Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

19 Dec 2011

Petty and Victorinox rehandle

This is what I have been working on lately. My friend Øivind had a couple of knives he wanted me to rehandle and I needed at couple of "easy" projects to keep me going. I have a couple of ongoing project that really challenge my skills. One of them is the Hiromoto sujihiki rehandle and saya in a previous post. The other is a Keijiro Doi Shiro Kengata Hayate that will get a new handle, a matching saya and a matching pair of moribashi, but more on that in a later post.

Now, on to the rehandle projects.

I have done a "pimp my Vic" for Øivind before, and the petty was a very nice little damascus blade with a western full tang handle that he wanted me to makeinto a hidden tang with a little more palm swell to fit Øivinds largeish hands.

I didn't actually make WIP of these knives as I kind of lost the "spark" after the mess over at KKF. It just tore me apart. Hope to be back with more elaborate posts after this one.

Anyways here is a couple of pictures of the finished knives. Sorry for the crappy shots, but the lighting was not the best and the blitz on the camera really does more harm than good in this kind og photography so I had to manage without it. I hope that Øivind is pleased with his knives.

The petty got a handle from stabilized Redwood burl from Burl Source. Thanks again Mark for excellent stuff. The saya is also from redwood burl but unstabilized. The handle spacer and end cap as well as the saya pin is from Musk ox forhead. Hey, it's Christmas! :o)

The handle on the Victorinox is from a two tone brown dyed maple burl from Burl Source also. Mark, you just blow me away with all that spectacular wood. Three 1,5mm pins from nickel silver and a file worked spine on the tang. Handle is glued up with black epoxy to better show off the file work.

Thanks for looking.


14 Nov 2011

Handle and saya on Hiromoto sujihiki

A great sushi Chef in New York sent me a Hiromoto sujihiki blade with a block of stabilized spalted Hackberry wood that he wanted to have made into a handle. He also requested me to build a matching saya for the handle, but as soon as I saw the handle block I new I was in for a real challenge. The handle block is one of the most dramatic pieces of wood I have ever seen, and judging from the weight of the block it must have come a long way in the deteriorating process so allowing the stabilizing liquid to really soak through the wood. Challenge was to find wood for the saya that was not stabilized but still solid and spalted or figured enough to match the handle.

The blade is a Hiromoto san mai kasumi sujihiki wich has been etched (by Dave Martell?) to bring out the dramatic lamination line between the core steel and the soft cladding. The cladding had gotten an almost shimmering surface from the etching which stood in great contrast to the almost black core steel. My first thought looking at the blade and the handle block was that this would going to be one dramatic looking knife when finished.

Spalted hackberry wood - stabilized block, and the old handle
As soon as I started working on the handle block it soon became very clear to me that I was in for another challenge. The wood was so hard and dense that I had a really hard time working it. Both cutting, sanding and grinding was a really tedious process and it ate my sanding paper like it was made of wet newspaper. What was this wood anyway, petrified? Stabilized with shot proof glass?

Searching through my stock of different horn material I found a really nice marbeled piece of cow horn with dark and tan stripes that would match up really nice with the colors of the handle. After working out all the pieces and sorting out the order of which to put them I was finally ready to glue everything up. I have found this a good way to do it as I do not have the time to think and fiddle around when glueing things up. The worst things that can happen in this stage is that the glue starts to harden in the middle of the process so that everything is glued up with skews and voids all over the place. You might be able to salvage the wood but all bolsters and spacers will be heading for the bin.
All handle parts lined up and ready for assembly

All parts glued in with epoxy glue


While the handle was curing I could start working on the saya. I had gotten a nice piece of spalted Sycamore thin lumber that was still all solid. It was sold as luthier wood, but it was perfect for saya material. After outlining the shape of the blade on the wood I cut out the pieces with the necessary extra space around for glueing and shaping. As the ink line was just on the surface of the wood I had to grind down the pieces to about the right thickness from the side going to be the inside of the saya. If I had done all the grinding of the saya after glueing I would risk to remove all of the beautiful inkline from the wood.
Outlining the saya on the spalted Sycamore
Profiles sawn out slightly oversized

So, with the coarse shaping done I could start working out the cavities in the saya to fit the blade. The cavities should be as small and evenly shaped as possible without clamping the blade, and it is wise to make a 2-3 extra mm of space for the tip of the blade so the saya will not break it off if the saya is dropped when the knife is inside. The cavity along the edge should be as even as possible to protect the edge by distributing the pressure of the edge along the whole length of the saya if you get impacts to the saya with the knife in and pin out. Bumps along the edge line inside the saya can easily chip your blade.

Carving the cavities for the blade - Baby steps!!
Regularly checking the fit

Drilling and carving the tang hole in the handle gave me my next challenge as the wood clogged my drillbits every 2-3mm of drilling even if I was using a hand drill and going really slow. The clogging seemed to harden instantly like super glue in the cavities of my drillbits making them almost impossible to clean up. It took ages to drill two small holes for the depth of the tang. The rest was done pretty efficiently using a tiny square rasp and a very narrow saw that I have modified for this special task.  
Getting ready to drill the tang hole

Tang hole finally done


After shaping the saya and handle I was now ready to fit it all together. The saya was too light colored to match the handle so I dyed it with a spirit based wood dye. After some tests on a piece of saya wood I found mixing two parts "grey oak" to one part "red mahogany" would do the trick. After the dye had dried up I sanded down the saya with #800 paper until I got just the right color. Then I saturated the surface of the saya in Danish oil which gave me the exact color and hue I was looking for. After 48 hrs of letting the Danish oil harden, I gave the saya a final buffing with a wax based wood polish to give it a nice and silky shine.

All parts finally ready for assembly - Note the very light wood in the saya

Next up was to glue the blade in place. I had made the tang hole very slightly oversized to be able to micro adjust the handle on the blade. I wanted to give the handle a 1-2 degree lift related to the blade to make it more comfortable to use over time.

All taped up and ready for assmbly

Handle glued in place


Even if I had a really hard time working the material for the handle, this was one of my most rewarding projects ever. Before I started I feared that the heavy handle material would throw off the balance of the knife, but it came out perfect with a balance point just under 1" in front of the handle. The handle wood is some of the most spectacular wood I have ever seen and it really accentuates the dramatic lamination line of the etched blade. I was pretty happy with how the saya turned out as well to be honest. To pimp it all off I made a matching pin for the saya using the same marbeled horn as I used for the bolsters. Note the dark stripe in the pin matching up with the ink line in the saya :o)

Well, that's all, folks. Thank you for reading. I am happy for any comments and suggestions to my work as usual, as your comments is the only way I can get better at what I am trying to do. 

PS! NO power tools were used for this project. All toos used, except for the sanding paper and a Japanese ryoba saw, are shown in the pictures. This was done partly because the handle material did not allow for the use of power tools and because I wanted to see if it could be done in a proper way without the use of powertools. It took more time, but I did not heat up the materials at all, witch will reduce the possibilities for cracks and warping.

22 Oct 2011

Honyaki Gyuto 240mm refurbishment

I got this gyuto blade a while ago. It is a 240mm honyaki blade, made from Shiro-ko #3 steel and it is oil quenched. Shiro-ko #3 is very rarely seen used in knives. It is identical to Shiro-ko #1 except it has 0.8%C instead of 1.3%C in Shiro-ko#1. It is thus a very delicate blade with exceptional capabilities regarding hardness and ability to take an ultra sharp edge. As the toughness of the steel is low, it is a blade for the finer work in the kitchen where an exceptionally sharp and a wear resistance edge is required. From the two charts below you can see the striking similarity between the Shiro-ko #3 and the Shiro-ko #1. If anything the Shiro-ko #3 appears to be an even purer steel than the #1.

Steel composition chart for Shiro-ko #1 (from

Steel composition chart for Shiro-ko #3 (from

The blade is originally an OEM blade made in Seki, Japan. Rumors has it that two previous owners/ knife makers has thinned and reshaped the blade on a belt grinder, thus removing the kanji, but both makers finally abandoned it for unknown reasons. Finally it ended up at my friend Øivind's house and as Øivind didn't seem too keen on the blade either, he traded it with me for a new handle on one of his new knives. Hopefully he won't regret that too severly when he sees the finished knife.

The blade didn't look like much when I got it, but I needed a project and anticipated there could be quite some potential in this blade, so I gladly accepted the challenge.

The grind marks were quite pronounced and I didn't like the profile of the kissaki so the first thing I did was to reshape the tip by lifting it a little bit. That balanced the blade and made the profile more to my liking.

You can see the very pronounced grind  marks. Hamon just visible.
The next thing was to polish the blade and rounding the choil and spine. That shoud prove to be a longer and more work intensive project than I first expected. I started out with some pieces of old synthetic stones. #220, #700, and #1000. Then I switched to Japanese natural finger stones. First Iyoto, then Aka pin and finally uchigumori. The steel in this blade is exceptionally wear resistant, so the process from #220 to the final polish took me around 25 hrs and wore down a lot of stones and finger tips. After this long and bloody process the finish on the blade looked like this. When I saw it I instantly forgot my sore fingers. It was a beauty of  a blade! Maybe just because it was now thoroughly baptized in my own blood.
A beautiful  wavy hamon on the polished blade. I just love my JNAT fingerstones.
So, I had this beautiful honyaki gyuto blade on my hands. Now what? It really deserved a nice handle and saya. I had just gotten in some beautiful redwood burl luthier wood and I had a couple of very nice stabilized redwood burl blocks from Burl Source in my knife shop. I didn't take any WIP pics of the handle and saya making as my camera was in another location at the time. I hope the pictures of the finished project speaks for itself.
When I got the raw blade and saw the grind marks from the belt grinder I was afraid that the heat treat might be destroyed. When grinding down the blade I realized that the heat treat was very much intact, and the first sharpening sessions on the finished knife have resulted in an exceptional edge. I now have this beautiful honyaki gyuto in my collection. Thanks to Øivind who traded me the blade and thanks to Mark at Burl Source for his exceptional handle materials. They are a joy to work with.

26 Aug 2011

Atagoyama Kiita with Kan, true #24 grade finishing stone

Since I started collecting and using Japanese natural stones, I have focussed mainly on performance which I believe is the #1 factor to look for in a sharpening stone. It doesn't matter if a stone is large as a brick if it can't remove metal and sharpen the knife properly. Not to say that large stones don't work. Problem is that a large natural stone of excellent quality will be very very expensive. Especially larger stones from the more famous mines like Nakayama, Shinden, Okudo, Oohira, Oozuku or Shobu seems to reach ridiculous prices. This is mainly because most of these mines are heavily exploited or closed long time ago, so the stones are very rare, if not impossible to come by.

Regardless of the price I just can't help looking at the big stones. Ever since I started collecting these wonderful rocks, the #24 size stone has had an almost magical attraction on me. Finally I could not resist any more and I decided I needed at least one. Question was how to get a good quality #24 size stone that would not ruin me or force me to sell my car.

The answer actually came in two parts. Maxim from reviewed a stone from the Atagoyama mine a while ago. This mine has not yet reached pop star status or astronomical prices and the stones are still fairly available in large sizes. Maxim rated this his all time favourite finishing stone for kitchen knives. The Atagoyama sounded like the perfect stone to go for. A real dark horse in the field of high end Japanese natural finishing stones. The only problem seemed to be where to score a true grade #24 high quality Atagoyama.

Shortly after, the second part of the answer emerged out of thin cyberspace. Masaru san from Hides export advertized three large Atagoyama stones for sale. All were #24 size 3kg++ and stated to be of good to very good quality. The stones were still rather costly but the cost to size ratio was fair I thought. A quick check with Maxim told me that the price to quality of the stones offered from Masaru san was not only fair but actually very very good as even these stones are getting increasingly hard to find in these sizes and of this level of quality.

Two of the stones were asagi like stones and looked pretty nice, but the last one offered instantly caught my eye. A 3.1kg stone with Kiita color and Kan pattern. I sent an e-mail to Masaru san with an enquiry which he responded to almost instantly. He said: "The Kan pattern is a pattern of single or multiple concentric rings in the stone and is said to be a sign of a very high quality stone with increased power. The Kiita or light tan to yellow color has no relevance for the sharpening qualities of the stone but the light color makes it a lot easier to see the swarf and mud building on the surface making it a lot easier to monitor the sharpening process." It was fairly obvious to me by now that the #24 grade Atagoyama Kiita with Kan pattern was the one and only rock for me. 
Atagoyama (in the middle) compared to my monster 4,5kg Aoto from Iida-tool (left)
and my large 2,5kg Aizu from Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones (right)

You can easily see the Kan pattern like parts of concentric circles on the stone
So to cut an already too long story short. I ordered the stone of my dreams from Masaru san at Hides export. A week later it arrived to my house. That is pretty quick from Japan to Norway. The stone was wrapped like it was prepared for high altitude air drop delivery and arrived in perfect condition. Masaru san was a really great person to do business with. He e-mailed me regularly to hear if the stone had arrived, if I liked it, how it performed and all that. Very good and personal service indeed! I can recommend his services any time. When ordering products this expensive from the other side of the world it is very reassuring that the seller takes interest in your purchase.

The stone was even more beautiful than in the pictures. It was large and it was magnificent! In addition to the kiita color and the Kan pattern I noticed a lot of black lotus evenly scattered throughout the stone like very small vanilla seeds. On the underside the stone was covered with a beautiful skin with some scattered chisel marks. It almost looked like it is iron clad. It actually felt like it was iron clad as well. The stone also felt a lot heavier than expected judging from its size. It felt really massive.
Here you can really see all the features of the stone. The Kiita color, the Kan pattern and the black lotus.

Look at that magnificent skin. I love it!
There were two rows of kanji on the stone. The kanji looking like 一本撰 reads "Ippon-sen" and means #1 selected piece. The long big one 愛宕鉱山合砥 reads "Atago kouzan awasedo" which means Atago mine finishing stone, and 二十四型 which means #24 grade or size. Last kanji is not visible on the picture.

I was really excited about this stone. To see what it could really do in a stone set up I decided to take one of my edges down a bit and resharpen it from #1500 WA stone through my hard and fine Aoto and finish off at the Atagoyama. After doing the ground and middle work on the blade moving to the Atagoyama, the first thing I noticed was the hardness of the stone. It was a lot harder than I had expected. Comparing to my other finishing stones I would rate it at Lv5(-).

Due to the hardness, the stone requires some sharpening experience with hard Japanese natural stones. I would not recommend this as a first natural stone to the fresh sharpener. The use of a Nakayama tomo nagura helped a lot. I also tried with Iyoto nagura for prepolish with great success. Without the use of a nagura, building a slurry took a little time, but as soon as the slurry built, the feel of the stone was great. It was very smooth but I could still really feel the work it did on my blade. 20-30 passes on the stone resulted in a very light slurry heavily loaded with black swarf. After 50+ passes the slurry had built to a dense dark olive slurry that really made the sharpening experience enjoyable. When raising the blade a little bit I could instantly feel when the work was done as the stone suddenly "sucked" the steel in. It was like trailing the edge on a wet rubber block that suddenly went dry. It is the exact same feel I get on my Oohira shiro suita.
20-30 passes gave a light slurry mostly from metal swarf suspended in near clear water.
50+ passes on the stone resulted in a dense dark olive paste. A very efficient stone.
The resulting grindmarks on the bladeroad soft cladding were visible but very dense and shallow. On the hard steel the stone gave a very nice and very light haze polish. The largerscratches are residue from the #1500 WA as I did not use enough time on the Aoto. I will redo this part and update the pictures at some time.

I have no idea what grit this stone is. Compared to my other stones I would rate it in the #8000-#20000 range somewhere. However, the resulting edge is the absolutely sharpest and keenest edge I have ever been able to do straight off a stone. Just a few final passes on the stone to make a micro bevel until the blade was "sucked" to the stone gave me an edge that was really scary sharp, shaving hair totally without pulling. It felt like I was actually trailing the edge on my arm, but the edge was leaving a very close shave. That was just spectacular. Later tests have shown that the Atagoyama performs equally well on both carbon, honyaki as well as stainless. Especially VG-10 and my blue #1 honyakis from Takagi gets that evil edge from this stone. Global knives from Yoshkin with its CROMOVA steel also took an incredible edge straight off this stone. No need to strop. A perfect all round finisher with remarkable sharpening qualities.
My very keenest edge to date, straight off the Atagoyama.
Residue scratches are frome #1500 WA stone and me being lazy :o(
A nice hazy mirror.
To sum things up a bit: This Atagoyama has really got me impressed. Both because of its beauty and sheer size, but especially for its versatility and excellent sharpening qualities. This is probably the last finishing stone I will ever need. It has all the qualities I have been searching for in a great finisher and it will last me several lifetimes. Right now I can't imagine ever wanting a sharper blade than this stone is able to produce either.

That said, it will obviously not be the last finishing stone I will ever want :o) You guys know how it is... We always look for the next high ground.

16 May 2011

Pimp My Knife! - Victorinox refurbishment project

I was discussing good bread knives with my friend Øyvind, and he told me he was planning to order a Güede. I told him that the Victorinox would probably be a better choice and a lot more bang for his buck than this pimped up Güede bread slicer.

As it was, Øyvind already had the Victorinox in question, but he believed it was to old and to ugly looking compared to the rest of his magnificent collection. He then came up with a cool suggestion. I could do a rehandle on his Victorinox. A "Pimp My Knife" project.

The Victorinox is a mid-end blade, higly commercialized and not exactly an eye-catcher. No matter its humble pedigree, it is a blade that is actually one of the very best in what it is designed to do. It is a long time favourite amongst European chefs, and I doubt that you will find a professional kitchen in Europe without at least one of these knives. It is called "The world's best bread knife", and as far as cutting bread or cakes, I have not come across any knife that does it better.

To cut a long story short...
The blade and handle sure had some issues that needed fixing, so I accepted Øyvind's challenge to "pimp" his Victorinox. The starting point was a bit depressing looking, and I sure wondered what I could do to the knife to make it shine again.

First task was to get the old, cracked handle off without damaging the blade. Drilling out the rivets, which were aluminum, was easily done. At this stage I also sharpened the blade on the back side with a #1200 Aluminum oxide stone to bring out a fresh serrated edge. This grit made it fairly sharp while keeping the toothiness required to cut bread and especially crust effectively. I would later remove the scratches when satin polishing the blade.

Next up was to find a nice piece of wood to fit as the new handle. I wanted to keep the semi-hidden tang from the original handle, so I needed a block rather than scales for this one. I know Øyvind and he is a lover of curly and burly woods. I happened to have one that was both curly and burly, and it was Norwegian as well. A nice stabilized block of exhibition grade Masur birchwood.

I wanted to make a handle that had a little more belly and palm swell than the original handle, but still keep the light feel of the knife and its grip-friendlyness to both large and small hands. I thus made a rather highly contoured shape with a good palm swell but with narrower grip towards the blade.

I was wondering what to to to make the knife a little more special looking. After all this was a "Pimp My Knife" project. A knife I had seen on an exhibition a few weeks earlier gave me the idea. Fileworking the spine in the handle. So I started out experimenting on how this could be done as easy and consistent as possible. I ended up using my high power Dremel with an extention cord and a small sanding drum with a #120 grit aluminum oxide paper. This worked like a charm!

Next up was to attach the blade to its new handle and align everything. I sanded out a little extra space in the slot for the tang to fit a couple of black fiber spacers to give a better contrast for the file worked spine.

To finish the handle I used #220, #400, #600, #1200 and #2000 sanding paper followed by a light wood buff on the wood and a green metal buff for the spine and the pins. I also fitted a nice mosaic pin to give it that final "Pimped" look. I gave the blade a nice satin finish with a #1200 fibercloth doped with aoto powder, giving the blade back the as-new finish.

This Victorinox has been officially DarkHOeK Pimped!
Thanks for reading.