Woodworking On-the-Go with Modified Knives

Anytime I go somewhere and anticipate the possibility of having some free time, I like to have a knife with me to carve.

My First Modified Carving Knife

I started with a German #8 chip carving knife with a fixed blade. I modified the blade to extend the cutting edge right to the handle, and to reduce the overall blade length. Since the blade didn’t fold, I drove it into a wine cork and used that for safe carry. This is a very nice carving knife, and it has become my shop knife, used for everything from opening packages and quick scribing rapid material removal (like a small one-handed drawknife) and carving.

The synthetic cork shown here is the second or third guard that the knife has had, as they sometimes get lost. I find that this synthetic cork does hold together better than the first natural cork, since the blade width is about half of the cork diameter.

Two Folding Knives: One for Carving, One for General Work with a Chisel Tip

A Folding Knife for Carving

The German fixed-blade knife got replaced as a pocket carving knife when I acquired a folding Opinel knife with a broken tip – the perfect opportunity to make a folding carving knife, which is safer and more convenient to carry, and equally suitable for carving.

I like the Opinel knives because they are lightweight, comfortable to hold, have a simple lock that secures the blade in the open and closed positions, and feature a taper-ground high-carbon steel blade that takes and holds a fine edge. They are also very affordable.

To modify the knife for carving, I shortened the blade length, reshaped the back of the handle for comfort, fit a piece of wood inside the handle to keep the blade from closing too far, and put it to work.

 

A General-Purpose Folding Knife with a Chisel Tip

The knife that I carry with me most often is a cheap Gerber with a stainless steel blade. I like it because it has a handy spring clip, is easy to open with one hand, and features a stout blade with a solid frame lock. The blade is bevelled on both side, so this is more of a utility knife for me – I use it for opening packages, trimming my finger nails, and most recently, to assist in some impromptu joinery clean-up/furniture repair (dowels were too long and needed trimming).

As a reader of my blog, you likely know my affection for chisels. Knives are very useful, but chisels afford more control, and the force is applied inline with the blade. So, I decided to modify my stainless steel folder to include a chisel tip as an experiment. First, I wanted to see if it was possible, and how it would look. Second, I wanted to find out how useful this chisel grind really would be, and if it would restrict the capabilities of the knife in ways I typically use it..

I used my bench grinder and 120-grit wheel to first blunt the tip and grind it straight (I was surprised at how quickly the metal disappeared). Then, I angled the tool rest and ground a 25 degree bevel by eye (length of the bevel is about twice the height). I refined the bevel with my diamond plate, then polished it with a felt wheel charged with honing compound, which was mounted on the other end of my bench grinder.

The modified blade looks good and the ~5/8″ chisel tip seems useful, though I haven’t had a real-world application to test it. I did notice that the actual edge is not straight. This is a result of the shape of the blade – as supplied by the manufacturer, the un-ground back section of the blade is flat, the primary bevel is hollow-ground, and then there is a secondary bevel. The result is a chisel with a slightly hollow back and two trimmed corners – kind of like a lazy W shape. This chisel isn’t intended to replace a proper one, but hopefully will prove handy when one isn’t available. I will continue to carry this knife and test it at every opportunity.

Making a Long-Blade Marking Knife

A couple of years ago while working on a chair, I found myself needing to lay out the position of the seat slats on the centre rail, which was basically a cross-lap joint. Normally, I’d use my marking knife for this operation, but due to the thickness of the components, my marking knife wasn’t able to reach.

So I grabbed an old chisel and quickly ground a spear point on the end to make my marks, then proceeded to complete the project.

Recently, Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement hosted a hand tool build-off on their forum called Building Together: Hand Tools. I decided to make a long-bladed marking knife to complement my two short marking knives (shown on left of photo).

Marking Knives

I think that at some point, somebody used the chisel with a steel hammer without a handle in the socket, so the inside taper had a lip. Since I wanted a handle for the marking knife, I started by filing the taper smooth.

Filing Taper

I lapped the back on my 120-grit diamond stone, which was my coarsest.

Lapping Back

I applied blue layout fluid to the back of the knife and used my regular woodworking tools to lay out the shape of the knife point.

Layout

With my bench grinder’s tool rest at 90 degrees, I ground the profile of the knife. Then, I tilted the tool rest and ground the bevels.

Grinding Profile

I selected a piece of dogwood with interesting grain and mounted it on the lathe.

Blank Ready to Turn

I turned a taper on the end, and test-fit it frequently with the knife socket.  By rotating the handle in the socket, I was able to see where it was rubbing.  I removed those parts and kept checking the fit until the parts mated well.

I used an existing handle for shaping inspiration.

Shaping HandleI shaped the handle and sanded it up to 180-grit on the lathe. At this point, I used a hand saw to cut off the handle and hand-sanded the end.

Parting-Off Handle

I applied a coat of oil to bring out the grain.

Finished Handle

To complete the knife, I removed tarnish from the blade with a Rust Eraser, lapped the back of the blade to 600-grit, and ground the bevels flat (mostly for aesthetic reasons).  I finished sharpening the knife with a leather strop charged with honing compound.

Long Marking Knife

Links:

Custom Knife Scales

I like folding knives.  I am always on the lookout for folding knives from which I can easily strip the aluminum scales and replace them with pretty wooden ones.

I particularly like the type with a frame lock where one side of the metal frame is bent inwards and upon opening the blade, it engages against a flat spot on the blade, thus locking it in the open position.  To release the blade, simply push the lock to the side and close the blade.  If the knife also has a thumb stud, the knife is easily opened and closed with only one hand.  Knives with frame locks are not difficult to find, but it is a little tougher to find a small knife with a frame lock and a thumb stud.  This one is 6-1/2″ long when open.

I epoxied the scales in place and shaped them with rasps and sandpaper.  I decided to leave the scales bare and polished the wood using tripoli and white diamond abrasive compounds.

Tools I Use Daily

There are some of the non-powered tools which I use nearly every time I work in the shop. These are my necessities, tools that make my work so much easier and most are a joy to use. Some are expensive, some are not. All are worth every penny to me. Here’s the list:-COMBINATION SQUARE: I’m happy with my 18″ Empire Pro model – it goes for less than $20. I also own a few smaller 4″ and 6″ models (combo or double squares) and they are handy. They cost me from $25-50 each.

-STANLEY LEVERLOCK TAPE MEASURES: Some people find the locking mechanism awkward, but I love it. I found a 3-pack (30′, 25′, 12′) on sale for $10. I keep the 25′ and 30′ tapes scattered around my shop and the 12′ in my pocket. I also carry around a 6′ Tape-in-a-can which used to be made by Veritas. Good luck finding one nowadays though.

-STRAIGHT EDGE: Not a machinist’s precision-ground straight edge, just something to draw straight lines. A 1/2″ thick, straight piece of wood is a good size and costs me nothing. Aluminum or steel rules are nice too.

-MARKING GAUGE: I like the micro-adjustable wheel type. I don’t think graduations on the rod are that useful. Mine set me back about $35.

-0.5mm MECHANICAL PENCILS: They make a fine line and don’t need sharpening. Cheap too. I also use carpenter’s pencils a lot for less critical work. Their lines are less accurate, but I use the scales on my power tools to provide the accuracy.

-MARKING KNIFE: I have a bunch I use: one made from an old jigsaw blade (thank you Derek Cohen), an X-acto, a couple for carving, a spear-point. They all work, some better for certain tasks than others. I don’t like a knife with bevels on both faces for marking. None cost me more than $20.

-TUCKER VISE: Patternmaker’s vices are not cheap or easy to find, but they are very versatile and very useful. I use all the features – the quick-release, the rotation, the tilt, skewing of jaws – regularly. The quick-release foot pedal which I believe is exclusive to the Tucker is a real bonus and I am lost without it. It last retailed for about $700.

-SAFETY GOGGLES: Not glasses, goggles. They’re actually called Chemical Splash Goggles. I like them because they fit comfortably over my glasses, plus they protect from riccochets. $20 and worth every penny.

-EAR MUFFS: Easy to put on even over longer hair. The downside is that in the warmer months, the warmth they provide is unwanted. To keep cooler, I like Zem’s hearing protectors. Either type costs less than $25.