View Full Version : How to Cut Up an Ironwood Log for Knife Handle Blocks

Burl Source
08-15-2012, 08:32 PM
I get asked how to cut up ironwood about once a week.
It usually goes something like "I bought a big 100lb piece of Ironwood when I was in Arizona 10 years ago and I need to know how to cut it into knife handle blocks."

My first question is usually "Are you crazy?"
Followed by "What sort of woodworking equipment do you have?"
Followed by "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Followed by "Are you crazy"

If they still want to try cutting the ironwood, this is how I explain to cut the wood.
There are other ways to do it but this is my way.

This is a 3 foot long log section that I have avoided cutting for the past year. Weighs about 80 pounds or so.
It was an old piece I got from a guy who had it in his workshop for the past 25 or 30 years. He was like me, hated cutting the stuff.

Looking at the cut end it is remarkably solid for Ironwood. Usually a lot more cracks.

1st thing I do is cut off a manageable chunk about a foot long.

Next I take that chunk and turn it lengthwise to cut a straight flat surface following the grain.

Note: This is the time when inexperienced people cut off fingers. The bandsaw blade can grab and roll the log section pulling hands and fingers into the blade. This bandsaw is an old meat cutting saw. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

I have taken wedge shaped cut off pieces and placed on both sides of the log to limit the chance of rolling.

With the wedges in place I line up the log to follow along the grain.

And cut off the rounded edge giving me a flat surface to go against the saw table.

Next I place the cut surface against the table so I can make a cut that will be the face of the blocks. The fence is now in place so I can get a fairly straight cut.

The cut surface still shows a lot of small cracks so I need to trim away another thin piece before I start cutting the slabs for blocks.

Now I have made my way to solid wood.

Burl Source
08-15-2012, 08:33 PM
Now that I am at good wood I change the setting on the fence to the thickness I want the slabs for the blocks to be.
Since the ironwood is so hard the blade can wander a bit so I make the slabs a little thicker that normal.
Here I cut my 1st slab.

Then the 2nd one.

There is not enough solid wood for a 3rd one so I turn the chunk to see if I can get another slab off the other cut surface.

Lots of cracks in this slab but a portion is good.

Cutting away the waste from the last slab.

Looking at the 2nd slab there is a big crack so I draw a cutting line just inside the cracked area following the grain.

Trim away the cracked portion.

Then trim the other edge.

Finally trim the 1st and best slab.

In the end you see there is about 1/3 usable wood and 2/3 waste. Bear in mind this log had a whole lot less cracks than normal for Ironwood.

This is what I have from the foot long log section. Will probably turn into about 8 or 10 blocks.

A couple things to bear in mind
Always use a new sharp blade.
Wear a mask because the dust is a nasty irritant. Even when just cutting.

08-15-2012, 08:38 PM
I think some of what you call waste, I would call wa handle or pen blanks ;) But it's great to see a large piece cut up like that, I usually only get them when they are already cut down to boards because I have neither the room nor the equipment to buy larger. And it also shows well that there is quite a bit of loss when you cut up a trunk. I guess that is something people often don't realize when they look at the prices. Thanks for the pictures,


08-15-2012, 08:42 PM
Thanks for taking the time to do this. It's nice to see a wood cutting WIP!

08-15-2012, 09:05 PM
Very good WIP photos and explination. Most people don't know what is involved to make a good cut of wood out of a rough piece.

BTW Band saws were originally designd to cut meat. Woodworkers adopted them when it was realized how useful they were. And they are just as dangerous today as they ever were.

Burl Source
08-15-2012, 09:13 PM
I am really careful when using the bandsaws and the other tools as well.
Because of that I have something that a lot of woodworkers don't have.
10 fingers and no scars.

NO ChoP!
08-15-2012, 09:26 PM
So do the scraps become very expensive firewood, or are they somehow recycled?

Very interesting, thanks.

Burl Source
08-15-2012, 09:35 PM
So do the scraps become very expensive firewood, or are they somehow recycled?
Very interesting, thanks.
Anything bigger than a couple inches gets used for something.
I ration them out to the other workers here to get used for pens, knobs, inlay material or ?????
Lately I have been getting jewelers wanting some of the more unusual stuff.

08-15-2012, 09:42 PM
Great post!! I messed up my TimberWolf blade recently (tensioner screw stripped, tension dropped, bent several teeth when the blade came off, scary!!! I didn't use the bandsaw for a few days after that!!) and broke out the Highland WoodSlicer blade to cut the blocks down into scales. Holy Mackeral!!! This sucker cut fast and quickly thru stabilized Maple Burl and Amboyna burl!! Blades not much more expensive than the TimberWolf blade, either! The Timberwolf made short work of some Rock Maple I had to slice up (7-9" tall) a while back and the WoodSlicer blade was just much smoother and faster.

Question for you if you don't mind! I got a resaw fence where it is angled so I can adjust for blade drift on the fly. Is it easier to use a solid, straight fence and position the whole fence for the drift or use the angled resaw fence or just eyeball it and then flatten the waves out afterwards?? The MagSwitch base is awesome, very easy to turn on and off, adjust, etc!!!

This is what I have along with the base:

What I am considering:

Burl Source
08-15-2012, 09:51 PM
This is what I use on my 14" Jet bandsaw.
Works great for cutting scales and saya material.
I don't use the resaw attachment (the black thing) just the flat fence.
Rockler has it for about $100. I paid $125 when I got mine.

08-15-2012, 10:03 PM
Gotcha. I will try the flat fence then and see how that works out.

08-15-2012, 10:10 PM
Great post! Thanks for taking the time to do that. Now I feel a little better about all the money I've spent on blocks. :)

08-15-2012, 11:16 PM
Wow! What a great post! I learned a bunch, i specially like the focus on security while using the tools... Thank you very much!

08-16-2012, 11:21 AM
I am really careful when using the bandsaws and the other tools as well.
Because of that I have something that a lot of woodworkers don't have.
10 fingers and no scars.

Knock on... wood. :D

Great tutorial and pics, thanks Mark

08-31-2012, 07:27 AM
Nice to see a butcher's band saw in use. I had a Biro in my cabinet shop for years and the sled makes cross cutting so much easier. How long is a blade good for cutting iron wood?

Dave Martell
08-31-2012, 09:47 AM
I love these how to cut wood posts you do Mark, thanks for sharing.

08-31-2012, 11:47 AM
Dig the focus on safety...keep it up! Oh, and thanks for the WIP!