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






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.


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


Carve HW80 stock update

It has been a little while since I posted an update of work on the stock.Work and commissions have slowed down progress a little, but things are coming together nicely; here we go:



Hopefully the pictures are self-explanatary; in order they are a shot of the whole thing then the underside, the bird-and-moth graphic on the butt, a detail of the pistol-grip and a detail shot of the side fore-grip.  Note, if you will, the two different types of scale-pattern, snake-scale for the pistol grip and fish-scale for the rest.

carve HW80 air-rifle stock – part 2

By the end of part 1 I had re-profiled the stock, added a cheek-piece and marked-out and rough-carved the fore-grip.  Total time so far approx. two full days excluding the time spent on designing the thing.

As this piece is something of an experiment, I was feeling my way through the process – something artists refer to as taking an ‘organic’ approach, I think…but I am cynical enough to think that ‘organic’ means ‘I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I hoped it would turn out OK in the end’…………

Where you are confident of your drawn line, you should carve confidently – cut to the lines drawn and not waste time re-carving the same thing over and over as you move tentatively towards the finished piece.  However, when you are not confident in your design then leave yourself some wriggle-room.

So, allowing a couple of mm for wriggle-room, it was time to start scaling the background, I also worked on one small area first, then if I liked what was happening I could then carve the rest of the grip with confidence, in one pass, or two at the most, avoiding a long-drawn out refining process.


Apologies for the image quality, I am certainly not a gifted photographer!  Oh, well, here you can see the first panel carved.  The scales were laid out with two base-lines at right angles to each other, the right of the panel shows the pattern printed out but uncarved, the carving having progressed from left to right.  You can also see an early version of the rope-work but it is too flat and too wide, it looked like a pastry pie-crust and was substantially re-worked later.

Time for this area was about an hour – there are about 60 scales and the half-scales are slower to work than the whole scales where tool room is not an issue.

image  Image two – the blue pen lines are the base lines for each panel; the pattern established in the first panel was extended across the fore-grip by first drawing on base lines accurately to carry the scales-lines across all the panels of the fore-grip – you need two as a minimum, the pattern needs to be kept straight in both planes – vertically and horizontally but the more-grid-lines that are put in, the better the finished piece will be.

Incidentally you should mark in pen and not pencil as much as you can, grimey graphite smudges all over the whole stock. However,it is not always possible to get pen to mark timber, especially if the wood is oily/greasy for any reason and at such times there is no choice but to use pencil.


Making progress, pattern pressed in over whole fore-grip with no 4 and no 8 gouges (see next image) and then modelled, leaves started too.

Time spent? Lots! Somewhere around three full working days but I am afraid I dipped in-and-out, so it was spread over most of a two-week period carving for two or three hours most days.


That’ll do for now; tools used are v-tool, number 3 gouge (flattish gouge used for hollowing the scales and for relieving the background), no 8 gouge (u-shaped), no 4 gouge (half the width and half the curve of the no 8; used to mark-out the half-scales), skew-chisel – long thin point used to clean-up

carving a HW-80 air-rifle-stock

I recently aquired an old HW80 stock and have decided to use it to trial some new carving ideas – principally the use of a raised rope border, which I have used in other contexts but never on a rifle-stock. I also want to carve much larger areas than is usual because the stock has a lovely curvey fore-grip, and I will probably combine both snake and fish-scale techniques, which may all combine to be a bit over-the-top – a useful rule of thumb is to avoid using more than three motifs, and another handy rule to bare-in-mind is to keep elements the same throughout to promote a sense of conituity. If I use both scale types then that will make four elements but I hope that the use of the rope-work edging and leaf-scroll-work will avoid the carving feeling dis-jointed.

Any-how, here are the before pictures


The stock was then heavily re-worked: pistol grip cut deeper and narrower; varnish stripped back; mahogany cheek-piece carved and inserted.


The fore-grip carving was drawn on and outlined with a v-tool (parting-tool)


Background relieved with shallow gouge – the technique is to carve in multiple passes – four in this case – the parting tool goes all around the areas to be left alone – it seperates (parts) them from the areas to be carved away (relieved). 

imageThe areas to be carved are then taken down to the depth of the v-tool cut – this approach means the carving is taken down at the same level throughout and, though there will be some adustment needed, the depth of cut should be more or less the same over the whole piece. On a panel this complex that is an important consideration.

I have not noted the precise times for each phase of carving but each pass takes about an hour, so a good morning’s work to relieve the background without cleaning out the imperfections – note too there is a wide margin left around everything incase of slips or changes of mind – you can’t put the wood back!