Adding the Knife handle — Option 1
Now let’s add a handle to our full tang knife. I have two basic techniques that I’ve tried. I still use both from time to time. I’ll describe both and let you decide if you’d like to try both as well.
In both options I epoxy any laminated woods first. So a wood scale with two types of wood laminated is done ahead of time. This just simplifies the glueing.
I also like to use slower setting epoxy. It give a little bit more time to get things right.
I also tape off the blade. I do this for two reasons. First, it helps with cleanup (use the blue painters masking tape) and second it protects your fingers from the sharp edges.
Use a knife to cut the tape to the profile of the scales under the front.
Mark out the scales by tracing the knife handle. Be sure you make a right and left side. There’s not much that’s more annoying then cutting out two blanks for the same side of the knife. With just a pure single species wood scale it may not matter, but I still like to ensure the nicest grain is out. Make the cut a little bigger than the knife. You will grind the excess off later.
I cut mine out on a bandsaw, but a coping saw, Jewelers saw or even a hacksaw will work in a pinch.
Set the scale on the knife. Make sure the front bolster side of the scale is a little long. We’ll be sanding it to size latter.
Here you need to hold the scale for drilling. You can hand hold it or clamp it. At this point it doesn’t need to be exact, but make sure the scale has not slide past the edge.
Next I drill the first hole. Slide a temporary pin into the hole to be sure it stays aligned. (The temporary pins can be the pins you plan to use, but at this point the placement is temporary)
Drill the second hole. Add another pin. Continue until all holes are drilled. (If you’ve drilled additional balance holes, be sure you don’t drill those)
Now push the pins so they’re flush on the second scale side. Remove one pin and hold the second scale in place and even with the first scale. (Again, this doesn’t have to be exact, as long as you don’t slide past the point of not having enough to grind even)
Drill the first hole. (It doesn’t matter which hole you start with) Now reinsert the pin.
Remove another pin and drill the hole, making sure the scale is still aligned. (Using a small clamp will sometimes help) Drill the hole and reinsert the pin.
Repeat for all of the pins.
Now remove the scales from the knife and hold them together. Reinsert the pins in the holes. (without the knife). If you plan to use spacers, add them to the center. I drill the holes for the spacers using the same technique.
Now grind the front of the scales. You will typically put a taper at the front, but this depends on the design. You want to completely sand this front portion so it does not require any sanding after installation. Sanding here without hitting the blade is next to impossible.
Once this is completed, get everything ready for installation.
If you haven’t done so already, get your pins ready and make sure they fit properly. One of the mistakes I made in my first few knives was not tapering the ends of the pins enough and it caused some blow out driving them through. A little longer with a nice taper fixes that.
Now mix your epoxy and coat each piece, one at a time as you set them together. Do one side, then insert two pins, then the other side. The first side you’ll be sliding the pins into the scales, the second side you’ll be sliding the scales onto the two pins. Leaving them protruding just enough for the scales to line up, not completely through yet.
Once the scale are lines up and in place, drive the pins into place, then coat the remaining pins and set them as well.
Now clamp the handle. You don’t want the clamps so tight that it squeezes all the epoxy out, but make sure the scale (and spacers if you’re using them) are tight, even and properly set.
Using a damp rag or paper towel with rubbing alcohol (acetone or mineral spirits work as well) wipe off any epoxy the spit out the front. The front part (bolster side) is all you need to worry about. You don’t want the rag wet enough that you pull or dilute the epoxy under the scales, so less is more.
Now let it set overnight.
Next you’ll be shaping the handle. This can be done with the belt grinder, rasp, files or any combination of these. I typically cut the pins off with a hack saw first.
If you’re using a grinder, keep in mind epoxy is heat sensitive, so you don’t want to get the handle to hot. When it gets warm to the touch, stop and let it cool or switch to hand tools.
I typically hand sand my wood scales to 2000 grit, then hand rub an oil finish. Wet sanding about every third or fourth coat will give a nice smooth finish. Us fine wet dry paper. I use 320 first, then 2000 grit.
How many coats are up to you. Coat until your happy with the results. I typically do somewhere between 4 and 10 coats.
That’s one way. Next we’ll talk about another option.