I have little to no knowledge on wood and woodworking. That's why I'm here. I got my hands on a piece of Desert Ironwood that I would like to use for a knife handle. I am worried since this wood is extremely hard.

  1. What precautions should I take before/while cutting it? (It's a pretty small piece and all I have to cut it straight is a table saw.)

  2. Since I would like to make my knife handle as tough as possible. I wonder what I should use to treat the wood in order to protect it as much as possible while still keeping the beautiful grain that Ironwood has.

Please excuse my lack of knowledge and my bad English. :)

  • 4
    Really small hunks of wood and tablesaws first make me cringe and wonder if there's another way to accomplish the task. Then, if there's no alternative, it's time to think about a jig that will hold the wood safely. (I'd want something underneath or a zero clearance throat plate, plus something on top to prevent the wood being thrown back in my face.) Jul 8 '16 at 3:23
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    Re. the finish, desert ironwood may require no finish as it is a naturally hard, dense and close-grained species, depending on how you expect to use the knife. If it won't be exposed to water regularly just sanding it to a high grit followed by buffing may be all that you need to do. With subsequent handling the wood will acquire a deeper shine (sometimes called "hand finish").
    – Graphus
    Jul 8 '16 at 8:31
  • @Aloysius Defenestrate I wish I had better woodworking equipment but I don't. I think building a jig is a great idea. Graphus I didn't know that these kind of wood could be untreated. I like the idea but I still think I'm going to put at least a bit of varnish on it just to be safe.
    – Ein
    Jul 8 '16 at 12:11
  • Possibly apocryphal story: An islander, wishing to mark his favorite fishing hole, tied a sting between a rock and a stick and tossed this into the water. The rock was volcanic pumice, the stick was ironwood... so the stick sank to the bottom while the rock floated on the surface.
    – keshlam
    Jul 8 '16 at 16:32
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    You are asking two different questions here. One is about cutting and the other is about finishing. This should be separated into two different questions.
    – Matt
    Jul 8 '16 at 20:01

Cut slowly. Watch out for kickback. Be aware that blades/bits will dull faster than they would on a softer wood.

I'm not sure what family "desert ironwood" belongs to, but Ipe (the most common "ironwood" sold in this area), like many tropical hardwoods, can cause allergies in some people due to the same chemicals that make them naturally resistant to insects and rot. Use dust collection, use a mask, shower afterwards to get the sawdust off your skin. I believe the issue is mostly sawdust, since that's the extended contact over wide surface area; as far as I know your knife scales should be OK.

(I haven't run Ipe thru my table saw yet, but the guys using it as decking seem to do OK with carbide blades, and it bandsaws reasonably so far. Ipe is being used for decking due to its rot resistance; it has the advantages of real wood while lasting as long as the plastic/composite solutions. If you want more detail you should probably ask over in Home Improvement ... But this means you can sometimes get small offcuts of Ipe free by asking a decking team for their scraps before those get dumpstered. I have a few cubic feet obtained by cleaning up after a ramp was built in a local park.)

Re retaining the natural color: Wood tends to bleach under UV light. Look for a spar varnish or similar transparent topcoat that contains good ultraviolet blockers. Though realistically, a pocket knife spends most of its life shaded.... and the decking seems to regain a lot of its color when wet, so this may be mostly a surface effect.

  • Wow I didn't know people were using this REALY expensive wood to build decks. It must be beautiful! I'll make sure to have to proper protection. Can people still have allergic reaction with the handle if it's not treated?
    – Ein
    Jul 8 '16 at 12:20
  • I am thinking it might be, because Keshlam says there is that chemical, but if it is washed off well then maybe it will be safe. But I would still try to put something over it anyway since water can wreck the wood over time.
    – Ljk2000
    Jul 8 '16 at 14:13
  • Edited to extend my comments on allergy and decking -- especially the chance of grabbing free scraps.)
    – keshlam
    Jul 8 '16 at 16:28
  • Okay now you got my attention when you said FREE scraps XD. I will surely look. The only problem is that I don't think there is any company near me that could have this kind of wood since it's pretty rare where I live. (Québec, Canada) At least from what I know. This is probably my favorite wood if one can have a favorite wood hahah. @keshlam
    – Ein
    Jul 8 '16 at 18:56
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    I really like the color. Since my knife is made of Damascus steel I thought it would look amazing with a dark IronWood. I was thinking of using epoxy to glue the handle like most of knife maker use. You could maybe use this too depending on what's your project. @keshlam
    – Ein
    Jul 8 '16 at 19:05

As said above make sure you are cutting slowly. I do have other things to say on that along with his answer on the blade dulls fast. My neighbors have worked with it and have talked about how it even caused a spark, be true or not. Take cautions. Have protective head over blade, use push sticks with both hands. (Unless you have at least 8" from the blade to the fence then I would say fine. But keep the stick on the side of the blade). If you are cutting a little peace I would suggest not tempting right off the saw. I would try getting as thin as possible but keep it at a safer range. I do 1/4". Then just go over to a belt sander (if you have one) and what I do is I flip it upside down. Your more than likely not going to have a variable speed but I keep mine just fast enough where it still spins while keeping some pressure. Then keep going till you have hit your desired thickness. Of course I am only implying if you are doing something that thin. And listen to what Keshlam says about the allergy and the covering of the knife.

  • Thank you for the advise I think the belt sander would be a smarter idea than trying to cut it realy tin.
    – Ein
    Jul 8 '16 at 12:15
  • "If you are cutting a little peace I would suggest not tempting right off the saw." I'm not sure what you mean by "tempting". I don't believe English is your first language, so if you describe what you're after we can help you with a better word for it. Also, "peace" = "not war", while "piece" = "small chunk of", you want "piece". Ain't English grand?!?! :D
    – FreeMan
    Jul 8 '16 at 20:38
  • Sorry I do english, must not have been paying attention. Sorry. By tempting I mean not to go ahead and risk it. Because I know those tiny pieces go into the saw, and that is so fun to get out. Yes english is grand :) @FreeMan
    – Ljk2000
    Jul 8 '16 at 23:49
  • @Ljk2000 : Risk what? I still don't understand what "not tempting right off the saw" means. Mar 23 '18 at 14:07

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