Cut Above Hunting Knife

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Hunting Knife

Customize a sharp handle for a super sharp blade.

By Tom Kreger


Every successful hunter deserves a respectable knife for skinning, cutting tent line, slicing jerky, and for the countless other tasks that they may encounter in the great outdoors. To have one with an eye-grabbing handle that you fashioned in the shop–now that’s special. Starting with this popular hunting knife kit, I’ll show you how to cut the wooden scales that make up the handle, bond them firmly to the blade’s tang using epoxy and pins, and then shape and finish the scales for a dazzling look.

In all, you’ll find the experience fast, easy on the wallet, and personally rewarding. Besides the kit, all you’ll need is a small piece of scrap (I used figured maple) and a few basic tools and supplies.

Hunting Knife
knife

Prep the materials

  1. For safe handling, wrap the blade portion with a few layers of paper towel and electrical tape (Photo A).
  2. Resaw and plane a 1 × 11⁄2 × 12" piece of hardwood into two 3⁄8"-thick strips. Crosscut the matching ends of the strips at 41⁄2" for the scale blanks.

Shape and apply the scales

1 Decide which side of the scale blanks you want facing to the outside. Mark one “left” and the other “right.” Make sure the inside faces of the blanks are dead flat. Sand if needed.

2 Lay the tang on the inside face of a scale blank, and clamp it in place with a small clamp or locking vise-grip pliers, centering the jaws between the holes on the tang. Next, trace the tang’s outline on the wood (Photo B).
(For spot-on alignment, drill the holes in one scale blank as described in Step 3 before outlining and drilling holes in the remaining scale blank.)

Hunting Knife

3 Using a drill press and a 532" bit, drill through the scale blank, guiding off the two outside holes in the tang (Photo C). (I like to steady the tang and scale blank on a drilling block to ensure the bit enters the wood at 90°.) Repeat the outlining/drilling sequence with the remaining scale blank.

4 Scrollsaw or bandsaw the scales to shape, cutting just outside the lines (Photo D). When cutting the scales, use a notched pushstick to keep fingers out of harm’s way.

5 Strike a line 12" beyond the pin hole that’s closest to the blade on both scales. Using this line as a guide, round over the front ends of both scale blanks. Because it’s difficult to sand this area without marring the blade, finish-sand this section through 400 grit sandpaper.

Hunting Knife

6 Clean or scuff-sand the handle portion of the tang to establish good bonding surfaces. Now, insert two pins in the holes drilled in one of the scales. Mix up a batch of epoxy, and coat the insideface of one scale, working some onto the pins. Place the handle portion of the tang onto the pins and scale. Coat the inside face of the remaining scale, and add it to the knife handle assembly (Photo E). Now clamp the aligned scales flat to the tang with a small pair of C-clamps (Photo F). Let the epoxy cure overnight.



Shape and finish the scales

1 Saw off any protruding pin material, and file the pins flush with the surrounding wood.

Hunting Knife

2 Clamp the blade end of the knife in a metalworking bench vise. (I used scrap pieces of leather to protect the blade from marring.) Using a random-orbit sander with an 80 grit disc, shape the knife handle (Photo G). Round over the edges evenly all around until it feels right in the hand, and then finish-sand through 220 grit.

3 Reposition the knife, and then use a rotary carving tool and 12"-diameter sanding drum to sand the concave nooks in the finger-grip area (Photo H). Keep the drum moving constantly to prevent burning and gouging the tang.

4 Finish-sand the scales through 400 grit and then rub down the wood with #0000 steel wool.

Hunting Knife

3 Reposition the knife, and then use a rotary carving tool and 12"-diameter sanding drum to sand the concave nooks in the finger-grip area (Photo H). Keep the drum moving constantly to prevent burning and gouging the tang.

4 Finish-sand the scales through 400 grit and then rub down the wood with #0000 steel wool.

Hunting Knife

5 Apply a stain and protective clear finish. (I used a Q-tip to apply Rustoleum Wood Stain Ultimate, Wheat, to make the grain pop [Photo I].) I then used #0000 steel wool to knock down any raised grain (being careful not to remove the stain) and sealed the handle with five coats of Tru-Oil Gun Stock Finish.

6 Remove the tape and paper towel from the blade. You’re done.  

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