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Tips on Making a Full Tang Wood Handle

Dan Scott

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Hi. I am working on a knife right now to practice making wood handles. I had a lot of mystery steel around and I figured I should make a knife and use it solely for the purpose of practicing making a wood handle while I wait for the 1095 I ordered a few days ago to ship. I have always done wrap handles, so this wood handle was my very first. It's a full tang, basically wood sandwhiching the tang (I don't know if there is a name for that). Anyway, I figured it would help others new to making a wood handle if I posted what I learned from this project.


First, I made the mistake of not properly flattening the tang before I put the wood on. I figured that if I left the tang as I had forged it (kinda/sorta flat-ish) it would be no big deal. Wow, was I wrong. When I finished epoxying the handle on, the epoxy ended up filling up all the small non-flat parts of the tang. Now, this wasn't a big deal in the center of the tang, but, as you can see from this picture:




There were parts of the tang that didn't come to a 90 degree angle at the edge, which made it so that the epoxy filled those spots. This made the handle look all that much worse.



Second, I learned a TON about symmetry and when most certainly not to use a belt sander. I used my belt sander to shape the wood handle, which I though would be fast and simple. I really should have hand-sanded the entire thing to get it to shape. That would have allowed me much more control over how much material I removed.

Here is a pic that illustrates the bad symmetry:



The most noticeable lack of symmetry is right at the butt of the handle.



Third, I had a lot of trouble determining what to do with the wood where it met the blade. I decided to try to sand it down until it just went flush with the blade. Well, as it turns out, this became a sort of annoying symmetry problem again. I think in the future I would either use a bolster (something else I have yet to experiment with :D) or just hand sand that part with a higher grit sand-paper, which would take less material off and allow me more control.



This pic illustrated what I mean by "where wood meets blade":




As you can see, the epoxy leaked out here during clamping. I still have to deal with that.



Ok, so, that's a rough outline of what I learned I did wrong, but, I did do a few things right. And, I want to share at least one of those tings because I sort of got lucky doing it because I didn't have a clue what I was doing really.



This thing I did right was the pins. These got me all confused at first, because I thought I was going to have to peen them. I tried peening (without the proper hammer or any proper equipment really) and failed epicly. So, I figured I'd drill the holes and just epoxy the crap out of the pins then place them and hope they stuck. Well, this worked magnificently. I was able to cut off the excess pin easily, and the pins look exactly like I wanted (apart from not being sanded too well yet)


Anyway, I am going to follow my Dad's advice on this one and rip the handle apart and do it again a few times until I get this down.


I hope this helps someone out there! Also, if anyone more experienced wants to offer more advice, that would be great!


Here is another pic of the knife:


Oh, and because I started this is a practice knife, I didn't go through the process of really heat treating, polishing, or tempering it. I figured it wouldn't make much of a difference for making the handle and this is mystery steel anyway, so I didn't want to have it crack or anything.


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It's a good first effort, and an excellent learning experience. The profile is well thought out, the handle looks comfortable and the blade is a practical shape.


Some pointers...

This type of construction is called a full-tang, as opposed to a through-tang or hidden tang. The most important thing with getting a good fit on this style handle is having the mating surfaces perfectly flat, as you have discovered. A disc sander/grinder, or a good platen on a belt grinder will get you close, but in the end I find myself sanding on a flat surface to get to the level of flatness I am willing to accept... This goes for both the tang, and the scales. Because this is time consuming, especially flattening the steel tang, and only the section along the edge, where it will be exposed needs to be flat, most knifemakers will relieve some of the center area of the tang, hollow grinding it or just forging in a depression along the center of the tang. This means much less material has to be removed by sanding, greatly speeding the process of flattening the tang. If the relieved area is left with a rough surface (no more that 50grit), it will strengthen the epoxy bond... it will also lighten the weight of the tang... I forge it in, then remove any scale with a coarse stone on a bench grinder, leaving about 1/8 of an inch for the flat around the edge.... All surfaces to be glued should be left with a rough, but flat finish.


The handle/blade transition... I drill my holes, then insert temporary pins to hold the slabs together, then completely shape and finish the 'front' of the scales together as a unit, as this area will be impossible to shape and finish without marring the blade once it is glued. Once things are glued up, but before the epoxy has entirely set (while it is gummy, but not sticky), I gently scrape and remove excess epoxy along the front of the scales with a chisel-tipped wooden tool, burnishing the joint as I go...


Shaping the scales... A rasp makes quick work of shaping the scales once they are in place, not as quick as the grinder, but not so fast that problems can't be corrected as you go...


That looks to me like JB weld... a less visible seam can be had with a clear epoxy.


I would keep it as is if you have good steel on the way. A good steel(s) to begin with for simple heat-treating is the 1075 to 1085 range, 1095 has a bit more carbon which can cause problems if not accounted for, and needs a fast, drastic quench to reach its full potential. 1080 is more forgiving...

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."

view some of my work

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IF I may add, when it comes to sanding the inside portion of my handles (where they contact the tang), I have a piece of plate glass that I spray adhesive a piece of sand paper to, so that my flats remain so. Hope that helps. I've heard a machinists granite block is good for that also, though expensive.

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Hey, thanks for all the advice! That part about putting a depression in the tang is a great idea. I plan on making a second practice handle in the next few days, so I will definitely try that :)



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I want to congratulate you on your ability to observe what you did wrong and to recognize it.... and an idea of how to do it better next time... That is being self taught... and in the end we are all self taught even when you get a tip from someone YOU still have to learn how to do it in your own fashion... I think you will be a quick study .... One thing I would suggest is to get rid of that home depot railing you have for a background in your photo.... go to a blacksmith site and view some real forged railing... you will see what I mean..... I personally think a railing is too much distraction for showing off you knife ....but that is just my opinion.... so if you like the railing then find or forge a real one to use....

and one other suggestion.... Keep this knife.... you will treasure it the older you get and it will be a good mark as to how far you have come and to keep you humble when you get further down the road....


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Dan, putting scales on as you are is more Grinder "Knifemaker" Style work than forged "Bladesmith" style work. While you can certainly hammer forge full tangs its not the norm, if your like most you will be dealing with stub tangs and stick tangs with guards anyway but this is still a good learning experience for you.


One hint for you, if you can get your scales back off without shredding them and needing a grinder to clean up the steel your epoxy is not strong enough. The stuff I use cost 40 bucks and its used to stitch and glue wooden sailboats, you need a sledge hammer to damage the stuff once it cures.


Sorry I dont have a picture but you can look around a little and find some of hollowed out full tangs, the way the grinders pre fit for scales. Maybe somebody can link some pictures for, Im outa time for the day.

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@Bryan: I see what you mean. I definitely plan to move towards hidden tangs and guards and that sort of thing soon. Also, as for getting them off, I actually had to take a chisel and beat the crap out of the scales then I used my belt sander to finish the job, it was more work than it was worth...but, I didn't feel like quitting after I had already got one scale off, so I got both of them off that way. Anyway, I found a few pictures of the hollowed out tangs. That makes a lot of sense to me, thanks.


@Richard: Thanks!I am definitely going to keep this knife, well, at least the steel part of it. Like I mentioned above, I've already started making a new handle and I'm learning more and more from that. Also, the background railing is actually a plastic doormat, it's not railing. It was raining when I took that pic and I didn't want to get my camera all wet. I actually don't want to use railing like that for pictures, it was just a quick picture taken out of necessity :)




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