind if you are buying one of their rasps, whether new or used.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the information and may give it a try as well. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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