Knife handle finishing with Woodoc

Woodoc Range

South African knife makers are looking for the best possible materials for their knives. It’s no different when choosing a high quality finish your knife handles, to ensure your knives look like a million dollars and hold up over time.

Many knife makers already use the Woodoc range of oils and finishes  but with so many unique processes circling the interweb, there was a need to get the information directly from the source, Woodoc themselves.

Why is a high quality finish needed?

As knife makers we send our knives around the world and experience a multitude of different climates. As wood is a living material, it responds to environmental changes by swelling (humid) or contracting (dry) which isn’t ideal given the detrimental impact to the knife’s fit and finish. What happens, gaps appear between surfaces, the edge of bolsters become sharp, scales warp or even crack. This is not desirable.

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Giving knives as a gift, should you or shouldn’t you?

Ribbon Wrapped Santoku Knife Gift with Coins

A knife is a timeless and useful gift. They can be engraved, intricately tooled and selected to fit the receiver exact tastes and needs. There are knives for outdoor enthusiasts, culinary aficionados and survivalists for any number of occasions, ranging from birthdays to weddings and anniversaries.

But there are some people who would object to this, saying that it’s bad luck to give a knife as a gift. Have you ever heard this, and are you superstitious about gifting knives?

Read moreGiving knives as a gift, should you or shouldn’t you?

Knife Carry Laws in South Africa

South African Knife laws explained

The carrying of knives in public is forbidden or restricted by law in many countries. Exceptions may be made for hunting knives, pocket knives, and knives used for work-related purposes (chef’s knives, multi-tools, etc.). Most knives are in fact tools and not illegal to carry or indeed own.

Depending on where you are in the world it’s important to be aware of relevant Knife legislation in your area and especially areas you may be traveling to.

In the USA, knife laws differ from state to state (federalism) with some allowing blades up to 3 inches to others like Texas, who allow short swords and guns to be openly carried in public. There are also distinctions on ownership laws and carry laws that apply as well.

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Recommended books for getting started making your own knives

Books for beginner knifemakers

The interest in making knives has in recent years sky rocketed with the popularity of Forged In Fire (History Channel). For those of us in South Africa, access to the internet (Youtube, forumn sites, Instagram) has been a strong facilitating factor for growth in the craft within the country.

For the more experienced knifemaker who starting making knifes way back in the day, the path to this knowledge and skills were hard to come by. Stories of traveling hours to the nearest knifemaker to spend a few days with them, where not uncommon and in many ways were the only way.

Even with access to knifemakers all around the world, physical hands on experience is still on of the best teachers. Luckily there are more knifemakers around these days, so travel half way across the country, may not be necessary. Joining a local knifemaking club is a great way of meeting other makers, networking and learning technical skills.

Read moreRecommended books for getting started making your own knives

Flat, hollow or convex grinds? And why

Types of knife grinds

The grind used on a knife blade lends itself towards different applications and each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Some are physically stronger, others are sharper, and some try to find a balance of both. A trade-off exists between a blade’s ability to take an edge and its ability to keep one. Some grinds are easier to maintain than others, better retaining their integrity as repeated sharpening wears away the blade. All knife grinds are good, if matched to a particular application. The convex grind is very strong, the hollow is great for cutting, with the flat grind represents a balance between strength and sharpness.

An appropriate grind depends upon a blade’s intended use and the knife steel composing it. Knife manufacturers may offer the same blade with different grinds and blade owners may choose to regrind their blades to obtain different properties.

Harder steels take sharper edges, but are more brittle and hence chip more easily, whereas softer steels are tougher. The latter are used for knives such as cleavers, which must be tough but do not require a sharp edge. In the range of blade materials’ hardnesses, the relationship between hardness and toughness is fairly complex and great hardness and great toughness are often possible simultaneously.

Flat grind / Sabre / Scandi

  • What it is: A flat grind is a single, symmetric V-bevel — the blade tapers from a particular height on the blade and ends at the cutting edge. A flat grind that begins at the blade’s spine is called a “full flat grind”; a “saber grind” begins its bevel lower on the blade; and a Scandinavian (or “Scandi”) grind begins lower still. Technically, all are flat grinds.
  • What it’s good for: Whittling, woodworking, food preparation, general use.
  • How to sharpen it: A flat grind can be sharpened on a stone or other flat hone, or by using a guided sharpening system.
  • What you may not know: The flat grind is the simplest and most basic profile. It’s easy to maintain, but it doesn’t produce the most durable edge. For that reason, a knife with a true flat grind is relatively rare. (Most blades billed as having a “flat grind” actually have a secondary bevel.)

Read moreFlat, hollow or convex grinds? And why

Hamons: What they are and how to make them

The hamon is there, lying within the reach of the knifemaker who is willing to take the time to thoroughly rub the steel to enhance the elusive line.

The hamon (pronounced “huh-mown”) is a Japanese invention, in popular culture most widely recognized on the traditional Japanese Katana. The development of the hamon, along with the Katana itself is attributed in legend to the swordsmith Amakuni Yasutsuna, around 700 AD.

The hamon is a visual demarcation, showing up when etched as a wavy line across the surface of the steel. When etched, the acid eats away more at the softer section, and so shows up darker, and the harder edge section, showing up lighter, sometimes with a dark band where the two meet. This should not be confused with a “temper line”.

The hamon is caused by differential hardening (Yaki ire); the cutting edge, is hardened steel (martensite), while the spine is kept soft and tough (pearlite, ferrite, bainite, cementite), and so less prone to breakage.

This difference in hardness is the objective of the process; the appearance is purely a side effect. However, the aesthetic qualities of the hamon are quite valuable, not only as proof of the differential-hardening treatment but also in its artistic value where the patterns can be quite complex.

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What is the best steel for knives

BalbachDamast South Africa

Hardened steel is the heart of any blade. The search for higher-performance steels has led to a number of metallurgical advancements in recent decades, with what some refer to as “super steels”.

Essentially steel is a combination of iron and carbon that is often enriched with other elements (alloys) to improve certain characteristics depending on the desired application. It is these additions that give different types of steel their special properties.

You’ll often hear people asking, what’s the best steel? Or is this steel good for knives? Well, the answer depends so much on what the knife is being used for, and how the steel is heat-treated. For a knife lover, it’s worth spending a little time understanding steel properties to appreciate what the “best steel” might be for his/her application.

Common Knife Steel Types

The most common blade steel types generally fall into the following categories:

Carbon Steel – These steels are most often forged and are generally made for rough use where toughness and durability are important. They take a sharp edge and are relatively easy to re-sharpen in the field.  The trade-off is that they are more prone to corrosion. The most popular carbon knife steels are various tools steels, 5160, 1070, 1085 and 52100.

Stainless Steel – Basically carbon steel with added chromium (in recent years chromium has been replaced with nitrogen) to resist corrosion and other harsh elements.  Note that to qualify as a true stainless steel there must be at least 13% chromium content as a rule of thumb. Some popular steels in this group include M390, Elmax, N690, AEBL, 19C27 and 440C.

Damascus Steel – Also known as pattern-welded steel and is instantly recognizable by the swirling and eye catching patterns caused by the folding two different steel repeatedly, until there are as many as 100 or more layers in the piece. Depending on the steels/metals used, damascus steel can be stainless or not. The pattern in damascus steel is only visually revealed once the steel is cleaned, prepared and etched in acid. The two types of steel react differently in the acid oxidation process. One oxidized steel is lighter and the other is darker.

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Are you ready to buy a Custom Knife?

A6 IKBS flipper by Andre Thorburn and Andre van Heerden : Photo by:knifetography

So you want to buy a custom knife? Well, the custom knife world can be a difficult one to navigate, with its own etiquette and hierarchy that isn’t overtly obvious when you first start out. A Custom knife means craftsmanship, high-quality materials, and artful designs and are unique as the makers who craft them. They … Read moreAre you ready to buy a Custom Knife?