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Aiden CC

Puukko From the Woods

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My campus has a plot of woods that was originally going to be developed, but those plans fell through and the woods are still there. There are plenty of strange things out there, one of them being an overturned and half buried car, which by my best guess is 60-70 years old. Late last fall I went and got some spring steel to make knives out of, which is where this project started. A little later on, I ended up asking the director of facilities about gathering dead wood because a project team I was on needed some. He gave me the all clear, and even pointed me to the pile where cut up downed trees end up. I got some beautiful curly ash/ash burl,  and some maple or tulipwood burl I posted in here: 

Anyways, all of this got me thinking about making a knife where all of the components came from that plot of woods. I've wanted to make a Scandinavian style whittling knife for a while, so that's the style I settled on. I had wood and steel, but still needed an adhesive and a finish. Enter some alchemy:

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The can is full of fatwood from the branches of a downed fir tree that looks like it fell a few years ago. It has holes in the bottom and there is can underneath it buried in the ground to catch the liquid dripping out.

 

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Mixed the pitch from the fir with some of the charcoal left in the top can and a touch of bees wax from the bee-keeping club. The use of a double boiler is important since this stuff is pretty flammable. Once it was all melted together, I got it globbed up on the end of the mixing stick to make a pitch stick for gluing. I originally wanted this to be a finish, and only switched to it as a glue because it was more of a pitch than a tar. This meant that I needed some kind of finish. For that, I turned to birch bark.

 

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Same process as with the resin, but this time with birch bark from various dead trees/branches, in the can to render out the birch oil/tar. I packed the bark in pretty helter-skelter, and I think if I had packed it with all the bark vertically I would have gotten a better yield. The birch oil is interesting stuff. Smells like a camp-fire, and tastes like smoky wintergreen (don't worry, I looked it up before I tried some) which slightly numbs your tongue. I forged the blade over spring break, and today I brought everything together.

 

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To use the cutler's resin, I fit he tang into a block of wood for a tight fit, then finished polishing the blade. After that, I heated up the tang with a torch.

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Then I used the heat in the tang to melt a puddle of resin and coat the tang. 

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A few taps with a mallet and hopefully the blade and handle are together for good. It was somewhat more stressful than epoxy because I new I had a limited amount of time before the resin set up. However, that also meant that, unlike epoxy, the handle was ready to work on almost immediately.

 

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Decided to try roughing out the handle with a saw and knife. It took a bit longer than a rasp, but was pretty relaxing. I'll finish the sanding tomorrow.

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Also did a test of the birch oil on some scrap. It's hard to see, but it darkens the wood nicely, and gives it a smoky smell I hope mellows out with time. Definitely excited to finish this. Thanks for looking!

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Got some time to wrap up the handle this morning!

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Sanded out the knife marks with strips of emery cloth and then sanded up through 800 grit. Then burnished until no more whiskers were raised.

 

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The handle with the first coat of oil. This stuff is more like a grease than an oil, and is pretty thick. I only did three coats because I doubt its getting very deep. If I want to thin it following my rules, I would have to distill turpentine from some resin I brought back with me, so I think this is good enough. I really like the way this acts as both a stain and finish!

 

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Buffed with a cotton cloth, rubbed on beeswax, then buffed again. I was worried the birch oil wouldn't bring out figure that well and was definitely pleasantly surprised. In the long run, I may try a birch bark sheath, but my bark is currently in storage, and isn't great since I got it all from dead trees during the winter. Peak collection season is coming up, and I have some friends who are doing research at my school over the summer, so I may be able to ask nicely and get some in the mail. For now, I'll probably just make a blade-cover from some birch planks from a standing dead tree I found some nice spalting in.

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What? You didn't use rush collected from a local marsh, instead you used sandpaper?  Just kidding - I think it is amazing that you really put it all together with items from the woods.  Resin, birch tar, burl wood - that knife has a great history and it turned out beautifully!  It is a wonderful companion from the woods that you can take into the woods. I love everything about it! Thanks for sharing.

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13 hours ago, MikeDT said:

What? You didn't use rush collected from a local marsh, instead you used sandpaper? 

Shoot, I didn't think of that! There are some marshes I could've found some in :D. My school does a yearly charity auction, and I may end up making a paring knife with the same materials for it. After getting everything, it was a pretty quick to actually make the knife.

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arguably one of the most useful yet simple blade designs, ever. just love it!

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I second what Alan said! Too cool! Turned out really well. I love the handle. 

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I am lovin' that, Aiden. I saved all of the pine tar from my charcoal melt and will be trying the cutler's resin on some knives soon.

Thanks for the WIP.

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4 hours ago, Joshua States said:

I am lovin' that, Aiden. I saved all of the pine tar from my charcoal melt and will be trying the cutler's resin on some knives soon.

Thanks for the WIP.

Thanks! If your tar is liquid rather than hard, you could also mix it with turpentine and linseed oil, or even use it on its own, for a nice finish. That was my plan, but mine turned out too thick for that. 

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My pine tar stuff is hard, Crispy like hard. I've got a bunch in a plastic bucket waiting for the day. There are a few cutler's resin recipes here on the forum.

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14 hours ago, Joshua States said:

My pine tar stuff is hard, Crispy like hard. I've got a bunch in a plastic bucket waiting for the day. There are a few cutler's resin recipes here on the forum.

I've wondered why my tar came out hard instead of liquid, and from what I can tell its that all of the moisture and turpentine was driven off. As far as I know, historic pine tar was essentially a thick liquid, and that when we made it there was an excess of heat/oxygen which burned or boiled off the liquids. Some of the old setups for making liquid tar had a drain pipe to take the runoff away from the heat source to avoid drying it out.

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Actually, all the old ways of making tar I know of involve a spout, trench, pipe, or other means of running the liquid far from the heat as quickly as possible.  That's why cutlers resin has brick dust in it, to help it harden by absorbing the volatiles and also acting is a non-compressible filler.  Common tar stays a thick liquid if made well and stored in a closed container.

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