Winner Take All

The “winner’s choice” benefit blade is done, sharpened, and shipped. I am told that it arrived safely, which is always a relief.

We swapped a few emails to get a feeling for what was wanted: size of person’s hand that would be using it, left/right preference, curves or angles preference, bolster (and how many) and main handle body material. The decision was ebony for the handle body, with purpleheart bolsters. In case you’re not a woodworker: those are two of the nastiest woods to work with. Ebony is strong yet it’s unpredictable and sometimes has cracks or bumps where a branch was growing. It gets weird when you grind it – it dissolves into a smelly, sticky resin and heats up easily. I’ve had ebony smoke and bubble like it’s catching fire. For this project, I reminded myself to take it easy. Purpleheart is also tough like ebony but doesn’t melt or heat up unusually. Still, this is a difficult combination; a good challenge.

For a bolster on the end of a knife, you either need a full-length tang to attach it to, or a pin. I actually prefer pins because they’re an opportunity to do something a little fancy. Collectively we decided to do an ebony pin through the purpleheart. Each step is an opportunity to screw up, or to do it right.

First problem was making the pin out of ebony: lathe it, cut it with a plug cutter, or do it freehand? I had a few small pieces of ebony from another project, so I just bandsaw’d a bit off, put it in a cordless drill, and shaped it by turning the drill and my belt sander on, and pressing the ebony against the belt. Zip! Very quick. I used calipers to measure it and made it 1/4″ with a slight taper so that I would be able to fit it into the purpleheart without a lot of fiddling.

One thing that was nice: the chosen woods don’t expand or contract much. It would be terrible if the bolster was something that contracted around the ebony pin; it would just blow the wood apart.

Since the pin was going to be located in the center of the bolster, I didn’t have a lot of leeway to get the handle off-center. It just means slowing down and looking at everything a couple of extra times.

Purpleheart really is purple! One thing it’ll do is stain your boogers so that it looks like you’ve sprung a leak.

That’s my D-shaped handle, fairly narrow, with the pin in place and an edged ridge-line in the wood. It’s a very positive feeling handle, but it also feels light and nimble.

Etched and oiled and polished to a fare-thee-well with several coats of birchwood casey tru-oil.

Thank you for supporting the FTB legal fund!

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Notes on product photography: The upper picture of the bolster, and the lower picture of the complete knife were both shot under the same light on the same background. The difference is that, in order to pick up the blade patterning, I dialed the aperture down 3 stops, I believe. What does the knife really look like? Well, depending on how you’re looking at it, either or both.


  1. voyager says

    I love the way the ebony and purple heart look together. The piece has very elegant lines and the blade is gorgeous.

  2. lochaber says

    well, that certainly is pretty.

    I’m probably being a bit of a hypocrite here, since the last time I sought medical care was to remove a metal splinter from my cornea that I couldn’t get out on my own…
    but, this: “stain your boogers” concerned me. please consider getting a respirator or something similar?
    admittedly, I’m being largely selfish here, as I want you to keep making things and posting pics of them and such. But I have heard too many stories of people working with exotic woods having mysterious medical conditions.

  3. says

    but, this: “stain your boogers” concerned me. please consider getting a respirator or something similar?

    I should have mentioned that was long ago. My handle-shaping is mostly done on a big 6″ belt sander in the wood zone of my shop, which is hooked up to a dust collection system. I don’t get any dust at all from that, which is a huge plus (assuming I turn it on) (ahem)
    I have a PAPR faceshield that I wear if I am grinding any metal that looks like it has zinc or lead paint on it. Otherwise I wear a face shield to keep sparks out of my face.
    My buddy Mike P suggested I get a tilt stool, which is a pretty cool piece of equipment for working on stuff like grinding. The only problem with the tilt stool is it means my knees are bent, so if I am grinding a big stream of hot sparks off the belt sander, they are landing on the knee of my jeans. It’s not hard to tell when the fabric is starting to smoulder, though, so I can just smush the smouldery bits out with my welders’ gloves.

    If I was in my 20s again, I’d be doing this very differently.

    I’m not sure what the mechanism is with the wood dust. Some woods (e.g.: cocobolo) are related to poison ivy, I believe, or have resins that are evolved to make them insect-resistant. That can cause allergic reactions and having a lungful of dust triggering an allergic reaction in the lungs – that has to be no kind of good. I assume that is what is going on. Or perhaps it’s bacterial?

  4. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Irrelevant comment re purpleheart. I’d never heard of this wood before I began following Leo Sampson’s saga of restoring a large old yacht, which involved replacing the keel and other major timbers with giant hunks of purpleheart, 12x12x20-foot timbers of it, and then shaping it all down with an adze and power planer to sexy purple curves leaving drifts of purple shavings:

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