The epoxy has cured and the knife is ready for finishing. I put the knife in the bench vice and using a hack saw, cut the bolts very close to the micarta slabs. I put on the leather-covered platen and with the knife held by the tip and using a 120-grit belt, I clean up the spine and butt of the handle, grinding the micarta down very close to the steel. For this operation the knife is held vertically with the belt running lengthwise along the spine. When I start to get a few 120-grit scratches in the steel I switch to a new 220-grit belt and finish smoothing the handle from butt to ricasso. I remove the tape on the top of the knife for this step so that I can smooth the lines in the steel all the way to the point and show a smooth continuous grind. I am very careful with this step so as not to heat the tip, which would destroy the temper of the blade. I follow up with a 400-grit belt, then, using the small-wheel attachment and the 1" contact wheel I repeat the processes described above for the bottom of the handle and finger groove. When the perimeter is flat and smooth I carefully wash and dry the knife, then wipe it down with WD-40, which, incidentally, removes and tape adhesive residue quite easily. I wipe off the WD-40 with a clean rag and re-tape the knife from ricasso to tip.
The flat platen and a 50-grit belt are used to get the handles, bolts, pins and thong-hole liner flush and flat. It is critical that the bolts not be allowed to get hot and weaken the adhesive bond or burn the micarta. I use slow speeds and fairly new belts that cut quickly while generating little heat. I spend a lot of time quenching the handle to keep the bolts and micarta cool. Notice that I have only ground the bolt heads off at this point and not all the way through to the stainless barrel nut below. There is no “bird’s eye” effect and the pins look like solid brass. This is what Corby rivets (described in the handle installation post) look like when finished flush with the knife.
An 8" contact wheel is used to start shaping the handle material on the sides. I like a "Coke Bottle" shape so that when you look down on the handle you see the bottle shape with a palm swell in the middle. A 50-grit belt scallops the sides. A 120-grit belt gets out the deep 50-grit scratches.
From here on it is really a free hand and imagination exercise. The platen attachment is installed and the flat platen removed. This allows use of the "slack" belt between the upper and lower rollers. Sometimes I will put the 8" wheel back on the machine and use the slack area above the wheel, depending on the need. I use a "J" weight flexible belt for all of the slack work because of its flexibility. The variable speed controller allows me to adjust my speed and roll the belts to follow the contours of the handle. I start with a 120-grit and start rounding the sides with a convex shape. I round the upper and lower edges on each slab to get rid of the sharp edges. It is important that I not remove too much material with the 120-grit belt. The handle is still fairly large and thick when I switch to the 220-grit belt. Final shaping with the sander is done with the 220. After that it is mostly handwork. The most important thing when shaping the handle is uniformity of contour and thickness of the material. If the slabs are not ground uniformly, not only will the knife look sloppy, but it will not feel "right" in the hand. I try to ere on the side of caution and would rather do more work with a file and sand paper if necessary rather than cut too much material with the grinder.
The Stock Removal Blade - Part 5 - continued
When the knife is fairly close to shape I switch to hand work. The knife vice allows me to rotate and position the knife to work at any angle. I use round files to work the outer radii of the finger grooves and butt, then follow with a wooden dowel wrapped in sand paper. There are no short cuts here. It takes a lot of patience and successive grits up through 600 to get the finish smooth and ready for buffing. The bolts, pins and thong-hole liner need to be sanded to 600-grit because it is too difficult to buff out the 400-grit scratches. Handwork will sometimes lead to scratches along the perimeter areas of the knife. If that happens I take the perimeter back to the 1" wheel or leather platen for cleanup with the 400-grit belt.
Buffing is the final step. I use Osborne Stainless Steel buffing compound on a sewn muslin wheel for the first buff. It is aggressive, but not too much so and works really well with micarta. When I get a good even shine all around I wash the knife and go to a white compound, wash again and repeat the buff with red compound. I carefully inspect the knife for any scratches, pits, nicks, etc., and correct the flaws as needed. Notice that the knife is not marked. I never mark my knives until they come back from the sheath maker. This knife will be shipped out for a custom made sheath. That way, the maker can wet-mold and shape the sheath, in this case a pocket type, to tightly fit the knife and conform to its contours. I have found that wet-molding and the acids from leather can sometimes leave small marks on carbon steel, requiring additional sanding and cleanup before marking and shipping to the customer. Since I use an electro-chemical etch the additional sanding would ruin the mark. It is almost impossible to get the stencil in perfect alignment with the original mark so it is just easier and cleaner to mark the knife after return from the sheath maker.
Here is the finished knife, with a custom made sheath by Gerald Barrowcliff, ready to be shipped to the customer. I have completed the final hand work and etched my logo onto the blade.