Damascus knife – building the handle

A few weeks ago, I built a damaskus knife blade (see Damascus knive workshop). Now I finally had time to build the handle. Part of the delay accounted for the decision in material and design of the handle. After some serious research and window shopping, I found the perfect combination I would love to have: desert iron wood and silver.
Desert iron wood is a very dense and hard wood. The core parts have a deep red color with wonderful dark texture. But it is not at all easy to find a piece at reasonable prices. Luckily I found an online store, offering a block of desert iron wood with matching size and texture to my likings.
The bolster shall be like a cap, continuing the shape of the handle. As a material I use sterling silver.

The shape of the handle should become rather minimalistic. Further more, I wanted to have some resemblance to traditional Japanese handles. Therefore I chose a prolongued octagonal shape, which gradually gains a bit in height from the bolster to the end.

To build the handle, I started with the wood. I drilled a hole at the exact position to center the blade. Then I used small files to match the hole with the tang, which has a rectangular shape and is a bit off-centered to the rest of the blade. This was really time consuming, as the desert iron wood clogged the files within a few strokes. But finally, after a few hours of work, I had a perfect fit for the tang. I let approximately 5mm of the tang still protruding the handle, to have more strength in the final assembly by hammering the handle on to the blade.
The next step was to make the recessed front, where the bolster will fit in. I cut a line at exactly 10mm from the front edge. Then I filed away 1mm of wood, as I will use 1mm sheet sterling silver. From a strip of 11mm width I formed a ring with an octagonal shape matching the handle, using parallel pliers. The ring is soldered with hard sterling silver solder. After filing and sanding the edges to have perfectly flat sides, I cut a sheet of silver with a bit of excess border. The ring is soldered to the sheet, again using hard solder. After cleaning and filing away the excess material, I could drill and file the hole for the tang. This again was a bit time consuming, to create a perfect fit…

Finally, I sanded and polished the silver bolster, gave the desert iron wood a last fine sanding. Then I mixed a bit of epoxy with desert iron wood file dust. I added glue to the bolster and into the hole for the tang. So I would have a really strong bonding betreen all the parts. I hammered the bolster to the handle (which was only necessary for the final 2mm). Following immediately I inserted the knifes tang to the handle. Using a rubber hammer, I pushed the tang into the final position within the handle.
Meanwhile I set an oven to approximately 70° Celsius for increased strentgh and faster hardening of the epoxy. After cleaning away any excess epoxy with acetone, I set the whole knife in the oven for curing.

Hint: If there is any epoxy pushed out of the joints during curing, you may use a small soldering iron to work the exopy off the surface. The remaining thin film of epoxy may be removed with acetone. If you are careful, you will most likely have a scratch free surface afterwards!

The last thing to do is a thin coating of hard oil.
After more than 20 hours of work (including forging the blade), the knife is ready 🙂 The final result is a perfectly balanced knife due to the heavy wood handle. The center of balance lies exatly in front of the bolster. The blade will hopefully last for a very long time and provide perfect cuts due to approximately 56-58 HRC.

Damascus knive workshop

Today I could participate in a workshop to create my own damascus knive. With the guidance of the really well experienced smith, I could manage to forge a 189 layer blade out of 7 individual metal strips. (OK – to be honest, the essential parts of the forging were done by Walter, the smith). I am really pleased with the final result – my own kitchen knive in Santoku style…