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  1. Daniel LaDue

    Daniel LaDue

    6
    Sunday
    I watched a couple YouTube vids with people that just use random branches around their property to make knife handles for hidden tang. At 1st it seemed pretty stupid to do it that way, but then I thought about, and it seemed like a fun project. I cut and dried some pieces of Walnut from a tree in the back yard. Now I am at the point of the project where I am almost ready to drill and attach the handle.

    So my question is this. Is this like the dumbest idea ever? I've only seen 2 people on the entire internet use branches as hidden tang knife handles. Most wood workers say it's wrong, because the branch has the pith in the middle, and cracks, and not professional. I already shaped one out, and I kinda like the way it looks. I like the fact that it's a little imperfect, because that means it's hand made. I could give a shit what wood snobs think, but I do like cool knives. Does the average knife enthusiast think this design is goofy nonsense just because it still has little cracks from the pith?
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/50967549276/in/dateposted-public/[​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
    seanj and Natlek like this.
  2. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    The reason you don't see it often is that branches are primarily sapwood. They will dry over time and split.
     
    Hengelo_77 likes this.
  3. C.Kelly Custom Knives

    C.Kelly Custom Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    16
    May 16, 2018
    For me, the branch is out of the question for many reasons. It will eventually crack and split as Stacy said. It will also absorb oils and water, and take on dings and scratches with only light use. Most wood species used for knife handles are stabilized for those reasons and only a very few species naturally exhibit the properties that make a really good knife/tool handle...and it's never the branches of those species that contain the best wood.

    To address the question about what an average knife enthusiast might think..I'm reluctant to speculate, but IMO someone making a knife handle like this does not appeal to the average knife enthusiast as much as it might appeal to the person doing it for themself.o_OIf that makes sense.

    All said, if this were someone who wants to try making a knife handle for the first time (I don't know if this is Daniel's case or not) I wouldn't want to discourage them from making it. Just know that a branch will not last long, relatively speaking. But heck, it can be re-done with a better handle material any time. I really like the idea of using something directly from your yard as it adds to the personalized nature of the already personal project.

    If do you use the raw branch first make sure it's dried properly, then once it's shaped I would suggest applying 1 light coat of boiled linseed oil each day for 5 days in a row, steel wool and wipe down just prior to each re-coat if grain lifts. Then wax it with some protective finish wax, I like Howard Citrus-Shield (smells great :)). These steps will help to protect it from the humidity, hand oils and water exposure to a fair degree but won't keep the wood from splitting if it is going to.

    Have fun and wear eye protection;)

    CK
     
  4. Daniel LaDue

    Daniel LaDue

    6
    Sunday
    No, it's not my 1st handle. I don't live in a home that allows me space for a forge, but I have my country friends that make all sorts of steel blanks. I've done some scales, kits, and also shaped full handles out of purchased blocks. By no means a craftsmen, but more an artist that dabbles in all sorts of hobbies, and knives are just one I like (my girlfriend is a certified welder, and I'm an artist. Make whatever jokes about that you want. Lol). It just hit my curiosity. I know it's not supposed to work, but I cut out a few pieces and let them dry for the better part of a year. The cracks just aren't coming (A couple superficial that got sanded away). The wood feels dry, and I started shaping it. I knew it wasn't smart, but I had to ask, because nothing about it has gone awry. The wood feels dry, and strong. I figured it might just hold up since the pith is being drilled out, and a fitted end cap/ pommel would mechanically hold things in place... It's no biggy though. Wood is still around, and my files and sandpaper aren't running away.

    Honestly, I was interested by the shapes I saw in the branches (if that makes sense). These different organic shapes and curves. I suppose the same reason people like antler and horn. Every time you see a homemade handle, they tend to be very straight and boring.

    Edit. I forgot this part. I actually did plan for the finishing method you said. I was thinking linseed oil, and then Polyurethane. I was hoping maybe the poly would somehow strengthen it, and prevent cracks, but like I already said, I am not a wood worker.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021 at 8:46 PM
  5. 3fifty7

    3fifty7 Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 24, 2016
    If you do it it may last a few years then you can redo it better.
     
    Daniel LaDue likes this.
  6. Justin W

    Justin W

    31
    Jul 30, 2019
    I think it could work with the right wood and the right processing. For example this spring I trimmed some branches from the Bradford Pear tree in my front yard. Many were small, less than 1 inch diameter. I trimmed them clean of offshoots and outer bark, but not all sapwood. Those "sticks" dried out in a few months and got surprisingly hard, with limited checking at the ends. I turned them into magic wands for nieces and nephews, and was surprised how well they came out.

    I have one of the larger branches, maybe 1.5in dia, saved and I may try it as a knife handle some day.

    Do some searching for how to make walking sticks.
    [​IMG]
     
  7. catspa

    catspa

    210
    Oct 25, 2009
    I’ve made some nice chisel handles from fruitwood branches, but checking has wrecked a few. Sometimes I have tablesawed a kerf down the length of a chunk of branch, half the diameter in depth. That concentrates all the radial shrinkage in the kerf, kinda like one big crack. When it dries to under 10% moisture content I glue in a wedge of the same wood.

    The problem with branch segments is that the drying surface and the still-wet center are so close. The tension has nowhere to relieve, and pulls the fibers apart. Solve that, and you’re well on your way to success.

    Parker
     
  8. C.Kelly Custom Knives

    C.Kelly Custom Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    16
    May 16, 2018
    I certainly hope I didn't offend you suggesting the possibility of it being a first handle.

    I can definitely get behind your artistic view of the handle and I understand what you find appealing about the natural shape of a branch. I bet it will look great.

    Despite the fact that it hasn't cracked yet, it's likely to happen at some point. Drilling out the middle and filling it with epoxy when you attach it to the tang will help support it and seal the inside. There's nothing wrong with a poly sealant if that's what you prefer, but it won't stop it from cracking if it's going to. I only suggested the wax because it's quick and easy and you can simply re-apply as needed. Thing is, if you plan to use this knife I say who cares if it cracks one day..you can fix it or replace it. It might be only weeks, or months but it could possibly be years before that happens. Go with your artistic inspiration!

    I hope your project goes smoothly. Post pics when you're done :)
     
  9. Daniel LaDue

    Daniel LaDue

    6
    Sunday
    Oh, no. Don't worry, that is my problem for being insecure on a new forum. I've had bad experiences wherein people love the chance to crap on someone. That's why I'm pretty open about the fact I am an artist and not a craftsmen. Everyone on this site has been really helpful to me thus far. I'm cool with that, and I was given the info I asked for. I'm a little bummed out that I'm going to have the buy more wood, or beg a friend for these upcoming projects, but that is what it is. The entire branch experiment was in hopes of using nothing but my own limited materials. I still have Oak, Maple, and Walnut around to harvest, but not the tools and time to do so properly. You guys have all been great. I definitely learned more in one day than I have in a few weeks of YouTube and Google searches.
     
  10. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    Daniel, In your state there are bunches of makers. Most have piles of handle wood they will never use. It is like a sickness with knifemakers. We buy wood and then see some new wood and buy more. Most of us are glad to give away wood to a new maker. If you would like some nice looking handle wood, send me an email. I'll send you a flat rate box of it.
     
    Lee Hester likes this.
  11. A.McPherson

    A.McPherson KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 27, 2012
    Most wood cracks from the ends while drying, you might make end caps to cover the butt and blade ends... That way if it does crack it'll be covered, and held together. You could also bind the ends with cordage of some kind and go for the rustic look.
     
  12. Greenberg Woods

    Greenberg Woods Wood Fanatic and Rosewood Addict

    Dec 27, 2013
    The real main reason a branch doesnt work is simply the grain angle.

    using the while round of a piece of wood, i.e using the heart is a poor idea, it will lead to cracks, warping and every sort of wood twisting action. the heart will also 100% split apart and rot.
     
  13. C.Kelly Custom Knives

    C.Kelly Custom Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    16
    May 16, 2018
    Hi Daniel,

    I was thinking about your branch handle idea today and had an idea I wanted to share with you.

    First, if you're planning to drill out the center and use epoxy to fill the voids when you attach it to the handle, the cracking that is likely to occur down the road shouldn't be enough to completely split the handle off the tang or anything (of course you never know..but whatever..can't live in fear of "maybe"). The cracking should be mostly a cosmetic concern and may require additional sanding/shaping at some point to keep everything smooth.

    So, if you are expecting the cracks and you have a plan to work with them to add to your art it may not be a problem at all. Every adversity is an opportunity, after all. Here's one way you might plan to use the cracks as a positive...Sorry I don't have all the pics I would like to show all of the process so you'll have to use a little imagination.

    Make a "rock crusher". (Lots of ways to do this, I made mine like this for about $5)
    [​IMG]

    Drop in a piece of turquoise, quartz, or whatever color stone you prefer.
    [​IMG]

    Crush..
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Now fill the gaps with the bigger pieces first and then fill in with the finer dust. Saturate the "filling" with CA glue and sand after curing. There will most likely be voids after the first application and you simply add more "rock dust" and re-saturate with CA glue.
    You could also do the same sort of crack filling with copper filings (or any other metal I suppose) and you could combine metal filings with stone for a metallic-flake look.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    CA glue is not as impact resistant as a good slow-cure epoxy and it can be chipped and fractured a little more easily than is ideal for a tool handle, but it is still reasonably resilient and serves the purpose of filling voids pretty well. It will also polish up to whatever finish level you choose for the wood surrounding it.

    My thinking here is that natural cracks could form some really cool looking lines (especially if there are multiple cracks emanating from both ends) that might look kinda' awesome if they were blue turquoise cracks..or red agate cracks or maybe even both. There's a lot of creativity potential in just those choices alone.

    Of course all of this would happen down the road...after you've used your knife for a while and allowed the cracking happen.

    I hope you find this helpful, but totally understand and wouldn't be bothered in the slightest if this idea doesn't appeal to you as well, these things are subjective :). I just want to offer the "food for thought" more than anything.

    Best regards,
    CK
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021 at 11:21 AM

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