Knife engraving prep check list

Ray Cover

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A client who has commissioned several engraving jobs from me has had a few minor problems with knives he has had engraved by engravers who do not specialize in fine handmade knives. While the engraving has been fine quality some knives have had some minor damage to the finish or the working mechanism due to the engravers not being familiar with how to set up a knife engraving job to properly protect the knife.

As a public service to both the engravers who do the work and collectors whose knives are being worked on we decided it would be a good idea to post a knife engraving job prep list.

As engravers we need to keep in mind that not all collectors are outgoing brash people who will call you up and tell you that the action of their knife now drags or that there are new stray scratches on the nice stone inlay. But take my word for it, they do notice such things even if they don't speak up and make a major issue out of it.

The following check list should give you a good direction for keeping those $1,000 and up handmade knives safe while being worked on.

(1) Engrave with the blade in the open position ONLY.

(2) Tape the blade up to prevent damage to the blade and the person engraving.

(3) Stuff gently the inside of the knife with soft paper, this will help keep the works cleaner.

(4) Very Important. Tape up, mask the handle material to prevent damage and scratching. This is important and also helps prevent the need to refinish these delicate materials some of which may be beyond the engravers capabilities particularly if the inlays are stone. If attempts are made to touch up or refinish many types of stone the polish will be ruined as it requires special processes to polish rock.

(5) Do not hold the knife in a common engravers vise, there are many better ways to fixture the knife so that there is no stress on pins and working parts. GRS make a neat malleable heat activated material (thermo lock) for this purpose. Hot glue also works. However, I do not recommend fixtures that clamp on the knife like the GRS knife fixture with the bike chain in it. That fixture may be OK for a Spyderco or other factory knife but not for a high dollar hand made knife with very tight tolerances in the working mechanisms. It DOES NOT distribute clamping force enough to keep such a knife safe.

(6) If you are doing gold inlay work it is appropriate to insert wood shims between the handle scales to avoid distorting the metal. The shims should be of a width equal to the space between the handles, i.e. they should fit snugly but not force the handles apart.

(7) Do not attempt to loosen up a knife if it becomes tight after engraving, never drive wedges inside a knife. There are ways to re-adjust the knife and the engraver should contact the maker for advice in this matter.

(8) As a general rule it would be a good idea for the engraver to contact the maker before any work is done, this can be useful to find pin locations or other particulars about the knife such as thin spots where pockets are milled out on the underside for moving parts and clearances.


Ray
 

Tony Miele

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Ray,

Thanks for posting this advice. I have been thinking of starting to engrave on knives, and I have purchased a knife holder from GRS for this purpose. Now that I have read your advice. I will be careful using it on high end products.

I have followed your work for a long time now, and I consider your work as some of the best knife work I have seen. You have a way of coming up with some great themes.

Tony
 

Lee

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Ray,

Thanks for the check list. I have done a few high enders and this has reminded and educated me about how I am doing and will do in the future. Well done and very helpful.
 

Tira

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Ray, Thanks for the information - I've added it to the tips section. If you think of any other tips for this type of work please let us know and I will add them as well. Thanks! :)
 

Ray Cover

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Another lesson learned the hard way.

The mastic in some brands of masking tape are corrosive.

Here is how I tape blades.

First I wipe the blade down with a thin coat of renaisance wax or RIG greese. Then take a piece of paper towel or toilet tissue and wrap it around the blade. Tape over that. The paper towel protects the blade steel from the caustics in the tape mastic.

Ray
 

Peter E

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Great post Ray.

I haven't engraved any high dollar knives yet, but I have done most of your check list items to some extent.

I have had good luck with electricians tape on the blades. The mastic seems to be enough, and so far, it doesn't leave residue on the blades. Your suggestion of the tissue next to the steel adds another layer of protection though.

Thanks
 

Kevin P.

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Ray this is great for everyone to be knowledgeable about handling knifes. The person who is having work done deserves quality work and deserves his/her knife returned in good order.
You gave me much information that I didn't have before.
A good service for us all.
Kevin P.
 
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#11
Hi Ray

One question I do have.

Does the heat from softening the thermo loc, when setting and unstting the knife, effect any of the inlay materials on knives like shell, stone wood etc???

Cheers
Andrew
 

Kevin P.

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Andrew if you use Thermo-loc for that purpose, GRS has an interesting way to make holders. A vise of Thermo-loc is formed using a plastic mold and a piece of alumnium. The mold is hinged down the long axis. The top part is a molded form of the object to be held.
This is placed in your vise and tightened the Thermo-loc is flexible enough to be tightened to secure the object to be engraved. I don't know if this is helpful; but GRS has a demo on their web site (grstrainingcenter.com), I believe.
In the interest of full disclosure. I have not done this myself; I saw a demo at Glendo. it looked good to me.
Kevin P.
 

Kevin P.

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Andrew, I forgot an important point; but the method I attempted to describe does not require heat to grip or to loose the object.
Kevin P.
 

Ray Cover

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Andrew,

I primarily use hot glue and hot glue the knife to a block of brass. That allows me to clamp on the block and not the knife. When I do have a material I am concerned about I cover it with tape before gluing it down allowing the hot glue to only stick to the metal parts and the tape.

I generally use the thermal lock when the knife or knife parts have really funky shapes that don't allow them to be glued flatly to a block.

I don't get that many knives with fresh ivory now days. Most of the fossil ivories don't seem to be affected by heat nearly to the extent that new ivory does. When I do get a knife with new ivory I revert back to making a precise fitting pinch block clamp like I showed in my video.

On the thermal shock issue, another thing to watch out for are the hard stones like opals and agates. I once broke a knife by opening the package it was sent in and setting the knife on my drawing table.

IT was a Joe Kious knife sent to me via Fed-Ex. It arrived about 10 am on a January morning after spending hours in transit in our 20 degree F winter air. Now I have radiant heat in the floors in my house and the manifolds for that heat system run across the ceiling of my studio so it stays nice and toasty in here when it is freezing outside. Not thinking anything about it, I opened the package looked at the beautiful Carnelian stone inlays and set the knife down on my drawing table.

As soon as I sat it down I hear an audible TINK! The side that touched the table had a crack running the full length of the carnelian inlay. The temp difference between the warm room the table was acclimated to and the cold air outside the knife was acclimated to broke the stone inlay. I sent the knife back to Joe with a very sincere apology and paid him to replace the stone inlay.

My lesson was learned and it was a bit of an expensive one. Now when I know a knife has some hard or fragile stone in it, I let the box set in the studio overnight to acclimate before I open it and handle the knife.

Ray
 

KCSteve

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Thanks for the check list Ray!

Lee Griffiths mentioned that he bought a mechanic's feeler gauge and took out the pin. He uses the leaves from it as shims in knives when engraving. As thin as most of them are he said he's usually able to find a combination that fits the gap nearly exactly.
 

Brian Hochstrat

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Andrew if you use Thermo-loc for that purpose, GRS has an interesting way to make holders. A vise of Thermo-loc is formed using a plastic mold and a piece of alumnium. The mold is hinged down the long axis. The top part is a molded form of the object to be held.
This is placed in your vise and tightened the Thermo-loc is flexible enough to be tightened to secure the object to be engraved. I don't know if this is helpful; but GRS has a demo on their web site (grstrainingcenter.com), I believe.
In the interest of full disclosure. I have not done this myself; I saw a demo at Glendo. it looked good to me.
Kevin P.
I would not suggest using this method for holding a knife with a handle inlay. What happens is an uneven pressure being loaded onto the bottom side handle material, if it is soft like Penshell you will have a nice dent in the inlay(found this out on my first high end folder, luckily I owned the knife) or brittle such as opal a broken stone. It is better to bed the knife into the thermoloc, but not so it grips around anything, making it unremovable. Then hot glue the knife to the thermoloc, hot glue releases with alcohol or simply peeling it off. Be careful of using alcohol around steel as well, there is a possibility for corrosion.
 
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