Handling a Knife

Damascus steel Zhen Nakiri knife blank

I recently wrote about Damascus Steel, and showed this knife from Professional Woodworkers Supplies as an example of a modern interpretation of this traditional steel-making technique.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to complete the handle for this knife, so I was able to put it to use!

Queen Ebony timber stock

I started, as always, scrounging around through my timber stocks, looking for just the right piece of timber for the job.  Not sure which is the more rewarding: having a project and the excitement/anticipation of the project commencement while out sourcing and purchasing just the right pieces of timber for the job, or scrounging around your own existing timber store, though pieces collected over the years and waiting for just the right project to come along to be able to finally do it justice.

For this project I looked at many pieces and different species.  Even tried a couple to see if there was enough detail for the project at hand, but rejected them in the end.  I finally had a look at the pack of Queen Ebony strips I had purchased at a wood show a few years ago, and suddenly realised that the bottom two strips (about 1.5m long each) were thicker than the others, and were in fact thick enough for this project, even after being machined flat!

This is a perfect scenario – it gives me a chance to actually machine one face smooth and flat, and then match the opposite side and still end up with timber thick enough for the task at hand.

The project is pretty straight forward, and follows the steps I took when doing the steak knives.  After sizing the scales, they were double-sided taped together (carpet tape).  These were then stuck to one side of the blade.  On the drill press, holes where then drilled through the holes in the knife blank, then while still attached to the blade, the whole lot were transferred to the bandsaw, and the rough outline of the blade handle cut.

The scales were then separated, glued (epoxy) to either side of the blade blank, and the rivets inserted.

Once the glue was dry, the whole contraption was transferred to the spindle sander for the final shaping.

To complete, the Festool ETS 150/5 was used to polish the sides and edges.

Completed knife

The Queen Ebony really looks the part – I am most impressed!

Finally, the real test is in the kitchen, so I gave a piece of pumpkin a workout.

Nakiri Blade in its element

The final verdict is in the use, and this knife handled beautifully!  The sharpness of the blade, the scalloped blade and a home-made stunning handle.

A fun little project, and a very satisfying result!



There is a new tab at the top of the page – titled “Publications”

Perhaps a little narcissistic, but I like keeping track of where I have had something published.  The list is only for my woodworking contributions – I haven’t bothered including photographic articles/images or ones from my Navy days (the list would be about 4x longer – mainly where photos were used rather than articles).

I’m sure some articles are missing from this listing, so if you are aware of any others, please let me know.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, by Salvador Dali

A very dangerous book for one’s bank balance. Not that the book will be overly expensive, but the resulting desire to source a set of moulding planes!
Here is a free download of chapter 3 of the book.

Lost Art Press

Matt Bickford’s book, “Mouldings in Practice,” sets out to remake the way you look at, cut and apply the mouldings to your projects.

It is quite unlike any other book we have ever encountered. Why? Bickford grapples with a core idea that has plagued woodworkers for generations: Cutting mouldings by hand requires years of practice, patience and the acquisition of high-level skills.

After reading this book, I think you will say about that old idea: “Wow. That’s crap.”

To kick-start your education in cutting mouldings, we are offering a free download of a critical chapter of “Mouldings in Practice.” This short chapter lays out the basic principles of the book and shows the landscape that it covers.

To download the chapter, simply click here. You don’t have to register, give up some special bodily cells or even your e-mail address.

If you like what you see and…

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It’s out again!

The latest issue is about to hit the shelves. Keep an eye out for it!

I have a couple of articles in this one – one on making a hall table, (including a bit of an opinion on reality TV furniture!), and another on router bit profiles.

ManSpace Magazine

Word on the street

The word on the street is the new Masters store in Carrum Downs is ahead of schedule, and could open in the next 1-2 weeks.

Cool 🙂


(Photo is not the CD store!)

Temple Construction

Some photos taken by a friend of one of our regular readers (thanks IS!): these photos are of a temple rebuild in Zhongdian (Shangrila), Yunnan Province (China).

What can be achieved with the simplest, mainly traditional tools and techniques.  No electrons murdered at all which is quite disturbing!

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End of Days: The Pandora box is complete

And so we have arrived at the point where the box is revealed as fully formed, closed and opened. Not a pithos as was originally written in Greek by Hesiod in “Works and Days”, but the Latin “pyxis” as the original myth was mistranslated back in the 16th century.

Trays lined with felt

I had to be really patient to get to this point – lining a box (when it is done) really shows the box and how it will finally look, and this was no exception.  The bottom and inside of the main box was lined in black (as a point of difference from the ‘working’ surfaces.  I didn’t need to do the inside, but it gives a sense of completeness if both trays are ever lifted out.  Getting the lower tray out is tricky in any case – there is a bit of a vacuum effect there (not a lot, but enough to be noticeable – the benefit of a close fit).

I chose a royal blue for the two trays – giving consideration to how the jewellery will stand out on such a colour.

Dividers in place

Next, the dividers were added.  These are only a friction fit – they are not glued in.

Trays in location

Coming together.  the upper tray slides back and forth revealing the lower compartments.   It can also be easily lifted out as required.

Lid attached, and charms, bracelets and necklace added

Finally, the lid has the hinges added, and they all slide together.  Getting the hinges into the lid was a bit nerve-wracking.  It is burl after all – not the strongest of materials, and each hinge had to be carefully tapped into location.  Once all three were attached, the hinges were lined up with the holes in the box, and carefully pushed together.

It is shown here without a lid restraint  that I have since added (to stop the lid being opened too far), using a black leather cord and some fittings from jewellery-making added so it can be screwed to a small hole drilled into the top and the side wall of the box (inside).

Concealed hinge detail

Bit of a closeup of the hinges in action.  They are not the strongest hinge, but are very clever in mechanism, and fully concealed when the lid is closed.

Lid detail

A bit of a closeup of the lid beading.  Making it out of the same timber as the top worked out really well, and it has machined nicely on the router table.  The slight apparent overhang of the mitre joint is actually an illusion – it isn’t there to see or feel in reality- trick of light, or shadow.  Beautiful features in the timber – burls can be really stunning.

So finally, the last one – the completed box.  Probably should have taken another from the side – may post it here later.

Completed Pandora Box

I’m certainly happy with how it has come out, and surprisingly, the recipient didn’t have a clue.  I thought I was gone for all money, that she suspected I was up to something, but I got away with this being a complete surprise.  The best kind!



Pandora’s Lid

One of the big decisions when it comes to completing a box, is deciding on the lid.

I deliberated for quite a while on this one, searching through my timber piles looking for inspiration.  I noted the slice of Brown Mallee Burl a couple of times, sitting on one of the shelves where it has been since about October 2008, but was a little undecided.  I kept coming back to it though, and finally decided this was the project that it was destined for.

It needed some truing up, and for some warp to be removed.  I’ve had it under boards to try to flatten it for almost 4 years, so it was as flat as I could make it, and so a little machining was required.

Truing up the Brown Mallee Burl

I took some care to ensure the sides and back were cut to suit the box, so the two corners of the natural edge met the front corners of the box.  Not being one to throw away timber, even offcuts, the two larger pieces cut off this burl were put back on the shelf, rather than the bin (or worse).

Test of lid sizing

I wanted to preserve the natural edge of the burl, and is the first project that I have done this on.

The next big decision is the hinge.  To hinge or not, that is the question.  I wanted this box to have the lid attached, so hinging it is my best option in this case.  There are still plenty of options – metal, wooden (shop-made) or other.

I went with concealed barrel hinges, which need a couple of holes drilled to fit the hinge.

Laying out the hinges

Using my Incra rule, the holes are laid out precisely, and it is over to the drill press.  An 8mm Colt wood boring drill bit is used (from Professional Woodworkers Supplies) as is the drill press laser to ensure the holes are exactly where I want them.

Fitting the concealed hinges

Here you can see a couple of the concealed hinges, as well as the laser cross hairs.  The Colt bit is particularly suited for this job, drilling clean and straight, with the double helix guiding the bit.

Once the holes were cut, I needed some beading around the edge of the lid.  This was needed for two reasons.  One, I wanted to break up the line of the lid, so it wasn’t a simple straight piece of timber (irrespective how good it looks). Secondly, I knew the lid was too thin for the hinges, and the holes would be right through the lid, so the beading was needed to disguise the holes.

Turns out it was a really good thing I kept the offcuts!

Shaping the beading

I looked at, and even tried a few different router bit (and their profiles), but in the end decided to go with one that cuts rounded beads on the upper surface.  I chose a router bit height that cut three beads, then transferred the timber to the tablesaw to cut that beading off.  These were all then taken over to the drum sander and the thin material carriage.  They were passed through a number of times until I achieved a thickness I wanted for the beading.

Cutting mitres

The beading was to look continuous around the outside, so it made sense to mitre the back corners to 45o.

Laying out the beading

I didn’t want beading across the front, so chose to end it as the burl became sapwood.

Ending the beading was a real debate, and I decided to have it chamfered at 45o.

Achieving that would be interesting.  For one, the beading is pretty thin, and narrow.  It is also a bit fragile (being burl).  The solution came to me – using a tool that I have where I want to control the angle of something as it is being ground – namely a blade sharpening jig!

I chose to use the Alisam, but could have done this with any of the blade sharpening jigs.

Creating a chamfer

Once again, you can never have too many clamps!

Gluing on the beading

This was done very carefully, so the beading didn’t slip as the clamping pressure was applied.

The lid finished

Once the lid was glued up, it was time to apply a finish.  This was done very simply, with a few coats of wood oil wiped on.  This is a combination of Tung Oil and a few others, and a drier.

Makes a lot of difference!

The lid, finished

New Trays for the Pandora

As mentioned yesterday, the trays I made felt rushed, and subsequently I wasn’t happy with the results, and so a remake was in order. One of those things – less haste, more speed.

I decided that I really did want it to have dovetailed sides – the wall height was around 20mm, so it would involve a single pin and two half-tails, with a wall thickness just sufficient for the Gifkins Dovetail Jig. Once the Silky Oak was machined square and to size, the dovetails were cut and the sides dry-fitted together.

Tray sides dovetailed, ready for slots to be cut for the base

It was only a dry fit at this stage, as I wanted to have a captive base, as I had done for the main box. With a clamp holding the box together, a groove was cut all round the inside of each tray, about 5mm from the bottom and 5mm deep.

The inside dimensions of each tray were again measured, and 10mm added to give the size for the base. In reality, I tend to cut it about 0.5mm-1mm undersized, so there is no chance the base will stop the sides coming together completely during the glue-up.

How I measure this is with a rule, and in this case I regularly turn to the Woodpeckers Rules, which are particularly easy to read. By setting the reading under one of the teeth (and ensuring the desired dimension is on the correct side of the tooth), I set the fence position (or the stop on the mitre gauge, depending on the cut – rip or crosscut).

Setting up the Incra Miter Gauge

Setting the rule to measure to the side of the blade tooth

The photo doesn’t show an actual measurement, but in any case accuracy is always something both difficult to achieve, and worth pursuing. Even measuring to the edge of the tooth is not an assured result. All blades (and all tablesaws for that matter) have a degree of runout. The only real way of determining a measurement is with a test cut. You can take some steps to actually get accurate measurements, but it still involves a test cut, and measuring to the side of a specific tooth, and measuring to this tooth each time. So long as the blade does not slip on the arbor, and you do not change blades then this will then remain reasonably accurate.

In practice, this degree of accuracy is rarely needed – wood is reasonably tolerant in any case, and there are other ways of ensuring accuracy. One is gang-cutting. If I want two sides to be cut to exactly the same length, you can either use a fixed stop that each side butts up against (such as the Incra Shop Stop), or cut both sides at the same time.

Back to the bases, once they were cut to size, it was over to the router table to cut the rebate around the edge. To set it accurately so the base sits flush with the bottom of the sides, I use the same router bit as used to cut the trench. It needs to be dropped an accurate amount, and I have a reasonable way to achieve that, and it doesn’t involve a rule.

Setting accurate router bit height

A router bit is a power chisel, so I use it as such. Without turning the router on, I lightly scrape the endgrain just enough to reveal the exact height of the router bit. This leaves a mark to line the router bit up with when dropped to the lower position.

Scoring the exact chisel height

Tray base and sides, ready for glueup

Each tray got glued and clamped. One interesting aspect of dovetails, is you primary clamp the tail sides, which pulls the pin sides in. I still use a clamp to ensure the actual joint is not loaded up until the glue sets – you don’t want the wood fibres getting compressed unnecessarily. You may note that I used pine for the base – given I planned to cover the working surface with felt, I didn’t see the point wasting top quality timber in that situation. It doesn’t look bad from underneath, and will rarely get turned over in any case.

Once the trays were glued, and sanded, I tried the fit to the main box.

Testing for fit of the tray inside the box

You know you have the fit pretty right when the tray struggles to sink into the box – not because of friction between the sides but because of air pressure in the box! With a little more sanding, it slips down nicely, still with a little resistance, and a very satisfying “shhhh” as the air escapes. Love it!

I had another detour at this point. After the trial a week or so earlier of the dividers, it was time to make them for real.

Jarrah interlocking dividers

The dividers were cut with the thin-kerf CMT blade, and again the Incra Miter Express proved invaluable.

FWIW, Incra and Woodpeckers gear all comes from Professional Woodworker Supplies, and the CMT blade from Carbatec. Thought I’d mention it if you were looking at what I use.

Main tray with dry fit of Jarrah dividers

I was happy with the main tray with the dividers made, but when I fitted them into the smaller tray, it looked too hard to get the individual charms out, and too much like a iceblock tray.

The “ice bock tray”

Again, when not being prepared to accepting something not quite right, I decided there was no option but to remake the dividers for the upper tray. This time, I chose a wall height of 6mm. When working with power tools, that is small, and risks putting fingers too close to blades.

So it was time for handtools. Yeah, I know – shock, horror.

The sides were cut close to the height required, and then it was time for the handplanes.

There was no point trying to bring a handplane to the individual piece – too hard to see what is going on, let alone controlling it, so I reversed the situation, and used the plane in the same way as it’s power equivalent: inverted!

Inverted HNT Gordon Trying Plane

So I took my HNT Gordon Trying Plane, and mounted it in my Veritas twin-screw vice. The individual sides (the dividers) were then run over the top of the blade. The blade was set for a very light cut – there is no rush! If you haven’t set a traditional wood plane blade before, there are no adjustment screws, it is all done with a careful tap tap of the wooden mallet you can see in the top right of the photo.

The new, 6mm high dividers

So the new dividers in comparison with the original ones – chalk and cheese, and right.

I haven’t mentioned how I cut the slots, other than the Incra Miter Express. The short lengths were done very easily in two passes, and all gang-cut at once. With the Shop Stop set, the first slot was cut, and then the whole bunch rotated and the second cut. Took no time at all. I had made some trial cuts to ensure the blade height was just right.

The two long lengths obviously took a little longer, and the V groove track on the Incra fence was invaluable, allowing me to move the stop exactly 22mm between cuts (20mm for the gap, and 2mm for the kerf)

These V groove racks that ensure accurate positioning of the Shop Stop are invaluable.

So the whole jewellery box was coming together. Next, we will look at the lid, and then final assembly.

Hope you are enjoying the process!

The Pandora Box continues

For those following along, I opened Pandora’s Box about 2 weeks ago, and have been pushing to get it completed in time for my wife’s birthday.  Rather than jump to the end, we will pick up from where I left off, where the box had 4 dovetailed sides, a base, and I had made some practice excursions into the dividers for some yet to be built trays (at that time).

This next bit ended up being a bit of a detour – as I’ll explain at the end.

I needed the trays that will fit into the main box, and wanted to have them pretty thin – an obvious point of difference from the thickness of the main box walls (it is around 10mm thick, so aimed for about 3mm for these boxes).

The Miter Express from Incra, complete with the V120 Miter (and the Incra fence I have added to mine, with Shop Stop), really came into its own here.  Superb control, and repeatability.  In fact this project would have been significantly harder without this setup – it proved invaluable having such controllable results, and being able to work with fine components.

After resawing the boards (silky oak) again on the bandsaw with the new blade from Henry’s, they were again fed through the thicknesser to get the boards I wanted.  Ripped, and crosscut on the tablesaw gave the sides I wanted.  As much as there are shop-made jigs for ripping small boards, I really think there is an untapped commercial market here – something Incra based for sure.

I wanted two trays, and thinking about the result, decided that the second tray should be half-width only, and able to slide back and forth for access to the lower tray where the bracelets and necklace is stored.

I know where this idea came from – Chris Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest

I wanted to dovetail these boxes (and I don’t hand-cut dovetails- one day) but discovered that there is a lower limit for the Gifkins Dovetail jig for wall thickness.  I tried to fake it, and did work out a way to do it, but decided to go a different direction.

The Incra iBox.

Rather than using a dado blade, I measured each of my current saw blades to find the one that was closest to the minimum size that the iBox could handle.  It ended up being the CMT 80 tooth crosscut blade.  With each piece run through the iBox, I had the joints ready to go.  I felt rushed, so didn’t take as much care setting up as I needed to, and the joints were a bit looser than I wanted. Definitely an operator error.

One trick that Incra advised is to draw a line across the top of the board, directly at the back of the jig, so that if the board isn’t perfectly vertical, it is easily detected.

I particularly liked the individual fingers being proud of the surface, so deliberately cut the joints deeper.  The base was made by resawing some pieces of mahogany, and running a rebate around the edge.

This provides support for the walls, and glue area.  The protruding edge effectively becomes the lowest layer of the box, and is the same thickness as one of the fingers.

Glue and clamp up proceeded, and the trays were finished.  I looked, considered, debated then decided not to compromise – the trays were just not good enough for what I needed.

Next article, the project gets back on track.

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