Photo 1: We’re working on a rough polish here. This wheel is made out of Sisal string sandwiched between two pieces of canvas. I use a black grease based polishing compound called Fast Cut. We are whisking away any grinding marks in the bolster, on the spine, the bottom of the tang and on the handle material. The Fast Cut compound leaves a hazy, cloudy finish but is very good at getting out any scratches.These buffers are the most dangerous tools in the knife shop. Way more dangerous than the bandsaws, drill presses and grinders. They have a habit of grabbing a knife and throwing it out there at 3250 RPMs. They are patient too, they will wait for years and then toss one out there. A knife shop at these times can be a very exciting place.
Photo 2: On the other side of this buffer I have a hard muslin wheel. Here I use a compound called Medium Cut. It is not quite as aggressive as the Fast Cut and does more polishing. This is the first of our buffing steps that starts to bring a gleam and polish to out knives. As in most of knife building, heat is our enemy. After these two steps I will generally set the knife down and let it cool. While it is cooling I will work these first two steps on another knife. I will generally get these steps done on all the knives in a batch before proceeding on. On the fossilized handle materials like Mammoth Ivory or Mammoth Tooth, I will separate even these first two steps. These materials are even more heat sensitive, so I go slow with them.
Photo 3: Here we have moved onto another buffer. This buffer has a soft wheel on one side and a hard wheel on the other. I use the same compound on both wheels here. The compound is Green Scratch Remover. This compound will really bring some luster out in our project. In this photo you can see the gleam of the reflections coming out in the bolster. I will use the hard wheel first as it makes the compound a little more aggressive and then move to the softer one for a cleanup and buffing. This compound is grease based and leaves some gunk that needs to be cleaned up afterward. The soft wheel will remove most of it.
Photo 4: Moving onto another buffer we’ll perform our last polishing step. This buffer is set up the same as the previous one with a hard and soft wheel. The compound used here is called Pink Scratchless. It is an extremely fine abrasive and brings a sparkling, high luster polish to our knife. The loose soft wheel does a good job of cleaning up and gunk left over from previous steps and I’ll use the hard wheel on the bolster to make it glisten. We’re after a sparkling glass like finish and this compound really helps us get it.
Photo 5: After polishing we will wax the knife. After experimenting with several different types of waxes (some of them crazy expensive), I’ve settled on plain old car wax. I am particular that it has carnuba wax in it. Of the different brands of car waxes I’ve tried I haven't developed a favorite, just as long as it has the carnuba wax. I will wax the entire knife: handle, blade and bolster. I’ll then set it aside and let the wax dry.
Photo 6: This is the final buffing process. Here I’m buffing the dried wax off. This buffer is dedicated to this process only, as I don’t want to get the wheels contaminated with any of the buffing compounds. These wheels are used for wax only. The larger wheel in the background is another sisal string wheel. I use that for getting any wax out down in the crevices of the filework or on textured handle material such as stag. The wax does an excellent job of cleaning any remaining gunk from the buffing compounds off and does a great job of protecting the knife from fingerprints. With steels that will rust, corrosion protection is also provided.
Photo 7: Here I’m grinding the secondary bevel on the knife that forms the edge. This is my adjustable speed 2 x 72 inch grinder. I turn the speed down to very slow, running the grinder at 15 to 20 percent. This prevents heat build up in the edge. I will grind in that edge on both sides using a 220 grit ceramic or silicon carbide belt. This will only take a couple of passes on each side. I do the left side first and then the right side. I will feel for the “burr” the whole length of the edge. When I have achieved this the knife is sharp. I’ll then use my buffer with the green scratch remover and just lightly knock the burr off. I’m not trying to polish the whole edge just remove the burr. The knife is now hair splitting sharp.
Photo 8: I have gone to testing the edge of each knife after I sharpen it. This I have found to be a reliable test and much better than shaving arm hair. I use a thick scrap of heavy saddle leather (12 oz Herman Oak) that is dry. I feel how the edge slices into the leather and how well it cuts for the entire length of the edge. Occasionally, I will have a knife that I need to resharpen but not often. On a knife with a more polished edge I will also slice paper. As you can see this little Gordo is plenty sharp!
Photo 9: So here it is all finished. Its been a long road from a piece of steel to this finished knife. Mesmerizing, high contrast, raindrop damascus blade, nickel silver bolster, red spacers and liners and a Mammoth Tooth handle that reminds me of the colors of the ocean.
Well I hope you enjoyed our little knife making journey. Keep on checking back as we cover other subjects on a regular basis.