Handling a Knife

Damascus steel Zhen Nakiri knife blank

I recently wrote about Damascus Steel, and showed this knife from Professional Woodworkers Supplies as an example of a modern interpretation of this traditional steel-making technique.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to complete the handle for this knife, so I was able to put it to use!

Queen Ebony timber stock

I started, as always, scrounging around through my timber stocks, looking for just the right piece of timber for the job.  Not sure which is the more rewarding: having a project and the excitement/anticipation of the project commencement while out sourcing and purchasing just the right pieces of timber for the job, or scrounging around your own existing timber store, though pieces collected over the years and waiting for just the right project to come along to be able to finally do it justice.

For this project I looked at many pieces and different species.  Even tried a couple to see if there was enough detail for the project at hand, but rejected them in the end.  I finally had a look at the pack of Queen Ebony strips I had purchased at a wood show a few years ago, and suddenly realised that the bottom two strips (about 1.5m long each) were thicker than the others, and were in fact thick enough for this project, even after being machined flat!

This is a perfect scenario – it gives me a chance to actually machine one face smooth and flat, and then match the opposite side and still end up with timber thick enough for the task at hand.

The project is pretty straight forward, and follows the steps I took when doing the steak knives.  After sizing the scales, they were double-sided taped together (carpet tape).  These were then stuck to one side of the blade.  On the drill press, holes where then drilled through the holes in the knife blank, then while still attached to the blade, the whole lot were transferred to the bandsaw, and the rough outline of the blade handle cut.

The scales were then separated, glued (epoxy) to either side of the blade blank, and the rivets inserted.

Once the glue was dry, the whole contraption was transferred to the spindle sander for the final shaping.

To complete, the Festool ETS 150/5 was used to polish the sides and edges.

Completed knife

The Queen Ebony really looks the part – I am most impressed!

Finally, the real test is in the kitchen, so I gave a piece of pumpkin a workout.

Nakiri Blade in its element

The final verdict is in the use, and this knife handled beautifully!  The sharpness of the blade, the scalloped blade and a home-made stunning handle.

A fun little project, and a very satisfying result!

 

Damascus steel

There are not a lot of swords around these days, and the original techniques for producing Damascus steel have been lost to the ages.  Modern Damascus steel is typically created by a technique called billet welding.  This is where a billet of steel is hammered out, folded over, then hammered together again which causes the steel to weld together.  Hammered out again, folded, hammered together.  Rinse and repeat.

Japanese forgers used to use a similar technique, throwing a layer of carbon over the steel before folding it.  This creates layers of ferrite and cementite – soft and hard microlayers.

The result of whatever method is used, is steel with a distinctive organic wavy pattern across the surface.

Despite Damascus steel swords no longer being a household item (well in the household of a knight, or Samurai), you can still buy products that benefit from the tough, durable, yet razor-sharp edge that Damascus steel provides.  These are kitchen knives, with the incredible distinctive surface that layers upon layers of folded, billet welded steel creates.

So you may be wondering where this is leading? Well, you remember the steak knife project I did recently, creating wooden handles on a set of four knives?  (These kits are still available by the way).  How would you like to have a kitchen knife made from Damascus steel for which you have created the handle?

Professional Woodworkers Supplies have Damascus steel kitchen knife blanks that you can handle with a distinctive timber of your choice.  I do a great deal of cooking, and like having good knives.  So having one made from Damascus steel is something I have wanted for a while, and even better as a shed project.

Damascus steel Zhen Nakiri knife blank

They make great gifts as well.

Creating a handle for this knife blank will be featured in an upcoming article (just as soon as I make it!)

This particular blank is a Zhen Nakiri blade, which is particularly suited to cutting vegetables.  It has a blade length of 170mm, and a Rockwell C hardness of 60-62, and has 67 layers. Check out the range available here.

Steak Knives, Take Two

When I first made some scales for the steak knife set (from Professional Woodworkers Supplies) about a year ago, things were going well until almost the final step when excessive tearout occurred when the roundover bit got a tad aggressive. That project has been set aside for a little longer than I expected (or realised when I looked at the date of the first effort!). So time to try again. I’m not sure if this specific set is still available, but there are plenty of other knife projects available here.

Unhandled knife kit

I didn’t take a photo of the knife kit again this time, so have recycled the first photo here. Now on with the new attempt (and yes, there is a more successful conclusion!)

To start, I have a new timber for the blanks (for a bit of variety!) This time the handles will be black hearted sassafras. The blanks have been roughly sized, and ready to be machined accurately.

I have improved the method I use to sand thin stock on the drum sander by making a sled.

Thin stock sled for the drum sander

With a piece of MDF, I have attached a thin fence to one edge with a couple of 4mm dominos.

Thin stock sled in operation

The sled carries the blanks in and through the sander – the increased area of the base works well with the sander to ensure no slippage occurs when the blanks impact the sanding drum, decreasing any chance of snipe or burning. These were sanded to 8.2mm to match the knife bolster.

Next, cut an angle on one end to match the knife blank. In this case, 36 degrees, which is easily done using the Incra Mitre Gauge HD, and even better when coupled up with the Mitre Express.

HD Gauge from Incra

Mitre Express

The Mitre Express makes machining small items safer, and minimising tearout.

Knife Scales

The resulting knife scales ready for the next stage. I needed to drill 3.5mm holes, but found my drill bit that size had the end snapped off from a previous job. So for a bit of a diversion, off to the Tormek and the drill bit sharpener jig.

Tormek DBS-22

This jig quickly turned the broken tip of the bit back into a well-formed, razor sharp bit, better than new (originally a 2 facet bit – this jig allows you to develop 4 facets on the tip).

Preparing the scale for drilling

With double-sided tape, I attached one scale to the knife, then the second scale to the first. This allows me to drill both sides simultaneously, and any breakout can be minimised.

Drilling the blank

After drilling, I drew around the handle, then detached the knife. After roughing down on the bandsaw, I sanded right to the line using a combination of the disk sander and spindle sander.

The scales are then glued to either side of the knife, and the pins inserted. They are longer than necessary, and get cut and sanded to size once the glue sets.

Handles ready for final shaping and finishing

The knives were then returned to the disk and spindle sanders to finalise the shape.

From there, I used a random orbital sander to sand all sides, and round over the edges (done with the ROS held upside down in one hand, and the knife handle bought to the sander). After a while I decided the microcuts were becoming a bit excessive, so finished the job wearing a kevlar carver’s glove.

You may notice the knife bolsters are no longer polished – while shaping some of the bolsters got damaged unfortunately, so it was better to have them all sanded evenly to match. It may look a bit exaggerated in the photo, but ok in reality. Not the preferred result, but such is life.

The knives have already been used a couple of times – it is rather cool using a knife you’ve made the handle for, and the knives themselves are heavy, very sharp and slice steak to perfection.

Forgot to mention – they were finished simply by rubbing them down with Ubeaut Foodsafe Plus mineral oil. This is ideal for chopping boards, salad bowls, and of course, knife handles.

Finished knives


(just reread this post the following morning- I really shouldn’t write entries at 2am: so many typos, including the title. “Sneak knives”. Either that is autocorrect gone mad, or I have!

Now That’s a Knife

It’s only been 4 months since I got this set of steak knives from Professional Woodworker Supplies.  That is a pretty quick turnaround time for me these days!  Everything hasn’t gone to plan though, as I will elaborate, but I got close to achieving a good result.  I don’t like accepting a compromise – it may be that others wouldn’t notice anything wrong, but I would every time I use one of these.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Knife blanks

These four knives are begging for some stunning handles (the timber on either side are known as “scales”), and so the timber of choice is African Rosewood.  I recently bought a couple of lengths during the recent April WoodFest with the vague idea of making a box, but it jumped out at me when I was looking for what to make the knives from.  The timber is around 19mm thick, so a bit over double the thickness required for each side of the knife.  So resawing was the order of the day.

Resawing the African Rosewood

I changed the blade down to a 5/8″ blade on the Carbatec bandsaw, then racked up the tension.  With the MagSwitch fence in place (single roller), the blade sliced the timber cleanly in two.  I am so loving having the bandsaw tensioning handle below the upper wheel.  The benefits of a larger bandsaw.

Single Roller MagFence making the job easy

Can’t beat those MagFences either for resawing. Love how easy, and accurate it makes the task.

Passes through the Drum Sander for accurate dimensioning

From the bandsaw, the next step is to run it through the drum sander.  This may not be everyone’s first choice – for one you have to have a drum sander to be able to use it.  I’ve become a big fan, especially for situations like this.  These are pieces of timber way too short to ever consider running through a thicknesser, so you’d have to resort to a ROS, hand plane or similar.  Me, I like the electron-murdering whirling abrasive wheel! With careful passes, I was able to get the board down to within 0.1mm of the required thickness.

Jig to accurately cut the handles

Next job was to shape the scales.  The only important side initially is the edge that butts up against the bolster.  To save on timber (a big mistake – not how I chose to do it, but any attempt to scrimp on timber inevitably leads to undesirable results, and more timber wastage. I know this, and still find myself doing it), I cut the timber close to dimension, and drilled holes using an MDF template I made of the scale from the knife tang. I used a couple of lengths of brass rod to replicate the rivets to position each scale to be cut precisely.

Thinning down the pins

For the two pins, I needed them a little thinner than the rivets would be, so I could get the scales off the jig.  To take off a small, controlled amount, mounting the pin in the drill, then running it on the sandpaper provided a precise size decrease.

Ready to cut the handle end

In hindsight, doing it this way was a mistake. Drilling the holes for the rivets needed to be done after the first scale was glued to the tang.

Knife handles roughed out

The scales, ready to be glued on.  Rather than gluing both sides at once, the plan was to do one side only, then use a pattern copying bit to get the scale to accurately match the tang.

Gluing the first handle side on

Two part epoxy resin (Araldite) being the glue of choice.

Clamped up

There is plenty of overhang which is a good thing, but this is where two mistakes compounded.  The trying to be too thrifty which resulted in the scale slipping in a couple of cases enough that the tang wasn’t properly covered, and when the glue had set, not trimming off the excess resulted in a couple of chipouts on the router table that destroyed the handle.  The router bit here is a straight bit with copying bearing.  Straight after this, I was down at Carbatec and picked up a solid carbide spiral router bit with double bearing – the spiral has a shearing/slicing action rather than a chipping action for the next time I attempt to make more handles.

Shaping the blank to the handle

Did have a couple of successes, the bearing running on the tang so the scale gets cut accurately to match.

As good as it got

The results were looking good, and the few refinements to my technique should prove very successful.  For the handles here, I took the photos, then took a chisel and snapped the scales off. Oh well, I’d rather it right than compromise.

Diamond Knife Sharpening

With Christmas approaching, you can pick up a Tormek at quite a good price at the moment, particularly care of parity of the Australian and US dollars.  Latest price I’ve seen is $899 for the T7 from Carbatec, and $599 for the T3.  That will obviously produce exceptional edges on all your sharp tools (with the right jigs), but for small knives I’ve also come across this product from DMT (which also has an excellent name in their chosen field) which is surprisingly (or not such a surprise given it is DMT) effective.

Deluxe Aligner Sharpening Kit

The Deluxe Aligner (strange name) has a knife holder, guide bar, stone holder and 3 DMT diamond stones (45 micron, 25 micron, 9 micron).  It also has a round file for serrated blades and a storage bag.

Sharpening Edges

When you first see it/set it up, its plastic feel and seemingly loose tolerances don’t fill you with the confidence that it can do the job, but I was again surprised how effective it was, particularly on a small blade like my Leatherman, and small kitchen knives (4″ & 6″).  The knife is secure, and using the height adjustment you set the angle for the grind/hone.  It is double sided so you can flip it over to do the other side as well.  After working with the first stone, it is easily changed out without affecting the settings so you can work through the three stone grades.

Sharpening Serrated Edges

For once, serrated edges are not forgotten either, and a tapered (cone) sharpener is provided which uses the same guide to achieve the repeated and repeatable angle to sharpen inside the serrations.  Again very beneficial for my Leatherman which has both a straight blade and a serrated one.

So an excellent little sharpening jig – useful for kitchens and sheds alike.  Available from Maxis Tools (and presumably therefore Carbatec, either now or in the near future)

Channelling my inner Crocodile Dundee

Crocodile “Stu” Dundee: [chuckles] That’s not a router bit.

Crocodile “Stu” Dundee: Now THAT’s a router bit.

Bloody heavy thing too, and it seems as real as you’d imagine.

Still looking for a router to fit it! Or an adapter collet 😉

Hock Carving Knives

Ron Hock has long been renowned for producing superior blades for planes, and his approach is based on a strong understanding of the metallurgy involved in producing high quality steel that is specifically suited to the purpose of plane blades.

But what is interesting to know, is producing high-carbon steel blades is not where he started.  It was making knives, and it came to be that his knowledge of steel lead him into focusing on plane blades.

It sounds like it was a long time coming then, but Ron has (finally) returned to where he started, and has released a set of carving knives that incorporate his high-carbon Rc62 blades in a Bubinga handle. These knives just make you want to take up carving (if you don’t already!) They are visually aesthetically pleasing, and you know beyond any doubt that they have the best possible steel blades incorporated into them.

Hock Carving Knives

Hock Carving Knives

This set has been sourced from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, and they can be purchased individually, or as a set of 5.

The knife range

The knife range

From left to right, they are:

1.25″ Stab Carving Knife (32mm Angled) High Carbon Steel
1.25″ Carving Knife (32mm Straight) High Carbon Steel
1.25″ Detail Knife (32mm Fine Point) High Carbon Steel
1″ Chip Carving Knife (25mm Offset) High Carbon Steel
1″ Carving Knife (25mm Straight) High Carbon Steel

Did I mention they are sharp?!

Blade Cover

Blade Cover

Speaking of which, each comes fitted with a piece of plastic tubing, which makes a good blade cover, to protect the blade if it happens to fall on the floor (and yourself if you do something silly (unless you happen to be using that particular blade at the time, but I guess that goes without saying….))

So if you are already a carver (or are interested in giving it a try), these knives are certainly worth having a good look at. (And they won’t break the bank).

Hock Carving Knives

Hock Carving Knives

And as an aside, if you have not heard of Hock Blades before, here are a couple of his YouTube videos, which are definitely worth watching.

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