So while we were camping two weekends ago (for our yearly family camp out), a few of the guys and I headed over to the Woodcraft in Ventura. It was kind of last minute, though we had been planning on it all weekend. While there my brother, brother in law, dad and I all bought knife kits. They were simple kits consisting of a blade and the hardware for attaching a handle, and we each had to buy a set of knife scales separately. For those not in the know, the ‘scales’ are the pieces of wood, acrylic, whatever, you attach to the sides of the blade for the handle. The actual building of the kit requires the shaping, cutting and affixing of the scales to the blade.
It’s not an exceedingly difficult task, and it only requires a few tools to complete, but its something I highly recommend every man do at least once, though I suspect after the first one it can be pretty easy with getting slightly obsessed. If you have a son or sons of the pre-teen age I DEFINITELY recommend taking on this project with them. Even though the blade is sharp, a few layers of masking tape or duct tape over the edge while working on it is plenty of protection, and the sanding process is simple enough for a young kid to do with adult supervision.
I chose a Camillus Chunk fixed blade knife. It has a ‘titanium bonded blade’ which made it much nicer and shinier looking than a standard steel blade. I love this blade because it reminds me of Aragorn’s knife from The Lord of the Rings movies.
Tools needed for this project:
- Drum sander
- Belt sander
- Hand sander (random orbital)
- 320 grit sandpaper
- Gorilla Glue 2 part epoxy
- Drill motor and bits
- 2 clamps
- Ryobi One+ Rotary tool
- Can of Rust Oleum clear poly
- Some rags
Now, I have a plethora of tools, but really this entire process can be done without all the power tools. The drum and belt sander work can actually be done with the hand sander and a few different grits of sandpaper. Any shaping I did with the drum sander can be done with a coping saw instead. Naturally it will take longer, but it can be done if you don’t have a bunch of power tools.
I’m not going to go over the entire process, but I will hit some of the main points and throw a few pictures in here too.
The first thing to do is draw out the shape of the handle on your wood scales. I’ve found that drawing the shape on one scale, then attaching the two scales together with double side tape and working on them as one unit is much easier than trying to cut the two out separately. More than likely your scales are going to be much thicker than you need them to be, but don’t worry about it.
Because my blade was fairly small compared to my brothers machete kit he bought, I didn’t need to use the saw to cut any excess off, I just used the drum sander. If you don’t have a drum sander than a coping saw can be used to cut the excess off and then some sandpaper on a dowel can help get things smoothed out. If all you have is a belt sander then you can use the rounded end of the belt to help you sand out contours.
I chose rosewood for my handle and, let me tell you, the sawdust was brutal. Bright, bright red, it smelled like mustard while I was sanding it.
Once I was done with that I used those two pieces of double side tape to affix the blade to the top of the scales and drill the holes for the pins through. I would liked to have used a drill press, but I don’t have one. If you use a drill motor just make sure you’re drilling as straight down as you can.
After that I used epoxy to stick the scales to the sides of the blade. To keep things lined up right I stuck one side on, pushed drill bits through the pin holes and then stuck the other side on, using the drill bits to keep the holes aligned. I used the clamps to squeeze it all together and pulled the drill bits out. Some of the epoxy will likely block the pin holes, but you can just run the bits through with the drill after everything is dry to clear them out (which is exactly what I did). At this point my scales were slightly larger than the shape of the handle, but this was by design, and if you do this you should do the same.
Now, a quick note. I used Gorilla glue two part epoxy that I had just laying around, but as I started mixing it up I noticed the bottle said, “SETS IN FIVE MINUTES” and I realized I had a very small window of time to get things put together. If you can find a 1 hour epoxy I would recommend it over the 5 minute, especially if you have a knife that requires more work to get the scales put on.
I had to wait overnight for the epoxy to completely dry. As I said before, the wood scales were larger than the shape of the blade handle, so I put the whole thing back on the drum sander and sanded everything down so that the handle and the scales were lined up. Now one thing to note is that I had to make sure the top and bottom part of the scales were just how I wanted them before I stuck everything together, since these parts of the handle are not accessible to the drum sander.
Now, the scales were about twice as thick as they needed to be, and fortunately the manual that came with the knife kit gave me an exact thickness needed for the pins. I used the belt sander to get both scales down to around 6.5 mm, so an overall thickness of 13 mm. This might be the most difficult part for you to do with the hand sander if you don’t have a belt sander, as its a lot of material to remove. You might be able to do it with a band saw if you have one, but the belt sander is the easiest method, in my opinion.
To shape the handle I used my Ryobi One+ rotary tool, but you could just as easily use a hand sander or even the rounded part of the belt sander to do it. The only real problem I had was I nicked the blade in a couple of spots with the sanding head, which left some nasty marks that will never go away. It doesn’t really bother me, since it kind of adds some character to the knife, but it did irritate me when it happened.
All I did with this was to round over the edges of the wood scales. I did it in a couple of passes, one to add a sharp bevel, then another few passes to round those out even more so the whole thing would be comfortable in the hand. Along with the handle I added a nice bevel to the top of the scales, closest to the blade, while I left the part near the lanyard whole untouched. It was during the shaping at the top that I nicked the blade and left a couple of lines. Again, not a big deal unless you are trying really hard to keep your blade pristine.
Once I was happy with the shaping I hit both sides with the hand sander and some 120 grit sand paper to get all the big scratches out from the belt sanders 80 grit paper. Once satisfied with that I used a little 320 grit to make it extra smooth, but I left some light scratches in the wood for character.
After cleaning all the sawdust off, which was a pain since I did’t have any tack cloth, I put a couple of coats of clear poly on the wood, let it dry for an hour, then hit it with a couple more coats before letting it dry overnight. The finished product was fantastic, and I really love the deep red color brought out after the poly application. The result is not perfect, but IT’S MINE! I made it and, if I care for the thing, I could literally pass this down to a grand kid or great grand kid, all while saying, “I made this when I was 43 years old”.
I really wish I had been into this back when I was in high school or even younger! For a preteen boy, though, making a knife he can carry with him for the rest of his life is a great and endearing prospect. Overall the knife kit and scales ran me about 40$. Cheap when compared to the priceless result.
A word of note. I used wood scales but I could have easily used acrylic scales instead. Some of the acrylic scales they had were awesome, though I suppose after a long time it could become worn and cracked. If I want to, years from now, I could pull this knife apart, do some sanding to get rid of excess epoxy and put new scales on it. I don’t think I ever will, but I could.
You can visit Woodcraft at http://www.woodcraft.com or even Rockler at http://www.rockler.com for knife kits if you’re interested in this project. You can always find hardware on Ebay or Amazon as well, I imagine.
All of this took me two days to complete, so if you’re looking for a fun weekend project that will last a lifetime, don’t hesitate! Also, feel free to ask me questions here or in my Discord channel (send me email for an invite)!