Drawknife Revitalization Project #1: introducing the blade and the plan

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Blog entry by RobynHoodridge posted 415 days ago 1476 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I desperately want a drawknife.
They’re difficult to find here in South Africa.
I found and bought one that’s in pretty shocking condition. For the equivalent of $18.
So my only hope to own a functional drawknife is to repair / recondition / restore the one I have.
Despite how crazy it is I’m not just going to do the minimum to get a working tool out of it, i’m going to re-imagine the whole thing. Nothing major like going from straight to curved blade shape. But since i will have to re-create every surface etc. etc., i might as well do it to a theme.
This blog series will be about my drawknife project. And to start, here’s what I have to work with and what I plan to do with it.

A 12 inch, straight, flat blade. Single piece of steel, continuous type of steel (not laminated). Shaped by forging. One shoulder is slightly thicker and longer than the other.

Handles in-line with the plane of the blade.

The handles are in tact, and not loose. But there’s so much rust, including within the handles, that they’ll have to come off. And since they’re no doubt rusted on, they’ll probably have to be broken.

The peened over end of a full length tang running through the beech (i think) handle.

Brass looks great. But maybe this is why you really want steel bezels on handles.

The flat top (in this photo) edge isn’t really flat or straight. This knife really was hand shaped (forged) and then neatened only where it needed to be.


On a deep blade like this a hollow might be helpful. But this very basic beast is plain flat.

The bevel is uneven accross its length. But it was straight (not hollow-ground) in its working life. And it’s at about 22 to 25 degrees. Not that that matters to me, since i’ll have to totally re-create it higher up the blade.

Nothing about the knife is perfectly straight or flat. But at least the line accross the cutting edge and the main flat face are flat enough to be usable. Here the blade’s rear is resting on the table and the cutting edge is propped up on the ruler’s straight edge to reference whether the cutting edge is flat.

Previous users have obviously sharpened the knife … incorrectly. But there’s a lot of blade to cut back into, so bringing it to a straight cutting edge will be possible though a lot of work. About 4 mm will need to be lost to the uneven sharpening. But that’s not actually so bad considering how bad it looks.

The non-cutting face of the blade is pitted a lot deeper than the flat (non-beveled side) face.

Even the flat face, which is meant to be smooth, is very badly rusted and will have to be entirely re-surfaced.

Before i even start removing material (read “rust”), the maker’s markings are mostly lost.
. What it is and what it’s going to be
All of the characteristics of a drawknife matter to how is works. Since i have to re-do everything on this knife, i have the chance to change things if i choose. But it turns out that the major characteristics which i could change are all the way i want them.
,,, I personally like a large flat reference surface when using a drawknife. If the tool were intended to be used primarily with the ~ 12 mm bevel as the reference surface, it would surely have equal bevels on either side and the cutting edge in the centre of the thickness of the blade. So I might actually prefer handles that were angled slightly behind the flat face of the blade for use like this. (Ones wrists aren’t kinked when using the knife and strained.) However, handles angled this way would make using the knife the other way up (called bevel down) almost impossible. And while I would do most work with the knife ‘bevel up’ there’s definitely cause to sometimes used it ‘bevel down’. So really there’s no better position for the handles if you want a ‘fully functional’ or generally useful drawknife. And while I could get my blacksmith gloves out and ‘bend’ the tangs while the handles are off, i’m not going to.
,,, If i’m not mistaken, a straight blade is going to be easier to use than a curved one. Little difference generally, but things are just simpler when you know that every part of the blade is the same. And that’s helpful when it comes to creating similarly flat, straight, continuous surfaces on wood. Predictability basically. It’s a valuable thing. Even when the tool isn’t a ‘finishing’ tool. So i prefer a straight edge. Probably easier to sharpen too.
,,, The whole thing is bigger (wider) than I would ideally choose. Twelve inches is a lot to sharpen and maintain. It’s not a width of cut you’re ever going to come close to making. And I will probably never need the heft behind the tool. I’d rather gently shave off many layers with a very sharp blade than jerk and force the tool to remove bark etc. with more of a blunt-force approach. But 12 inches is what i’ve got. And once again, owning only one it’s better that it’s more widely useful.
A massive, un-elegant, simple blade also gives a certain striking, scary, bold impression. Which is exactly what i’m going to try to bring out in the knife as I modify and accentuate small things during the restoration to imbue the blade with a personality.
. More than a sharp edge
The drawknife is a tool that i’ve coveted for a while now. So this is as much an emotionally driven endeavour as it is about ending up with a functional tool.
Because of this, i’m going to go further with the project that I would to simply restore a tool. I’m going to consider the aesthetic. And not only to the degree of, for instance, choosing a finish for the handles, or being particularly neat when riveting over the ends of the tangs. Rather, I have a complete look and feel in my mind which I want to achieve. Perhaps more like a film prop – where the main character’s weapon has a character or personality all of its own. The knife will have a full identity.
,,, I’m living dangerously by walking away from the conventional approach to drawknives. So this could fail in a number of ways. Especially risky since it’s taken me so long to get hold of one, and now that I actually have it this might be my only chance at owning one.
I don’t work by making a series of small decisions which cumulatively (and seemingly mystically) result in a finished product. I have to have a fully formed plan in my head and then stick to the plan. So I think there’s little worry about doing something to the knife in the name of creating a personality which might ruin it (as a tool). But that depends on how good my plan is.
,,, The imagined character of the knife is heavily informed by its fundamental qualities. And whatever I do to the knife should therefore fit with it, or be a natural extension of what it already is, and therefore be less likely to take me far from functional. For instance, I want to accentuate the straightness, flatness, and “simplicity” of the particular type of drawknife that it is. Taking a supposedly ‘straight’ back, or spine, and making it clinically straight. Keeping the strong simple lines of a big, flat, blade by not introducing any hollows etc..
,,, Having all of the non-cutting edges of the metal be ‘sharp’ 90 degree meetings of the flat faces might seem un-ergonomic, or unnecessarily brutal, biting, or unfinished at first thought. But actually this perfectly suits the truth of what the tool is. Twelve inches of razor sharpness backed by the heft of the massive blade is something that IS dangerous. It shouldn’t look inviting or comfortable. It isn’t something you should be at ease touching. Or indeed be touching at all – since the way tha a drawknife works is entirely about your interaction at the handles. You don’t ever hit its spine with a hammer. You don’t ever work with it while holding the blade or anywhere other than the handles. It’s really pure and honest about the crystal clear separation between the parts that are ‘for the human handler’ and those that are entirely for the business of making fearsome cuts. I want to bring out this functional separation in the aesthetic.
Keeping with simplicity in the form, I want uniformity in the texture. This may not mean a polish on every surface like a sword. But if not a polish then a machined finish, uniform in the direction, depth, etc, of the machine markings. But where a polish is necessary, the entire surface will be polished pristinely. Which in my knife means removing all metal on the face in question until the depth of the deepest pitting.
,,, Achieving uniform surfaces is a marriage of desire and purpose. Ploughing passed even the deepest of the deep rust pitting on my knife will mean a resultant zero rust remaining. And since rust is a redox reaction ( and chemical reduction at one spot strongly promotes oxidation at another, having clean metal will help prevent future rust. Which in turn will be especially important to the thinned knife (which couldn’t afford more losses of thickness to clean off subsequent rust), and to the crisp aesthetic. It’ll also make the current brute of a knife a little lighter and more manageable, without detracting from visual brutality.
Ideally the unused face of the blade will receive machining that leaves it perfectly flat in the macro sense, rust free, but also with lines that orient diagonally to the straight cutting edge. This would be an ode to the perfect use of the tool with a slicing motion moving along and using the whole blade during a cut. So both an aesthetic choice and a ‘built-in’ instruction in the most distilled and simple way. No text, no infographics, just suggestive finishing. All I can think to achieve this is the abrasion lines of a belt sander. But i’ll look into it.
,,, Since this face of the blade sees little or no contact with the stock when the knife is in use, i’m considering whether it could be coated. A clear coating would keep visual access to the machined texture i’m planning, but simultaneously allow me to make the face perfectly (reflectively) smoothe. To match the other faces in this aspect. I’d do this using cyanoacrylate ‘painted’ on and polished back, to essentially ‘plastic coat’ the face.
I seriously think I want the handles to be clear (see-through). This would draw interest by openly displaying the ‘secret’ of how the tang in a drawknife’s handles work. And in much the same way that the knife’s personality is generally saying “I may be a traditional tool, but I can still have an honest and blatant expression of every (still desirable) thing that I am” – the handles will be a simple and open example of what a drawknife is.
,,, I like the shape, feel, etc. of the existing handles. They’re perfect in my hands, and perfect on the knife. So the easiest means of creating clear versions would be to make a mould directly off of the current handles, and then cast clear resin ones. Actual (soda-lime) glass is another possibility. It’s very tempting to use glass because it would extend the steel-y coldness of the knife to a cold-to-the-touch effect when one does get to grips with the tool.
,,, But whatever the handles’ material, there’s one deep issue with a visually clear handle – it will have to be very smooth, and thus slippery (especially in sweaty palms). So as much as I like the idea it may get totally scrapped. But I have to decide soon, since I would need to make moulds of the handles before I removed them, which will be a first step toward cleaning up the knife.
Still daydreaming about -
tsuba at the tops of the handles
velcro cover for the finished knife
powder coating
chrome plating

-- Never is longer than forever.

2 comments so far

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1274 posts in 1500 days

#1 posted 415 days ago

Be careful about plating or powder coating. The back side of the blade will be harder to flatten and it will wear hard in use. The wear would most likely go right through anything you would put on it including plating. If you are really into shiny, just grind it flat with a belt sander and then work through progressively finer grits until you are there. If you are working green wood, it will be hard to maintain that kind of finish unless you are really diligent about cleaning and oiling it when you are done.

Remember that you will have to make the handles a bit shorter as you will have to grind off the peened tangs to remove them and put new ones on.

If you want clear handles, you will probably have to cast them in place or bond them with epoxy that will not show the scrapes and cuts trying to fit them on. Either that or heat the tangs up and press them in and melt the plastic as they go in. They will have to be well sealed or you will just have a clear view to the rust forming inside.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View RobynHoodridge's profile


126 posts in 832 days

#2 posted 415 days ago

Thanks for the great advice David.
I was imagining casting clear handles in two stages. One to get the general shape with an oversized hole through it, and a second time to use the casting resin as a filler in that hole and around the tang. The resin i’ve used before and am thinking of using here can do this because it bonds to itself well and shrinks very little as it sets.
I especially want to do it this way because the ‘friction fit’ would be so good that i seriously doubt these handles would need end caps, etc, and i wouldn’t have to make them shorter as you pointed out would be the case for new fitted handles. Could maybe even make them longer to cover the tip of the tang a bit. And if i choose to have the tangs smooth and shiny inside, a few grooves ground into them will provide the necessary extra traction when the handle is cast around them.
So tempting to cast a few wood shavings into the clear handles. :)

-- Never is longer than forever.

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