Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Katana Rough Out and the Microwave?
Have you ever had one of those serendipitous moments where all of your stars line up in a row and miracles seem to happen? Well, here is what happened to me. After having just gotten into the whole knife making scene, I was pruning my apricot tree to make room for a few more plants underneath. After cutting off a fairly large branch and while in the process of dragging it away to be cut up and hauled off to the county landfill, I happened to glance at the cut end of the branch at the beautiful swirls of grain that had been exposed. So many colors; black, browns, reds, blonds, and yellows of may hues. It donned on me, this would make a FANTASTIC knife handle! So, like any lover of beautiful wood, I cut it up into short sections and anticipated what my new knife would look like.
Now those of you who have ever collected wood from anywhere but in the stacks at the lumber yard, you know that the wood must be completely dry before attempting to do anything with it. The professionals say that it takes wood about one year per inch in thickness to dry. Now if my math is right, and being a professional engineer it usually is, my 2” by 2” little block would take two whole years to dry. That seemed like a life time. Well, I have never been accused of being a patient man, so I did a little research. I’ve heard of kiln-dried wood, which is how most commercial lumber is dried, but have you ever heard of microwave-dried wood? That’s right; I used that familiar old household appliance to nuke my little block dry. Here’s how I did it.
First I split the block into two halves giving me two 1” by 2” blocks. I put these blocks in the microwave on a paper towel and zapped them for 45 seconds on the defrost setting, flipped them over and zapped them again for an additional 45 seconds. I then let them cool back down to room temperature and repeated the process over and over again. Probably the best technique that one could use in order to tell when to stop nuking the wood would be to use a postal scale and weigh the blocks after each cycle. When the blocks stop losing weight, which would indicate that no more moisture is being evaporated out of the blank, you know that they are dry. But since I don’t have one of those things, and being too cheap to purchase one, I just kept zapping away until they felt really hard and gave a beautiful “clack, clack” when I banged them together. (I wonder what the postal workers would say if you brought your block of wood to be metered?) Good enough for me.
Tip from the stump: by the way of a disclaimer, using this method for drying your wood could very easily cause your blocks to catch on fire, followed by your microwave, cabinets, kitchen, roof, . . . i.e. I will not be held responsible if you burn down your house! Use short cooking periods on the lowest heat setting for your microwave and do not leave the blocks unattended. Also, get your wife’s permission to try this before she opens up the microwave and is surprised by your latest science project. I would hate to be responsible for upsetting your marital bliss.
With my little knife handle blank in hand, I realized that I really didn’t have enough length to the wood to make my usual dolphin shaped handle, so I decided to try a short and stocky handle shape to see how it would feel. Here is what I came up with:
Now isn’t that some beautiful wood? I’ve never seen grain so beautiful before! Now, how does she carve? In a word, fantastic! The stubby little handle is actually very comfortable; in fact, I would recommend this handle style for someone who has arthritis or problems with a week grip. I decided on making it a rough out knife and put in a 2-1/4” Katana shaped blade. It has all of the properties of the all-purpose Katana blade that we discussed earlier except for the fact that it is a dedicated rough out knife since the blade is far too long to do much detail work. All things considered, it turned out to be a great little knife. And did I mention who beautiful the wood is? Fantastic!!! You will find more photos of this beauty in the Knife Gallery.