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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