I’m going on vacation in a few weeks, and I have been concerned about time away from the shop while I’m gone (I’m sure many of you can relate). I figured that this would be the perfect time to learn to chip carve, since I can easily bring everything I need with me and have plenty of woodworking activities with me in a small package.
But either my overall cheapness, or some galootish aspirations, made me think twice about spending the money for a chip carving knife. After all, I’ve made marking knives before – how different could it be? Here is the result of my labors:
I went to the local hardware store in search of suitable blade stock. I knew that I wanted something thin, so that there would be minimal compressing of fibers when slicing the wood, and it also had to be at least 1/2” wide and a couple inches long. Behold: HSS hacksaw blades for next to nothing.
First up: mark the shape of the blade and grind it out.
Now it’s off to the sandpaper/waterstones to get the blade shiny and shape the bevel (but not sharp yet, it will be easier to sharpen once the handle is attached).
Next, I prepared the stock for the handle. I wanted a blade around 7/8” thick, 1” wide, and 6” long. I had some scrap maple and walnut, so I resawed the 3/4 maple using a handsaw (a bandsaw would be easier, but I haven’t got one yet). Then I planed the maple strips down to about 1/4” each, and planed down the walnut until it was around 1/2” thick.
Now just laminate them together.
I took this laminated block and ripped it down the middle again (this time through the walnut). I planed these surfaces flat and smooth, since I’m going to glue them together again.
For the blade, I used a 1/2” chisel to make the shallow mortise. The focus here is on making the bottom (side?) of the mortise flat, so that there is lot of contact between the wood and the tang.
I found it easiest to make this slot overly deep, focusing on keeping the bottom flat and parallel to the surface. Then I used a block plane to plane away the rest of the wood until the slot was precisely the right depth for the tang. I planed down the opposite blank to match, so that upon reassembly the blade is in the center of the handle. This is why my original blanks were milled oversize.
I checked that the the blade was a good fit by clamping the blanks together, then applied the glue. To make sure that there was no extra glue in the blade slot, I slid the blade in and out, keeping the slot clear of squeeze-out. I didn’t glue the blade in at this point, figuring that it would be easier to shape the handle if there was no metal in the way.
Now I cut out the rough shape of the handle with a coping saw (again, a bandsaw would be a better choice, or a bowsaw – both are on my project list).
All that remained was to give the handle it’s final shape, using a combination of hand saws (for the severe tapers), rasps and files (for general rounding and shaping), and a block plane (for clean up, and in place of a spokeshave, which I also do not yet own). I didn’t take any pictures of this process, for some reason.
The blade is simply epoxied into the handle, sharpened, and the knife is done!
Now is the big test: how well does it work? In truth, pretty well. It is perfectly capable of making good cuts, provided the wood used is pretty good. So it failed miserably on dry pine, but works fine on basswood. The hacksaw blade can get very sharp, but does not hold an edge very well. Perhaps the blade angle is too fine, as it seems to become rounded over easily. A quick strop brings it back to sharpness, so overall this knife is useable, but not great.
I’m going to try again, this time with a thicker stock of tool steel, properly hardened. I’m very happy with the handle, just not the blade.
Oh, I also made this portable sharpening stick, consisting of a strop on one side for touching up the blade, and 400 grit and 600 grit paper on the other for more extensive sharpening. I can bring this with me on my vacation to keep a keen edge.
Thanks for looking!