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Knife set - handle prototyping

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:36 AM, February 1, 2012 [Permalink]

As I mentioned in one of my comments on the previous entry, we are not sure yet just who will be making the handles for the chisels in the new set. At present, the blade maker has placed an order with the people who make the handles for his other knives, and it is these handles that we will be seeing when the first sample tools arrive.

But as we have no direct access to that workshop, Sato-san and I have found it difficult to properly communicate our wishes. So while we wait for those samples, we're also exploring other avenues. This afternoon I started my own prototyping. To tell you about this, I'm going to have to take you back ... way back!

Long-time readers of my website may remember an item I posted back in 1999, about buying some cherry planks. The wood I bought that day has not yet been used for woodblocks. After Shimano-san (the block supplier) passed away, Matsumura-san stepped up his wood business, and I have been using his wood (for the most part) since then.

So the four long - very long - planks have been waiting peacefully since that time. At present, they stand in a dry and well-ventilated corner of my upper basement:

These planks were purchased (for 400,000 yen - just over $5,000) of course for use as woodblocks. They are a fairly light and clear cherry, which would be best for colour blocks, and are thus not so 'rare'. If they were the heavy and hard type suitable for key blocks, I wouldn't even consider using them for any other purpose, but ... there they are, unused for around 13 years, so let's see if we can get just a little bit of our money back, shall we?

They are heavy beyond belief, but I wrestled one down and laid it out. (I chose the one that has become slightly cupped over the years - the other three are still perfectly flat.)

I sliced a small piece off one end:

Because of the cup, it won't lay flat on the table saw, but that's easily fixed with a shim underneath:

It's pretty rare for my table saw to have to cut stuff this thick, but the blade just makes it. I chopped off a few small pieces to start:

And then got out my old jigsaw/sander combination. I'm sure she was happy to be dusted off and to get some exercise!

And that's as far as I was able to take it this afternoon. I have to get back to the printing bench this evening, for 'real' work, and in any case, I can't move forward on these handles without building some little jigs for the table saw. There is no way that I am going to mess around with making all the angled cuts on such small bits of wood without working out a way to do it without getting my fingers anywhere near that blade! And of course we will need such jigs anyway, once production begins (assuming that this is the way we will go ...)

But they are indeed already beautiful little pieces of wood ...

Taking the measure of that plank, I calculate that I can get 1200 handles from it. That works out to about 80 yen each (just over $1). That's kind of high for a raw materials cost for such small handles, so before I do much more chopping away at it, it'll be worthwhile looking at some other options, I think.




Added by: Marc Kahn on February 1, 2012 8:41 PM

That last picture, with the cherry wood surfaced, shows it off nicely for what it is - a beautiful piece of hardwood. There would be a charm to having the handles of all of the knives and chisels match and you've certainly got enough material for that...

But, there are lots of beautiful hardwoods available and I believe that if each handle in the set were made of a different wood, they may prove to be more useful and more interesting to the carver. More useful because in an environment where you are continually changing tools, the visual difference in the handles of those tools lying on your work bench will make a desired tool easier to find. More interesting because your intended audience (wood carvers) will have an appreciation for the different species that you've chosen. As these tools are used, they will pick up oils from the hands of the craftsmen and each develop their own patina, ultimately becoming "old friends".

I think you should tool up to make the handles yourself and go for diversity.

Added by: Tom Kristensen on February 1, 2012 8:55 PM

I like Marc's idea of different timbers, but then I also like the idea of all cherry, so no help there. I am hoping that the handles will be a little bigger than the standard 105 mm of my set, not counting the protruding blade. At the same time there are probably some who want a smaller handle. Custom timbers, custom size range, what next? Gold plated steel.

Added by: Dave on February 1, 2012 10:44 PM

if each handle in the set were made of a different wood

Interesting idea. My initial reaction is to run for the 'safe' approach, and keep them all the same. This is a 'set' after all. But there is no question that having them easily distinguishable as they lie on the table would be very advantageous. A couple of my own chisels are quite similar in appearance, and it's always cause for a kind of 'double take' when I reach out to pick one up.

Another factor that would come into play here is that I'm personally committed to using only domestic materials for these tools - no imported hardwoods. No logging in Indonesia because of me, thanks. But Japan has pretty varied temperate forests over most of the country, so it should be possible to find a selection ... We'll have to give this one some thought.

[Edit: I came across a page where a guy is making toasting forks with hardwood handles, and - down near the bottom of the long page - he shows a photo of a set of them, all made from different woods. Not so attractive I think, although what Marc has in mind is perhaps not quite so garish as this ...]

hoping that the handles will be a little bigger than the standard 105 mm of my set

This question is already causing us some real headaches. The easy way out is just to follow the standard pattern - handles of 10.5cm in length, and I think that is what we are going to do for a start.

But if we are producing the handles ourselves, then why not set it up so that people can order a custom length? When I am designing these jigs, I'm going to keep this idea in mind. If I can make jigs that are flexible enough in concept to allow such variation, this might be a very useful option to be able to offer.

I said 'headaches' because when it comes to the size of the handles, it's not trivial to figure out how to make a balanced set of chisels when all the blades are different sizes, shapes and lengths. For the completely traditional chisel sets - like the large set we saw in the photo of Asaka-san's kit a few days ago - it's not a problem, because those are all flat chisels ... the aisuki type. But modern workers are expecting us to include both U-gouge and V-gouge shapes, and those of course have much more depth than the flat ones.

Added by: Lana on February 2, 2012 4:51 AM

Knowing the history and story behind the wood you are using in this post and the fact that you are doing it yourself, I find that a more attractive selling point but that is my own personal preference.

Added by: Dave on February 2, 2012 8:06 AM

a more attractive selling point

You mean as in, "The handles of these tools are made from rare cherrywood, specially selected by Dave himself at the famous Kiba lumber markets, and stored for more than 12 years right in his own workshop, the planks being regularly inspected and re-stacked as necessary, in order to ensure that they be properly dried and cured."

I hadn't looked at it that way ... Perhaps we need to be putting the price up! Or perhaps we should be selling the handles at a good high price, and tossing in the blades for free! :-)

Added by: Mark Mason on February 2, 2012 9:01 AM

But modern workers are expecting us to include both U-gouge and V-gouge shapes...

Is that the plan for the set to include a U and a V? I've never used, or felt the need for, a V and only rarely use the U I have. Is their any flexibility in the set to opt out of the V in particular?
Signed, A modern worker who wasn't expecting that.

Added by: Dave on February 2, 2012 12:10 PM

V and U

I've been waiting for this question, "What's in the set?" and very surprised that nobody has brought this up yet!

It's a big point, and rather than chat about it here at the bottom of a comment stream, I'll make a separate post about it. I don't think that can be tonight, because I'm in the middle of Mystique printing, but it will come within a couple of days ...

Added by: Julio Rodriguez on February 4, 2012 3:07 AM

Will you be offering a tool re-sharpening service or perhaps a stone-kit as part of the product line ?

Added by: Dave on February 4, 2012 8:43 AM

sharpening ...

We're looking around for some stones that will work best with these tools, although we can't really move forward on that until we have had plenty of chance to play with them.

But given that they are clearly going to be 'pro' level tools, should we assume that most of the purchasers have their sharpening routine pretty much worked out? Or should we assume nothing, and start from scratch - supplying everything?


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