Crafting a Knife Handle
Knife handles are an important part of the knife making and knife using experience. The handle makes or mars the use of the knife. Further the handle also provides a place for the knife maker to experiment, add decorative pieces or even etch or engrave a name or initial. Knife handles are made from many material including hard wood, fine wood, antlers, stags, stones like jade or turquoise and even many exotic material like tusks of elephant or wooly mammoth.
One of the delights of knife making is crafting the beautiful handles. Starting from selecting the correct material, cutting, shaping, grinding it to crafting beautiful handles from it, working on the knife handle is a delight. Selecting the handle material is a matter of the function for which the knife is going to be used for. Soft or fine woods like blank walnut are not good choices for hunting knife or for uses that involve a lot of moisture or water. Hardwood like Rosewood, oak and maple make good choices for hunting knives. Stabilized wood like spalted maple are available where the wood is impregnated with plastic making it entirely waterproof and providing it with a durable finish that does not require any maintenance except an occasional buffing. These are highly recommended for tough duty knives and those that would be exposed to a lot of moisture. Select and exotic woods like stag, moose horn, oosic, walrus or sea cow bone etc, are used to make knives that are mostly collected rather than used regularly. These are somewhat fragile and also need to be maintained in a very careful manner. Domestic antler and many artificial materials resembling stag are available for those who require inexpensive and easily maintainable alternatives.
In order to craft wood, it is first required to select the correct piece of wood of the correct size. The wood is first cut and then rounded and shaped to fit the user's hands. The size and shape of the rounded wood would depend on the function and purpose for which the knife is going to be used. This will be followed by grinding the top portion of the handle where the ring cap would be mounted. Then the handle is mounted tightly and the hole for the knife to mount is drilled at the bottom of the handle. This hole is sometimes slightly burnt to give corrosion resistance to the blade.
The handle is then smoothened out and finished with fine sandpaper. This should later be polished using a piece of clean, smooth and dry cloth. Oak, Red sandalwood and ebony make fine choices for knifes that are used very regularly. The ring cap is mostly made of metal but sometimes plastics or horn is also used.
One of the tips used by experienced knife makers is to drill the hole for the tang and form the slot for it before shaping the handle. The drilling and slotting should be done using a good vice so as to keep the hands free. The reason for doing this before shaping the handle is that, even if the hole becomes slightly off-center, the handle can be shaped accordingly to bring it back to the center.
Once the handle has been shaped, it is time to decorate it with your own personal designs. You can use your own carpentry tools to carve designs. These can be filled and fitted with thin metal sheets using epoxy. Carving can include intricate designs or simple ones like an initial. Many options are available to decorate a completed knife handle.
One of the biggest dangers with wooden handles is shrinkage factor. If you attach a handle to a piece of wood with residual moisture, the wood is apt to crack as the moisture evaporates. This is because of the fact that the wood shrinks as the moisture is removed. The best way to avoid this kind of a situation is to completely dry the wooden handle before attaching the knife blade. It is better to leave the handle in a dry place or even put it in the oven set at the lowest possible temperature for a few hours. This will ensure that the wood is completely dry and does not crack later. Antlers are pretty stable when it comes to handling moisture and they don't need such a treatment.
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