Kitchen Knives Set – Part 3: A Plan of Changes

Originally, I have intended to make two sets of simple and plain knives. The blades were supposed to have a tumbled surface finish and the handles and stands I wanted to make from black locust and jatoba wood. But plans have changed.

The last time I was tumbling the blades, it did not go very well. I need to make a new tumbling drum, or to be more precise, several tumbling drums, each for a separate tumbling medium. The first problem was that my current tumbling drum is not waterproof, and whilst water is not needed for some tumbling media, it is necessary for others. The second problem was that with only one tumbling drum I have wasted a lot of time when I had to change the tumbling medium, especially if I wanted to go from coarser to finer. And the third problem was that I could not find suitable materials for new tumbling drums for several months now. I have needed plastic jars with screw-on lids of a certain diameter, and I just could not find them, neither in stone stores nor on the internet. I found some last week, but that was already too late for this project.

So with tumbling out of the window, I have decided to go for hand finish – buffed to mirror. That was my first change of plans.

Then suddenly, I have broken one of the blades. Again. The chef knives came out of the quench ever so slightly bent. Not much, but it was visible. So I have tried to use my mighty Unbender to carefully straighten them out. And I succeeded. And then I broke one blade when I was taking it out, it broke in the portion that was straight, and I do not understand how I did it. So instead of having two sets of knives with honing steels and one odd blade, I had one full set, one not-full set, one odd and one broken blade.

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

Thus came the second change of plans – I will make three sets of knives. One will be the full set as per the original plan, one will be a pair of knives with honing steel and one will be a pair of knives with a hand-made whetting stone. The last pair will be made from the odd blade from the previous batch, and the broken blade re-ground into a small peeling knife.

To polish the blades I have started again with ceramic belts, but not with 40 Grit but with 80 Grit. That removes enough material to smoothen out very slight bends and curls introduced by heat treatment, but not so much that the blades end up paper-thin.

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

Ceramic belts go only to 120 grit, which is not very fine. Even if I were going to tumble the blades, the next step would be necessary – going through several green zircon belts up to 320 grit.

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

In my opinion, this is the most dangerous part of the job. The zircon belts still remove enough material to seriously hurt fingers, they blunt relatively fast and thus can heat the steel in a blink of an eye, and they tend to snag and drag the blade. Definitively my least favorite part of the whole process with regard to safety.

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

And last come the Trizact belts, which can polish to near mirror-finish in themselves. However, I do not use them for blades, because it is nearly impossible to get all the scratches reliably out when going up to finer grain and the perpendicular scratches do not look right, at least in my opinion. So after the trizact A16 (an equivalent of circa 1000 grit) I have taken the blades indoor, sat in front of a PC with youtube on, and removed all perpendicular scratches manually with 1000 grit wet sandpaper. That was three days of “fun”.

If I intended a true mirror finish, I would have to go even higher in grits, but I think that would really be overkill in this case, so after 1000 grit I have buffed the blades with two compounds (medium and fine).

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

In order to get a nice surface, all buffing scratches must be along the blade. But these knives have a ricasso at the heel, and the buffing wheel cannot get into the ridge where the ricasso transitions into the sharp. So I have put an old broken drillbit in the Dremel and spun on it a bit of cotton wool. That way I have got a nice buffing surface that was capable to reach into the ridges and the Dremel, unlike a drill, can reach high enough rotations to actually buff the surface with this small diameter.

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

Buffing the flats could be then done on the drill press with large-ish buffing wheels.

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

After buffing and de-greasing the blades came the etching of logos and numbers. This time there were no surprises, all blades etched without major issues, all logos were crisp and dark. But etching the numbers is a major pain, I will probably have to invest some thought and time into making stencils for those too. I only do not know how yet, the numbers are too small to cut into the silicone sheet as I did with the logo, plus many of them have closed rectangular outlines which cannot be made this way at all.

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

We shall see whether I will make some progress on that front someday. As it is now, the blades are done and covered with masking tape to protect them against scratches.

With hand – polishing and buffing I have of course invested a lot more time in the knives than I have originally intended to, so I have decided for yet another change of plans. About that, I will write next time.

Only I do not know when the next time will be. Today I took my mother to a hospital, tomorrow she has surgery. My father goes on Friday to another hospital where he will be informed about what can be done next. And what and when I will do next depends heavily on what happens with my parents.


  1. Jazzlet says

    I hope your parents do well Charlie.

    To quote Burns “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley”. Or the best laid plans of mice and men can often go astray. Sorry yours have done so.

  2. says

    I worry that the holes in the edge will become bacteria farms.

    Most of my flat sanding is done with a cheap chinese-made belt sander for wood that’s 6″x36″ -- I rubbed an 800# belt with beeswax and fine carbide grit and it flattens and polishes very evenly. It takes time though, and there’s heat buildup.

  3. says

    @Jazzlet, thanks. I am a bit on edge today. I wanted to work, but I can’t.

    @Marcus, re: bacteria.
    I think that is one of the worries that looks reasonable on the surface but on closer inspection, it is not, really. There is plenty of other kitchen tools with similar-sized holes. Garlic/potato mashers and crushers. Skimmer spoons. Strainers. And especially -- graters!

    As far as knives themselves go, holey blades are nothing new under the sun, and they are regularly used for soft cheeses that can be very gluey. The holes at this thickness (less than 0,5 mm) are no more difficult to clean than the serrations on a steak knife. And they are in fact easier to clean than the crannies between fork teeth.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    I’m wishing all the best for your parents, Charly!

    Maybe the shear forces were concentrated on some kind fault (small crack, inclusion or way too much carbon locally) and that was enough to further weaken the blade while you were straightening it and it then just broke when the pressure was released or under its own weight.

  5. voyager says

    I hope your mum’s surgery went well and that she’ll be home soon. Taking care of ageing parents can be exhausting and full of issues that require lots of your time. And with covid it’s hard to get help so you can take a break. My thoughts are with you.

  6. says

    There is plenty of other kitchen tools with similar-sized holes. Garlic/potato mashers and crushers. Skimmer spoons. Strainers. And especially — graters!

    I guess that’s true. I’m assuming that knives don’t go in a dishwasher like all the other less worthy kitchen tools.

  7. says

    @Marcus #7, You are assuming correctly. You may have a dishwasher always in your life so you consider it a standard,

    I did not. Nor did many of my friends. I know people who do not have a dishwasher to this day. Yet they were and are still capable of keeping their graters and other kitchen utensils clean. Plus sometimes these utensils (like crushers and mashers) have parts made from aluminium or wood, which cannot go into the dishwasher either.

    My parents did not have a dishwasher until fairly recently, we could not afford one. I do not have one in my small kitchen.

    Further, dishwashers, besides being expensive luxury items, are a fairly recent invention in comparison with many common kitchen utensils. They are not essential for cleaning dishes.

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