Cured Wood for Artful Knife Handles
Cured Wood for Artful Knife Handles

Cured Wood for Artful Knife Handles

Victor Smith’s hunting knives are objects of beauty, yet utilitarian as well. Marketed to hunters, they are intended for dressing meat in the field, but would also be at home in a display case. (Any of his knives would be a contender in the CWB Design Portfolio Awards. You can enter at woodworkingnetwork.com/designportfolio.) A major part of Smith’s technique is controlling moisture content of the wood then stabilizing it for lasting use.

“This wood is generally purchased green with a high moisture content,” says Smith, who air dries if for a year or more. “After a year’s time, when the wood is 80 percent dry, I then place the wood in my wood dryer (made from a food dehydrator) for two to three weeks.” Afterward it Cured Wood for Artful Knife Handlesis sealed in plastic and shipped from Smith’s Northridge, CA, workshop to K & G Stabilizing services, which applies a technique for plasticizing the wood cells with polymers and monomers for waterproofing and dimensional stability.

On its return, the wood block is cut in half for book matching grain patterns. “I drill holes, rough cut the slabs and epoxy them on to the tang,” he says, referring to the metal shaft seated in the handle. It is tapered from upper to lower end on Smith’s knives. “When you close your hand you will notice that the front opening of your hand is larger than the opening in the back of your hand,” Smith says. So he contours the handles to match this tapering as well.

Cured Wood for Artful Knife HandlesThe final process is rounding over the wood so it glides into the hand, eliminating sharp surfaces.  “I am slow and very meticulous,” says Smith, who estimates it takes approximately 20 hours and $100 in materials to complete one knife. “But that is only the straight labor time,” he says, and not counting set-up, clean up, searching for rare woods, and a year for curing.  “A knife maker does not enter into this profession to make lots of money,” Smith says. “It can happen, but usually only after many, many years, when the knife maker’s knives become collectible.”

Smith tests moisture content using Wagner meters (see page 25)  and has written a treatise on it. “Different wood species have varying densities and drying times,” he notes, even among related species. “Claro walnut is fairly light wood with relatively low specific gravity,” Smith says. “English walnut is much heavier with a higher specific gravity.” He works with numerous species, including spalted maple and hackberry, snakewood from South America, Amboyna from Southeast Asia, and Northern U.S. black ash.

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