Editor’s note: Enzo is a Finnish company that makes high quality knife blanks, and sells them as the blade only, as a kit with all the parts needed to make a knife, and also sells the pins, rivets, scales, and parts needed to complete a knife.
Above: EnZo Elvers in D2 in Ebony (solid SS pins) and Rosewood (brass mosaic pins). Both with liners.
FIRST: Choose your blade. EnZo offers several blades (Elver, Trapper, Skinner, and Camp knife) and several grinds (Scandi to Zero, Scandi with slight bevel, hollow ground, and flat ground). Steels available are 01, D2, and stainless at least, maybe more.
NEXT: Choose your handle material. You can get an EnZo kit, complete with pre-formed, pre-drilled, scales in wood or Micarta. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lanyard hole so, if you want one, it’s a job in itself to make a jig to drill one properly. Also, the pre-formed scales are exactly that, pre-formed, so you can’t extend the scale toward the cutting edge like I like to do. If you look at the photos below, you’ll notice that the curly Birch is a pre-formed scale – its length stops at a point short of the ricasso. The Ebony and Cocobolo knives have longer scales – the scales extend all the way to the ricasso. I like that, so I order just the blade and find my own wood for scales.
LASTLY: Choose your pin and lanyard material. I get my metals mostly from KnifeKits.com. I’ve used brass and stainless steel. Of the two, I like the brass best. It’s softer and much easier to cut, file, and sand. They also sell vulcanized fiber material for the liners, if you want that.
Above: EnZo Trapper in Curly Birch with solid brass pins (corby bolts) and red liners.
This knife (above) is a Trapper, scandi-ground-to-zero, O-1 carbon knife kit. It features curly birch scales with red liners and brass corby bolt pins. As you can see, it doesn’t have a lanyard tube and I didn’t think, at the time, to take the trouble to add one. I gave this knife and sheath to a retiring co-worker.
PREPARING THE SCALES
You can order wood scales from KnifeKits.com, AKS, Texas Knife Supply, Jantz, and other knife-making supply outlets, BUT…. Be aware that, not only are they expensive, but they generally come without one side of each scale planed. This is important because, if you order scales that are say 5” x 1-1/2” x ¼”, you’ll not only have to sand one side perfectly flat, but then you’ll have to sand the other side so the thickness is precisely even along its length and width (coplanar?). Sound easy? Well, if it’s not done with precision, you won’t be able to accurately drill the pin holes and there’ll be gaps around your pins and tubes when the knife is finished…. assuming of course, that you can get the pins to go through the holes to begin with.
So…what I do is use my own stock. Luckily, not more than 80 miles away in El Paso, there is an Austin Hardwoods store. Since I buy furniture making hardwoods in relatively large quantities there, I always pick up a length or two of exotics – wenge, rosewoods (including cocobolo), padauk, ebony, zebrawood (ugly in knife scales, in my opinion), purpleheart, goncalo alves, etc. Then these exotics will sit on shelves or against the wall in my shop for many years until I find just the right project for them. You can order exotics on-line. I recently ordered several burls (Buckeye, Myrtle, and Black Ash) from Bad Dogs Burl Source (burlsource.com). As a bonus, the owner threw in some black ash scales, and some Mallee and Teak burl blocks for free! Now these scales come in 5” lengths, so getting them coplanar is a job and requires a jig and a router. I’ll make it work.
The first thing I’ll do with lumber or burl that is long enough is: rip and cut a length about 10” long by 1-1/4” wide. This is the minimum length I want to run through the planer and will yield two knife scale blank sets. On the bandsaw, I re-saw the length in half, yielding two pieces about 10” x 1-1/4” x 3/8” or so. Then I’ll run both pieces through the planer until they’re about 1/4” or 5/16” thick – uniformly along their length. Next, I cut them about 5” long for the Trapper and about 4-3/4” for the Elver. Now, they’re ready for the liners.
Above: EnZo Trappers in Ebony and Cocobolo (rosewood). Both with mosaic pins and liners. Note that the scales extend all the way to the ricasso.
GLUEING THE LINERS TO THE SCALE BLANKS
I cut the liner material with scissors or a sharp utility knife. Make them the same size as your knife blanks. Make sure that, after cutting, there are no raised edges that will interfere with the liner-to-wood bond. If there are, sand the liners to remove the edges. I do this by sticking down a 5” length of PVA 120 grit sandpaper to the bench. Then I lay a liner on and swirl it around, gently at first then with a little more pressure. Just do one side but remember which side that is. That’ll be the side that glues to the wood scale. Now, lightly sand the insides of both scales using the same sandpaper and technique.
- Blow and wipe the dust off of both scales and liners
- Clean both by wiping with a shop towel moistened with denatured alcohol
- Mix your epoxy well and apply a thin coat to both liners and scales
- Place the liner against the scales
- Now, press both scales together with the liners sandwiched in-between so they can be clamped
- I use wax paper underneath to avoid epoxy squeeze-out on the bench
In the photo below, the liners have been glued and now have been sanded with the liners face-down. Remember, when you sanded them before, you were sanding the inside of the liners – the part that is now glued to the scales.
See the PVA sandpaper stuck to the bench? Now they are sanded flat and have been cleaned by blowing and wiping.
Below, I have cut three pieces of cloth-backed carpet tape. The scales will be stuck together for alignment during drilling and basic shaping of the scales. Once the tape is on, I stand the scales up, on edge on the bench, and carefully press them together. This ensures alignment of the bottom edge and, if done carefully, the ends too.
Once the scales have been stuck together with the tape, I lay the knife blade blank on the scales and make a few marks so I can re-align it after the next step. Cut a couple of more pieces of cloth-backed carpet tape that will serve to hold the blade blank in place while drilling the pin holes.
In the photo below, the blade blank is stuck to scales and ready for drilling.
You really need the accuracy of a drill press for this operation. I suppose it’s possible to drill the holes with a hand drill but, in all my years of woodworking, I can’t imagine getting the needed accuracy by drilling with anything other than a drill press. A 1/4” bit is used for the lanyard tube and 3/16” for the pin holes. Careful here!: sometimes these holes are slightly less than 3/16” or ¼”, and the drill press can catch the blade and wreak havoc. So….. I test the holes beforehand and use a small chainsaw sharpening stone in the flex-shaft to enlarge the holes. Make enough room that you can slide your pin stock through without binding, but not so much that there is slop.
As soon as I drill a hole, I stick a short length of dowel in the holes to avoid any possible movement while drilling the remaining holes. Here, the lanyard tube and one pin hole has been drilled.
Below, the holes have been drilled, the blade blank is still stuck to the scales, and all the dowel pins are inserted. The extra length of the scales, at the bottom-right side of the picture, is there so I can use that cutoff later for a couple of ferrocerium-rod handles.
Now is the time to mark on the wood precisely where the ricasso of the blade is (IF your intent is to have the scale meet there or extend beyond there).
Above, I have laid-out and sanded the basic shape of the scales. DO NOT SEPARATE the scales yet! You need the scales to remain assembled for the rounding of the scales at the hilt-end.
If you look closely above, you can see where I’ve layed-out the arc at the hilt-end of the scales. You can also see the sharp pencil mark (at the bottom of the photo) that marks exactly where the ricasso is. This scale has been rounded on the disc sander and will be finished on the belt sander to about 320 grit. This is all done before separating the scales.
Above, the scales have been separated and it’s time to remove the tape and tape-goo residue. The tape can be lifted with a fingernail and peeled off and I use lighter fluid on a shop towel to remove the goo. Now, it’s time to get the blade blank in there to see some progress and make some more layout marks.
Below, the blade blank is held in alignment with the wood dowels while the outline is traced.
Cut the outline on the bandsaw (or with a coping saw) making sure to stay outside the line.
Above, the pencil mark is a no-pass line for the epoxy. Some epoxy will squeeze into this area, but I set if far enough back so that the epoxy will not squeeze beyond the edge of the scales. Here it’s set back about 3/32”. These pencil lines were drawn just for the photo, because they’ll be erased when the liners are again sanded to remove any “lip” the edge may have. Once they’re sanded and cleaned, I redraw the lines, guesstimating the distance.
The photo above is one from a different project. I show it because I forgot to take a photo of the current project’s blade showing the epoxy no-pass line drawn on the blade blank. This line corresponds with the line on the scale liners. Make sense? Look closely. See how the line starts about 3/32” behind the ricasso? Good.
Above, we’re ready for gluing. I use 60 minute set Epoxy because rushing around when you’ve forgotten something leads to an ugly finished project…. 60 minutes gives you more than double the amount of time you need to work. The little bottle is filled with denatured alcohol. The pins and lanyard tube pieces (top-right) have been cleaned with the alcohol. The blade has been cleaned for about the third time with alcohol and the scales have had their alcohol wipe-down.
The paper is my mixing “tray” and the wire is the mixer and applicator. Everything is ready. Off to the side (out of the picture), is a rubber mallet for pounding in the pins, a 20 ounce hammer in case I need it, and a Jorgensen screw clamp lying on the floor. The clamp is covered with wax paper and opened to about 1/2” so I can lay the knife on it and hammer the pins through.
I like to use a piece of paper to mix the epoxy, as opposed to a small cup or tray. I spread equal amounts of epoxy and hardener in the center of the paper, then I lift the paper and form a trough with the liquids in the center. Using the L-shaped end of the wire, I scoop and lift, scoop and lift, and on and on, every so often swirling around in circles with the wire. Mostly though, the mixing is done with the scoop-and-lift method. Then I’ll re-form the “trough” at 90 degree angle to the first trough, and begin the mixing again. This avoids getting any unmixed epoxy that could find its way into the works.
- Lay out all necessary parts as in the photo above
- Go through the glue-up process in your head, seeing every step you’ll take
- Spread a thin coat on one of the scales and on the matching side of the blade blank
- Using the end of the wire, spread some epoxy into each hole on the scales
- Lay the scale on the blade blank and insert the lanyard tube, gently tapping it until it just starts to come out the other side of the blade blank (a little epoxy seepage will occur – hence the blue shop towel)
- USE CARE HERE. You don’t want the scale sliding around on the blade blank while you’re trying to insert the lanyard tube. This will almost certainly spread epoxy onto the forward end of the blade where you don’t want any)
- Now insert one of the pins, hammering it in until it just starts to come out the other side of the blade blank
- Now finish with the remaining pin
- Let the pins protrude out the other side of the blade about 1/16” or so. This will help align the other scale when its time comes
- Now, lay the mated scale/blade so the other side of the blade blank is up. It will be canted because of the pins sticking out of the other side, but you’ll make it work
- Spread a thin coat of epoxy on this side of the blade blank
- Spread a thin coat of epoxy on the other scale and put a little in each hole
- Now, mate the two and take the assemblage to the screw clamp on the floor (remember that clamp?)
- Pound the pins through, starting with the lanyard tube
- Using wax paper, wrap the knife so you can use some C-clamps (at least 2) to bring the whole assembly together tightly. Now, the pins will be in the way so ……. just find some areas that are “pin-less” and make it work. Tighten the clamps but DO NOT over-tighten! This will lead to a starved joint (please leave a little of the epoxy in there that you worked so hard to mix up). Tight is tight. Too tight is too tight. There…that should be clear. J
Look what you’ve done. You made a satisfyingly beautiful mess. It’s ok, you’ll clean it all up later (even IF there’s a little glue squeeze out on the blade near the hilt, BUT ONLY IF it’s just “a little”).
If your pins are mosaic and you want to line them up (or “clock” them), now is the time to do it IF you left a little extra length on one of the mosaic pins (as I did in the photo above – the rear pin [NOT the lanyard pin]). Take the clamps off and, using vise grip pliers, grab the pin and turn it until it matches the other one. There. Done. Put the clamps back on.
How long did all this take once you squeezed out equal parts of epoxy? The whole thing, mixing and spreading glue, tapping, spreading glue, tapping and hammering, clocking the mosaic pins, clamping – about 15 minutes. Yep. Put it all away, you’re done for the day. Even if it’s your first time, it’ll only take 30 minutes, IF you followed the above guidelines AND thought the process through before starting (especially before mixing the epoxy).
NEXT DAY – SHAPING THE KNIFE HANDLE
I use a Vigor hanging flex-shaft with a cut-off wheel to trim the pins. Get them as close as you can to the scales. If you like, you can file them down the remainder with a mill-bastard file. Now, it’s time for sanding. I use a sanding drum on the drill press for the underbelly of the scales. For the sides, end, and spine, I use a Delta 1×42 belt sander and disc.
A LITTLE HISTORY AND SHOP TRIVIA
The photo above shows my (circa 1938) Delta Milwaukee drill press. About 15 years ago, a glass and window company was going out of business and selling everything in their shop. My wife saw this and, after learning they wanted $75 for it, called me. It was rusted and well-used, so I had a little work to do. I contacted Delta for some original color paint, an owners-manual, and some history on this press. They say that, during the time this press was built, the company was working out of a two-car garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now, some of their parts may have been cast at a different location or maybe by a contracted casting company, but the assembly and shipping took place in the garage.
The thing I like most about this drill press is the quill lock. They’re hard to find nowadays, even on the more expensive commercial drill presses. Even the ones that have them are funky, consisting of a dial and screw on the press lever arm shaft. A terrible design, and that’s being kind.
If you look right under the center of the light, you’ll see a knob sticking forward, almost into the bright area of the light. That’s the quill lock lever. On the right, you can see the two screw nuts on the vertical shaft that serve as the depth stop. The way it works is: you rotate your drill press lever or knob (with right hand) to get the bit located where you want it to stop. With your left hand, you lock the quill with the knob on the left. Now, you can let go of everything and use two hands to run the screw nuts down the shaft and lock them together. Now the drill press will stop at that exact location every time. You can also just lock the quill and use the press without adjusting the screw nuts.
All in all it’s a wonderful drill press. I’ve had several offers through the years from fellow woodworkers or “shop nerds” for this tool, but it’s not leaving until I’m gone from this earth. I have no need for a bigger, fancier or more “heavy duty” drill press either.
OK, BACK TO WORK
Now this little gem is a recent addition to the shop. Since I have a large (and yes, ancient – probably circa the 1950’s) Delta disc/belt sander, I never needed one of these before for woodworking. BUT…. Now with my recent hobby putting these knives together, this tool is downright indispensable. This is the Delta 1” x 42” belt sander with an 8” disc. They cost about $115 and are imported (#**@!), but we’re almost at a loss anymore in America to find shop tools built here. Delta and Powermatic have very few machines left that they can claim are “Made in USA”, though there is a faint hint at a “comeback”, but no more than a hint at this time.
The disc I have on there right now is 80 grit. I use it to bring the spine, scale sides, and the end close to the steel (do not let it hit the steel!). Just get it as close as you can to the blade blank. Then I finish up on the belt, starting at 80 grit for the sides. I’ll switch to a 100 or 120 grit and do the sides and spine, and end. Then on through the grits to about 320 or so.
Here’s the almost finished product (below). After the belt sander, I hand sand everything, starting again at about 100 grit and through the grits up to about 400 grit. Then I mix up some fresh-mixed shellac (super-blonde or orange flake), about a 1 pound cut (or thinner). After about every third coat, I’ll let the shellac dry for a couple of hours before buffing it all off with 0000 steel wool. This process continues until there are about 15 to 20 coats of shellac on the knife. Then, a final 0000 buffing with steel wool before the wax.
The photo above and the one below show the knife with its last coat of shellac on it. It has not had its final wool buffing or waxing.
Below, the finish has been buffed out and the knife has a coat of MinWax on it. I attest to you and use my woodworking experience as a qualifier, there is no need for high-dollar crystalline waxes like Renaissance or BriWax. If you have them and like them, great (they are fine waxes). But again, I attest, they are not magical elixirs and are not, in my opinion, worth anywhere near their cost. Just get some quality paste wax.
The finished knife is shown here, side-by-side with her big brother, an ebony Trapper.
And above, with a sister in Brazilian Rosewood with red liners, mosaic pins, and brass lanyard tube.