Wood Shaping Tools

Wood Shaping Tools

Wood, being softer than steel and more common a working medium, can be shaped by a larger variety of tools available to the average person than tools used for steel. With that said, this should be a fairly short article. After this, I believe I'll turn more to techniques and guides in the actual making of knives, from design to final honing.

There are four basic uses of tools in woodworking. These are

  1. Drilling. For fitting the tang (assuming stick tang) and drilling holes for pins.
  2. Sawing. For cutting out the rough shape from a block of wood.
  3. Forming. Shaping the handle to the near-finished piece. Rounding, details, etc.
  4. Sanding and/or polishing. Finishing the handle, often accompanied by oiling.


I used a hand drill up until a few months ago. Then I found a tabletop drill press for $40 at a yard sale. Possibly the best purchase I've ever made. Very few things are so frustrating as realizing your holes were crooked and so your blade and handle are not aligned. Whether using a hand drill (just harder) or a drill press, use a bit about the same diameter as the thickness of the tang where it meets the blade. Then line up the tang perpendicular on top of the wood, marking off the width. Ideally you should be able to drill three holes side by side in the wood. Always make the slot in the wood slightly smaller than the tang itself, so you can later burn it in (heat up the tang to dull red, then pushing it into the slot. There's not enough oxygen inside to start a fire, only smoke, yet it burns the wood directly in contact away. This creates a perfect fit for the tang. Keep water on hand, though if there are a few flames I just use soaked leather or something to smother them).

To summarize the tools for drilling: a hand drill will work, but a drill press will feel like heaven.


This has a much wider variety of tools. Ideally a bandsaw or scroll saw is what you want; fast and very precise. I have neither (something I intend to change in the near future), and often use a jig saw. Not something I advise using, as if you're not careful it's easy to destroy the piece. For hand saws, use a handsaw or a coping saw. I generally fit the tang to the block of wood first, then saw out the handle, making sure I have clearly drawn lines indicating where to cut. Give yourself plenty of excess and cut on the outside of the line; it's easy to refine in the shaping stage.


Rasps and files without question. Get several in varying coarseness. I have a belt grinder and still use a rasp for the majority of my forming. Why? It's rough, so it's just as fast if not faster. It's a hand tool, so I don't burn the wood from friction. It's small and simple, so I can get it in very small and detailed areas. I start out with a really coarse rasp, the marks from which are a pain to get out.

By Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sanding and Finishing

By Simon Eugster – Simon / ?! 12:43, 14 May 2008 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Simon Eugster – Simon / ?! 12:43, 14 May 2008 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sandpaper. Lots and lots of sandpaper. You could use a belt sander or something but I generally do it mostly by hand. I start out with 80 and work as high as I can, usually until about 1500. Once you get to about 320 or so, slather it with oil, wipe off, sand at 400, and repeat, working up. Make sure you don't miss any spots; even though it's easier to redo it all compared to sanding the blade, it's easier to miss an area. I do this all by hand. Once you're at 1500 or so it's a good finish, however, I advise getting some polishing wax/compound, rubbing it on scrap leather, then rubbing the wood with it. A very nice finish, and much safer than using a buffing wheel.

Now that about sums up the woodworking tools. Over time you'll get more comfortable with the woods and that will further what tools you'll want to get, but this is by far sufficient.

A note on Vises

Through listing tools one by one, I forgot the inclusion of the all important tool, the vise, or clamp. My father had a benchtop vise in the garage when I began any sort of making, and so I've always had it. I don't know what it's like not to have one and I'd rather not find out. A vise is extremely useful, and most of my work centers around it. It doesn't have to be very big; almost any vise (as long as it's not a tiny jeweler's one) will work well. If you don't have one, get one as soon as possible. Just days ago I purchased a smaller vise, called a machine vise, for detail work. These are more than an extra pair of hands. I use a vise to hold things for bending, straightening, sawing, shaping, sanding, polishing, drilling and much more. Get yourself a vise.