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Working with ironwood

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by t1mpani, Sep 9, 2018.

  1. t1mpani


    Jun 6, 2002
    Basically seeing if I’m the only one who has a hell of a time with this:

    I usually use micarta because I love the predictability and consistency of working with it, but the current request is for ironwood. As I’m doing a full exposed tang, I’m having to do scales. The scales which arrived were, predictably, not perfectly flat and gapped noticeably, so I began the process of trying to flatten them. The problem is that the damned stuff doesn’t grind/sand consistently. I spent almost two hours sanding with sandpaper laying flat on a +\- 0.0003” flat granite work surface, and they got progressively WORSE as the different areas wore at different rates due to the variance in hardness. How do people work with this stuff? I mean, I’m willing to assume the blame but moving a piece of wood back and forth across sandpaper doesn’t really involve a lot of technique.
  2. Hengelo_77

    Hengelo_77 Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 2, 2006
    Do you move the scales in a figure-eight?
    Not doing that might be the problem, regardless of the material
    Alan Davis Knives and Josh Rider like this.
  3. t1mpani


    Jun 6, 2002
    I was doing kind of larger circles and changing the direction every twenty rotations or so. I may try figure eights, though I think I'll have to try them tomorrow, as the overpowering feeling that has taken hold is frustration, and a ball pein hammer may become involved if I don't put them down for awhile. Phenolics never make me despise knife making. :D

    The lighter areas were sanding away notably faster than the darker areas.
  4. rjedoaks

    rjedoaks Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 15, 2009
    The stuff eats belts. If the belt is sharp I don’t have a problem with flattening. When I do several different materials in a batch, the Ironwood always gets finished first, when the belts are fresh. Filthy also.
  5. Hengelo_77

    Hengelo_77 Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 2, 2006
    Also it only needs to be flat at the edges of the scales, you can hollow them out towards the middle. That saves a lot of time
    Alan Davis Knives likes this.
  6. t1mpani


    Jun 6, 2002
    A good point—I hadn’t actually cut the handle shape out yet, was just flatteningbthe entire scale, but I’ll give this a try.
    Thanks guys :)
  7. JMGates


    Mar 16, 2017
    I haven't had this problem with Ironwood yet. But I did have hell with buffalo horn one time. I ended up putting them in a mill with a fly cutter and milling them flat.

    I tried three different grits on the belt sander and I also tried flat sanding on a granite plate. Never could get them flat. The fly cutter on the mill did the trick though.
  8. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    It almost sounds like you have heart wood and sap wood in the same scale. If so, that's not good.
  9. t1mpani


    Jun 6, 2002
    Yeah, I just ordered new scales, see if a new pair is either easier to work with or flatter to begin with.

    I WISH is still had access to a mill—I’d thought of that too. :)
  10. skillgannon


    Apr 27, 2009
    I just got a big ebay box of iron wood. How big of deal is it if I want to put it on a kitchen knife unstableized?
  11. AlaskanHunter


    Nov 23, 2013
    I don't think iron wood is usually stabilized before use. Is it even possible to stabilize it - I thought it was too oily?
  12. t1mpani


    Jun 6, 2002
    That’s my understanding too
  13. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    Right, it is oily and dense. Stabilizing will do little or no good.
    skillgannon likes this.
  14. Horsewright

    Horsewright KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 4, 2011
    I have used many hundreds of pounds of iron wood over the years. Always on full tang knives. I flatten on a flat disc using a 60 grit psa. I've never had the problem described. No ironwood doesn't need and or can't be stabilized and yes it works as a kitchen knife handle. I think Mark probably hit it on the head.

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