I ran across an old friend today and he was looking a bit rough around the edges. This friend is a Ruko knife which I purchased in 1970. The leather sheath had held up well and the edge still keen, but I noticed some light pitting on the blade and I suddenly felt very guilty.
This knife served me well. It was at my side the first night I soloed a weekend backpacking trip at the tender age of 13 and then on countless canoe and camping trips for the next 30 years. It was on my hip on virtually every photo shoot from 1980-1995. It also accompanied me on multiple training courses and into the dark on far too many late night forays with the Halifax Regional Ground Search and Rescue from 1995-2000. After Halifax, we sort of lost touch with each other – until today.
Ruko has carried a wide range of knives over the years. Some of their current knives sell for hundreds of dollars, while others are cheap knock-offs that appear to be made in China. This particular blade of mine was made in Germany from Rc60 Solingen steel. It has always held an edge extremely well without nicking or chipping with hard use. It did have a few nasty dings in the Space Age polymer grips. (Yes, in 1970 everything was “Space Age”.)
No More Plastic on This Knife!
Motivated by guilt, I began to formulate a plan to restore the dignity of my old friend. “Space Age” or no, the first step would be to get rid of the original grip. I drilled out the rivets which were holding the handle together and it came apart in three pieces. The core of the handle is extremely solid stainless steel to which the tang of the blade is securely attached. This blade is sturdy, even when stripped down.
Next I went to my secret stash of special wood and retrieved a small piece of lignum vitae which I felt would be a perfect match for the character of the blade. Lignum vitae is the hardest wood on this fair planet. It has been used for drive shafts in ships and I heard recently that our local steel mill uses it to make bearings in equipment which operates in extremely dusty conditions that would eat up steel bearings in short order. You can read more about lignum vitae over on Wikipedia. I had been saving this particular piece of wood for just the right project.
Stabilizing The Knife GripsI did not want to expend a huge amount of artistic effort on this venture if the raw material was structurally flawed or the design mechanically weak. I looked carefully at the design of the tang and the handle core and determined that a few minor modifications were in order to properly secure the new grips. I drilled three 1/8″ holes in the core and then cut, shaped and polished three stainless steel pins, one for each of the holes. The pins protrude about 1/4″ out either side and are used to secure the grips from lateral movement. I then roughed the lignum vitae to the approximate shape of the grips, carefully measuring and beveling the ends, then drilled 1/8″ holes to correspond with the new seating pins. Finally I drilled two 1/4″ holes, one that precisely matches a corresponding hole in the tang and pushed through two maple dowels. These will eventually be glued to keep the grips sandwiched tightly to the core.
Even without gluing, everything fits together so snugly that I have to work fairly hard to separate the pieces. Presently the knife looks more like a shiv that was made in a prison workshop than the noble blade that it is, but this will change in short order. I now have the luxury of carving the handle to precisely fit my hand and to add my own design elements. I can already tell that the heft of the lignum vitae is going to make a big improvement in the balance of this knife.
For the moment, the grips are just rough hewn approximations of their final shape. Even so, the lignum vitae has made a radical change in the character of the knife. It is warm to the touch and feels almost alive. One of the reasons for choosing lignum vitae is the natural oil in the wood. It is extremely durable, will polish to a warm lustre and require only occasional maintenance. Nothing will come between my hand and the warmth and life of the knife. I feel even bees wax would ruin the tactile experience.
This brings me finally to the blade itself. On close examination, the pitting is worse than I thought – not deeper, but covering more of the blade surface. What I had hoped was pitch (and may have once been) is now etched. This became obvious once I tried using my usual pitch remover from the workshop. More drastic measures are in order.
So I close this episode of the Drakyn blog with a cliff hanger. Sweet Polly may not be tied to the railway tracks, but Ruko is bound with masking and awaiting his fate in the sandblast chamber. In the mean time, I am working with outlines of the blade, contemplating exactly how I will engrave it. This knife now needs a name.
Stay tuned. Part II