A truly exquisite knife, one you just want to carry on your next adventure, will always have a wood handle in my opinion. Wood is the traditional substance for a beautiful knife handle, and unless you plan to be in the most extreme survival conditions, for lengths of time almost humanly unbearable, a wood handle will always perform wonderfully. And nothing really can compare to wood for adding beauty to your knife.
So with that after some time making knives, I decided to add stabilizing to my list of “do-it-yourself” knife chores. I sat down and decided on this vacuum pump, and the 6×14″ JuiceProof Chamber from turntex.com. My first order at turntex looked like this
- 6×14″ JuiceProof Chamber
- 1 Gallon (3.79 L) Cactus Juice
- 2 oz Brilliant Blue Dye
- 2 oz Midnight Black Dye
- 2 oz Fireball Red Dye
- Oven Thermometer
And with shipping the turntex order came to slightly less than $400. Plus of course the cost of the pump from Amazon making it a fairly substantial investment.
Now I like to make anything I can myself. This is a hobby, and I do it for fun. I had just cut a lot of spalted beech, so I already had a lot of nice potential blanks available. Was the investment worth it? Only time will tell.
So my first mistake was miscalculating how much cactus juice I would need. So, my first bit of advice, leave all dye off your first order. Start with wood stabilizing. It will save you some grief, unless you’re going to make everything one color and leave the natural for later. It wouldn’t be my first suggestion, but there may be a reason for a certain color.
After some testing, I’ve determined that the equivalence of 12 knife scales (so maybe 6 scales and 3 blocks that may be hidden tang handles and may be split into scales) takes approximately 1/3 of a gallon. So right off, at close to $100 a gallon shipped, that’s still more than I expected, but not terrible.
But wait! Stop and think about what you just read. I used 1/3 of a gallon for 6 knives. So, once the next batch goes in I am stretching the limit of being able to keep the batch completely covered during processing. So after 12 knives (if you make it) you need to buy another gallon of juice to really get the total of 18 knives out of the first gallon.
And we haven’t even started talking about color. Think about it. Once you add dye to your juice, it’s always that color. So if I want to do a batch of red, I need another gallon. That gallon will get me 12 knives until I buy yet another gallon and some more dye.
Talk about a rabbit hole!
And should we talk about multi colors? It seems pretty easy but hit YouTube for advice. The first 6 videos will give you six different opinions on the best way. Do you vacuum the first color or just let it soak? If you just let it soak how far does it go? Do you cook between (you better unless you want some black juice) or do you soak twice then cook? What I’ve found is it really depends on your wood. For instance, setting that spalted beech in 1/3 soaking will soak up most of the way. Do the same with good solid oak and not so much. So, the only real way to know is try it. The good news is, almost anything you do, once on a knife and finished to perfection, will look fantastic to someone’s taste. It’s still wood after all.
My advice, if you’re headed down this rabbit hole, would be to start with a single color. A nice grained wood with a single dye looks great and will get you started. Using that one color is still going to set you back over $100 if you plan any good size batches.
I have found ways to stretch this a little further by using smaller containers to vacuum in. This takes less juice, but with fewer pieces. I also keep some cleaned up pieces of metal I can add to just take up space. There is often empty space (especially in round containers) that requires more juice. Filling this space allows you to stretch your juice.
Also doing smaller batches mean you may not need the “next” gallon quite as quick. But then your using your equipment to process enough for two or four knives. It’s a trade off and a practice I’ve employed from time to time.
Drying is a must if you’re going to stabilize. And drying to zero percent, so you’ll need to cook it. I’ve found the best way is use my toaster oven that I use for heat treating but be careful. The advice on turntex is to set your oven to about 200 degrees and cook for 24 hours. Well…….did I say….”BE CAREFUL”? I set a batch on fire. I suppose that advice is for bowl turning blocks, but it doesn’t specify. Luckily, I was in the shop and caught it before anything bad happened. Now I refuse to leave the wood cooking more than 30 minutes when I’m not on the shop.
Turning the oven off before it’s fully dry means playing catchup the next day (moisture seeps back in overnight) but it’s better than burning the shop down. I’ve also unloaded the oven and sealed the wood in an airtight container. It’s a bit of a hassle, but again, better than burning down the shop.
I start a batch and take the largest piece. I weight it on this scale, and check it every 30-60 minutes. Once it stops losing weight, I let it cook for another 30 minutes and call it done. I’ve found for knife block size pieces most will be dry in 12-14 hours.
If all this sounds like a marketing strategy to get you to buy my stabilized wood instead of stabilizing your own, your damn right! And I wish someone had prompted me to dig deeper. The information out there is really really vague. To be honest, as much fun as it is, I would have most likely held off had I known the full scope. The investment is way to close to a heat-treating oven on my want list.