I recently finished putting a handle onto a knife for the better half. I was constantly dismayed with the use of scissors to cut twine on hay bales, and figured she needed a better tool. So combining that with her Norwegian heritage and the unaffordability of ready to go Scandinavian knives, I set out to make it something that would be uniquely Norwegian and NZ.
The blade from Helle came as a blank (without a handle) along with a couple of other items from a US distributor (more on that another time) so all I had to do was put on a handle, sounds easy, yeah – right!
I had a look around on the internet and found that a common theme was to use birch bark (Betula spp.). It’s warm to hold, slightly soft, waterproof, very grippy and easy to shape which is great when you don’t have a proper workshop. However it is similar to thin leather, no stiffer than cardboard and needs to be sandwiched between rigid bolsters at each end, which is where the kiwi comes in. I didn’t take photos but I followed the process explained here and here, using leather punch pliers to remove the centre-slot from the bark and and alternated directions for the bark as is it is weak in one plane but as tough as leather in the other, getting the advantage of a cross ply. I also tried following the recommendation of baking it at 80C to get the natural tars to glue it all together but I don’t think it worked.
To get the NZ theme and make the front bolster I used a $1 coin, which is a perfect match for the width of this blade. A drill press would have been handy to start the slot, as one of the holes wandered off, so I ended up with the whole thing a little off-centre and not as precise a fit around the blade as I would have liked. However as I’ve never done this before I’m not too disappointed.
For the rear bolster I used the 20c piece, depicting the 1836 gate carving of Pukaki. Peening the tang over proved both easier and harder than I’d expected. With the end result, the coin took a bit of a beating and it was then that I found it is nickel plate over copper so the effect is a little off but I can’t easily start over.
I have yet to make a proper sheath but in the meantime a coil of birch bark folded to the width of the blade makes a secure guard. Squash it flat to put it on and then the spring back holds it tight.
So there you have it, a Norwegian blade, traditional birch bark handle from NZ grown birch with NZ themed bolsters and a quick take on a traditional guard.