FRAMED TANG KNIFE STEP-BY-STEP
Jared Oeser’s work as a knifemaker can be easily recognized by their traditional blade patterns produced with unconventional materials and executed with extreme precision. I became a fan of his work after purchasing one of his knives last year – an Alta Bushcrafter.
The full tang, 1/8” thick O1 steel blade has an overall length of 8 1/2”, with 4” of flat ground, razor sharp cutting edge. The straight, even grinds combined with the acid-etched flats give it a sleek yet rugged look. The handles are wenge wood, with black G10 pins providing a subtle effect on the wood’s undulating black and brown grain. The 1/16” thick orange G10 liners provides a high degree of visual contrast. All of these elements are beautifully and evenly contoured to provide a secure, extremely comfortable grip.
I liked this knife so much that I asked Jared to make me a second one. He promised to do something different, and made good on his promise with his first tapered tang knife.
The overall size is the same as the full-thickness tang version, but with a lighter, more compact feel. The handles are chocolate canvas micarta over bone linen micarta, with a thin stripe of black canvas micarta as a transitional layer.
When Jared and I agreed to work on a design project this year, it was natural for me to recommend yet another different approach to his Alta Bushcrafter model. After looking at some examples of framed tang knives, we agreed that this would be a new and different way to do something which Jared was accustomed to, a way to make the Alta a more challenging project. Besides this, there are practical reasons why the frame tang design is an attractive option - it offers a lower weight knife in an identical size, without sacrificing strength. It also provides insulation, both preventing the hand from contacting the metal (important in freezing conditions) and the tang is protected from the elements. We both wanted one, so the project goal was to make two framed tang Alta Bushcrafters with matching handles and sheaths.
First we met up to discuss how it would be done and what handle materials to use. A few weeks passed and we got together again, at Jaredâ€™s shop, to get started. Here is the initial sketch Jared had made.
He had already prepared one of the blades for heat-treatment. Here it is next to the sketch.
Here is the blade compared with a standard, full tang Alta. The lanyard hole on the framed tang version lines up with the fixed tang version. The other two holes are to hold epoxy, preventing the tang from slipping out of the handle. Jared left the top of the tang free of holes to maximize strength at a critical point â€“ the juncture between tang and blade.
To start, 1/8â€? thick flat stock O1 steel is lightly coated with blue Dykem.
The outline of the pre-ground Alta is then traced into the paint.
Following the outline, the rough shape of the blade is cut on a bandsaw.
An unused piece of handle material is used to push on the blade. Taped index fingers prevents abrasion during the production process. Now the blade is cut and ready for the next step.
The blade is ground to its final profile shape.
When complete, the profile of the second blade is identical to the first.
Next, the tang holes are drilled.
Along the way the drill bit is swapped out, which had been in use since Jared started making knives two years ago. Itâ€™s almost a piece of historyâ€Ś
The holes are countersunk with a power drill, smoothing the edges and creating extra space for epoxy.
Here we see a comparison between the initial drawing, the pre-ground blade, and the blade in process. The latter is taped to mark the line where the blade grind stops.
The edge is scored with two lines, marking where the blade grind will stop on each side.
The blade is ground, following the visual aids of the tape and scored lines.
The result: clean, even grinds that stop exactly where intended.
Jared does all of his grinding using, as he puts it, his body as the only jig. The clean, even lines arenâ€™t the product of any mechanical guides, but the result of a keen eye, steady hands, patience, and (of course) lots of practice.
The blade is given a quick sanding to remove any residual paint.
The blade appears done at this pointâ€Ś
However, Jared wants to mill the flats to make sure they are even.
The surface is milled in extremely minute increments, shaving off 1/5000th of an inch with each pass.
The result is a polished blade that is virtually identical to the first one.
The blades are now ready for heat-treatment. They are put in the kiln and preheated to ensure the entire cross-section of steel is at a uniform temperature. Once this occurs, the temperature of the kiln is raised to harden the steel.
Next, both knives are quenched in AAA oil to quickly lower the temperature and fully harden the steel. They are then tempered to relieve stresses that could cause the steel to be too brittle. They are tempered twice to complete the process.
Here is one of the blades after the heat-treatment process:
To verify hardness, the tang is punched with a steel ball. The hardness is a measure of the amount of force needed to leave an impression and the depth of the impression. This is known as Rockwell testing, and these blades measure 62 on the Rockwell scale. This is a bit harder than Jaredâ€™s usual, but he wanted these to hold an edge during slicing work, so a higher hardness was warranted. Now the knife is milled to remove the heat-treatment scale from the flats.
The scale is removed from the edge bevels on the grinder.
The grind height is then raised all the way to the spine.
Here is the finished (right) side:
Here is the unfinished (left) side:
The left side is then completed. Jared works carefully and checks often to ensure both sides are as equally symmetric as possible.
To complete the surface finish, first the blade is buffed with a sandpaper belt.
It is then clamped and polished by hand with increasing grits of sandpaper.
The line of dust on the surface provides a visual indicator of how straight Jaredâ€™s motions are.
The result is a smooth, clean surface free of scratches.
Finally, the spine and guard areas are polished.
Now the blade is ready for handle assembly. For handle material, Jared selected a set of desert ironwood burl pieces. They are â€œbook-ends,â€? meaning a thick piece was cut into two thinner pieces through the grain, making both sides very close in appearance. This is enough for both knives plus a little extra.
The wood is cut and epoxied to black linen micarta pieces of similar (although slightly thinner) thickness. The epoxied pieces are clamped together to keep the grain of the wood on both pieces matched up.
The leftover wood is saved for a fire steel. The grain is kept aligned by taping the two pieces together at one end.
For the frame, a piece of black linen micarta is cut down to roughly the same thickness as the blade steel. Jared works from the same sheet used for the sides, to keep the grain and color of the micarta as similar as possible.
The frame is milled to the precise blade thickness, ensuring the sides are perfectly flat.
The blade is then clamped to the handles and used as a guide for drilling the lanyard hole through the wood.
The tang shape is traced onto the frame using a marker.
The frame is then cut, and filed to smooth the inside surface.
The corners are smoothed and formed to the shape of the tang.
Jared verifies that the frame and tang are completely flat and of even thickness.
The lanyard tube is inserted and the frame, handle sides, and tang are clamped together.
Holes are drilled through the sides and frame, in areas that will be removed from the final product. Pins are then hammered into them. This will prevent the pieces from shifting during the next steps.
The tops of the handles need to be finished now, before the handles are permanently affixed to the tang. The outline is traced and cut.
They are then sanded to their final shape.
The outline of the finished shape is traced onto the handles.
The blade is then taped, and the tang is epoxied to the handle.
The handles are then clamped to the blade. Epoxy residue is cleaned from the top of the handle before it dries. The epoxy is allowed to cure overnight.
The following day, the handles are rough-cut to shape on the bandsaw.
The outline is touched up with a marker and the handles are sanded to shape.
The butt is completely shaped and hand-polished at this stage. All other sides have been sanded to their final size and are flush with the blade tang.
Now Jared begins to shape the handle. A first pass on the grinder defines the basic contour.
The â€œgrainâ€? lines in the micarta are used as visual cues to determine whether both sides are even.
Another pass on the grinder completes the handle shape.
Working with a file and strips of sandpaper, Jared gradually smooths over the entire handle surface.
The front of the handle is then finished.
The back of the handle is then finished. As when Jared was polishing the blade, the symmetry of the dust lines on both sides is used as an indicator of evenness.
The handles are now in their final shape.
The lanyard tube is countersunk to remove any sharpness to its interior edges.
The handles are buffed to a high polish.
The makerâ€™s mark is then electro-etched onto the spine.
The blade receives a secondary edge bevel.
The knife is now complete.
Next is the fire steel. The desert ironwood burl pieces Jared set aside earlier were epoxied together with a black G10 liner, then cut to an even, rectangular shape. The fire steel itself is a 3/8â€? x 4â€? misch metal striker, purchased from a vendor.
A small hole is drilled in the center of the block to reference the point where the hole for the fire steel will be drilled.
The hole is then drilled and checked for fit.
A second hole is drilled for the lanyard tube.
The lanyard tube is cut and epoxied into the hole.
The block is sanded to shape and, as with the knife lanyard, the fire steel lanyard tube is countersunk with a drill.
The fire steel is epoxied into the block. Jared uses standard super glue so the steel can be removed from the block in case it needs to be replaced. With this, the fire steel is now complete.
I was not present when Jared made the sheath. The process was completed entirely by hand - including cutting, stamping, dying, and stitching the leather. Jared used a new stamp to create a different type of visual pattern than he has used on past sheaths.
The full package, consisting of the knife, fire steel, and sheath are now complete.
Here are the results of the full project: two framed tang Alta Bushcrafters, two sheaths, and one fire steel.
Here is a visual comparison of the full thickness tang, tapered tang, and framed tang Alta.
The full thickness tang Alta weighs in at 5.95 ounces (168.7 grams).
The tapered tang Alta weighs in at 5.25 ounces (148.8 grams).
The framed tang Alta weighs in at 4.65 ounces (131.8 grams).
The framed tang Alta delivered on all expectations - it is a lightweight, strong, and beautiful knife capable of handling just as much as its exposed tang counterparts. The frame not only added a layer of complexity to this project that Jared had to overcome using his creativity and technical ability, but it provided another visual element to plan for. The idea to blend the frame with the bolsters was ambitious, but executed cleanly and to remarkable visual effect. Jaredâ€™s work on precision-crafted slipjoint folders definitely influenced this project, and it is clear with every new project he undertakes that his influence in the world of custom knifemaking will only grow as he continues to push the limits of what he is capable of producing.
Knife produced by Jared Oeser Photography and ebook production by Dan Bergevin Copyright ÂŠ 2014 by Dan Bergevin All rights reserved. Published by Capitalized Living.