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Saw Cut Bone Scales?


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I have been reading up and getting materials to get back into making slip joints and one material from older knives that caught my eye is saw cut bone, which as I understand comes from a tradition of inexpensive knives (Barlows in particular it seems) having handle scales (or "covers") with the as-sawn surface left on the exposed side for ease of manufacture and maybe grip. I think that this pattern has a lot of character, especially when dyed, so I have been looking around for some without any success.

 

Does anyone have an idea of where I might find some (or bone that has been sawn roughly on one surface) or how I could go about replicating the pattern myself? There is a certain regularity that I think necessitates some kind of powered saw, unfortunately my options in that department are a hand-held circular saw (seems a bit dicey to cut small stuff with, though I have rigged up a setup for slotting handles for partial tangs with it4) and a reciprocating saw, which would probably be messier than a hand saw. I just tried using the corner of a file on some flat bone scraps and it looks ok but isn't as deep or sharp as the marks from saws, and also lacks the radius of cuts from round blades on old knives.

 

If I do go about trying this myself, any suggestions on what type of bone to buy, any prep to do before/after cutting, and any advice about dying bone would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thank you for reading! 

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Try Moscow Hide and Fur, they're located in Idaho.  Scroll down to the bottom of their page and you should see a listing for bones and sculls and you will find listings for several different species, such as leg bones for elk and whitetail deer.  These are clean but you will have to cut them into scales yourself and you will want to do that outside if you are using power tools because the process absolutely reeks.

 

Doug

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This may sound weird, but I have had some luck shopping at a pet store chain for horn/antler material.  It perhaps might work for bone?

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I've wondered about that very thing more times than I can count, same goes from jigged bone, although that looks easier.

No idea how they do it, but I reckon I could get it with the experimentation. My problem comes during the assembly stage, you have that unfinished surface that needs to stay as is, and this doesn't gel with my methods.

I can't and don't work accurate enough, always need to clean up glue or fix a bit of damage or imperfections. 

I would love to go work at GEC for a few years and learn all their secrets, their various bone handles are my favourites. 

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Www.knifehandles.com, formerly Culpeper & co, have some great bone and stag and other stuff.  I'm not seeing saw cut, but you can always ask.

I suspect it's done on a bandsaw with a wider set than usual to get those deep parallel lines.  You could try it by hand with a bow saw or frame saw, but keeping it flat will be a pain.

I have the same issues as Gerhard...

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Thanks for the replies! 
 

Alan: would tooth size also be important? Some hacksaws have a large-ish set but small teeth while something like a bow saw (though I can’t say I would want to chew mine up one bone) also has much larger teeth. I can also see it being a pain to keep flat as you said. 
 

Don: nice find! I’ve bought from them before but I hadn’t noticed that. I may reach out to them as well, though those scales look pretty nice and I think I could make two scales from one of those for shorter or narrower knives. 
 

Gerhard: textured scales were a challenge for me for the same reasons, though over time I found ways to work with it. One big one was getting a tool for spinning pin heads. I settled on a balance that has a good bit more “clean up” after gluing than most. With folders, the glue actually goes on a few steps before final assembly which makes

this easier. On my EDC of almost 5 years you can see how the edges and ends are 100% “cleaned up” with less and less towards the middle, I think my process is outlined fairly well in the WIP.

 

4F5ADAFA-D7CF-4563-B008-DC4552703F40.jpeg

 

I would definitely encourage at least giving it a shot because there are a lot of options it opens up. 

 

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2 hours ago, Aiden CC said:

Alan: would tooth size also be important? Some hacksaws have a large-ish set but small teeth while something like a bow saw (though I can’t say I would want to chew mine up one bone) also has much larger teeth.

 

Tooth size and set will both influence the result.  I have an antique 5 TPI rip saw that would probably make similar marks in bone, but like you I don't want to chew it up on bone when it does such a great job on wood.

 

Just thinking aloud here, the blades they use in meat-cutting bandsaws are designed to cut green bone, and they leave a similar effect.  Those are usually 4 or 5 TPI.  I begin to suspect the old Barlow scales may have been cut green and then left to dry, get bleached, dyed, etc.  I wonder if you could find a butcher shop that would slab out a fresh cow femur for you?  It would be an odd request, and you'd have to do the post-slab processing yourself, but it might work.  If my dad was still a practicing butcher I'd ask him, but he hung up his knives years ago and doesn't have the bandsaw anymore. Plus it's a pretty dangerous cut, with a fair risk of the blade catching and throwing the bone.  Green bone also tends to splinter when cut longways, and getting one of those splinters in your skin is an excellent way to get severe blood poisoning.  My aunt nearly lost a finger that way.  

 

Wow, that was a lot of stream-of-consciousness! :lol:

 

I'd say just ask Culpeper, but they're awfully proud of their bones. Then again, they are stabilized and dyed really well.  When I use them I have to soak the bone in acetone for a day or two to cut the dye to where I want it, but once you do that it's totally colorfast and non-shrink.  They do excellent work, but you have to pay to get it.

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I didn't realize that meat cutting blades were so coarse! I guess it makes sense though since they are cutting fairly soft material. The idea crossed my mind, but I figured the teeth would be more hack-saw like because I wasn't thinking about the bone being softer when it's green. I tend to hit it off better with fishmongers than butchers (not sure if its them or me :P), but I may see what I can do! I don't know that much about butchery, but it seems like not every butcher (especially at a counter in a grocery store etc) would have a whole femur on hand, as it seems like you would have to be working from a pretty early stage to have an intact femur in a cut of meat (though I may be wrong about that).

 

In the mean time I may pick up some of the scales from Culpeper, I've bought bone from them before and have been quite happy with it. I've also been considering picking up an inexpensive table top bandsaw for a while, and if I end up getting one I may play around with (carefully) cutting some bone.

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27 minutes ago, Aiden CC said:

I didn't realize that meat cutting blades were so coarse! I guess it makes sense though since they are cutting fairly soft material. The idea crossed my mind, but I figured the teeth would be more hack-saw like because I wasn't thinking about the bone being softer when it's green. I tend to hit it off better with fishmongers than butchers (not sure if its them or me :P), but I may see what I can do! I don't know that much about butchery, but it seems like not every butcher (especially at a counter in a grocery store etc) would have a whole femur on hand, as it seems like you would have to be working from a pretty early stage to have an intact femur in a cut of meat (though I may be wrong about that).

 

In the mean time I may pick up some of the scales from Culpeper, I've bought bone from them before and have been quite happy with it. I've also been considering picking up an inexpensive table top bandsaw for a while, and if I end up getting one I may play around with (carefully) cutting some bone.

 

Maybe you could get the same type of texture with a course wood rasp.

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I have a 15 LPI checkering file and that could be used to create the lines you seek.I must do one with fade in fade out checkering and see how that looks.

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I have been doing some significant shop reorganization recently and for the first time in a year I actually have a real work bench, which other than the obvious improvements (my vise is no longer clamped to a portable welding table!) means that I have space for a cheap table top bandsaw which I’ve wanted to get for a long time. I went out and got one and I wish I had done this earlier! 

 

I mostly did this because I have a ton of full tang projects coming up and can save a lot of money by making my own scales, and a lot of time doing so with a powered saw. However, it’s also nice for this project, where it means I can experiment with some actual saw cutting. The saw came with a 6 TPI blade, but I ordered a 4 and a 3 to try out as well. Here is what the cut looks like on some elk bone I had lying around:

13A03D03-D2D9-4600-95AF-A3880A2909E8.jpeg

 

Pretty fine as the teeth don’t have much set and are coarse but not super coarse. It cruised through the bone, which I was initially worried about. 
 

B479295A-7BD9-46B3-89AB-CDBD8A599819.jpeg

Here it is after an overnight soak in my linseed-turpentine mix for finishing curly birch. A lot of the old knives have an “aged linseed” color, I’m not sure if this is how they got it, but I figured I would give it a shot. The color and luster being out the texture, though it’s more apparent in person. Is this a legit way to “stabilize” and color bone? I’ll keep an eye on it though I imagine with that depth of penetration it will take a long time for the oil to harden. I doubt, for example, that epoxy would bond to this for at least a few weeks. It also may darken significantly, though it started out much lighter than birch, which is the main thing I finish this way. I’ll keep an eye on this test piece. 
 

Filing also seems like an interesting option, I hadn’t though of a checkering file but that could work. I may try the edge of a sharp file first. 

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I like the look of that, but the lines need to be a little deeper to look "right," for want of a better word.  I tried out my 20LPI checkering file this afternoon to see how that worked, and the answer is no.  

 

20220117_125758.jpg

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Alan,  That might look a little closer if the surface was sanded to a relatively coarse grit with the scratch line running the length of the piece before you went at it with a the checkering file, then if you ran the file at a slight slant to mimic the forward feed through the bandsaw.

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Thanks for trying that out, Alan! The checkering file pattern looks nice in it's own right, and I think especially could with some color, but agree that it isn't quite right. One thing that came to mind for me is the filemarks on the tangs of Japanese swords, maybe its the angle, but when I have a chance I'll give that a shot using the corner of one of my soft-metalwork files which are the sharpest ones I have.

 

With stuff like this sometimes I feel torn between capturing the exact look of a design and it's purpose and character, which in this case, at least originally, was partially due to ease and expense of manufacture. This is also coming up with some of my recent projects inspired by classic kitchen knives (partial tangs are much easier when you are making knives at industrial scale!). Depending on how the new bandsaw blades do (though they may not be here for a while), that may be what that strikes the balance for me. I'll definitely try some more involved methods along the way as well. It turns out that a Japanese company (Sabre) made a line of budget Barlows that far enough back still had bone handles. I was able to find a beat up vintage one for less than $10 (including shipping!) that appears to have bone handles (they did switch to delrin, but being a budget brand, the "sawcut" molded scales are not very convincing) so I can take a look at the pattern in person.

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1 hour ago, Brian Dougherty said:

Alan,  That might look a little closer if the surface was sanded to a relatively coarse grit with the scratch line running the length of the piece before you went at it with a the checkering file, then if you ran the file at a slight slant to mimic the forward feed through the bandsaw.

 

I agree on the slant, but in the end 20lpi isn't fine enough.  The old sawcut scales are like 35-40 lpi.  After I took that shot I added an upcut at 20 degrees to make a nice diamond checker, then rubbed some black bench dust into it to make it pop.  And it looked checkered, who'd have thought! :lol:  The black dust is 20-year-old macassar ebony sawdust mixed with 20 years of benchtop crud.  And it came right off, oddly enough... I'm obviously cleaning too much.  ^_^

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Ha, I'm just getting to 20 years of bench dust.  In my case it is under about 20 years of tool accumulations on the bench...

 

I would have guessed the 20tpi was too fine, but I have the lines on sawmilled lumber in mind.  That is probably much coarser than what you guys are trying to replicate :)

 

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