This project began a year or more ago. Every now and then, a knifemaker gets an urge to get away from the belt grinder, and try to do something the way an ordinary person with limited equipment could do it–relatively primitive.
This project could have been done entirely without electricity, but I cheated in using the bandsaw and drill press. The sheath was made entirely without electricity, except for the heat-gun that was used to cook the leather-preservative grease into the leather. I guess a campfire would have been a better choice! The only tools needed for making the sheath were the knife, a leather punch, two needles, and a saw. The only glue used was ordinary wood glue, to hold the two slabs of the wood liner together.
The knife began life as a 3/32 x 1-inch bar of O-1 tool steel. I cut it off with a hack-saw, and began the shaping process with the hacksaw also. The process got interrupted, and after a while I broke down and used the bandsaw to rough-in the shape of the point. Then, final profiling was done with a file. I also filed a narrow bevel from both sides of the steel, to establish the centerline for the edge. The three “Letter F” holes (0.257″ diameter) were drilled in the tang with the drill-press. Then, off to heat-treat.
I never did grind or polish the flats of the blade, since this is precision-ground steel, de-scaled, with the grinding scratches running length-wise. Only a little hand-rubbing with a Scotch-brite pad to remove scale left from the blade, which was minimal.
The heating was done with the oxy-acetylene torch, and the hardening quench was performed in a pan of Wayne Goddard’s “quench goop”–hydraulic oil, tallow, and wax. The first attempt at tempering was done in the oven of a wood cookstove, and ended up too soft. So, back to the hardening process. This time, it warped. Quite some time passed, while other projects took precedence. Finally, I got around to normalizing and annealing the blade, straightening it out, and re-hardening. This time, it came out straight. Triple-tempering was done in the electric toaster oven, at 425-450 degrees Farenheit. (Although I find that, judging temperature by color, one can do a good job of tempering using a gas stove burner. I like the stove burner even better than a propane torch. Unfortunately, a wood fire produces too much soot, obscuring the colors.)
Now–assembling the handle. Material chosen was 1/4-inch thick black-and-green Dymondwood. These had been cut for another project, but never used. And since they were just the right size, why not? It is flat, and fairly water- and split-resistant. The split-resistant aspect was especially important, since I wanted to try doing this without epoxy. Drilling was done, once again, on the drill press. The slabs were trimmed to match at the front (ricasso edge) using a file, rather than the sander. The rivets are 1/4-inch O.D. brass tubing. I reamed out the mouth of the holes in the handle slabs using a knife, and trimmed the tubes to about 3/16-inch longer than the handle is thick.
Placing a grommet-setting punch upside-down in a vise, to act as a flaring tool, and using a centerpunch on the top side for the same purpose, I started the flare on each piece of tubing, and then went to the anvil to finish the job. Then, a file was used to work the edges of the slabs down to the tang, and to do most of the shaping. Hand-sanding finished the job, followed by a coat of Danish Oil Finish.
Sharpening was done entirely with a file and sandpaper, and took about 3 ½ hours. (Hopefully all subsequent sharpenings will take much less time!) The oxidation from tempering was left “as is.” The knife was complete!
Now, the sheath. I cut 2 pieces of birch from a strip I had on hand, using a Japanese backsaw. It was 1 1/4 inches wide, and almost 5/16 thick. Laying the knife on the wood, I traced around it with the pencil, and then reversed the blade, to make the mortise ambidextrous. A drain-hole was included in the center of each piece at the bottom end of the mortise Then, using the new knife, I carved the mortises out by hand. This took about 1 ½ hours, but it worked–no gouges or chisels or Dremel or router required. (Compared to about 15 minutes, if I had used an end-mill in the drill press.)
Then a little wood glue was applied, and the slabs were clamped in a vise overnight. This created a slight issue, because it pinched the sides together by a few thousandths, making a snug friction fit–a little tighter than desired. So, a few minutes’ work with a needle file was in order.
That matter cared for, I turned my attention to the outside of the wooden sheath liner. Tracing the outline of where the mortise is onto both sides of the wood, I began whittling–again, with the knife that would inhabit the “house.” Soon, the blocky, uneven outline became sleek and smooth, and a little scraping helped even up the edges of the flat spots created in whittling.
Now that the knife and wood liner were ready, it was time for the leather cover. Taking some basic circumference measurements, I drew up a pattern, and cut the single piece from 5- to 6-ounce tooling leather. A trip to the sink, wetting the leather, and then the forming began. Pressing the leather around the knife and wood liner, I used my fingernails to mark where the stitching should be. Removing the wet leather from the object it was being molded over, and flattening it on the table, I ran the stitching wheel (6 stitches per inch) up the nail-marks. Then, a Tandy Leather cone-and-anvil pliers-type leather-punch was used to punch the holes.
Placing the leather back around the wood liner, stitching began. A standard saddle stitch, using two needles, was used, starting at the bottom of the sheath. Each stitch was pulled tight as the sewing continued. Once up to where the sides of the liner are straight, every effort was made to insure that the wood was fully seated down into the leather. As the needles neared the top of the wood, the knife was placed in the sheath, where it remained until the sewing was complete.
The next step was to trim off the excess leather, form the “fish tail” at the bottom, and punch the holes for the lanyard in the upper portion of the seam allowance. A leather boot lace was used for the lanyard, completing the package. The final step was to hot-pack the leather with grease, made from beeswax, pine pitch, and neatsfoot oil.
Overall length: 7 13/16 inches
Blade: 3 5/8 long, 1 inch wide, 3/32 thick, full tang
Weight: 4.3 oz.
Weight of sheath: 2.6 oz.
This knife is one-of-a-kind, and I’m not likely to make another one in the same manner. But it was a fun project, and is definitely a very functional tool. Paired with a good hatchet and a warm pair of mittens, it fits right in with the north woods in winter!