One of the issues, that may or may not really be an issue, is how the metal behaves after drawing it out and quenching. The once very rigid file-type tool now performs more like a spring steel and has some flex to it. I was a little concerned at first about the flexibility and wondered if the metal had been compromised to the point of usefulness but having the flex will be good and probably keep it from being too brittle and breaking.
I wish I had gotten some pictures of it before I got it on the forge so you could see exactly what it looked like. I was concerned that the material was too thick and thought I’d draw it out on the anvil some to get a little extra length and width.
It seemed to work okay except for the fact that the file was now extremely thin and I was now concerned that it would be too thin to do anything with.
I had removed some of the hardness on this particular file earlier on by heating it up to operating temp and then buried the entire thing in a mound of kitty litter! I had read somewhere that doing this would make extra hard steel more malleable and easier to work with on the forge.
So, it did seem to work, like I say, but the metal was probably overworked after the fact to a paper-like thinness and at one point, I thought I had developed a crack along the junction of where the tail meets the blade itself.
However, I looked it over and after closer inspection, I found no such cracks. However, the thinness of the overall blade made me a little more cautious about making it any thinner. I then hammered out the metal one more time in an attempt to get all the hammer marks out of it (which I never seem to be able to accomplish) and made sure everything was straight and true.
I heated it one more time and then went to the oil quench which I have a converted Swiss/German Military Surplus Mortar Rocket Round Storage Tube Canister at the ready for anytime I am out by the forge and doing the knife-making.
This thing is probably the best thing I’ve ever used as far as keeping the oil for quenching in it because it seals up airtight so I can just leave it without worrying about the contents becoming compromised.
The tube is also at a good depth in case I need to quench longer machetes and short swords. So, back to the file-knife at hand. After I quenched the thing and removed all the forge scale, I began working on a stacked leather handle for it.
This is where the fun begins because there is really no way (that I know of) to perform this procedure without getting leather dust everywhere. I took the knife outside when I got ready to start sanding because I knew from past experience that if I didn’t have it outside, the inside of my garage would be covered in a fine dusting of leather.
The way I approach this procedure is to have more material than I need so I can sand it to the contour I want to achieve the aesthetic I’m looking for. This is only the second stacked leather handle I’ve ever done – probably because of the time and effort involved in the process but I do like the end result!
Also, I like doing this procedure with a knife that is going to have a hidden tang because it is a reliable way to put a handle on a blade that only has a “wisp” of material to work with.
Now, I did draw out the tail of the file which gave more material to work with and achieved the length I needed for the handle to be able to be held and the knife to be appropriately wielded. But, like I’ve said previously, doing this makes the metal thinner and may cause issues later on.
One of the issues, that may or may not really be an issue, is how the metal behaves after drawing it out and quenching. The once very rigid file-type tool now performs more like a spring steel and has some flex to it.
I was a little concerned at first about the flexibility and wondered if the metal had been compromised to the point of usefulness but having the flex will be good and probably keep it from being too brittle and breaking.
I just thought it was weird that this kind of steel would become this flexible after working it in the forge. So, don’t get me wrong, the knife isn’t all bendy or anything, but it does have some flex that obviously wasn’t there in its original form.
So, to make the stacked leather handle, you first need to have some donor leather that is pretty thick – probably about an eighth inch. I’ve found that old leather belts are really good for this purpose and I would suggest not to throw away anything that is made of leather because it can be repurposed later.
For this project, my wife had been given an old belt by her dad that he didn’t want any more and thought I could use it. He was right. Just so you know, this belt had been around for many a year and was thick with sweat stains that had saturated all the way through.
It made the leather a little more difficult to work with but was deemed worthy for this project. (Let me just say that I’ll revisit the “sweat” status of this belt later on.)
Take the belt or whatever leather you’re working with and cut it into small squares about an inch-and-a-half. For this project I used the entire belt my wife brought home and then I had to supplement with another belt I had bought some time back for just this purpose.
It took almost the entire length of both belts to make a handle of about four-and-a-half inches. The first two-thirds are from my father-in-law’s belt and the rest is from the other one.
After you’ve cut the belt up into little squares, you want to make a small slit in the middle of the squares (I would do one at a time so you can get the desired effect.) On one side of the leather, you will want to coat with some contact cement –
(I use wood glue because that’s what I have available but all the “professional” leather workers recommend contact cement.) After you’ve coated the leather with the rubber cement, place the tang into the slot that you’ve cut with your box cutter or other sharp instrument, and slide that piece of leather up to the bottom of the guard –
YES! You want to be sure that you have your handguard in place before starting the leather stacking! After you’ve placed the first leather piece, you just repeat the process – cut, glue, slide glued piece to bottom of last piece until you have the desired length.
Remember to leave room at the end to place the end cap and be able to secure it.
There are several ways of securing the end plate to the tang, such as threading the tail and placing a nut on the outside or my favorite, welding, so I know the cap will not back out or come off.
A word of precaution here though, do not leave the welder on for any length of time because it will burn the leather! I go around and just tack the nut in place and then add some more if I think it needs it. However, keep a spray bottle of water handy for cooling the metal and scorched leather.
Once you have the end cap in place and you are comfortable that it will not come off, the fun part begins in earnest because now you have to take an angle grinder and sander to the handle to get the shape you desire.
Remember when I said I would revisit the “sweat” status of the donor belt? Yes, while you are sanding the handle, the leather heats up and becomes scorched. The sweat that is imbedded in the belt also becomes scorched and in essence you are “cooking” the leather and the smell from the sweat is totally different than just the smell of burning leather!
Just a fun FYI I thought you should know about. Remember too that when you are using your angle grinder to sand down the excess leather, you need to use finesse because you can get too close the handguard and make some unintended marks to the bottom of the guard.
Yeah, that happened. I guess I’ll need to take my Dremel and some polishing compound and “buff” them out.
Well, there you have it - the ugly truth about creating a leather stacked handle. But, while the process seems labor intensive, the end product can be really beautiful!
This is going to wrap today’s topic and I would like to say thanks for stopping by. I hope you found the article somewhat informative, if so, leave a comment below. Also, I'd like to hear from you if you have a better process than what I've listed here. Just leave a comment below and until next time – Happy Living!