Tips and Tricks
Making Wooden or Stone Knife Handles
Not only were antlers and horns used to make a working handle for a knapped blade; sometimes other materials were used as well. While few knives were fabricated to such detail as those shown here, some were and a few much more ornate than these. Below is a slideshow of the processes I go through to make some of these fancy handles as well as examples of a few finished products. I enjoy making these knives and rarely will you find two of a kind. You will however, find a large pile of scrap material as a result of some of these attempts! Enjoy these pics and please leave comments or better yet, share your ideas and finished products!
Soapstone and Buffalo Horn Handles
A slab of Alabaster (soapstone) and a slab of buffalo horn. I'll use the buffalo horn to form the body of the handle, with the Alabaster to form the sides
I use these templates as patterns for the different styles of knife handles
Alabaster Slab Handle
Pieces of Alabaster (soapstone) have been glued to each side of a buffalo horn body. Outline from one of my templates shows finished handle shape prior to cutting
Cutting Handle Blank
One of the band saws I use to cut out the handle blanks
Sides Glued to Body
This is the messy glue process when sides are attached to the buffalo horn body of the handle. Lots of cleanup here with the belt sander!
Alabaster Handle Preforms
A couple of different stone handle blanks with buffalo horn body
Blank with Spine Added
This is a side view of the handle blank with the spine glued to body and sides.
Handle Blank with Spine
A piece of buffalo horn had been added to the top of this knife blank. Prior to gluing spine to body, both surfaces have been milled flat to insure a tight fit. Note the 'overhangs' on each end. This is to provide a continuous spine when bolster and butt pieces are added
Bolster added to Handle
Bolster has been added to front end of handle here. Again, both surfaces have been milled flat to insure a good fit. This process is used on both bolster and butt pieces. Bolsters are slotted prior to gluing using band saw or drill and end mill to facilitate mounting of blade.
Depending on type of handle, bolster may be slotted open or closed. This bolster has been drilled and will be slotted with end mill.
This bolster is open and has been squared using band saw and end mill. Typical bolster is about 5/16" thick. Body of handle has been drilled 1/2"-3/4" depending on blade to be mounted.
Wooden Knife Handle Blank
This piece of Sycamore is typical of a wooden body style handle and has been cut to the template pattern
Milling Wooden Handle Body
I use an end mill bit in my drill press to prepare flat, true surfaces before gluing
Piece of Olive Wood from Jerusalem. Knife handle blank will be cut from this
Block of Walnut
This 6"x1"x1" block of walnut is typical of the starting point for material I use when making a wooden handle
Bolster and Butt Pieces
Here's a couple of Olive Wood handles with spine, butt and bolster pieces glued in place. Notice spine overhangs on each end for continuous spine effect
Knife Handle Blanks
Bottom view of rough handle blanks. Bolster and butt are intentionally left long and will be rough sanded to maintain inside arc of the wood body
Knife Handle Blanks
Side view of same two blanks. Typical over-length of butt and bolster are better seen here
Olive Wood/Buffalo Horn Handle
This shows how the bolster and butt have been rough sanded to match the inside radius of the wooden body of the handle. I use different size 'barrel sanders' during this step
Barrel Sanding Drum
This is one of the sanding drums I use to rough shape the different radii associated with a typical handle
Olive Wood / Buffalo Horn Handle
This is the same handle which has been rough sanded to it's final shape using a couple of belt sanders
This handle has gone through several levels of sanding and polishing with belt sanders
Last step in the finishing process is buffing and polishing. I use three different wheels during this step. Handle is now ready for mounting the blade.
This knife is now finished and ready for display. Handle is Olive Wood from Jerusalem with buffalo horn spine, bolster and butt. Blade is Mahogany Obsidian
This knife handle is made from Alabaster (soapstone) from Lockwood Valley in California. This material polishes up to a camouflage look. My favorite material!
Another pic of the same knife with view of the blade. Again, this is my favorite knife design!
Pic of the finished handle using Alabaster and buffalo horn in it's design. Doesn't polish up as well as some but still nice
Alabaster Handle Knife
A pic of the finished knife with the Alabaster handle. It was fitted with a 5" blade knapped from a nice piece of tri-flo Obsidian
Olive Wood Knife
Another knife with an Olive Wood handle. This 6" blade is bi-flo Obsidian from Oregon
This pic shows both styles of handles.....full wood body and a laminated Alabaster/Buffalo horn body. Both styles have buffalo horn spine, butt and bolster.
Zebra Wood Knife
This handle was made with Zebra Wood from Africa with buffalo horn additions
Pic of a combo handle. White material is cow bone with scrimshawed arrow and local cedar wood