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Thread: Road to knife making - The unfolding story of Merwe Knives

  1. #1156
    Sharp Shooter
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    The ULU, finally...

    Life is about trying out new things, that I've learnt. I frowned upon the age old traditional Kukri design when I first saw it, I made it and I was pleasantly surprised at its virtues once I used it, I know, I could only have listened to a zillion Gurkha's..
    As for 'weirdness' in blade design I guess the ulu beats them all. Used for centuries by rural folk living in sub zero conditions to prepare their food and ensure survival where McDonalds is regarded as a name and not an eatery. To the uninformed the ulu might resemble a woodworker's tool or even something to chop garlic with but the Eskimo actually use it for skinning, food prep and every other task we would use a 'straight' knife for.
    Just to recap some research I've done on the ulu.



    I dug up the unfinished ulu project and am about to finish the ulu so I can try it as a knife and share my findings here. The blade is heat treated and tempered, about to do the makers mark etching:





    I opted for 14C28n surgical grade stainless, might as well go all the way since I have the luxury of modern steels and the ulu might just become a hard working knife. Convex chisel grind it is, easy to sharpen in the field, even if only a flat rock available. The etching done, somewhat fancier than the average working ulu but I could not resist all that blank blade space, had to fill it with some design:



    The next design challenge is to secure the handle to the rather skimpy tang in a way that it will never come loose. I don't know yet just how hard the ulu is going to work but I definitely plan on using it for more rugged tasks than chopping garlic on a cutting board. I'm looking at a 3 layer handle with the tang embedded in the middle layer with high grade epoxy and a hidden retaining pin. Will be back soon with progress, the ulu will be a working knife before Xmas , thanks for looking.
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  2. #1157
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    Quote Originally Posted by DvdM View Post
    The Bug Splat knife.
    The finals; epoxy cured and excess wood removed to reveal the final handle profile. Finishing now happens slowly and carefully, firstly we do not want the wood scorched and secondly we do not want to spoil a finished blade by a slip of the hand and 60grit sandpaper touching it. The handle scale edges are ground flush with the tang edges and to accomplish this the total belt grit change process is repeated, 36, 60, 80, 120, 320 and 400 grit belts, first with the large wheel then again with the small wheel to get into the finger curves. Lastly the scales are finished by hand sanding and steel wool. Now the cutting edge micro bevel is done and stropped on leather. Ready for making the sheath.




    The end result, the Bugsplat knife is on its way to Mike, ready to be won in Sunday's Bugsplat shoot at Northcliff:




    Happy shooting to those attending!

    Thanks to Derek and Mike this knife now belongs to me. My Theoben done me, Greg and Devon proud today.....
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  3. #1158
    Sharp Shooter
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    Well done Mark! Enjoy that knife, use it, that's what it was built for, don't feel too sorry for it. And there I thought the honors would go to a Daystate... All credit goes to the shooter.
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  4. #1159
    Sharp Shooter
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    The Ulu.

    So I started planning the handle, even did a drawing and chose the wood:


    It was while wondering about the finger to blade clearance when I had a look at the authentic ulu example photos again. Those oke's don't have many trees where the Eskimos live, so most examples sport either bone or walrus ivory for handle material. Yeah, there's an ulu 'factory' in Anchorage Alaska churning out 'authentic' ulus, but with birch wood, walnut and 'cultured ivory' handles. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never laid eyes on a photo of an igloo under a walnut or birch tree. So I thought, if I had to make an ulu in Safrica, which I'm doing, should I not at least try and do the original justice and use bone or ivory? CITES made sure nobody except poachers have the luxury of dealing with elephant ivory so I remembered my stash of warthog ivory I have, difficult to use for anything but inlays because they are simply not bulky enough to get slabs from big enough to cover a full knife tang. I also resisted the temptation of using them as is for handles since that will require a stick tang which I'm not very keen on for reasons of structural strength. And also, while a whole warthog tusk might be a novelty for a non African, to us it's synonym with walking stick handles, bottle openers, cork screws and hat racks as found in curio shops and other places where tourists spend money on "African novelties'. What I'm saying is that warthog tusk in southern Africa is not exactly hen's teeth. So I decided to make an exception since this ulu already has a stick tang and in 14C28n steel I trust enough to live with this stick tang, the ulu design won't allow for tang breaking leverage to be exerted like a bowie for instance.
    So I dug up my warthog ivory stash.


    The tusk ends were sawn to get to solid ivory and I decided on merino horn end-caps with G10 spacers to round it off nicely:


    To accommodate the tang I drilled two pilot holes, marking the tang width and then used the Dremel with a milling bit, it smelt and sounded much like a dentist's shop:


    The end caps are epoxied on, laminated with the red G10:


    While waiting for the epoxy to cure I added some keying grooves to the tang, maximizing epoxy grip, that tang ain't going nowhere once epoxied into the tusk:


    I'll be back soon with news on the handle attachment and handle finishing. Thanks for looking.
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  5. #1160
    Sharp Shooter

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    Wicked ..........
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  6. #1161
    Springer FT World Champion '09
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    What did knife makers use before epoxy? There's a challenge Derek!
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  7. #1162
    Sharp Shooter
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bludlust View Post
    What did knife makers use before epoxy? There's a challenge Derek!
    Blud, they relied heavily on rivets which must have been a headache since natural materials like bone, ivory and wood shrinks with time, they did not have vacuum chambers to 'stabilize' wood by impregnating it with polymers. Rivets on full tang handles with through holes in the tang to form an epoxy 'bridge' between scales are now mere decorations, I can attest to that, I have dismantled epoxied scales without rivets. The 'dismantling' process entails grinding the wood from the tang to remove the scales. Once moisture crept in between handle scales and tang the historic knife handle was doomed. This is impossible with a modern epoxy bond. I would have looked at sealing scales and tang with pitch or even beeswax if I had to do the job without the blessing of modern epoxy. And an abundance of rivets of course

    The old timers had some glues, I came across mention of these when I built bows and studied the Mongolian laminated horn bows. They used gelatin based glues and shellac. None of those were 100% waterproof though.
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  8. #1163
    Sharp Shooter
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    The Ulu.

    It is done, eventually.


    And I took it for a spin:




    Using this knife will need some getting used to. I grew up using 'normal' knives, the Eskimo grew up using Ulu's, 'normal' knives to them. (They apparently even do their kids haircuts with it.) Biggest drawback to me becomes apparent when performing cutting towards myself, NO way you'll cut biltong with this tool without a cutting board.
    Last edited by DvdM; 20-12-17 at 18:36.
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  9. #1164
    Springer FT World Champion '09
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    Quote Originally Posted by DvdM View Post
    Blud, they relied heavily on rivets which must have been a headache since natural materials like bone, ivory and wood shrinks with time, they did not have vacuum chambers to 'stabilize' wood by impregnating it with polymers. Rivets on full tang handles with through holes in the tang to form an epoxy 'bridge' between scales are now mere decorations, I can attest to that, I have dismantled epoxied scales without rivets. The 'dismantling' process entails grinding the wood from the tang to remove the scales. Once moisture crept in between handle scales and tang the historic knife handle was doomed. This is impossible with a modern epoxy bond. I would have looked at sealing scales and tang with pitch or even beeswax if I had to do the job without the blessing of modern epoxy. And an abundance of rivets of course

    The old timers had some glues, I came across mention of these when I built bows and studied the Mongolian laminated horn bows. They used gelatin based glues and shellac. None of those were 100% waterproof though.
    I KNOW I have piqued your insanely rabid curiosity to challenge your equally insane brain cells!

    I KNOW you will craft the most beautiful historic knife using only the most basic of tools, just to prove you can, and I KNOW that there is a collector out there that will pay top dollar for something that perhaps only a master Japanese swordsmith could produce. I can only think it would be magnificent!

    I can almost hear the gears whirring in a Parys workshop.... To be continued!
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  10. #1165
    Sharp Shooter

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    Hello Derek,

    You do some fine work indeed.

    Regarding your thoughts and methods on handle attachment.

    Have you ever thought of trying the traditional Japanese way of handle attachment , i.e. the bamboo or wooden peg method that allows for easy disassembly and handle changing.

    As far as I am aware no modern Western maker is using this method , it could make for some interesting knives.

    It would be interesting to see your take on a Kwaiken , Tanto or Aikutchi.

    Cheers.
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