View Full Version : Mortise tang. Bookmatch, or???

Chris Daigle
06-16-2003, 09:57 PM
A question for you mortise tang gurus. I've got an order for a kitchen knife and the lady picked out Thuya Burl for the handle with gemstone spacers (Ray Rogers, I have to thank you for the inspiration). After splitting the Thuya, I noticed that the set of scales left a nice bookmatched pattern. If this were a full tang blade, there would be no question as to what I'd do. BUT, it being mortised, do I match up the seams and have the sides slightly different, or go for the bookmatched look. I realize this might be subjective. But, I'd like your comments anyway.

Once again, thanks for all the help!

Terry Primos
06-16-2003, 10:30 PM
I'd match up the seams. Try to make the cut as straight as you can when splitting the block. Sand the inside of the cut good and flat.

Take a look at my tutorial on Mortised Tangs (

Ray Rogers
06-16-2003, 10:34 PM
You said that if it were a full tang there would be no question as to what you would do so obviously you have a preference. As long as the wood is thick enough for the necessary flattening and so forth then I say do it which ever way you like. I've done both.

And BTW, you're welcome .....

Chris Daigle
06-16-2003, 11:17 PM
Thanks to the both of you. Just to qualify, Terry, I've looked your tutorial over several times in the past. Trust me, it's helped. And yep, I did a pretty tight job of splitting the scales. I then flattened them on my disc grinder. Not much (but some) material was lost in this process.

Ray, my question was whether or not the center seam was paramount, or should I go for the bookmatched "look". There is more than enough wood to do either.

I just thought I'd toy with either idea while the blade was away at H/T.


Terry Primos
06-17-2003, 12:00 AM
While either way is for the most part acceptable, there is one thing that can bite you in the butt by putting the two outsides together on a mortised tang.

If the two halves don't closely match at the seam, then it no longer looks natural like a single piece of wood. Instead, it looks like two non-matching pieces of wood put together.

I'm not making sense here. I don't even understand what I just said myself. :lol

Here's what I'm trying to get you to visualize:

This is a split block that has been mortised and reassembled. You can't tell that it was split into two halves when looking at the underside or the top because I got everything lined back up just right at the seam.

If I had instead, turned the two outside pieces inward, things would no longer line up, and even if the seam itself was virtually invisible, it still would look like two pieces because the flowing lines would not match up on the top side or the underside.

On a full tang knife this is not as critical because the tang itself breaks up the pattern and the brain fills in the blanks so everything looks fine. On a hidden, mortised tang, the brain say's "It does not compute", and can't convince you that everything lines up.

You won't have this problem with every piece of wood. It shows up worst on very active burls, and striped woods like Curly Maple or Ring Gidgee.

It sounds like I'm arguing with Ray, but I'm not. Like I said, you can get away with it on some pieces of wood, and on others, it will look terrible.

06-17-2003, 06:15 AM
Another option in assembling this with either handle direction would be to use a "Tang Frame". This could be used to break the pattern like in a full tang knife. Contrasting or blending colors can be used with an assortment of materials. Just a thought.

Chris Daigle
06-17-2003, 11:05 PM
Naw Terry, crystal clear (heck, even I got it! :D ). The handle being a heavy burl pattern, I'd like the back ends to match up as much as possible I guess now having some time to think about it. What fun that will be.

Fred, I like the look of tang frames, but only on bowies (just my preference). Good idea though, and something I'd like to try in the future.


Jason Cutter
06-20-2003, 02:24 AM
Just thought I'd be devil's advocate and say that not only Bowie's benefit from tang-frames. My knife here has a black G10 tang frame that matches to a set of NON-matched slabs of African Blackwood and I reckon it came out pretty clean. You can't actually see the seam, even though its from synthetic to wood. I am NOT that precise - a lot is done by hand, so what I am saying is that most of you guys who are steadier, more patient will get an even better result. But as Terry said, it has a lot to do with the type of wood you are working with.

Cutting a block dead straight down the middle and not having to remove much and mating it up is an issue of practise. However, if you've ever used a Japanese pull-saw, you'll appreciate how good it is for this purpose - the saw just self-straightens the cut after the first 1/2inch or so. I've cut some wood with such a saw and when checked, the slabs were absolutely flat. Again, I repeat, I am not that precise or experienced. Sometimes the right equipment does make the difference.

At least once, I've done the bookmatched thing, completely botched the sawing job and then had to do a tang-frame design with it.

Good luck. Jason.