The dagger of Ciri in The game Witcher 3 has handle turned from some yellow wood. Looks almost canary yellow in the game, but orange in the extracted 3D file without the in-game lighting. There is only one wood that I know that has such color – Osage orange – and only when freshly worked at that, it ages to dark brown. There is another wood that has very nice yellow (vanilla) color both fresh and aged, and that is Black elder. I would love to make the handle from black elder, because it is beautiful hard wood and it is a pleasure to work with. Alas, I do not have a piece big enough. So I had to go with Sycamore maple which is pale yellow and ages to slightly darker yellow.
I begun by cutting an approximately 50×50 mm rectangular block on my circular saw. Dried maple wood is unfortunately not only very hard, but also has very small pores, so it tends to burn on circular saw. There is nothing that can be done about it except to work slowly. Unfortunately I only had this one piece of big enough maple wood at hand and it had a very deep split at exactly the wrong place, so I had to shorten it to 120 mm, 6 mm shorter than I wanted to based on the proportions from the 3D game file. But since I am not aiming for exact replica and I will make slight changes to the design of the dagger anyway that should not bother me. But it does, go figure. I can gain a few mm on the bolster and on the rondel later on if I decide it needs to be done.
Next step was to turn the handle. This is where I can show off with my Poor Man’s Lathe that I have built twenty years ago. Unfortunately I did not have too many opportunities to work on it yet, so my experience with wood-turning is extremely limited.
First came fixing the piece of wood between the points of the lathe. On the left the drill holds not a drill bit, but a special piece with a central point and three screwdriver like flattened teeth to hold onto the workpiece. Normally I would hammer it into the wood, but sycamore wood is very hard. I had to pre-drill the holes. On the right there is a round tip that goes into a depression in the wood. It helps to put a bit of grease or a few drops of oil on this point, otherwise the friction can and will burn the wood and it will smoke.
Second comes turning the wood down to a cylinder of the maximum diameter the final piece is supposed to have. On this part it is important to work with slow rotations because the workpiece is not yet symmetrical and on high rotations it would vibrate and it could potentially fly out of the lathe and smash window in best case, or throat in worst case. Neither of these lessons have I learned first hand, and do not intend to. Better safe than sorry.
So easy does it, no rushing, slowly chipping on the edges until there is a symmetrical cylinder rotating on the lathe. Then the speed can be increased and final shape can be formed. Since this is hard wood, the angle of the chisel blade to the piece is held at close to 90 degrees and I was more scratching than cutting the wood. Trying to get a continuous cut on completely dried hardwood like this is asking for trouble unless one is very, very good and experienced at it – in best case the chisel bites in deep and no matter how sharp it is, it tears of a splinter instead of cutting, ruining the piece. Worst case the leverage could damage the chisel or tear it from one’s hands and… I shudder to think about it. I learned the first lesson here, but fortunately not the second one. For the same reason also the chisel support should be kept as close to the workpiece as possible the whole time.
When turning the shape I first turned town the part for bolster as precisely as I could under the circumstances (the circumstances being that I have no bolster prepared yet). then I turned a piece of handle down to the final width and lastly I turned the middle. Apart from the overall width on both ends I did not do any measurements and I turned the handle down to a shape that simply “looked” right to me.
After that I could remove the chisel support and could polish the piece with 80, 120, 180 and 320 grit sandpaper. This I have done partly on lathe by turning the piece and partly in hand sanding lengthwise in order to remove all visible scratches. Sycamore wood is very hard and can take very good polish, but this piece will get dirty yet no matter what I do, so there is no point fussing about that too much yet.
Last step is making the hole for the tang. I do not have a drill bit long and thin enough for this, so I drilled as far as I could and I burned the rest through with a piece of steel of approximately the right shape held in a vice and heated up with torch to red heat. This has produced an awful lot of smoke and took a lot longer than I hoped for. Not an enjoyable work, if you ask me. Not particularly safe one either. Even with the door open wide the whole room has filled with smoke hat stung the eyes even through protective welding goggles.
Towards the end, when the burnings from both ends met in the middle and actually made a hole throughout the whole handle, the smoke spouting out of the end could be ignited for a short time. That was fun to watch and a bugger to make a picture of, with burning torch in one hand and the phone in the other. I have managed only this one picture, where the flame almost goes out already. After I made hole through, I have closed the gas valve on the bomb and put the hot torch on granite stone on the table. Thus I was finished for the day with nearly thre hours of work done. Two hours later I went back to to check nothing burns and on finding my shop smoke-free I could go to bed.
Next step will be to find suitable pieces of steel for the bolster and the guard, and shaping them together with the hanlde – and the tang – so everything fits together.
Marcus Ranum says
I witnessed a mis-made baseball bat exploding on a lathe; it’s quite a thing.
Woodworking is wonderful, the smell alone. I once made a bow trom elder and hickory, but with only manual tools.
As for burning through: really not the safest method, but pretty and spectacular.
Thanks again for showing your works to us.
@Marcus, that could be deadly. I hope to never be near any miss-hap like that. My lathe luckily does not allow for too big pieces of wood and the drill is not too strong either. I can only turn small pieces to about 25 cm in lenght and 10 cm in diameter, so exploding wood should not be a problem. But still I think it could hurt me quite badly if it were sloppily fixed and flung out of the lathe.
@avalus, I do not appreciate the smells, not only because of constant hayfever my sense of smell is quite weak, but also because I am wearing respirator all the time. I have asthma and wood dust is carcinogen, not to mention that some woods are poisonous.
But the feel of worked wood in the hands is something that I enjoy greatly.
I have made two bows from hazelnut, neither of them very good, I messed up the tiller and they ended too weak. I have a long pieces of cherry, black elder, mountain ash and elm set aside for further bow making projects.