Forging the Confection Cleaver: Part 3

Now that the blade was shaped and a guard was in place, it was time for the big (for me) challenge: the handle.

My experience making handles is rather limited. I’ve made two during my first knife class (made from slabs of wood) and one during my sword class (cut into two slabs for a hidden tang). This time, I knew I wanted to do something different than what I did before: the goal was to burn a hole into the block of wood to ensure a proper fit, then attach it properly to the tang.

The first step was choosing the wood. I spoke with the woman who wanted the knife for ideas of what she wanted, as she had options. Did she want a lighter wood, or a darker? Did she want a specific color, like a redwood, or did she prefer something different, like a purple heartwood or even something stained in an unnatural color. In the end, she settled for a handle made of red-hued bubinga.

Granted, the wood selection WAS a bit limited due to my limited tools to work with wood (making due with an angle grinder, a drill, and sandpaper), but I was thankful that we settled that discussion quickly so I could order the wood.

My experience with woodworking is limited (and I often say I’m the guy that almost failed wood shop), but I did a great deal of research before starting this. That said, I ordered about two feet of wood (just in case) and ensured that the block was wider than needed (two-inch square stock, usually used for turning wood).

Once the wood arrived, it was time to get to work.

First step was to cut out the length of material needed for the handle. I measured nearly two inches beyond the handle to give myself the necessary room to make minor mistakes and/or smooth out the end and began cutting. Believe me when I say I was grateful for the extra space.

After marking the wood, I made a notch with my hacksaw and, realizing how slow of a process it would be to cut through this two-inch block of wood (remember, bubinga is a hardwood), I grabbed a cutting wheel for my angle grinder and went to town. It was still a slow process as it was burning the wood slightly as I cut through it, but I got it to a point which was ideal for the hacksaw. I was quite happy that I finally upgraded to a plug-in angle grinder at this point, because my battery powered pack would have failed.

Once that was cut, it was a short process to smooth the end for the next step: prepping the slot for the tang.

This was also a relatively easily, but slightly time consuming, process. After marking where I wanted the socket to be, I drilled a few holesto a set length and used the drill press as a milling machine (not the best approach, I know) to expand the hole just a bit. Afterward, I heated the tang and started to burn into the wood. Some blacksmiths prefer to drill and mill the socket in it’s entirety, but I felt it wouldn’t be snug enough for what I was doing, so I went with the smaller drill bits to get the smallest part of the tang to fit and began the burning process.

Burned and standing in a vice to finish cooling.

As I mentioned before, this was a time consuming process. I had to ensure that the blade wouldn’t get warm, so I wrapped the guard and blade in separate wet cloths and re-soaked them in cold water every few heats to ensure that I wouldn’t ruin the temper on the blade. Between this and the time it took to heat the tang with a plumbers torch, it was a good hour or so before I finally had the socket burned in and some wiggle room added to allow the epoxy to expand (protip: if you don’t allow space for the epoxy to expand, you can crack the wood).

Therefore: TEST FIT!

Now that I knew the tang would fit, I grabbed my hand drill with the longest bit I owned and cleaned some of the char out (as too much char would interfere with the epoxy’s ability to hold everything in place) before making a few more marks.

Before I even considered grabbing the bottles of epoxy, I wanted to shape this into a handle. Of course, considering this was a two-inch thick block of wood, the time consuming process began.

I started with my angle grinder with a stone wheel (the toughest and hardest wheel I had) to knock off the edges to change this rectangle into a more rounded shape.

The shaping of this beast. Note the darker portions; it was getting lightly burned sometimes.

Afterward, I went to my standard flap discs and began taking off the sharp edges and imperfections to get this into a nice, round shape.

There were LOTS of test fits here.

Granted, this process took some time and multiple fittings. As you can see in a few of the photos, I was trying to ensure that there was enough material around the guard and that I didn’t cut it too thin. Too thin, and I’d be getting close to the tang, but too thick, and it’d be a bit unsightly.

Therefore: cut, size, cut again.

The handle didn’t have to be perfect, but I wanted it to be a bit balanced, both in shape and in weight, thus why I took a few steps away from Orcrist in this regard.

Unlike the Orcrist sword, I went with a thinner handle at the top and a thicker portion of wood for the pommel. As I was working, I realized the handle would have had to be even longer (by another three inches, give or take) to allow the blade to be balanced, and as this blade was to be practical as well as ornamental, I wanted to ensure a proper balance was possible, and went for the thicker pommel.

It did make for an odd shape at first, but once the initial sanding with the flap wheels was completed, it had a pretty nice handle.

Hours later, the general shape.

Not wanting to send something with odd imperfections out, I went to the sandpaper and went with progressively higher grits with the hope of smoothing things out. I started low, near 100 grit, and moved my way up to about 400 grit, rounding off various edges and removing the numerous scratches that occur when using an imperfect power tool like an angle grinder.

At first, I didn’t know how good it was going to look color-wise and was concerned that it wouldn’t have the expected color. . .until I used a slightly damp towel to clean off all of the wood dust.

Nailed it! I worried for nothing, apparently.

It looked far better than I expected, that’s for sure. Granted, it faded a bit once it dried, but seeing how it looked while slightly damp did give me an idea of what to expect after it was sealed!

A few hours and minor touchups later, back to this dull color.

After multiple hours of sanding and shaping, the handle was complete, leaving one final step: affixing it to the knife.

Test run to see how it would look. Looking good!
Test run to see how it would look after washing the wood dust off. Looking good!

Thankfully, this process is easy, but again, time consuming. As I was using an epoxy resin, I had to mix the two chemicals in equal amounts, but instead of pouring it onto a flat surface and mixing it (as I often do for other smaller projects), I had to pour it directly into the hole. This was a major balancing act and a moment of truth, as if I poured too much into it, I’d chance destroying the handle (and I don’t just mean with it overflowing and getting on the outside). 

There’s also the issue of protecting the steel from the epoxy, as if the epoxy got onto the finished surface of the guard or the blade itself, I would have had to go back to the grinders to clean everything up once again. Protip: covering steel in some form of tape, especially easily removed painters tape, is a godsend for projects like this.

With the epoxy poured in, I had to quickly use the tang to spread it throughout the slot, and coat the tang itself. Apparently my measurement was correct, because only a small bit escaped onto the tape I had on the guard.

Fit, snug, and slowly curing. Huzzah!

Now that the epoxy was set, it was time for the waiting game to ensure that it hardened before the final steps: sealing the wood and any finishing touches on the blade.

And cleaning up my shop, of course. Looks like I went to Mars. . .

Tune in next week for the final post and photos about forging this Confection Cleaver!

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