Adventures in handle and saya contruction by hand

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AnxiousCowboy

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I am a workaholic. I need a hobby, but I can't stop thinking about work. So why not pertain my hobbies to work?

I recently bought a 240mm masamoto white steel gyuto without a handle on another forum. I love white steel and I'm a huge masamoto fan. Along later in the project will be my masamoto yanagi and my suisin usuba. I decided to further impart my heart and sole into this project by doing 95% of the work by hand with the little time off I have. The masochist in my had me sawing out the first handle blank after working 15 hours. Why? I had just got the ryoba saw in the mail that day and it was perched against my apartment door begging me to use it.

I bought a large piece of almost dry spalted maple, a truely beautiful piece. I originally wanted to do a walnut burl, but this wood got me off from pictures alone. I got it off ebay and let it dry a few more months. Here is a pic of the wood slab with the masamoto blade on it. Anyone know of any other good sources to get large pieces of hardwood like this?


I purchased a ryoba from japanwoodworker. My first time using a pullsaw, which went great!



Handle blank. I saved the most figured piece of wood for the gyuto since it is going to be my main knife.





Then I cut two thin pieces for the saya blank, god it was a ***** to cut since I am new to sawing by hand, but in both handle and saya blanks I allotted myself plenty of room for when I mess things up.





So now I have to stabilize this rotten old wood. As beautiful as the spalting is, I can feel just by handling the wood that it's very fragile at this point. The main handle is as light as cork, almost. Instead of sending it out to be stabilized, I decided it was a good idea to do it myself. haha. I was originally following the tutorial on northcoast knives' website using miniwax wood hardener ($10 a pint!) but cracked the mason jar like an idiot by adding water that was too hot. After it cracked I ran to get another jar and only lost half of the hardener. So now I just have two of the handle blanks chilling in the half full mason jar. I am turning it upside-down periodically to soak the whole piece of wood. I'll probably do this for about a week (until my next day off) and try to figure out what I am going to soak the saya blanks in since they are too long and cut saya blanks for the other two knives this work-week.


on the handle I plan on having a ferrule, a spacer, and an end cap. All from 1/8" thick metal. I decided to go with m3 white mokume. Here is a picture of it on another custom handle.


I would love to do a custom mosaic pin as well, but I'm not sure if that's actually going to happen... We'll see. I just bought a set of husky files that I'm hoping will work well to shape the handle once the metal and wood are in place. I nicked a stationary belt sander off my dad, but I'm not sure if I'll use it now... like I said before, I want to do as much of it by hand as possible. But I have a feeling I am going to cut the metal with a dremel... I don't really have any other tools to cut metal with besides a reciprocating saw. Any suggestions? I'll update this thread as I go.
 

apicius9

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kalaeb

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I think maybe you are a glutton for punishment. That is some beautiful ink line going on in maple. Good luck, once the custom bug bites it never lets go.
 

watercrawl

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That is a really nice piece of maple. I give you credit for attempting this all by hand. I'd never want to do that. :D
 

watercrawl

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Yeah, I understand that.

It always kills me.....200 years ago they had no power tools. Today we have jointers, shapers, drill press, band saws, table saws with daido blades, pocket hole jigs, dove tailing jigs, etc. and they could still make better things than we can today. :D
 

SpikeC

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Great stuff! I transitioned from power tools to mostly hand tool work around 10 years ago, and not having the machines screaming is a good thing! I have some physical limitations so I do use the machines when muscle isn't up for the job, but the right hand tools will get many things done before the machine setup is done!
 

StephanFowler

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when I first started making knives all i had was hand tools, I worked for 2 years with nothing but hammer/files/sandpaper to finish knives.
it would take up to 3 or 4 weeks to make one knife (all weekend and several evenings)

now I have a belt grinder that I built myself and honestly I could go almost just as fast with a good file as I can on the grinder, but I'll sweat more
 

AnxiousCowboy

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Been going slow... combination of no time and laziness, I need to get my ass moving!



How do you guys hollow out the saya? I was going to dremel it, but my dremel is as old as I am and it just seems like a bad idea in general. I was thinking about chiseling, but I have no chisels or chiseling experience... File that **** and hand sand I suppose?
 

Line cooked

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I am a total newb too this, but I did a saya with very inexpensive 1/4 chisel I picked up at Home Depot and a very inexpensive piece of Basswood... It worked but I struggled with the piece when I reached the point where I needed to hollow out the tip. Partly because I have no chisel experience, but more because the handle begins to get in the way...I have considered investing a few more bucks and purchasing a cranked or offset chisel, but not sure if that even makes sense....ANY pointers would be appreciated
 

AnxiousCowboy

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Just picked up some new belts, 80 and 120 grit and some hand sandpaper, 320 and 600 grit. as well as some extra fine steel wool. Anyone work with m3 mokume before? what's the best way to polish? This stuff is very light. Here are two handles rough shaped with the rough (REALLY ROUGH lol) cut mokume... I was going to do a ferrule, spacer and end cap with the 1/8 mokume I got... but I'm not sure about the spacer now... Honestly I dont want to cut the wood. I'm excited about the figuring and grain on this wood. it looks great and I dampened one of them and I get some lovely orange hues as well as some grey. very dynamic. I am probably going to restabilize them tonight. I did it before without creating a vacuum and it was a waste of time, this wood is fragile.


 

apicius9

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Nice pics, thanks for showing. M3 is relatively easy to work with. It really benefits from high polishing, I go up to at least 2000 grit with that material. They usually include a small probe of their polishing compound. If you don't have that, a fine car polish will work also for the final touch. It really has most of the metal characteristics and responds well to polishing. Buffing also works great, but it leaves a black metal residue on the buffing wheel, so you may want to set aside one wheel for that stuff only.

HTH,

Stefan
 

AnxiousCowboy

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Nice pics, thanks for showing. M3 is relatively easy to work with. It really benefits from high polishing, I go up to at least 2000 grit with that material. They usually include a small probe of their polishing compound. If you don't have that, a fine car polish will work also for the final touch. It really has most of the metal characteristics and responds well to polishing. Buffing also works great, but it leaves a black metal residue on the buffing wheel, so you may want to set aside one wheel for that stuff only.
I dont have a buffing wheel. Only a cordless drill, a dremel, and my hands... They did give me a sample of their buffing compound, How can I use this without a buffing wheel?
Thanks for the tips!
 

apicius9

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I dont have a buffing wheel. Only a cordless drill, a dremel, and my hands... They did give me a sample of their buffing compound, How can I use this without a buffing wheel?
Thanks for the tips!
Just sand to the highest sandpaper you get. You can use an old piece of cotton to rub it down with the buffing compound and then a clean piece of cotton to polish it by hand, it will not quite shine like real metal but almost.

Stefan
 

heirkb

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How are you planning on getting the hole for the tang of the knife into the handle?
 

Potato42

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Nice project! I don't know how I missed it until today. I especially like that you're matching the wood for the saya with the handle from the same block. Looking forward to more.
 

Lefty

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Have you done the buffing yet? If not, you can get one of those little headlight polishing kits for your cordless drill and try some soapy water on it (or go dry).
I recently had the same issue and I rigged something up, that is essentially the headlight kit (minus the compound). One thing to be careful of, is the compound getting stuck and almost buffed into any incongruities in the wood grain.
Hopefully my little trial and error will help you out a bit. I'm looking forward to seeing how this all turns out.
 

Marko Tsourkan

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...

How do you guys hollow out the saya? I was going to dremel it, but my dremel is as old as I am and it just seems like a bad idea in general. I was thinking about chiseling, but I have no chisels or chiseling experience... File that **** and hand sand I suppose?
There are special chisels for carving sayas but not everybody is interested in spending $140 on one. I never found dremmel, a hand router and other mechanical devices for chip removal very appealing. You will spend a lot of time guessing. Chisels are the way to go. If you plan on making a few more down the road, get a proper chisel.

Never tried M3, so can't comment. However, shaping wester style handle is done best when the handle is mounted on the knife and blade is secured in a vice (you can have two pieces of wood lining the jaws). I find round files and semi round rasps work best for shaping a handle and then hand blending and hand sanding. There is some information online how to do it. Sounds like a great project. Good luck.

DSC_0220.jpg

M
 

99Limited

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... How do you guys hollow out the saya? I was going to dremel it, but my dremel is as old as I am and it just seems like a bad idea in general. I was thinking about chiseling, but I have no chisels or chiseling experience... File that **** and hand sand I suppose?
I saw pictures of a Japanese shop making sayas. They would take a block and saw it into three pieces. The two outer pieces being the same thickness and the middle piece slightly thicker than the blade. They then traced the blade on the middle piece and used something like a coping saw to cut out the shape. They then glued that outer perimeter of the middle piece between the two outer halves.
 

Marko Tsourkan

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Traditional way of making a saya is to re-saw a block into two pieces and carve a cavity into one. Then glue them together, shape and medium grit sand them. Shaping is very basic - rounding spine edge and giving a slight bevel to the edge side and smooth the wood.

I like to shape sayas the way a knife is shaped - bevels, taper, rounded spine and edge. All of these can be done with hand tools (rasps) or a belt sander. All final rounding and finishing I do by hand. If done properly,
you won't see a glue line and the whole piece will look like a single bock. People ask me all the time how I carved the cavity without splitting the wood. :)

Some makers, including Carter and Tsil, use inserts, as Dan described in his post above. It works, but a fit is not as precise as in a carved cavity - a cross-section of cavity is similar to that of a knife, and you will end up with two extra glue lines, so I never considered it. However, this is not how Japanese do it. At least I have not seen a single Japanese saya done in this way. For Japanese this method would be too labor-intensive. :)

M
 

99Limited

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Would love to see that picture, Dan.
Yeah, I was afraid someone would ask that. I'm not sure how I found it. I'll go back through my Google search history and see if I can find it. It had a young Japanese woman doing the work. I think she was working inside a blacksmith's shop. Seems like it was a family thing, father, son making knives and maybe a daughter making sayas.
 

99Limited

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This isn't the same thing I was talking about, but it is the same method. [video=youtube;8MODvFnRW08]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MODvFnRW08[/video]
 

kalaeb

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Tsills wife if pretty talented. But it seems like the the Marko route might make a more secure fit. Of course I have never tried so I am just basing this on observations.
 

Marko Tsourkan

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Tsills wife if pretty talented. But it seems like the the Marko route might make a more secure fit. Of course I have never tried so I am just basing this on observations.
Carving to exact shape can give you a better fit, but the best way to secure a knife in a saya is with a pin.

M
 

Dave Martell

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IMO Marko does it the closest to the sword saya maker's way. It's certainly not the easiest but the best work never is.
 

Marko Tsourkan

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Tom, why would you need such a big belt sander? 6x48 is perfectly adequate for all I do. That big sander if probably less flat on sanding surface than mine. I have 6x48" Shopsmith. Fantastic sander. I also have 11" Shopsmith bandsaw. Fantastic too.


M
 
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