Category Archives for "Blogs"

Shun Meiji – Before & After

These are Shun Kramer Meiji knives in SG2 damascus clad steel.

They came to me with some damage to the edges, the profiles were wonky, and the damascus was scuffed and scratched up a bit.

I fixed the edges, then reprofiled to customer specs, thinned for performance, and etched the damascus for effect.

Handle Finish

Handle finishing is something that I never would have thought I’d get into, and certainly not to the degree that I have.

When I first started doing rehandles I didn’t know (or care) what woods were what, what properties woods had, or how to finish them. I used to do what a lot of knife makers do….”buff is enough”. Next! ?

That approach is fine for safe queens, knives that won’t ever cut anything. But that’s not to be expected from a kitchen knife owner, they use their knives – all their knives, almost without exception.

The problem for our little sub-world of knife making is that we make knives that will get used hard, washed with dish detergent, get all sorts of crap on them, and maybe even get scrubbied! ? Basically they get used and abused just from simple normal use.

Early on I came across some wood that challenged the “buff is enough” concept to where I couldn’t even get them looking nice enough to impress for the initial customer contact let alone long term use so I started looking for ways to make my handles prettier. This is what stared the ball rolling into what has become an obsession with me. ?

I’ve bought likely 90% of everything available on the commercial market that is sold as a finishing oil. I’d bet that I’ve spent somewhere between $700-$1,000 on different oils and related paraphernalia. I’ve mixed my own combos from these oils and I’ve been testing and keeping records since at least 2010 but not until just recently do I feel that I’ve made any significant progress in achieving my goals of making a more attractive handle that is also wear resistant.

There are several discoveries that have come my way. I’ve discovered that every wood needs something different, there is no single answer to what to use for everything. In knife making we use hardwoods, soft woods, stabilized woods, oily tropical woods, oily desert woods and these all need something different.

I often get asked about what I do to my handles but I won’t answer this question because I’m still learning.

In the past had I said that I do this or that I’d have been giving bad advice for what I know today to be wrong. If I can ever get to where I feel more confident I’ll make a post or write a blog or something with specifics to help others out but that’s not going to be today.

I will, however, share some of the things that I’ve learned that I feel are things that are safe to pass on at this point in time….

Off The Shelf Oils

Most all of the finishing oils on the market are blends that are based off of either boiled linseed oil (BLO)(which isn’t really boiled at all) or some type of tung oil variant but rarely pure tung oil (PTO). Some have varnishes or urethanes in them and most contain heavy metal dryers.

Ex. – Teak oil, Teak Oil Finish, Danish Oil, Tru-Oil, Tung Oil Finish, Tung Oil, Circa 1830/1850, Antique Oil, Waterlox, Tried & True, Finishing Oil, etc

These off the shelf blends work OK for most applications but fail for some. I could write novels on the combos I’ve tried and the results I’ve achieved but the take away is that they don’t always work, or better put, they don’t always match up to the wood being worked on.

Most failures come from the fact that they don’t adhere well enough, aren’t water resistant, or cloud the grain/obscure the beauty.

Mix Your Own

I now prefer to mix my own blend. This allows me to tailor the blend to suit the needs of the particular wood being worked on.

Maybe I want to have a high level of shine, maybe I want a satin sheen, or somewhere in between?

One day it’s a hard stabilized wood like maple that I’m working on and the next day it’s an un-stabilized oily African Blackwood, there’s many variables to consider. I like to be able to make the necessary changes on the fly vs having to follow what a can has in it and hope for the best.

What to Use on What

There are two (basic) distinct categories that I break wood into when deciding on the blend that I’ll be using.

1. Non-Oily Woods = Oil/Varnish Blend

2. Oily Woods = Wiping Varnish Blend

Oil/Varnish Blend = BLO or PTO / Thinner / Varnish

*Note – if you’re going to use tung oil be sure to buy “PTO” – the more expensive “Pure” or “Raw”version.

**Note – PTO has no dryers and takes much longer than BLO to fully cure. PTO is superior to BLO in the results it provides but you need great patience to use this stuff. Be sure to keep this in mind when adding coats and before use.

Wiping Varnish Blend = Thinner / Varnish

*Note – I’ve never tried this but many people use shellac on oily woods. Shellac drives me insane but has great waterproofing qualities and because of that it’s still something I’ll be working with in future testing.

Adjusting the Blend

To achieve more shine – add more oil.

To get more water resistance – add more varnish.

To make the mix flow/spread easier/better (or even soak in better) – use more thinner.

Then there’s.

Poly = Don’t bother unless you want plasti-dipped handles. This stuff can substitute as varnish but will be more plasticky than spar even.

Lacquer = Cheap looking, like you spray painted the handle

How Many Coats?

Use many very thin coats vs a few thick coats!

I’ve found that 5-6 really thin coats to be the magic point where I start to like what I see and can expect it to not wash off too easily. More is better though you can expect to at some point cross over into a bit too much with some woods. I define “a bit too much” as to where the handle looks and feels gaudy. There is sometimes a fine line between a nice build up that’s glossy and the “old ship’s deck” look, know what I mean? ?

So, have I just given you the answer to how to finish your handles? Well sort of. If you were paying attention you should have realized that I’ve labeled the basics but that you’re going to have to play around and figure out what works best with different woods. There is no one simple answer here, not if you want really nice results anyway. I do hope that what I’ve given you here helps to inspire you to try your hand at mixing your own oil finish blends and going for that true custom finish on your handles.

#knife, #knives, #handle, #custom, #kitchen, #chef, #cook, #Martell, #tungoil, #linseedoil, #woodfinish

Pilgrimage of Steel

  As much as I love knife companies, I admit they would not be my pilgrimage of the faithful.  I instead would bow down and face Smokey Mountain Knife Works.



You might consider it as well.  Right now SMKW estimates that 1.5 million pilgrims will make the journey this year.  There were two school buses in the parking lot when we arrived.


Walk in and you notice knives and more knives.  The doors are numbered and you’re reminded to note your entry.  That was a clue how big the place is.  You’ll find people buying $3 POS knives, but you’ll also find top shelf Benchmade, Case, SOG and all the rest.  Wander around and look at all the mounted animals, everywhere.  They were collected by one man who hunted every continent in the 50s and 60s.  The walls are lined with cases and displays of old knives and knife collectables.  These wasn’t a plan, it grew (as much as I hate the expression) organically.  The staff squeezed in a display here and there and then someone decided this display would look good near some other display.  And it just kept going.
Indoor at SMKW
We walked in door number 2 and found ….

Smokey Mountain Knife Works, Victorinox

One of many….

Smokey Mountain Knife Works
Esee fixed blades

Mr. Pipes started as a seller of arrowheads and civil war memorabilia and a friend suggested why don’t you try selling a few knives?  It didn’t take too long before the knives out sold the relics.  The original store wasn’t big enough, so they moved, then they added on and it’s still crowded.   But everything is laid out nicely and well labeled.

More collection

Prison Shanks, SMKW
Shanks.  Who collects shanks?


But when you get there, make sure you see everything and then go down into the Relic Room.  Here you find fossils from China and the warm seas that covered Chicago.  You’ll find bullets from the revolutionary war as well as the civil war.  Oh, there is some crystal non-sense about spirit guide stone animals and how a stone with a certain shape will focus your attention and balance your chi.  But you’ll also find Russian coat buttons from the Cold War, binoculars from our western expansion, fired pistol cases from WWI among books listing the local men who enlisted in the Civil War.  How about a commemorative belt buckle from the first reunion of Teddy’s Rough Riders?  I don’t know if anyone knows all the treasures in that room.  I found an issue of Popular Science from March of my birth year.  Guess what the cover story was about?  How to convert your basement to a shelter for the anticipated atomic wars.

Chase Pipes, Smokey Mountain Knife works
One of dozen or more selections of historic relics

The owner of the Relic Room, Chase, is a Pipes family member and is a prodigy for history, both natural and human.  He spoke to us of records and university archeology digs that confirm the existence of a Spanish rendezvous from the 1500s a couple 100 yards from where we stood.  I had no idea the Spanish were ever in this part of the country, but I heard him teach several children (and myself) that the Spanish court required a notary under the control of the Church to travel with their explorers.  Everyday the explorers would diary about the day and the entry would be notarized.  These extensive records are now matched to current digs which confirm the veracity of the findings.


Old, beyond my comprehension
 bought a chunk of the oldest original rock available on planet earth.  It’s Acasta Gneiss from the Hadean Age.  There’s still some of this rock showing on the Acasta River in Canada.  It doesn’t look like much.  It is 4.2 billon years old.  And I can touch it with my fingertips.


That’s beyond cool.