The Voyageur – Knife Making

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to create the most important tool in bushcraft. The knife. There are an endless style of knives out there, however I found myself drawn to scandinavian steel and grind. Norway, Sweden and Finland are a few of the countries that have a long standing tradition in superb bladesmith with companies like Helle, Mora and Enzo. Up until this point, I have used my Morakniv as an all purpose knife, however I wished to own one with a figured handle. Instead of purchasing a knife, I decided to make one.

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Carbon steel blade, forged in Karesuando, Sweden.

Choosing the steel. In the simplest sense, steel is combination of iron and carbon. There are numerous different types of steel with different properties. Different alloys can be added to provide these properties. When it comes to forging a blade, the key distinction is whether you want a simple carbon steel blade or a stainless steel blade. The stainless properties come from the addition of chromium to the iron and carbon. The chromium provides rust resistance and flexibility but at the sacrifice of the hardness of the blade. To qualify as stainless, the overall composition must be at least 10.5% chromium. Stainless steel is the choice for several folding knife makers such as Victorinox, because of the low maintenance required with this material. Carbon steel on the other hand, is more prone to rust and corrosion, however many prefer this steel in bushcraft because it is harder and can hold an edge for a much longer time if properly maintained. It is also an easier steel to sharpen in the field. I could go on and on about the different steels that are available for knife making but to keep it short, I decided to go with carbon steel, particularly from Sweden.

Karesuando, Sweden: The most northern town in the country is known for producing superb Scandinavian blades.
Karesuando, Sweden: The most northern town in the country is known for producing superb Scandinavian blades. Photo courtesy of  Stephen Hudson. http://stephenhudson.net

Karesuando is the most northern town in Sweden, it is known for producing superb blades. I purchased mine from Thompson’s Scandinavian Knife Supply . An excellent supplier of anything knife related including stabilized wood, pins, and bolsters. They have a variety of blades to choose from.

Choosing the wood. This was an easy choice for me. Curly birch. A wood that in my mind exemplifies the culture of canoeing in Ontario. When purchasing the wood, it is key to choose “stabilized” wood. This means that it has been dried thoroughly and is no longer prone to movement. The cost of the wood would also vary depending on how much figure is present.

Chiseling the outline of the tang, was a simple process and completed by hand and chisel. I like the Karesuando blades due to their thicker tangs in comparison to the Moras and Helle blades. This particular blade had a drilled hole designed for pin placement however in my case, I was going to be using a hidden wooden peg instead of the usual polished brass pin. This peg would work to secure the steel to the handle and prevent slipping of the blade.

Two separate types of glue were used to mate the two halves. The most common method of fixing steel to wood is by using epoxy resin. For the wood-wood contact however, it was gorilla wood glue all the way. I clamped the pieces and let it sit for 24 hours.

Next came the difficult task of actually shaping the handle. I decided that I was going to do this by hand. It was a laborious process of carving, filing and sanding. My influence for the handle came mostly from existing Helle models such as the Temagami and the Eggen. While many Scandinavian knives lacked any sort of finger groove, I knew that I wanted a fingerguard.

When I was finally satisfied with the end result, it was time to sand it and put a finish on the handle. Ideally, you’d want the handle as smooth as possible before putting on any coats of oil or finish. The sandpaper should have a grit of at least 400. In this case, I wanted a simple finish that would bring out the grain and figure of the wood. I stuck with tried tested and true boiled linseed oil. After several coats, I then proceeded to apply layers of beeswax for further protection and to seal it.

In the end, I must say that I was overall happy with the result. The voyageur’s  handle fits comfortably and the blade is fastened securely. The use of machines would definitely make the process faster and easier however I wanted my first one to be completed by hand.

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