Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pocket Knife Mods & Minis

OK, between Arleen's pocket knives and Don Mertz' Tinker Knives I decided I had to modify some pocket knives for carving. Yeah, I'm a knife freak. Any excuse to have another knife to play with is good.

So I went looking for a nice, cheap 3-blade stockman to experiment on. I found it at Sportsman's Warehouse: a Chinese-made stockman under the Winchester brand.

For a $15 knife this one is pretty good. Nice bone handle (or at least it looks like bone); fit and finish are a lot better than I would have expected for a knife of this price. While information on this knife is scant, I suspect that the steel is 420HC. In spite of the bad rap it has among the knife snobs, it's not a bad steel. It's capable of being hardened to a 57 on the Rockwell C scale (HRC57 or 57RC), which is about the minimum hardness you want in a carving knife. By the way, don't fall for the hoary old salesman's pitch that a knife holds an edge for a long time is also easy to resharpen. The knife that holds its edge a long time does so because the steel is hard. Hard steel is tough to resharpen. Period. End of story.

In any case 420HC has the compromise of being hard enough to give decent service without being too dificult to resharpen. Now, when you think about it, about the only time you should sharpen a carving knife is when you do physical damage to the blade. Normally stropping the blade about every half-hour or so during use should be about all the sharpening you need to do. I have some knives I haven't taken a stone to in almost two years.

To make a long story short (too late!) I wasn't too worried about the steel. I was more worried about the springs: that they were strong enough to keep the blades from closing too easily. Keep in mind that 99% of 3-blade stockman knives have no locking blades. Now since I never saw a locking blade knife until I was out of college, I know how to use a slipjoint knife safely. Slipjoints may not be a good choice for a knife novice. Nah, strike that. I was 8 years old when I got my first knife, and it was a slipjoint. I never had the knife close on my fingers (came close a couple of times; the accellerated heartbeat reminded me not to do that again). Become acquainted with the knife, opening and closing it until your fingers hurt. Then take small cuts and never try to force the blade through the wood. You'll be fine.

The blades you see in the photo above are not how they came from the factory. I used Arleen's method of sharpening to regrind the blades. Like virtually every factory knife that wasn't made in Scandinavia, the blades had a secondary bevel. I used 5" sanding disks in an electric drill to grind the sides of the blades to as near a straight line as I could get from the back of the knife to the edge. I started with 220-grit wet-dry sandpaper to do the main grinding, holding the blade to the sandpaper for a couple of seconds, the dipping the blade in a cup of ice water to keep the steel from overheating, then grinding again. I did this until the secondary bevel was gone. Then I sanded each blade with 400-grit, then 800-grit to take the scratches out. I finished off by stropping. I made the strop from a 5" circle cut from the back of a pad of yellow paper, used spray adhesive to mount it to the sanding pad, and loaded it with green polishing compound. I was able to get a very high polish on all the blades.

Then I got out the Dremel. With a grinding stone. The single blade on the left was a rather exaggerated spey pattern. I have come to really like the big sweep/sharp point profile, so I modified the blade to that profile. Touch blade to stone, dip blade in ice water, and repeat. At 30,000 rpm even that method doesn't take long. The shorter blade on the right started out as a sheepsfoot pattern. I'm slowly working it into a Wharncliffe. I left the main clip blade the same profile, though at 2.5" it is longer than I like. Once I get the Wharncliffe profile where I want it, I'll probably work on shortening the clip blade.

One more thing before I tell you the results so far, if you choose to do this, expect to have the blade edge roll on you the first time you use it. That's because the steel isn't hard enough to support the scandi-type edge at such an acute angle. A couple of good stroppings will put enough of a micro bevel on it so that the edge won't roll.

So, how did it work? I used the ex-spey blade to do these two 3" tall Santas. In case you can't tell, one of them isn't finished. The knife worked like a champ! It's not a Ralph Long knife, but it's usable.

I gotta tell ya, carving these little guys scares the peewaddin outa me! (That was a phrase of my mother's, a genteel Southern lady by all accounts; if someone could tell me what "peewaddin" is (come on, Thomp, Tom, Gene), I'd greatly appreciate it.) Not because I'm afraid I'll get cut. Got over that a LONG time ago, but because taking off a 5-thousandths of an inch shaving (yes, I measured; I'm an engineer; get over it) in the wrong place could be enough to convert a nice little miniature into fire . . . . um, kindling. Maybe once I've done 1000 of them, like Tom, I'll get over bein' afeerd.

Until next time, let the chips fly!


  1. I'm finding that out about how even the thinnest shaving can alter the piece--change an expression or completely mess it up beyond repair.

  2. like you, i can't go pass a knife counter in a store without looking at the pocket knives, hummm that one looks like a great carving knife, lol
    good article , thanks for posting it , arleen

  3. Lots of great information there! I don't know what this world would be like without pocket knives. Thanks!

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  5. Great article on modifying a folder. Great idea about the 5 inch sanding disc. I assume you made up the sanding discs? Have not seen any wet/dry discs available.

    Not sure I would want a pocket knife for a defensive weapon in a bad situation. You have to get too up close and personal for my comfort. Use the right tool for the job at hand as my grandfather use to say!

    1. Yup, I got the sandpaper at an auto parts store, laid the disk on top of the sheet and cut around the sides to get a round piece that I tehn attached to the disk with spray adhesive.

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