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Handy tools #8: Knife making tools

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Blog entry by Dave Polaschek posted 06-09-2019 05:26 PM 554 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I’ve been making stacked birch bark knife handles lately, and found a couple tools that made the process much easier.

Note that the basic tools needed are something to cut the birch bark to size (unless you’re buying stacks from Russia, which are a pretty good deal, but a little short to do a complete job), and something to scrape the papery bits and any fungus off the outside of the bark. A card scraper will do just fine for the latter. You’ll also need something to put holes in the bark. I use a leather punch. It works pretty good, but about every three or four pieces of bark I need to clear it out, since the bark doesn’t fall out the way leather does.

As you’re stacking the bark pieces on the handle, you want the holes to be big enough that you’re not splitting the bark, but tight enough that the bark stays in place. Near the blade, this means punching three overlapping holes using the middle size on my punch, then two overlapping holes using the middle size on my punch, then finally a single hole using the next smaller size on the punch.

I put a handle on a piece of 7/16” tubing so I wouldn’t beat up my mallet when hitting it. It also got a screw-eye so I can hang it up when I’m not using it.

Every dozen or so pieces of bark, I’ll slide the tube over the knife tang, then give it a good whack with the mallet to push everything down tightly. It gets me a tighter stack, which means less fiddling around later.

Partway through building the stack, I’ll take a break to thread the end of the knife tang. For the mora 120 knife blanks I will use a 10-32 die, followed by a 8-32 die, and I thread the last 1/4 inch of the tang. That seems to be plenty. I use a stack of a 1/4” washer, followed by a 1/4” copper washer, then a #8 washer, followed by an 8-32 nut.

After I have built the stack, but before I put on the washers and nut, I will press the stack, and bake it for 2 hours at 225F (110C). I use a couple pieces of scrap wood with some all-thread and washers and wing nuts as a press. Baking the bark will soften up any birch pitch in the bark and glue the stack together a little. It’ll make for a nicer handle later.

After I’ve baked the stack, I can usually put on another six-ten pieces of birch bark before putting on the washers and nut. Once I have the nut tightened down pretty well, I will peen over the end of the knife tang with a ball-peen hammer. Lots of little taps will mushroom the end of the tang and lock everything together.

Then it’s time to shape. I use a bandsaw followed by a belt sander.

Hope this helps!

-- Dave - Minneapolis



12 comments so far

View EarlS's profile (online now)

EarlS

2802 posts in 2743 days


#1 posted 06-09-2019 09:39 PM

Very clever way to get a tight stack and a solid handle.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3772 posts in 977 days


#2 posted 06-09-2019 10:41 PM

Thanks, Earl. I’ve seen a few different solutions in videos, but these were the spare parts I had on hand. I figure whatever gets the job done.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View Kelster58's profile

Kelster58

751 posts in 935 days


#3 posted 06-09-2019 11:56 PM

Some of the things you guys get into. Never thought anything about this process. It looks fascinating. Never cease to be amazed by you Dave. Great Job!

-- K. Stone “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

View doubleDD's profile

doubleDD

8400 posts in 2438 days


#4 posted 06-10-2019 12:32 AM

If it wasn’t for the great results I would say its a lot of work. I’m for anything that makes life easier.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3772 posts in 977 days


#5 posted 06-10-2019 12:52 AM

I hadn’t thought about it either, Kelster. Pretty boring scraping all those little chunks of bark, too. Glad someone finds it interesting. I also ground a smooth curve on the top of my card scraper. I’ll add a picture of that soon.

Dave, it is a lot of work. But I’m getting better and can now finish two knives in three days of shop time, rather than two days per knife. If I had a cool jig for making octagonal handles I might be even quicker, but I don’t yet. Plus, I think I prefer oval handles. But I may have to make one of these octagonal so I can compare.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View GR8HUNTER's profile

GR8HUNTER

6109 posts in 1107 days


#6 posted 06-10-2019 01:56 PM

dont have a tool to make the job easier make one GREAT JOB :<))))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3772 posts in 977 days


#7 posted 06-10-2019 02:11 PM

Thanks, Tony. Might not even be the best solution, but they’re working for me.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View mafe's profile

mafe

12069 posts in 3484 days


#8 posted 06-12-2019 10:59 PM

Hi Dave,
Cool tools and ideas.
Interesting to see how it can be done, I had never heard of the baking part.
Best of my thoughts,
Mads

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3772 posts in 977 days


#9 posted 06-12-2019 11:50 PM

I’ve had mixed results with the baking, Mads. It always gets the bark packed more tightly, so I think it’s worth it for that. And two of the four knives I’ve made had enough pitch in the bark that the pieces glued together a little. I think this pair will get a good soaking of linseed oil as well, as there didn’t seem to be much pitch. But with them tightly packed together, it’s still a nice feeling handle.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View mafe's profile

mafe

12069 posts in 3484 days


#10 posted 06-13-2019 10:13 PM

I have never tried one of those handles, I imagine it must be nice and have a warm feel.
Smiles,
Mads

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3772 posts in 977 days


#11 posted 06-13-2019 11:04 PM

Soon you will, Mads. The two knives pictured will be the pair we discussed. Final shaping of the handles will happen this weekend, I believe.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View mafe's profile

mafe

12069 posts in 3484 days


#12 posted 06-14-2019 01:35 AM

Ahhhh now I’m smiling.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

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