Opinel custom knife handle

This was a really fun-yet-frustrating project.  Opinels are great pocket knives with very sharp straight-ground blades perfect for whittling.  The beech-wood handles, I find, are not so great, being a little too short for my comfort.  Searching t’internet revealed many people customise their Opinels, so I thought I would have a go.

Taking the knife apart is straight-forward but needs some moderate amounts of force.  Be very careful driving out the pivot-pin, it is very easy to bend (but don’t ask me how I found this out).

Once the knife is broken down, use the handle to take your measurements for the replacement parts, not the metal collar.  The metal collar is designed to squeeze the cheeks for the blade-pivot closed just the right amount on the blade and both prevent it from wobbling when open, and to apply a small amount of friction when opening and closing.  Therefore, the wooden cone the metal collar fits over needs to be made fractionally over-sized; again, please don’t ask me how I found this out….

Carving the handle was a lot of fun, and luckily I had kept an old broken knife whose snapped blade proved to be the perfect graving tool for cutting the knife slot.  I used some off-cuts of buffalo-horn and a small chunk of holly ( Ilex Aquifolium). One of the joys of a project like this is the chance to use up some of those tiny off-cuts you couldn’t bare to throw away – the total length of the handle is only 10cm ! On my screen, the first image is the actual size of the knife.

Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to try some scrimshaw but I couldn’t find any on-line tutorials for engraving on wood.  I took the finish down to 400-grit then burnished the holly with brown paper and marked up my design.  I scratched in the pattern with a spade-drill bit I sharpened to a needle-sharp point.  Note, very little pressure is needed to do the actual engraving.  Now, the difference between antler/ivory and wood is the fact that wood grain sucks up liquids, while these liquids just sit in the scratches in antler/ivory.  Finding the best ink was a challenge.  Paint just ran through the grain and made an unholy mess, so did all the ‘runny’ inks.  Charcoal was not dark enough, nor was soot.  Eventually I found a fine roller-ball pen that uses a ‘sticky’ ink that worked tolerably well.  Of course, being a water-based ink, I couldn’t use a water-based finish as it would wash the ink into the wood-grain, but Danish Oil proved perfect for the task.

Apologies for the awful photo quality

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Triple Heart Spoon

Looking through my archive I found this image. It is one of my favourite spoons, ever, though, if I were to make another I think I’d carve the stem a little differently. The single heart spoon I posted back in March was developed from this design, although if you compare them you’ll find lots of changes made along the way. I particularly like the flow of the endless knot and the reduction in size of the hearts from bottom to top.image

 

Dragon spoon

This was a gift for my daughter’s art teacher as he is moving on at the end of this term. I call it keeper of the pearl; if you look really close you might spot the ‘pearl’. There’s a tiny ball that is completely free moving carved inside the dragon’s mouth. I was really pleased with this one; only about 12″ long, it was quite a challenging carve, especially the head, where the eyes are only 3mm long and 2mm high, but it came together very nicely.

 

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Undercutting

 

This is a little acanthus scroll trailboard for a Victorian launch restoration, currently at the tweak and finish stage. The turn at the bow end is a little too oval, but otherwise it’s coming together nicely. The thing that really makes a deep relief like this ‘pop’ is to undercut it.  Undercutting is done to take the sides of the design out of sight. It is important that this is not overdone or the edges will be weakened. It is also important the back of the carving keeps in contact with the hull; if it is raised it will be susceptible to  breaking off when the carving gets knocked. The thing to bear in mind is to avoid pockets for water to collect in.

 

The first picture shows a vertical view but even here some of the sides of the carving are visible.

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Whereas this image is only slightly off-vertical and the sides are clear to see.

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wedding spoon

This was my most recent commission, a wedding gift for the groom from his bride. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all. The biggest challenge was the water-lily as I’d never carved one before but it all turned out very nicely.  The mahogany threw up a few challenges as it can be prone to splitting. The ship’s wheel is fore-shortened in the photo as it is carved on an angle. The top half of the spoon is actually the same length as the heart/stem/bowl. The underside of the flower is fully carved also, with the tendrils forming a never-ending knot and holding onto the horse-shoe that forms the top of the heart-lock

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lovespoon

This little distraction occupied much of my spare time from the end of November to late January, and now it has been delivered I can post about it.  The lovespoon was completely hand-carved, using a coping-saw to rough it out, then whittled with a knife and a very small shallow gouge; a tiny spoon-bent gouge was used to cut through the links(the heart is completely free to move around but the intertwining knot-work stops it from falling out). The only other tool used was a medium spoon-bent gouge for the bowl.  I hate sanding and put it off until there is no alternative  – the tool marks were smoothed down by scraping with the knife-edge held vertically – any remaining marks were smoothed off with a 400-grit abrasive mesh. Ironically, the wood was almost too smooth and the paraffin-wax finish needed warming up gently to make it more sticky as it just slipped off the wood in some places.

 

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Tiller to Brest – the Finale

Righto, well, about 2 months ago I managed to scrape together enough time to nip over and pick up the carvings I sent to Brest.  Apparently, temperatures in the tent exceeded 40 degrees and the wax I used as an emergency finish melted and ran into the ‘pockets’ in the rope-work making the carving look shallower than it was, although the tiller still looked great from anything more than arms length away.  I’m probably the only person to have noticed anything was wrong. While I was picking out the wax, I noticed some small adjustments to make, but the adjustments broke through the oxidised surface (wood changes colour as it oxidises), meaning I had to wait for the adjustments to oxidise and even out the colour difference before I could sort out the photographs.  Should have made the project simpler, finished in good time, taken lots of photos…… did say at the outset, time was always going to be an issue, sometimes I hate being right! Hope you enjoy the slideshow.

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