Tools I make (sharpening stones, planes and irons) #2: Just a little wood, I have 2 loves wood and steel (wood most).

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Blog entry by Daren Nelson posted 03-16-2008 11:04 PM 9968 reads 3 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Making a honing stone Part 2 of Tools I make (sharpening stones, planes and irons) series no next part

I have not followed up on my plane making series as I promised, sorry. This is an addition, but not very much wood related either. I hope no one feels it is too off subject. Another jock (zebrano) posted a knife handle and sheath he made as a project, it prompted me to blog this knife.


I made this for my brother. He is left handed and there is actually a right-left handed sushi knife. He lives on a boat (50’ Hatteras motor yacht) in Tampa Bay.
I started with a piece of wood and tool steel.


I “roughed out” the blank while the iron was relatively soft, it was already tool steel…hardened tool steel is a whole new ball game. Then I heat treated (to 1800 degrees in my forge) quenched it in 22 degree water/salt/ice. I tempered it (reheated it to soften it just a bit) slowly and let it slow cool. Now I have a piece of steel that is hard enough to keep an edge, but not so hard it is brittle.


The steel is mounted in the rough handle with epoxy. Then I move to the wet stones. You cannot use power tools on steel at this point, it will mess up the hardness if you overheat it. I free hand ground this on these stones to get the proper geometry. Tough going, over 2 hours on the stones.


After I get the “shape” right it is time to polish/sharpen. I move to natural water stones. My man made stones (aluminum oxide, silicone oxide) only go to 600-800 grit…I need to go to 8,000. I am about 3000 (?) in this picture. It is already “razor sharp”, note the band aid, one split second loss of concentration and to the bone it went. And I am a long way from as sharp as he wants it.


I am far enough along to finish the handle (HEY woodworking). 2 tone dye on quilted rock maple. You can see my glove, I will not handle this knife from now on without them. It is already that sharp and my hand oils/sweat may rust the blade. It has to be coated with veggy oil from now on in the salt air of the Gulf where it will be going, it’s high carbon steel.


Now I have to strop it with 2 different strops and the final touch newspaper on float glass. When you are using paper to abrade hardened steel you are on the microscopic level. That is what it takes to make things as sharp as that video I posted of me swing a hair at a blade and it cutting clean. He said he wanted a hair splitting sushi knife. Total time 10 hours (?)

12 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3987 days

#1 posted 03-16-2008 11:40 PM

Looks deadly sharp! The handle looks great.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 3846 days

#2 posted 03-16-2008 11:41 PM

How did you do the two tone dye, that looks amazing! How is your forge fired, gas or???? With the price of gas I would like to try and build up a wood fired forge. Do you think this would work? I know you have plans for your kiln but do you have plans for a forge also? We have a friend down the hill that built a big concrete pizza oven and we have gotten it up to 800 degrees with a realitively small fire inside. I think with a smaller more confined fire area and some way to feed the air into it, a guy should be able to get it hot. We have alot of keawe(mesquite) here locally that seems to burn hot, but perhaps not hot enough.
Regardless, I love the knife and I have been wanting to make a small splitting knife, you know with a striking edge on the backside of the blade.

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 3904 days

#3 posted 03-17-2008 12:14 AM

Harold. The 2 tone dye is RIT clothes dye. Mix up black and put it on…then wash it off really quickly. Since the quilted wood is a mix of end grain and straight grain is soaks deeper/faster into the end grain. Then I mix up some yellow dye, put it on and leave it. I do alot of 2 tone stuff.
My forge is wood fired (I am not welding steel, just heat treating) I have a picture of the experimental stages (I cut a slot in the side later so I could lay flat bar in) It is just a metal drum with a blower. I cut the drum in 1/2 and flipped it inside itself and peeled it back, make sense ? So I would have 2 bottoms, one for the wood and the other to keep the blower air going the through the holes I made for under the fire. 30 minute deal, looks kinda cheesy but it works and I have $0 invested in it (I run a sawmill, I have tons of hardwood scrap to burn too) I can get the stuff I work with hot enough with just wood.

More pictures of me making a plane iron. Bar stock I put the edge on first
Silica mixture to add “hamon”

In the forge for heat treat. I scooped more coals over it after the picture.

Ice quench

Cut to length and sharpened

Back of plane iron

View Tony's profile


986 posts in 4029 days

#4 posted 03-17-2008 12:16 AM

A lot of hard work by the look of it. Can you give some more details on the dyes used for the handle – it is stunning

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 3904 days

#5 posted 03-17-2008 12:19 AM

Tony. I use RIT clothes dye, you can get it at the grocery store.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4020 days

#6 posted 03-17-2008 12:28 AM

Daren you are prize.

Old country secrets and executed with finess.

Can you give us more?

I am intrigued with metal alchemy.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3995 days

#7 posted 03-17-2008 02:49 AM

Daren – awesome work. I think that metal work – tool making – has every right to as space on this site, hard to cut wood (or even sushi) with wood alone! It interests me and I’m sure, many others too!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View grovemadman's profile


556 posts in 3770 days

#8 posted 03-17-2008 08:33 AM

Absolutely! Sharpening, shaping metal does have a place here because not everyone has the money or time to just run down to the local sawsmith and have him sharpen our tools. Be careful with those knives Darren, they look razor sharp.

-- --Chuck

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4064 days

#9 posted 03-17-2008 10:51 AM

Great blog Daren. I’ve often wondered about how the knives were made. Thanks, very interesting and beautiful knife.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3884 days

#10 posted 03-17-2008 06:08 PM

Nice knife. I’ve forged a couple of Bowie knives in the past. You might consider a larger tang if you are going to be using it for anything but a kitchen knife.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 3904 days

#11 posted 03-17-2008 07:19 PM

Yea John, that knife is going to be used very delicately, what I have there is plenty. I have made a few knives, anything that is going to see rough action gets a full tang. I buried these pictures in another persons project here. This is a full tang this shirasaya katana (I did not do the steel on this one, just all the wood) As I explained in that post Shirasaya translates to “white scabbard” (or plain ?). The blade can be stored in these bindings. The heavily finished wraps and enameled saya can cause rust in the blade. The shirasaya is a display feature/preservation technique…no tsuba, that is mounted when the blade is called to duty.

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4062 days

#12 posted 03-17-2008 08:19 PM

All three of these pieces are beautiful, fascinating and empowering. To think that you have pulled all this off without spending a fortune is very heartening for someone who might like to jump in without breaking the bank is very cool. Thanks, Daren.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

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