How to Make Whittling Knives

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Learn how to fashion a whittling knife with an advanced design from some of the most common tools and materials found in a basic workshop or ordinary hardware store. The dual-edged recurve blade allows for a shearing action, to efficiently slice through wood when used with the traditional whittling grip. The slender wasp-waisted handle enhances control of the cutting strokes. The techniques used in the knife's construction also work for making whittling knives with traditionally shaped blades.

Things You'll Need

  • Hack saw blade (used)
  • Vise
  • Bench-top grinder
  • Hardwood stock---close grained; rock maple recommended
  • Hack-saw
  • Two-part epoxy mix---JB Weld recommended
  • Palette knife or mixing tool
  • Clamp and spring-type recommended
  • Sandpaper
  • Polyurethane varnish
  • Whetstones or disc-array knife sharpeners
  • Optional: Ceramic-rod knife sharpener and a leather strop treated with fine abrasive grit

How to Make Whittling Knives

  • Begin by breaking off a 2-inch section from a hacksaw blade. Place the blade in the vise and bend it to one side until it forms a right angle. Then bend the blade to the opposite side until it reaches a right angle pointing the other way. Bend the blade once again toward the other direction. Repeat the process as necessary until the blade breaks off cleanly. Usually the blade will break after a few bends.

  • Shape the blade using the bench grinder to remove excess metal. Grind off the saw-teeth first, then shape the blade with a concave edge on one side, and a convex edge on the the opposite side. Refer to the inset picture for the shape of the recurved blade. Set the grinding speed to a moderately low rate if possible. Periodically stop to let the blade cool off for several seconds. By keeping the blade cool you will prevent the metal from becoming softer.

  • Continue forming the blade by grinding a 32-degree angle bevel on the cutting edges, using the bench grinder. Only sharpen 1 inch on either edge from the pointed tip to the middle of the blade.

  • Cut the hardwood stock into a piece 4-1/2 inches long, 3/4 inch wide and 3/8 inches thick. This is the blank for the handle.

  • Use a pencil to make a cut mark for a slot 1-inch deep, running from one end of the wood blank down along the 3/8-inch-thick sides. Place the blank in the vise and make the 1-inch cut, using a hacksaw. Cut slowly and steadily to make a straight cut.

  • Mix the two-part epoxy and apply a thick coat to the butt end of the blade, on both sides from the end to the middle. Use the palette knife or mixing tool to fill in the slot cut into the wood handle blank. Then insert the butt end of the blade into the exact center of the handle. Allow the excess epoxy that is forced out by the insertion of the blade to form mounds on the sides of the handles and where the blade emerges from the handle. Do not wipe off this excess, allow it to harden---later it will be ground off. Place a clamp over the blade-end of the handle to hold the assembly securely in place as the epoxy hardens. Place the assembled knife in the vise, with the blade pointing up, and allow the epoxy to cure thoroughly---ovenight is best.

  • Remove the knife from the vise and begin to shape the handle with the bench grinder. Use particular care to grind off the the epoxy, leaving a smoothly rounded mound of epoxy where the blade emerges from the handle. Shape the handle into an elongated figure-eight, narrower in the middle with rounded ends for the signature wasp-waist design. Grind a smooth rounded bevel on the edges. Sand the wood smooth and apply a few coats of polyurethane varnish, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

  • Carefully hone the blade to sharpness using whetstones or disc-array sharpeners. A razor-sharp edge can be achieved with a ceramic-rod knife sharpener, followed by use of a leather strop treated with fine abrasive grit. The high-carbon steel from the hacksaw blade will keep a keen edge, and the solidly integrated handle will provide years of service.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use proper protective gear when performing any of the above operations. Always wear safety goggles or glasses. Wear thick protective work gloves when using a grinder or when sharpening blades.

References

  • The Little Book of Whittling; Chris Lubkemann; 2005
  • Photo Credit David A. Claerr
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