A Study In Ironwood for Kitchen Knife Handles

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dmccurtis

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Looking good! I'd recommend trying shellac for your first few sealing coats. Evaporative finishes like shellac and lacquer typically adhere better to extractive-rich woods than reactive finishes like varnish. The advantage of using shellac for your sealing coat is dry time – minutes at the longest. Also, because shellac is compatible with nearly all finishes, after a couple of thin coats you will be able to build a film with whatever finish you like. You could in fact build a finish using only shellac (I often do), but as it contains no UV inhibitors, you may want to continue using spar varnish for your top coat on exotics like ironwood and cocobolo.
 

Dave Martell

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Looking good! I'd recommend trying shellac for your first few sealing coats. Evaporative finishes like shellac and lacquer typically adhere better to extractive-rich woods than reactive finishes like varnish. The advantage of using shellac for your sealing coat is dry time – minutes at the longest. Also, because shellac is compatible with nearly all finishes, after a couple of thin coats you will be able to build a film with whatever finish you like. You could in fact build a finish using only shellac (I often do), but as it contains no UV inhibitors, you may want to continue using spar varnish for your top coat on exotics like ironwood and cocobolo.

I actually have tried shellac several times but for some reason I can't get along with the stuff. It drives me insane, I must be doing something wrong. But I agree with you that it's well suited for this application.
 

dmccurtis

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What kind of issues did you have? And were you using waxy or dewaxed? Waxy shellac could have issues with adhesion to oily woods.
 

Dave Martell

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What kind of issues did you have? And were you using waxy or dewaxed? Waxy shellac could have issues with adhesion to oily woods.
I've only tried the Bullseye brand de-waxed version. I've tried it so much that I used 2 pint cans.

I did discover somewhere along the way that you couldn't thin shellac with just anything, you specifically needed to use denatured alcohol but this made no difference to what I was experiencing. :dontknow:

My problems were that it dried almost instantly and/or left streaks. I figured that I'd at least be able to use it to seal and fill through wet sanding but that was like trying to wet sand with CA glue. :bashhead:

I also tried to mix it with pure tung oil and some other stuff (can't recall the exact oils) and all this seemed to do was to give me an extra 10 seconds before I was glued to the handle. I must be doing something wrong.
 

Matus

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For what it’s worth my limited experience with Shellac was somewhat similar - I could not get an even finish because of the super fast drying.
 

Dave Martell

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For what it’s worth my limited experience with Shellac was somewhat similar - I could not get an even finish because of the super fast drying.

:thankyou: I feel a little better about myself
 

dmccurtis

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Interesting to hear about your challenges with shellac (and finishing in general). I teach woodworking, so I'm always curious to hear about peoples' experiences with it. Helps me to see where people are struggling.

Shellac dry time can be modified by adjusting the pound cut (lighter cuts will self level and dry faster), and by the type of solvent. Ethanol (denatured alcohol) dries slower than methanol (methylated spirits or methyl hydrate). Bullseye dewaxed shellac is around a two pound cut – I would typically thin that by half for seal coats. It should go on thin enough that runs are virtually non-existent. Also, padding it on with cloth, rather than brushing it, will give more even results.

Anyway, the handles are looking great! It seems like you found a finishing routine that works for your work, and that's what we're all trying to do. Keep it up!
 

Dave Martell

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Interesting to hear about your challenges with shellac (and finishing in general). I teach woodworking, so I'm always curious to hear about peoples' experiences with it. Helps me to see where people are struggling.

Shellac dry time can be modified by adjusting the pound cut (lighter cuts will self level and dry faster), and by the type of solvent. Ethanol (denatured alcohol) dries slower than methanol (methylated spirits or methyl hydrate). Bullseye dewaxed shellac is around a two pound cut – I would typically thin that by half for seal coats. It should go on thin enough that runs are virtually non-existent. Also, padding it on with cloth, rather than brushing it, will give more even results.

Anyway, the handles are looking great! It seems like you found a finishing routine that works for your work, and that's what we're all trying to do. Keep it up!

Thanks for the tips DMC, I appreciate all the help I can get.
 

Jlc88

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This was a good read - thanks Martell. Lets see how mine turns out :wink:
 

tedg

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The different pound cuts and different alcohols are definitely worth noting. But the application method is the most important thing. I've used shellac to finish large pcs of furniture(table tops) and other items, all applied by hand. I'm sure most of you have heard of French polishing. Use a soft lint free cloth, sort of bunch it up to make a ball out of it , then twist it to keep it together, it should look like a there's golf ball inside there, this is called the rubber. Have a squirt bottle of shellac and one of walnut oil. The ball is saturated with shellac and a few drops of oil are added. Oil slows down the drying, adds strength to the shellac, and helps the rubber from sticking. One coat a day, minimum 5 days, sand with 600 between coats. You'll know when its finished.
Unless the knife is just for looking at, I wouldn't French polish. A wet glass set on a French polish finish WILL leave a white ring every time. Its also marked by alcohol, scratches easily and is just a very soft finish.
 

inferno

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Good info in this thread.

I have also noticed some woods just dont soak up oil. Or at least soak up very little. Olive is one and ziricote another that I've tried recently.
I use pure tung oil only. I try to mix it with 50% acetone or white spirit (a type of naphta) the first 3-4 coats.

But i have a feeling one can go more hardcore than that. basically different solvents dissolve different things. They have different polarity/dielectric constant and different dipole moment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solvent#Physical_properties

I guess one could leach out the oils of the top layer of the wood before oiling it. I tried to leach oils with ethanol before gluing stuff and it seems to work somewhat. But I also have european brake cleaner (non chlorinated) and the wood looks very "dry" after brake clean..

Other solvents that one can find quite easily (here at least) seems to be "chemically pure gasoline" (I think this is actually heptane or hexane). The solvent you light barbecues with (think its similar to white spirit but much much cheaper). And diethyl ether (found in engine starter gas). Isopropyl alcohol. Some solvents seems to be kinda useless for oils like motor oils and greases. These will probably be almost useless for getting oil out of wood too i think.

I have found nothing as effective for removing grease/oil as brake clean with starting gas as the second best (but it evaporates extremely fast).

These are not health products... wear carbon filter mask.

----------

There is one thing I have not tried on handles but on a lot of other wood stuff. 1 component clear polyurethane floor paint/finish.
Its cheap and it thins extremely well with acetone and white spirit. I'd guess the UV-stability will be very good. This is often used to paint boats here so its very durable.

its only nemesis seems to be leaving acetone puddles on it. it will remove it (it bubbles/flakes up) within about 2 -3 minutes. other than that its the perfect no maintainence finish for wood imo.

----------

I'm thinking: leaching out oils first with solvent of right polarity then maybe thinned polyurethane floor paint would be good for oily woods? As a durable solution.
 

Dave Martell

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Here's the most recent ironwood handle finished with 12 coats of wiping varnish mix. I'm starting to get the hang of this. :)










 
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niwaki-boy

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The spacer really compliments everything about this! Understated and subtly in your face at the same time... like, really like 😘
And nice spa work! Wish that could work for humans cause I’d be heading your way for a couple of days 😜
 

Dave Martell

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The spacer really compliments everything about this! Understated and subtly in your face at the same time... like, really like 
And nice spa work! Wish that could work for humans cause I’d be heading your way for a couple of days 

I could use some spa work myself. :)

Thanks for the kind words.
 

Anton

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@Dave Martell , or owners of these newly finished ironwood handles - can you comment on how Dave's treatment is holding up? Just curious if Dave finally nailed getting Ironwood done properly. Any chance for pics after some use
 

Dave Martell

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I'd like to hear some feedback as well. :)


And FWIW, I'm still screwing with this, and I feel that it's still improving. The key seems to be really thin multiple layers of varnish. Currently 12 coats seems to be just about right to me.
 

Anton

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let's see if anyone has had a chance with these and can provide any after feedback after some use -
@Dave Martell , or owners of these newly finished ironwood handles - can you comment on how Dave's treatment is holding up? Just curious if Dave finally nailed getting Ironwood done properly. Any chance for pics after some use?
 

Jlc88

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Does anyone know of any neutral waxes that are also protect from UV? Trying to keep mind from darkening.
 

Anton

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Anyone have pictures of Dave's same handles on this thread with some use? Still curious how are these doing?
 

Bill13

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I have a Forgecraft knife Dave did a ironwood handle on a couple of years ago. It gets a fair amount of use and is left out on a magnetic rack. Not direct sunlight , but better to see aging process than a drawer. I can post now pictures tonight. Dave do you still have the new shots?
 

jacko9

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When finishing oily woods I start with shellac mixed from de-waxed flakes and only mix as much as I need for the current project. I mix it to a very thin consistency so it goes on the wood almost like alcohol and it drys very fast so I only swipe in on once and move. I use a pad of paper rags covered with a layer of soft cotton. I wait a few hours and re-coat it several times. I then let it cure 24 hours before I coat with a thinned Arm-R-Seal urethane varnish.
 

Dave Martell

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I have a Forgecraft knife Dave did a ironwood handle on a couple of years ago. It gets a fair amount of use and is left out on a magnetic rack. Not direct sunlight , but better to see aging process than a drawer. I can post now pictures tonight. Dave do you still have the new shots?

I do but that handle was done back in 2016 while I was still very early in trying to figure this stuff out.
 

tim37

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Hi Dave,
I built boats for years and that is a problem boat builders have been trying to solve for years. There are several good teak oils with UV inhibiters which you may want to try. The one I use on teak scales (teak is an extremely oily wood) is Starbrite Golden Teak Oil. I sand to 400 grit and wet sand with the oil for 2 coats at 400 to fill the pores. Let each coat sit for 10 min. before wiping off the excess. Let dry 24 hours between all coats. After the 2 fill coats I do 8 to 10 coats wiping it on, letting it sit 10 min., and wiping off the excess. Let it dry 24 hours between coats. You probably don't have to do 8 to 10 coats - 4 would do for a kitchen knife. When it starts looking shabby, sand down with 240 grit and then 400 grit and apply at least 4 new coats. I've never tried it on AZ Ironwood.
 

Dave Martell

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When finishing oily woods I start with shellac mixed from de-waxed flakes and only mix as much as I need for the current project. I mix it to a very thin consistency so it goes on the wood almost like alcohol and it drys very fast so I only swipe in on once and move. I use a pad of paper rags covered with a layer of soft cotton. I wait a few hours and re-coat it several times. I then let it cure 24 hours before I coat with a thinned Arm-R-Seal urethane varnish.
Hi Dave,
I built boats for years and that is a problem boat builders have been trying to solve for years. There are several good teak oils with UV inhibiters which you may want to try. The one I use on teak scales (teak is an extremely oily wood) is Starbrite Golden Teak Oil. I sand to 400 grit and wet sand with the oil for 2 coats at 400 to fill the pores. Let each coat sit for 10 min. before wiping off the excess. Let dry 24 hours between all coats. After the 2 fill coats I do 8 to 10 coats wiping it on, letting it sit 10 min., and wiping off the excess. Let it dry 24 hours between coats. You probably don't have to do 8 to 10 coats - 4 would do for a kitchen knife. When it starts looking shabby, sand down with 240 grit and then 400 grit and apply at least 4 new coats. I've never tried it on AZ Ironwood.

Thanks for the tips guys!
 

Bert2368

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Hi Dave,
I built boats for years and that is a problem boat builders have been trying to solve for years. There are several good teak oils with UV inhibiters which you may want to try. The one I use on teak scales (teak is an extremely oily wood) is Starbrite Golden Teak Oil. I sand to 400 grit and wet sand with the oil for 2 coats at 400 to fill the pores. Let each coat sit for 10 min. before wiping off the excess. Let dry 24 hours between all coats. After the 2 fill coats I do 8 to 10 coats wiping it on, letting it sit 10 min., and wiping off the excess. Let it dry 24 hours between coats. You probably don't have to do 8 to 10 coats - 4 would do for a kitchen knife. When it starts looking shabby, sand down with 240 grit and then 400 grit and apply at least 4 new coats. I've never tried it on AZ Ironwood.
Wooden boat building? Colour me envious.

Question?

Real lignum vitae, about as oily as wood gets- Have you ever finished this for exposed use?

Usually on a boat, it's down by the engine room, bearings for a shaft where no one sees it...
 
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