Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Silk Hat

A very talented carpenter that I worked with at my previous job had a saying that he liked to use on not-so-high end projects:

"If you put a silk hat on a pig, it's still a pig."

I always enjoyed this statement, and was reminded of it when I was working on my hook knife recently. As I have touched upon previously I have become addicted to spoon carving. It is a maddeningly complex skill set that at first glance appears to be stupid simple. I bought the most inexpensive set of knives I could find because I am cheap (or poor). The straight knife I got works like a champ but the hook knife cuts like, for the sake of my anecdote, a pig.

Original profile with hard, blunt bevels.

Seeing as I am an obsessively compulsive nut bag I took it upon myself to see if I could make a silk hat, and turn this $17 knife cut like an $80 knife. First I took a file to the blade...this was a bad idea and ruined a perfectly good 8" mill file (I guess these knives are hardened fairly well). So my second attempt took me to the sandstone grinding wheel I have at work. This was really slow, but very effective.

Next was sanding, sanding, and more sanding. I started at 120 grit, and then progressed up through 220, 320, 400, 600, and 1000 (did I mention how compulsive I am?). I used a block of wood on the back of the knife, and then wrapped the sandpaper around a dowel for the inside surface. Finally, I stroped with a little bit of rouge polish and leather mounted on a block of wood to normalize and polish the edge.

Polishing the blade really makes the maker's mark pop.

I should have sanded more, if you can believe it, but the edge is fantastic. I might do some work to make the whole surface polished like the really nice hook knives I have seen from makers like Pinewood Forge, Hans Karlsson, and Svante Djarv. It was a lot of work, about a weeks worth of lunch breaks, but it did greatly improve the overall smoothness of cut and sharpness of the knife. 

More polishing on the outside might cause less friction in the cut.

You can see that I ground into the ferrul by accident while re profiling on the OCD is getting the better of me and I might re-helve this knife with some apple, or beech, oooo or boxwood, or...calm down Jason, you have a problem.

Rouded profile makes for cleaner cuts

If you have time, or have already purchased this knife and are unhappy with its performance, I would recommend re-profiling, but if you have money just buy a high end knife. I have tried several of the knife makers I mentioned above thanks to Peter Follansbee, and I can say without a doubt my re-profiled knife is still a pig

Remember, you can't polish a piece of sh...or maybe you can.


  1. There is a certain bearded fellow, a nice enough guy. He is the devil! He shows you his seemingly effortless ways, with simple tools. All you need are a couple of knives. YEA right, I have 3 curved and even more straight knives, just for spoons. When I was making the handle for the first one I did say to myself should have spent the extra $10 on the one already helved. It is all in fun though, and he is a great wealth of knowledge. One of mine I changed the bevel angle when I resharpened it, I never thought about a total reprofile.

    1. Tom,

      It is all in good fun. I sometimes think I enjoy puttering with tools and rehabbing them more than woodworking, but then again sometimes all I want to do is stop sharpening and start making chips.

      Someday I hope that I am lucky enough to have " too many" spoon knives, but until then I will have to work with what I have.