I've had many people asking me how I do hidden tang western handles on my knives. I figured that some of you might find it interesting to see how I deal with this. I'm sure it's similar to others while maybe somewhat different in certain aspects.
Unfortunately I didn't think to do this write up before I started the work on these knives or else I would have included the cutting up, squaring, drilling, and gluing parts as well - sorry about that. Instead of showing you these bits I'll have to describe how I do things but I do have some pictures to share here so hopefully this will be easy enough to understand.
The very first thing that needs accomplishing is to grind the tangs to shape. Since I have blanks cut out to my designs I opt for full tang style where I can can either use them as is or grind them down to a hidden tang configuration.
In the picture below you can see a comparison of both the original full tang style as well as the new hidden tang styles that have been ground away.
Now that the tangs are ground to shape we can get to work on the handle materials.
I select the materials to be used (in this case we have Moroccan Thuya burl as the main block and African Blackwood for the bolster), the pieces are lined up, measured, and then cut to size. I take these pieces to my disc sander to square up all surfaces.
The bolster is now glued to the main handle and cures overnight.
At this point we have (basically) one solid block that needs to be drilled and fitted to the tang. The knife blade is carefully laid upon the handle block and the tang is traced. Then the final handle shape is drawn in to ensure that it all looks good and that there's enough working room around the tang for handle shaping later on.
Now the handle block goes to the drill press and a series of small holes are drilled in the center (from side to side) that align with the center of where the tang will enter the block. It's important to drill as deep and straight as possible. I use the outside marking on the block as a guide here. Also worth noting is that I square the block in the drill press vise before drilling - this is critical!
After the holes are drilled is where I do something that's likely a little different than most, I burn the tang into the block. I do this because it allows for a near perfect fit and also because it's fast.
Heat the tang to orange and push it into the block. I have to warn you that this is pretty stinky messy stuff - the wood often lights on fire and there's a TON of smoke created. I've learned to use my dust collector to pull the smoke outside (I position a flexible hose pick up directly below the tang while I'm working). I can still smell the burnt wood but the deadly smoke goes bye-bye.
Here's the tang being heated and inserted into the block....
When pushing the block onto the tang you might be tempted to strike the wood to get it to go that last 1/2" or so but DO NOT succumb to this temptation because you will likely crack the wood inside out and this might not show until final shaping/finishing work is being done. Tapping a ho wood handle on is OK when burning a handle on but we're dealing with stabilized hardwoods and most are burls - not good to be whacking on this stuff.
So now the tangs are all fitted inside the blocks perfectly seated to depth...
Now I'm ready to move onto grinding the blades which I'm already doing for these knives but I don't have pictures yet for this, sorry.
Some of you might be wondering why I do the fitting of the handle before grinding the blade and that's a good question to ask. The reason is that I can use the actual knife's tang to do the burn in whereas it's normally done with a tang shaped object. Using a tang shaped object is (normally) done when a blade is finished already because the wood catches on fire and the soot scorches the blade face requiring re-finishing. Burning the handle onto the blade before grinding allows me to whisk away the soot (making it a non-issue) which then allows the use of actual blade's tang which gives a perfect fit. Basically this is one less step to perfection.
The only step left here is to drill the pin holes and cut out the handle shapes but I'll wait on this in case I screw up with grinding the blades since I'd need to start over again and the position of the tang (and pin hole) will be changed slightly in the process.
I hope that this little WIP helps those interested in this procedure to understand it a little better and to see a little of how I do things.