Prototyping Chef Knives

This was an interesting project. Interesting in the sense that nearly nothing went as planned.

First I started to make five blades and I broke one after hardening, so I have made it into a smaller knife for my neighbor. But what happened after that was a real bummer – the four remaining blades stubbornly resisted my attempts at tumbling. After over a month in the tumbler, none of them had the pretty, regular finish that I have gotten on my full-width tang blades. Maybe the point of balance of these blades, or their width, or both, have played a role. I simply do not know. I only know that after over a month I took it as “lesson learned, you cannot tumble these, finish them or toss them as they are”. And because they are prototypes whose main purpose was learning, I have decided to use them as they were.

The first piece went on a bed of flowers into a land far, far away. What happens there is in the stars and out of my hands.

The second piece I have finished with an experimental piece of wood – one of the very rotten willow pieces that I have stabilized with resin during my first tests. Only the piece was just a tad thinner than I needed, so the resulting handle is slimmer and straighter than I intended it to be. I am keeping this knife for myself. I just cut onions for dinner with it and it works reasonably well. Whether it works better or worse than other chef knives I cannot evaluate, since I do not use chef knives regularly.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The handle looks…. interesting, but not very kitchen-knifey. I have used dark brown dye for the resin on the assumption that it will give the wood the most natural look. And it did that. Only it gave the wood also a decidedly camo-tacticool look. I think it would be great for a bushcraft/camping knife, but on a kitchen knife, it looks a bit odd. But maybe infusing the wood with bright colored resin – yellow, red, green, or even blue – might lead to interesting results. I am definitively going to try that next time. The rotten log will not burn – yet.

I have made my first bolster from buffalo horn here and fitting that and the handle together with the curved spacer from bone went reasonably well right until the last step in the process. That last step was buffing up of the horn. I have used my DIY red hematite buffing compound because it worked well on the horn – it is less aggressive than industrial steel buffing compounds. But some of it got stuck in the pores in the bone and it is impossible to clean afterward. That is unfortunately a common problem with bone – it has nearly invisible pores that tend to pop-up at the very end of the work when the piece cannot be replaced. So working with bone is always a bit gamble and you often get some dark spots here and there. It is not plastic but a natural product after all. But these red spots look like someone bled all over it. Grrr.

The third piece got fitted with bubinga handle and bone bolster. It goes to my former colleague, who has been patiently waiting for it for nearly a year by now.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Nothing went wrong with the knife itself. I have fitted the bone bolster with the handle really well, there are no gaps between the white bolster and the blade. Nothing to complain about except the large cut in my right thumb during assembly because the blade cut during all that wiggling through several layers of cloth and masking tape.

Bubinga is beautiful and very hard, but it is not a wood that I would normally use. It is not grown sustainably and the species, while not endangered yet, are on a way to becoming endangered. But since I got this piece for free with a shipment of steel, I have used it. I think I got it for free because it had a worm-hole, but luckily enough it got completely ground away during work. And the piece was big enough for me to make the handle in a shape and size that I have initially intended. It has a trapezoid-profile with rounded edges, for better grip and edge-alignment.

The fourth blade was fitted with a horn bolster and cherry crotch wood with a bone spacer. And this is the closest to my intended design of all three. It is now in the possession of my main tester – my mom.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The cherry wood is very beautiful, all the more pitty for the unseemly cracks. I will have to devise and use some kind of end-cap for cases like this when it would be a waste to toss the wood but there are some blemishes on the end grain. My mother does not mid it as it is and I hope it will serve well. Apart from these cracks, the only thing that went wrong was a cut in my left thumb – yup, I got symmetrical cuts with different knives.

Stats for all these knives: blade ~210 mm length, 3 mm thick, 50 mm wide, grip ~130 mm long. They are more forward-weighted than my full-width tang kitchen knives, so they would be probably very effective choppers too – the point of balance is right at the heel of the blade.


  1. kestrel says

    These turned out really well. I particularly like the bubinga handle, but the cherry wood handle is also really attractive. Is there a photo of the buffalo horn handle, or is my computer refusing to show it to me?

    You should take a moment to congratulate yourself on this project. You stuck with it through thick and thin, and through thumb cuts. The end product are definitely knives, and they certainly cut things as I am sure your thumbs can attest. And that, after all, is the idea behind a knife. So good work, and congratulations on the beautiful results!

  2. says

    @kestrel, there is no buffalo horn handle, only the first and last knife have bolsters from buffalo horn -- the dark piece between the wood and the blade.

  3. kestrel says

    @Charly: ah OK! I did not understand, sorry. Reading too fast I guess and being too excited about buffalo horn as a handle material.

    Also it’s cool to learn the various parts of the knife, where once I only knew “handle” and “blade” now I know more terms. And learning things is always good in my book.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    I love the horn-bone-wood combination. The first one looks like an old knife, as if many tasty dinners, cooked on open fire, had been prepared with it already. The last one looks quite Nordic, the light wood and the contrasting horn give it clear, crisp lines and stylishness. I also love how the wood grain follows the shape.

  5. voyager says

    Nice work, Charly. I like the rough look of the first handle -- it makes it look well-loved and used. The Bubinga wood has a lovely rich grain.

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    Look at the second picture. It looks like the handle has a picture of landscape in drought, brown leaves on the roundish trees, fallen branches, a fire in the foreground, mountains in the upper right corner and sun setting.

Leave a Reply