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Fit & Finish Fit and Finish = the difference in "good art" and "fine art." Join in, as we discuss the fine art of finish and embellishment.

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Old 01-06-2001, 06:26 PM
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Wood Finishing

I know nothing about woodworking, so I kind of wing it when I use wood for handle materials. I am interested in the techniques everyone uses for final finish of wood handles. Do you shape it on your grinder or disk sander or do you hand file it? What is the best way to achieve symmetry on both sides. What are good methods of sealing porous or grainy woods (other than stabilization)? What brings out the character, color and personality of wood the best? What is the best way to achieve a nice semi-gloss or gloss finish?
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Old 01-06-2001, 07:31 PM
Don Cowles
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This is just my opinion, but having said that, it is a very strong one. Stabilization is the greatest thing that ever happened to wood knife handles. There are some woods (desert ironwood and lignum vitae, for example) that simply will not take the stabilization, but those that will profit immeasurably by retaining their color, not warping or checking, becoming waterproof, and so on.

On those woods that will not take stabilization, I rub them out to about 800 grit, then 0000 steel wool, then buff, then Johnson's paste floor wax. That's it.
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Old 01-06-2001, 11:19 PM
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I am not an expert by any stretch, but I am using stabilized wood almost exclusively. It is very durable and simple to finish. I grind the handle on the belt grinder (don't make the mistake of slack belting it like I did at first), then shoe shine to 1000 grit, and buff with Matchless Green followed by No Scratch Pink.

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Old 01-07-2001, 11:45 AM
Terry Hearn
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Bob, I will try to give you the rundown on how I finish wood handles.
After scales and pins are in place on the knife I grind it down as close
to the shape I want it, on either my belt grinder or on a cone-loc drum sander.
using either 60 or 80 grit. I then clamp the blade in a vise between leather to
protect the finish. From there on its hand finishing all the way. I use 2"x50 yard rolls
of shop cloth in 80,120, 220,400, and 600 grit, this can be tore into 1/4" and
smaller strips. Starting with the 80 grit I work it back and forth around the knife handle,
sorta of like shining shoes until I get it symmetrical on both sides. Getting both sides even,
well I just eye ball it until it looks right, Its near impossible to get both sides exactly the same.
If it deceives the eye, good enough, or at least my eye. I then go through the finer grits
until I get to 220, this is where I buff very lightly with a white rough on a floppy wheel
to see if there is any sanding marks from the previous 120 grit. I find it a littler easier
to buff a little between grits, this way if I have any deep scratches from the previous grits its easier
for me to get them out now than going through the final sanding to find I have a 120 grit sanding mark
that I might not have seen. After sanding down to 600 I buff it out on a floppy wheel using
a 1200 grit white rouge, then to a pink no scratch rouge. The latter adds a good bit of luster
to the wood and won't add any color to the handle material. I then spray the handle with
Thompsons water seal and rub it in real good, let it dry for about a day or so and buff it one last
time. . One thing to try and remember when buffing woods is not try and buff out a scratch,
especially around the pins, it will buff the wood down and you will be able to feel the pins.
Try to bring the handle and pins down at the same time and finish together or you will be backing up
a few steps.This is the way I finish my handles and it seems to work ok. The Thompsons water seal
helps water proof the wood and helps the wood take on a high gloss. Hope this helps out a little.
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Old 01-07-2001, 05:05 PM
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After beltsanding from 60 to 400 grit I smooth out any curves needed with a file. Then I handsand with 400, 600 and 800. Sometimes I go as high as 1200. Then I soak the handle in Danish oil the night over. Dry of excess oil and let cure for about a day. Then I buff with two kinds of polishing compounds used especially for wood. One rough and one fine. The I buff with kanaupa wax (used for pipes). Gives a real nice glossy/satin finish depending on the material. The wax gives a very good nonslip grip.
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Old 01-07-2001, 07:02 PM
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Moved for Tony Martin ...

I talked to an ABS Master Smith recently, he said, "wood handles are the kiss of death on a custom knife." He's probably right, but I still do 90% of my handles in wood because to me it's a beautiful and practical natural material. Some woods, like desert ironwood, coco bolo, and manzanita, are not exactly user friendly but they make up for their bad temperament by being extra beautiful. Here's my 2 cents worth on finishing technique.

I use progressively finer grit paper starting with 60 and ending up with 600. Aluminum Oxide works best although I also use silicon carbide. The absolute best place I've found to buy sandpaper is Supergrit Company. They are super cheap and the service is great. Call 800 822 4003 to order or get a catalog.

One of my favorite wood finishes is equal parts shellac, boiled linseed oil, and turpentine. It dries fast and seals well, plus it smells good. Recently though, I've begin soaking my handles in marine teak oil for 3-5 hours and then doing additional sealing if necessary. This weatherproofs very well.

Stabilizing wood makes it impervious to the elements and in some respects makes finishing simpler, but I think stabilized wood is disgusting. Whatever it is, it ain't wood any more. I've used it a few times, keep a few pieces in stock for hard-duty custom knives or filet knives, but don't enjoy working with it at all.
Wood has some built-in shortcomings, but I would rather accept these than turn wood into plastic. Just my opinion.

Tony Martin

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Old 01-07-2001, 07:06 PM
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Moved to this thread. Original by Terry Primos

There's a phrase that I have heard for many years which I disagree with completely. It goes:

Brass has no class, and wood ain't no good.

If that's absolutely true then a high percentage of the blades made by Bill Moran over the last 60 years would have little or no value. However, I read in an article quite some time ago that some of Mr. Moran's older carbon steel blades can fetch up to $1000 per blade inch, and the Damascus knives can draw up to $2000 per blade inch. We're talking about a 10 inch Bowie with the potential of commanding $10,000 to $20,000. Most of the Moran's I've handled had curly maple handles, and many had brass hardware.

There are still a lot knives by ABS Mastersmiths that sport wood handles. Bill Moran, Jay Hendrickson, Jerry Fisk, Steve Dunn, Don Fogg, oh good grief, the list goes on and on. Now on art pieces, you're not as likely to see wood, but on standard "users" it's not uncommon at all.

Admittedly there are many big time collectors that won't have anything to do with a wood handled knife. There are also collectors who will not buy anything unless it is stainless steel. At the other end of the spectrum, one customer I've had in the past would not buy anything if it wasn't carbon steel. Not only that, it had to be forged.

Another fellow was only interested in blades where he could still see hammer marks. His preference was a Southwestern flare with hammer marks and even a little scale. I've lost touch with him, and this was before the Neo-Tribal movement. If I could find him and turn him on to Tim Lively and Tai Goo, he'd go nuts.

Anyway, the blanket statement we hear about wood being the kiss of death just ain't right. I realize this puts me in direct conflict with a Mastersmith, (hopefully not one of my own teachers), but the plain truth is, there is no one style or compilation of materials that is going to please everyone.
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Old 01-07-2001, 07:18 PM
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Oh, how completely embarrassing! In the list I compiled above, I don't know how I did it, but I left out our very own Ed Caffrey as one of the ABS Mastersmiths who occasionally uses wood for handles.

I don't care what anybody says, wood is good.
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Old 01-07-2001, 08:28 PM
Don Cowles
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I'm with you, Terry. My personal knives all have wood handles. (subject to change, of course...)
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Old 01-08-2001, 02:18 PM
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I don't think I would ever use wood on a folder (unless you want to give the knife a vintage feel), but I love it on clean, working fixed blades. I understand how it would detract from a high-end knife as far as collectibility would be the cheapest part of the knife. I'll have plenty of room in my life for wood, though.
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Old 01-08-2001, 06:12 PM
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I definetly like the way Jens dos his wood finish

Damasheep w/ ambonia burl

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Old 01-08-2001, 11:31 PM
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I don't use wood very much. Most of the wood I use doesn't have to be stabilized (rosewood, ironwood, ebony, pink ivory, etc.) Stabilized wood is easy to finish (sand & buff), while natural hardwoods require wax and polish.
Personally speaking - once you stabilize a softer wood it takes on all the persoanlity or micarta or G-10. (IMHO litle or no personality)
Rosewood, for example will change it's character depending on the natural skin oil of it's user. Stabilized wood rarely (if ever) changes and offers less character - yet is stronger overall. Micarta and G10 are among the strongest handle materials available. I still don't like using it.
Ivory, stag and pearl are my best sellers.
Just my $.02.

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Old 01-09-2001, 01:28 AM
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I really like the finishes and styles that Jens Anso uses on his handles and the styles of his knives!

I have always been a woodworker so to me a knife is going to have a wooden handle. I like metal handles, but a wooden handle is the way it's supposed to be. Nothing else feels like it and nothing else looks like it. I love the exotic woods but the truth is that the best wooden handles I've felt have been made of woods which were not especially hard. I don't think that handles made from Rosewood, Ebony, Ironwood, Lignum Vitae or Epay feel very good. All of those woods are amazingly tough and will last foreve without showing any wear or tear but they don't cushion a blow or vibration the same way woods like Walnut, Maple and Mahogany do.

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Old 02-08-2001, 09:58 PM
Bill Foote
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wood finish

I use "Fixit" hi gloss for wood handles. It's a spray can available at Texas Knifemaker Supply. Spray it on really thick, reapplying as it soaks in while drying.
It gets a bumpy surface that comes off with a hard cloth wheel (it comes off in globs). A final loose wheel buff gives it a nice sheen. It sounds funky but it soaks in deep, sealing well and looks great.
Finish off with a coat of Rennaissance Wax.
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Old 02-09-2001, 06:40 AM
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Re: wood finish

I love the way Jens' knife handles come out as well. The grain and detail look awesome.

There have been so many different techniques posted here about handle finishing. When we start working on the technique archive, I will include the info here vignette style.
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