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Thread: WIP/How I Make a Wa Handle

  1. #1

    WIP/How I Make a Wa Handle

    I recently acquired this really nice Yoshikane suji from another forum member and decided that it would be a good subject for a WIP/How To tread.

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    Before we get into the project itself I would like to give a little overview of my construction methods/philosophy. All my handles are constructed using an internal slotted dowel to reinforce the joints and to create an internal void for the tang (I slot the dowel on a table saw using a homemade jig).

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    This internal dowel extends to 5-10mm of the end of the ferrule. This minimizes the amount of wood you have to remove when you cut the tang slot. After squaring up the glued blank I then drill a 1/8Ē pilot hole in the center of the ferrule. The pilot hole serves two purposes. First, it gives me a fixed reference point while shaping the handle. Second, it provides a starting point for making the tang slot. If the handle has an end cap I also cut a dowel from the same piece of wood Iím using for the body of the handle. I use this dowel as a through pin to mount the end cap. This picture of a cross section (looking down) will show you what I mean.

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    Ok, lets get started. Hereís a picture of everything I plan on using (not counting machinery).

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    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t

  2. #2
    Senior Member jimbob's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Looking forward to this one. The phrase 'sellers remorse' comes to mind....

  3. #3
    Senior Member chefcomesback's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Hunter Valley , Australia
    Thanks for doing this Mikey , I am not sure if you have enough beer though

  4. #4
    I am very excited to see this!
    Twitter: @PeterDaEater

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Los Angeles
    Your work bench is just so right! Has this real nice zen vibe in my eyes. Looking forward to the finished product sir

  6. #6
    Step 1 is choosing materials. Iíve decided to go with the ďIn Your FaceĒ philosophy for this handle. For the body Iím going to use a wild piece of dyed and stabilized Calif buckeye that I got from Craig Stevens. The Ferrule and end cap will be M3 Black Titanium, and the spacers are M3 black and red mokume bookended by black and red fiber spacers.

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    Because the handle will have an end cap I cut a short dowel from the body block before I cut it to size.

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    Next, I cut all the pieces to size and mark the centers for drilling with an awl. I also mark over the center mark with a silver sharpie, this makes it easier to see when lining up the drill press. I try to make the ferrule and end cap just a tiny bit bigger than the body so I can sand them down to match the body after glue up, vice having to sand down the body itself.

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    Before drilling the parts I check the diameter of my dowels to determine what size drill I need to use. This is necessary because manufactured dowels will vary and even the ones I make myself will change as they cool depending on the wood. The three sizes I choose from are 12.5mm, ĹĒ, and 13mm. I advise you only use polished brad point bits for this. The ones with black oxide coated flutes donít clear the chips very well in deep holes. I drill the long hole in the body deep enough that when combined with the ferrule and spacers itíll accommodate at least a 4Ē tang (I try for 4 ĹĒ on larger handles, it little less on small ones). I only drill about 3/8Ē to ĹĒ deep for the end cap dowel. After the drilling is done I flatten and square up all the mating surfaces with 120grit sandpaper on a flat surface (I use a piece of granite countertop). Next I glue the dowel into the body using 15min epoxy (try to avoid getting any excess on the mating surface and clean off any you do immediately). After the epoxy cures I trim the dowel down to the right length.

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    Now I dry fit it all together to make sure it looks like I want it to.

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    Time to glue it together. I use 30min epoxy for the actual glue up because I think it makes a stronger joint and it gives me more working time to line up the parts the way I want them. There are different opinions on this, but I like to clamp the hell out of the handle during glue up. Epoxy isnít like wood glues, itís almost impossible to clamp it too tight.

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    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t

  7. #7
    After curing overnight I end up with this.

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    Before starting up the belt sander I trim off the big pieces using a coping saw. This step isnít really a necessity, but it extends the life of my belts.

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    After the rough trim I flush up all the sides on an 80x belt, then square them up on the disc sander. Once the blank is square I drill a 1/8" pilot hole in the center of the ferrule. Using the pilot hole as a reference I taper the blank on the disc sander (I do not do the secondary tapers on the ferrule until later). No pics of this as I had to hurry to get it done so I could get it to the engraver that morning. Otherwise I would have been at a stop for the weekend.

    Having gotten the íHonuí engraved on the end itís time to hit the router. Yes, you heard me correctly, the router. Instead of using a belt sander to make my side bevels I use a router with a 45* bevel bit. The main drawback to using a router is you can get tear out. To minimize this I cut the bevels in many small increments (this is also critical when using M3 for ferrules or end caps). The advantage is you get very accurate and even bevels.

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    After cutting the side bevels with the router it's back to the disc sander to make the secondary bevels on the ferrule

    I now have a handle shaped piece of wood. Time to start making it pretty. Before I start sanding I fill any surface cracks or voids. There are various ways of doing this. Because of the coloring of the handle body, and the large cracks and voids buckeye is famous for, Iím going to use black dyed epoxy.

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    After the epoxy cures I sand it back down flush with the wood. Using a pencil I now crosshatch all sides the handle. I do this for the same reason you crosshatch a sharpening stone before you flatten it. Now I flatten all the sides using 120x sandpaper on a flat surface.

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    A note on sandpaper: I only use 3m ĎSandblasterí brand sandpaper when possible. Iíve found it lasts a long time, is easy to clear, and cuts FAST. It cuts fast enough that when sanding against a hard flat surface itís real easy to remove more material then you planned to. Thatís why I started crosshatching the sides before flattening them.
    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t

  8. #8
    Ok, I skipped a step on the last post. At the same time I fill in the surface cracks I also do the ĎHonuí inlay. Before doing the actual inlay I clean out the burn from the bottom of the engraving. I use this weird claw looking file thing I found in my dadís toolbox.

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    I normally use some kind of crushed stone and CA glue to do the inlay, but I wanted this one to be Ďarrest meí red. Unfortunately, I donít have any Ďarrest meí red crushed stone. No problemo, Iíll just order some uncut garnets online. Turns out garnets are kinda hard, real hard. Much too hard to crush in my mortar and pestle. Time for plan B. Plan B was to get a red lava rock out of my yard and crush it into powder for the inlay. The crushing part worked really well, but it looked like a bunch of powdered rust. Time for plan C. Plan C was using red dyed epoxy with a bunch of crushed pearl mixed in to give it texture and shine. This workedÖkinda. The inlay is technically sound, but the color came out somewhat unsatisfying. In fact, it matches the dowel so well you almost canít see it. Luckily this is for a personal knife. If I was making it for sale I would have to grind it down and re-engrave it.

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    Now onto the fun part, the sanding! Iíve already done a 120x dry sand so my next step is to do a wet sand with 220x wet/dry sandpaper and shellac sanding sealer. I cut the shellac with 50% denatured alcohol so it dries faster. I do this to fill the grain so the wood figure will be more pronounced.

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    After wet sanding I let it dry for about 10min then I do a very light dry sand with 180x sandpaper just to knockdown the excess sealer, then I let it dry for another hour or so. Now I sand with 180x on a flat surface until Iím down to bare wood again.

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    Wet sand again with 220x, dry for 10min, knock down with 220x, dry for a hour, dry sand with 220x on flat surface,

    Wet sand with 320x, dry 10min, knock down with 320x, dry for an hour, dry sand with 320x on flat surface.

    Iím now done with both wet sanding and the flat surfaceÖYEA!

    The next step is to sand in hand with 600x sandpaper. This is the last step where youíll be removing any significant material, so itís critical that you remove all scratches from earlier grits. Any scratches you miss will show later.

    I now do the end bevels using the slack side of a 120x belt, followed by hand sanding with 320x then 600x. To keep them distinct this is all the sanding Iíll do on the end bevels.

    After 600x itís on to 1200x and 2000x.

    Time to finish this beast. Iím using tung oil cut 50% with mineral spirits. Using a lint free cloth I apply 3 light coats about 5min apart, then let it sit over night.
    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t

  9. #9
    For the final polishing Iíll start with 2000x to even out the finish and remove the Ďdeadí surface layer. Donít worry sanding through the finish, unless youíre super aggressive itís not going to happen. Wipe down with a soft cloth then follow with 4, 2, and 1micron 3M micropolishing sheets (hand buffing with a soft cloth after each grit).

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    And we now have a handle...

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    (see what I mean about the 'Honu' matching the dowel?)

    In the following posts I'll go through fitting and bonding the handle to the blade.

    Be well,
    Rule #1- Don't sweat the small s%&t, rule #2- It's ALL small s%&t

  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Cairns. Australia.
    Thanks for the post.I like your jig for the dowels,i have tried cutting the slots by hand and it was a pita.Great tips on finishing,its the one area where i get impatient.
    If you are using non-wood parts I am assuming you set your bevels on the disc sander?

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