Making a handle for a tired old kitchen knife

I found an old kitchen knife in our yard, put down and forgotten by my father-in-law. It’s a rough old thing, a blade of cheap steel that had originally had two plastic scales. The scales were long gone. Just the rusted remnants of their retaining screws remained and I couldn’t believe my father-in-law had been using it because it was bloody dangerous in that state. I decided to make a new handle for it and return it to him ready for use again.

I have some tiny scraps of yew that I rescued from the firewood pile at a nearby sawmill and one live edge fragment looked just about big enough for a suitable knife handle.

Before all the trolls think about getting up in arms about using yew for a kitchen knife handle due to the toxicity of its leaves and sap. It is long-established in historic terms as a prime timber for food, tool and military handles, and is perfectly safe for those purposes. For example, this high-end (and stunning) yew handled Japanese chef’s knife.

I roughly traced where the knife tang could be placed to optimise the thickest point of material. Then set about cutting away the excess material in baby steps. Opening up the wood exposed how incredible yew can look. I used a combination of my bandsaw and cross-cut sled on the tablesaw to reduce the piece until I had something I could split down the middle for the scales of the new handle. I had to be really careful because I was playing with just 1-2mm of error allowance over a heavily undulating surface in order to achieve a sufficient depth of knife handle.

I traced the knife tang and its holes accurately onto the interior surface of each scale and approximately onto the curved exterior surfaces. Then punched a centre point for each of three pin holes and using a brad point 6mm bit I drilled these out. Later these will take hardwood pins to act as extra strength in retaining the scales to the blade tang.

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I couldn’t photograph each step of the glue up because of the 5 minute curing time of the epoxy I was using (I really should start videoing this stuff). The steps are simple enough but it’s a messy process and wasn’t helped by me forgetting to get my kitchen wrap in position before I started.

  1. I prepared three (extra long) hardwood pins and rounded over one end of each to make for easier hammering into the scales and tang.

  2. Put two sacrificial pieces of OSB as temporary faces in my bench vise - glued with PritStik to stop them from moving about.

  3. Roughed up the surfaces of the tang and each scale.

  4. Mixed a generous amount of 5 minute epoxy.

  5. Coated the scales and tang faces with resin.

  6. Positioned all of the above.

  7. Used a loose pin to hold the scales in place while I hammered in the one of the end pins, then the opposite end and lastly the centre pin.

  8. Then I cut off the ends of each pin to as close to flush as possible.

    1. By this point the epoxy is really sticky so it’s a messy, horrible task.

  9. Lined the bench vise with a plastic bag because I forgot the kitchen wrap!

    1. Plastic — usually kitchen wrap — is used to stop the glued up unit from sticking to the bench vise

  10. Clamped the scales to the tang while the resin is curing. The slightly proud ends of the pins sink into the sacrificial OSB.

  11. Left the whole kaboodle for a couple of hours.

  12. Removed it from the vise and unwrapped the plastic so that it could finish curing overnight with plenty of air flow.

Finishing began with a messy glue covered knife - you can see the outline of the tang traced onto the smooth portions of the exterior. The opposite side is almost completely curved and was all but untraceable. I sanded the sides smooth and then contoured the handle to roughly match the form of the tang I had previously traced.

Then multiple rounds of refinement, working my way up through various grits of sandpaper; 60 -> 80 -> 100 -> 120 -> 150 -> 400 -> 600 -> 1200.

Multiple layers of Britwax Dark Pine, Rustins Worktop Oil and Britwax Clear were then applied with 1200 grit denibbing between Finally I cleaned up the blade and gave it a quick sharpen - I’ll leave the final sharpening until it’s handed over.

The end result for the handle is utterly smooth and has a warm, tactile feel. Unfortunately the photo really doesn’t do it justice. I’ll make a scabbard for it next.

Fergus N