Sunday, October 27, 2019

Carving Fruit

Carved pumpkins,

The trick or treaters gathered in homes around Akron and the burgs in preparation for what is a yearly rite of passage, Halloween.  Routes are mapped, evaluated, altered and re-planned.  Last minute adjustments to costumes and provisions for rain are being made, cancelled and re-adjusted even as I press my keyboard.  Moms have programmed a route in their GPS.  Their SUV will pull up to the driveway, the door slides open and kids will pour out like an incoming tide.

We too are ready.  Two years ago we ran out at 400 pieces and had to sneak back into the house, turn off the porch light and pretend we weren’t home.  We’re ready this year with an excessive but undisclosed amount of candy.  Dentists around the city have been sending us thank you notes.  Yeah, we have a lot of candy.

Two of my favorite knives:  Mickey Yurko and a Russian Fisherman 

It’s also a two pumpkin year for us.  We always make the mistake of buying the pumpkin and then deciding how to carve it.  Some designs work better than others, but we try to sandwich our last minute inspiration onto a pumpkin not suited for it almost every year.  What the heck, it’s about having fun.

Proto artwork
I selected two knives to work with.  I have an orange and black handled Mickey Yurco in D2 steel.  One of the cool things Mickey does is he gives all his knives a unique number.  I have the 3407th knife he has made.  I bought it because of the blade and the handle.  It always reminds me of Halloween.  If a movie monster jumps me Halloween night, it is in for a bit of a surprise.  This knife cuts.

Russian Fisherman style knife, not a flay knife

The second selection was a Russian fisherman knife with a stacked wafer birch bark handle.  The blade is made from one of the Russian knife steels.  The Russians are doing some amazing metallography and developing interesting steels.  It is very much in the puukko style which has been interesting me more and more.   The long, simple lines of the blade are elegant.  But it is birch bark handle that attracts me.

Anyone who has carved pumpkins knows the biggest problem is manipulating the blade.  Too much pressure and the blade shoots through the fleshy pumpkin wall like magic and over shoots the endpoint.  Too little and the knife gets the idea that it is Excalibur stuck in the stone and you’re not King Arthur.

The two best tools

Look, I have knives.  There’s never a shortage of sharp edges around here, but in truth, do you know what works the best?

The thin bladed Victorinox kitchen paring knife and a dull, course saw-like blade made for children.  The saw gives you the most control shaping and cutting and paring knife lets you sharpen and open up features to make them transparent.

I’ve tried a lot of knives for carving pumpkins.  One year I tried to be edgy with a chainsaw.  It took me months to get the saw cleaned up.  Trust me; you'll be happier with the above recommendation.

I look forward to Halloween all year.  It’s one of the few times I feel comfortable talking to children I don’t know. 

PS:  It was rainy, cold, windy and we still had at least 300 kids.


Saturday, October 19, 2019


Making a knife doesn’t mean you have to start with a lawn mower blade and a forge.  A variety of steels in terms of grade and types are available.  Also available are knife kits which in which the blade is  pre-shaped and sharpened.  These kits also come in a variety of completion.  Some have all the components and you assemble your knife. Other require a little more effort on your part.

Woodcraft offers a variety of learning projects so I signed up for the knife making.  I wanted to see how they handled epoxying and pinning handles.  As you’ve seen on Forged In Fire, pinning handles onto your knife is one of the major stumbling blocks for contestants.  They need to drill through steel, align holes, hammer pin in place while the five minute epoxy is hardening. 

knife making
Basic kit plus wood handles

Here’s my kit and I’m using a light olive wood for the handle.  The first step is to turn a 3/8 inch thick slab into two slabs.  The second is to tape your blade with removable painters tape.  Use lots of tape to protect your hands from the edge.  Safety first.

kit making
Turning one piece of wood into two

We traced the handle on the wood blanks making sure a square end of the wood are in  complete contact with the bolster, then on to the band saw.  Removing excess wood is a time saver, but leave enough just in case your handle needs to be finessed a little.  But really, a hand coping saw would have worked just as well.  You could just sand it all away too.

knife kits
Taped, trimmed, ready for epoxy

After you assure yourself each side of the knife’s handle has the correct cutout, the pins fit correctly and you’re happy with everything, dry fit it together again.  Can’t be too careful!

making a knife

Now get the clamps out and mix your epoxy.  So, Bunkie, five or thirty minute epoxy?  The class used five minute because it is fast and we gave it a half hour.  I like the thirty minute or longer.  I want the longer time for fixing an “Oops!” and I believe longer cure epoxy is stronger.  While I have no plan to destroy an elk’s skull or batter the hood of a 1948 Ford pick-up truck with my knife, stronger always seems better to me.

After the epoxy is cured, it is sanding time.  Woodcraft has a variety of terrific sanders, rotary oscillators with different radius, belt sanders, disk sanders but all you really need is any sander you have and patience.  

Sanding in process.
Your plan of attack is different from anyone else.  I like a rounded handle with a palm swell and flat top.  Start removing wood, but remember the Golden Rule of carpentry:  It’s easy to take wood off, very hard to put wood back.

Keep handling your knife.  How does it feel to you?  Too thick?  Too rough?  Edges sticking up?  Keep working.  And while you’re striving to make your knife, remember perfection is the enemy of accomplishment.  Experiment with it.  Do you want an asymmetric “D” shape handle or maybe oval facets?

adventure with knives

When you get it to the shape you want, move to a finer grit paper.  Work your way down to a finish you want.  How about polishing to a 4000 grit finish?  The wood starts to come alive the more sanding dust you create.

The wood finally explodes to life with a finish.  You can stain it, wax it, linseed oil it, urethane it.  That’s up to you.  I used a coating of flax seed oil.  Just a fancy name for linseed.  That a drying oil, so I left it outside in the sun to help cross link the finish.

kit knife
Just one variety of the steel and blade shapes available

It’s not perfect, but the next one I make will be better.  I know what to look for and what to watch for.  And I know how much fun it was.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Flying with Cygnus

The Cygnus from Artisan Cutlery is amazing.  The carbon fiber handle is backed with a steel insert on each side for stability and to anchor the liner lock.   The blade is stone washed D2 steel and is fashioned as a reverse tanto saber grind.  There is a tiny false edge to move the blade’s center of gravity farther out from the pivot point.  This is assisted by three triangular openings in the top of the blade. There is mechanical advantage gained by having the acting center of mass extended from the fulcrum or pivot point. 

Cygnus knife

Enough of the physics, just know that when propelled by the flipper the blade flies open on ceramic ball bearings.  When the knife is locked open the flipper becomes part of the guard to keep your fingers off the sharpened blade.  I’m always appreciative of that!

Artisan Cutlery describes the blade as a drop point, but in my experience, drop points are curved and gradual.  This area is a downward slash and gives the blade its strikingly good looks.  The diamond cut outs add to its appearance.  It looks as if the open knife is already in motion even when it is standing still.

Back side closed

D2 is an excellent choice for a blade steel.  Not quite stainless, it requires a drop of oil now and again, but D2 tool steel is a versatile air-hardening steel with good resistance to wear from sliding contact with other metals and abrasive materials. With a HRc of 58-60 the blade will give you good edge performance and can be sharpened with ordinary stones.  

Here are a few more specifications for you:  The blade is 3.5 inches long, 0.15 inches thick and the open length of the knife is 8.5 inches.  The clip is reversible for left and right carry and a lanyard pocket is built into the spine.  The total weight is 4.23 ounces.  The Cygnus is worn tip up in your pocket, my favorite carry position.
I’m impressed both by the ease of opening as well as the stylish good looks.  You’ll get quite a few compliments with this knife.  Rub your fingers over the surface, look and touch for rough spots and mis-alignments.  I didn’t find any.  Feel the lock up and hear the snick when the blade closes.  The flipper is constructed to prevent the sharpened edge from dulling against the closed back of the knife.  There is a lot to like about this knife.

After you buy one, spend a few moments preparing for all the compliments you’re going to get.  Tell ‘em they can get their own at:
Artisan Cygnus is $69.99,  Don’t be left out.