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How to Cut Up an Ironwood Log for Knife Handle Blocks

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Burl Source, Aug 15, 2012.

  1. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    I get asked how to cut up ironwood about once a week.
    It usually goes something like "I bought a big 100lb piece of Ironwood when I was in Arizona 10 years ago and I need to know how to cut it into knife handle blocks."

    My first question is usually "Are you crazy?"
    Followed by "What sort of woodworking equipment do you have?"
    Followed by "Are you sure you want to do this?"
    Followed by "Are you crazy"

    If they still want to try cutting the ironwood, this is how I explain to cut the wood.
    There are other ways to do it but this is my way.

    This is a 3 foot long log section that I have avoided cutting for the past year. Weighs about 80 pounds or so.
    It was an old piece I got from a guy who had it in his workshop for the past 25 or 30 years. He was like me, hated cutting the stuff.

    Looking at the cut end it is remarkably solid for Ironwood. Usually a lot more cracks.

    1st thing I do is cut off a manageable chunk about a foot long.

    Next I take that chunk and turn it lengthwise to cut a straight flat surface following the grain.

    Note: This is the time when inexperienced people cut off fingers. The bandsaw blade can grab and roll the log section pulling hands and fingers into the blade. This bandsaw is an old meat cutting saw. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

    I have taken wedge shaped cut off pieces and placed on both sides of the log to limit the chance of rolling.

    With the wedges in place I line up the log to follow along the grain.

    And cut off the rounded edge giving me a flat surface to go against the saw table.

    Next I place the cut surface against the table so I can make a cut that will be the face of the blocks. The fence is now in place so I can get a fairly straight cut.

    The cut surface still shows a lot of small cracks so I need to trim away another thin piece before I start cutting the slabs for blocks.

    Now I have made my way to solid wood.
  2. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    Now that I am at good wood I change the setting on the fence to the thickness I want the slabs for the blocks to be.
    Since the ironwood is so hard the blade can wander a bit so I make the slabs a little thicker that normal.
    Here I cut my 1st slab.

    Then the 2nd one.

    There is not enough solid wood for a 3rd one so I turn the chunk to see if I can get another slab off the other cut surface.

    Lots of cracks in this slab but a portion is good.

    Cutting away the waste from the last slab.

    Looking at the 2nd slab there is a big crack so I draw a cutting line just inside the cracked area following the grain.

    Trim away the cracked portion.

    Then trim the other edge.

    Finally trim the 1st and best slab.

    In the end you see there is about 1/3 usable wood and 2/3 waste. Bear in mind this log had a whole lot less cracks than normal for Ironwood.

    This is what I have from the foot long log section. Will probably turn into about 8 or 10 blocks.

    A couple things to bear in mind
    Always use a new sharp blade.
    Wear a mask because the dust is a nasty irritant. Even when just cutting.
  3. billf

    billf Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 9, 2003
    Carbide bandsaw blade?

    I woulda guessed more than 80 lbs on that log...although now that I look at it, perhaps it is a 2/3rds log..:D

  4. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    A final note;
    I try to cut Ironwood flat sawn, the face of the block parallel to the outer surface of the log.
    The lines I drew show the direction of the growth ring lines at the end of the slab.
    The reason I do this is because I think it looks better and allows the natural luster of Ironwood to show more flash.

    In this next photo it shows what a quarter sawn surface would look like. Just lines. Boring.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  5. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    If I was cutting a lot of Ironwood, carbide would be the way to go.
    Just using the cheap $15 blades.
    We cut a lot of manzanita and other burl here with rocks in it so carbide blades would get pretty spendy.

    I was guessing on the weight by picking it up and going by feel. I am usually within 5 lbs with my guesses.

    Just to make it clear to everyone.
    The sole purpose of this thread is to let you know what you are up against if you want to cut up some ironwood.
    If you are stubborn and decide to do it yourself, hopefully this will help you to do it safely.
    I cut a lot of wood and am pretty good at it, but I Hate Cutting Ironwood.
  6. Brian.Evans

    Brian.Evans KnifeMaker-EDC Knife Specialist Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2011
    No wonder ironwood is so expensive. I hate ripping big stuff down, I would never even attempt something like this!
  7. Tom Lewis

    Tom Lewis

    Feb 24, 2000
    Thanks! Great thread!
  8. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    My local lumber supplier and exotic wood dealer has four 36" long ironwood logs on the showroom floor. They are split and cracked so bad that I doubt they would have a 10% yield. They want from $400 to $700 each for them....they are nuts. I have no idea where they got those numbers ( by the pound??), but I don't argue or insult them......I just leave them where they are.
  9. CEHknives


    Aug 12, 2012
    Awesome post thank you much.
  10. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    I am not sure about current rates but a couple years ago I was hearing $5 a pound.
    If the wood was solid I guess that would be ok, but most of what I see is like what you described.
  11. Rick Marchand

    Rick Marchand Donkey on the Edge Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 6, 2005
    That was a good walk through, Mark.... much appreciated. I'll leave that business to the folks who know what they are doing.
  12. TPVT

    TPVT Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 14, 2012
    this was good. just what i needed to see. i just got a couple logs of dried applewood. i know it is not as hard as the ironwood. but, i didn't even know how to begin processing it. i was wondering if my bandsaw would be best. i guess this answered that.

    thanks much Burl Source. and btw...that ironwood looks great.
  13. Phil Dwyer

    Phil Dwyer KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 28, 2006
    So what are your plans for the junk 2/3rds? :D
  14. Bigfattyt

    Bigfattyt Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 23, 2007
    I worked with a stone cutting band saw. 8+ hour shift turning 100lb blocks of stone into 2 inch squares (for an industrial application).

    Band saws, especially big ones are just plain scary. The one I used was about 8 feet tall. (my training was basically "don't cut your arms off).
  15. Robert Dark

    Robert Dark KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 27, 2004
    It is a shame that you have so much waste due to cracking. Perhaps some could be used for "Pen Blanks" ?
  16. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    A lot of the waste will be salvaged and cut up for other small projects.
  17. A C Richards

    A C Richards KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Apr 14, 2006
    Are you Crazy??? Love it. That is the best thing to say about cutting up ironwood. I made a deal way back when for 6 logs 3-6 foot long and 6-8" dia. Traded 2 bowies for it. Well as Mark pointed out, I had 4 garbage cans full of waste. Got 2 good burl blocks out of it. The rest was boring little figure and mostly dark. So I would rather pay the $$ for a nice looking piece than play diamond cutter trying to get the most out of a chunk. Pretty much gone that way with all my handle material now. Especially the high end stuff like DIW and KOA.


    Dec 1, 2008
    So Mark you don't want me to send you the onehundred year old Gidgee stump a mate droped off the other day :) Man it is one gnarly old piece of wood and no I am not looking forward to cutting it. Glad you put up this thread though, it's exactly the same way I cut up my wood, so it is very reasuring to know I am doing the right thing. Lucky that log wasn't Balar though or the stone cutting blades would have to be used.
  19. wcbill


    Nov 19, 2004
    Hey Bursource,

    That looks like a meat saw you are using, is it??
  20. Burl Source

    Burl Source

    Dec 7, 2008
    Oh, I would do it with the Gidgee!
    Some woods are so nice that you just do whatever it takes.
    So, Go ahead, send the Gidgee.

    Yes it is a meat cutting saw.
    We have a few old Butcher Boys that we use for the hard core cutting.
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2012

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