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  • Brandant Robinson

Let's Start a New Build

Greetings, my old friends! It's been some time since I've found the opportunity to slip out to my shop and do a little of what I love to do, that of making knives. I think I got a little burned out or something. I took on so many custom orders all at once that my time out in the shop was feeling more like work than play. I have decided that I won't be taking any more custom orders unless someone asks me to make something that excites me. Other than that, I'm going to focus on building knives that I want to make and on improving my skills as a maker. I know that I may have upset a few people with this decision, and I'm sorry, but I make knives as a hobby and not for the money. So, I encourage you all to join my mailing list to receive an email when I finish a knife and make it available for purchase.


So, enough about that. Let's build a knife!


The knife that I'm going to start building will be a similar knife to the one that I finished up earlier this year. It will be a modified Bobcat design with a wharncliffe blade and the overall knife size scaled up a little for a 3 inch blade.


The above photo shows the very first step of the process, that of selecting materials. This step can be a difficult one and I took my time going through my inventory to make something extra special. I settled on Bertie Rietveld Dragon Skin Damascus for the blade and back spacer. I used this steel on the last knife that I made, but this time I hope to do some nitre bluing and pull out some fancy colors.


For the scales, I found a beautiful set of mammoth ivory scales that I have been saving, apparently for just this occasion. The have some beautiful greens and blues that are highly sought after. These scales are pretty thick and the bark is very thin, so it's going to take some careful work and planning to get the best out of these beauties.


I chose zirconium for the bolsters, which always looks classy with its charcoal grey, to break up the colorful blade and scales and give the eye somewhere to rest. I think I will likely add some texture to the scales too, but I'll have to see how things look as the build progresses.


The scales will be made from my go-to 6AL4V titanium and the thumb stud will be zirconium to match the bolsters. I hope to deck this one out with color, texture and artistry for something unique and gorgeous. I'll also be trying a new hidden screw idea that might make things much easier for me when assembling and disassembling the knife a dozen times during the build.


Here we go!


Work begins here at the bandsaw. As I have mentioned before, I don't have a dedicated metal bandsaw, but a bimetal blade in my Craftsman saw does a pretty good job for thin stock. Here we are sawing out the liners.


Cutting out the bolsters on the bandsaw. Working with zirconium is always exciting. It puts on my own private pyrotechnics show of sizzling sparks of glory. If you ever work with this stuff, keep a fire extinguisher handy as it can light your workshop up quickly if you are not vigilant.


Here's a little trick I learned somewhere along the way. I think it might have been a woodworking show on TV actually. Anyway, I traced the shape of the scales onto a piece of white paper, cut out the shape, and created this little window. I can move it around on the mammoth scales until I find the best figuring to my eye. Here is the show-side (left) scale and what I think is the best view.


Since the bark on these scales is so thin, I don't want to do any more sanding on them than I have to. So, I find the best view of the scales with my little window, tape the window in place so that it doesn't move, cover the scales with some masking tape, and finally trace the pattern onto the tape.


As I mentioned before, these mammoth scales are way to thick for a small folder, so I need to do some thinning. Working with mammoth can be a little challenging as you want to avoid heating it up too much. I use a brand new 60 grit belt and sand back and forth between the scales, taking great care not to let the mammoth heat up. If it heats up, it will likely warp and can even burn if it gets too hot. Go slow and easy does it.


The grinder doesn't do a very good job at flattening things, and since I like to keep some really tight tolerances, it simply won't do. In order to get the back sides which will meet up with the liners absolutely flat, I'll use another old woodworking technique. I scribble on the surface with a pencil and then sand them flat.


I use some 220 grit sand paper taped to my surface plate so that it's nice and flat. A little piece of tape doubled over like this leaves a little flap that works as a handle to make sanding this thin part easier to hold on to. Using figure 8 motions I sand the back nice and flat. Sand a little, check the back, and repeat.


Pencil marks are gone and the mammoth is nice and flat. I also set the scales flat on the surface plate and check for any gaps. None here for sure.


Using my surface grinder attachment I surface grind the back spacer so that it is flat and parallel, removing as little material as possible since I don't really want to thin it any more than I have to. I use the same process to flatten the blade, and since I'm using the same billet for the blade and spacer, I thin the blade down so that I can use two 0.020" washers. I leave the blade a little extra thick for now until after heat treat, just in case I get any warping..


Since the bolsters are zirconium, they don't stick to the magnetic chuck of the surface grinder. So, I just sand the back sides of each flat on the disk sander and follow up on the surface plate. No photo for that, but I think you still get the picture.


I also failed to take any pics of profiling the parts and drilling holes in the liners. I got into the build zone and forgot to snap some photos. Sorry about that, but there was nothing new that I hadn't shown before.


Well, that about does it for now. Next week I hope to test out my new hidden screw idea and see if it works like I hope. Until then, stay sharp!


- Brandant Robinson

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