Re-handling Old Steel




Introduction: Re-handling Old Steel

About: A small creature in an ocean of giants. I feel like I'm getting nowhere.

Finding an interesting tool may mean it's damaged or missing some wooden parts. Knowing how to fix this can make the difference between cool tool and scrap fodder.

In this instructable you will learn how to use wood and copper ground wire to replace the handle on your knife or machete.

Please remember to vote for me in the Woodworking contest if you enjoy this Instructable.

You will need:

1: Sanders. Belt sanders and disk sanders speed up the process a lot. I use a sanding pad mounted in my lathe. You can use rasps/files to shape though so don't be discouraged if you don't have a particular tool.

2: Rasps and files. Again, Powered sanders are faster, but you will have much more control with files and rasps. I didn't use any this time, just sand paper.

3: Copper ground wire. I found about 3 feet of this stuff a long time ago and am still using the same piece> You only need 3 pieces 1/4 inch longer than the thickness of your handle. 3/8 longer might be better, but you can get away with 1/4 inch longer.

4: A ball peen hammer. Important for peening the wire and riveting the handles onto the blade.

5: Sandpaper. You can get away with only 2 grits. 50 and 180. Why only 2? Because you will use the 50 to get the rust off the steel, the sandpaper grit will wear, and by the time you are sanding the handle and sharpening the blade, it will be worn enough to make a smooth shiny finish.

6: Wire brushes if the steel has deep pits. These can be hand brusheds OR mounted for use on lathe/grinder.

7: a few wood screws.

8: a selection of drill bits with at least 1 the same size as your rivet/wire

9: drill

10: anvil or other smooth hard surface.

11: wood. I split off some cherry from some of last years firewood.

12: saw to cut the wood to size. Handsaws work. Power saws are faster.

13: Epoxy. I used J.B. Weld. Any 2 part epoxy with 10 minute open time will work.

14: Patience. Look, everything can be done fast. You're looking for good. invest the time and your handle will look great. Rush it, and you might as well wrap tape around it and call it done. Rehandling tools from a piece of wood you split (Follows the grain, superior strength.) yourself is satisfying. You can make the handle generic, or you can make it fit your hand perfectly. You can veneer different woods together to create contrasting layers, Or you can add different materials like leather, or plastic, or metals, to make a handle that looks like no other.

Step 1: Shine It Up

This thing is rusty. A friend found it while working. No telling how long it was outside.

For the most part, I used my lathe mounted sanding disk to remove the bulk of the rust, but you can easily do this with a random orbit sander.

Sand until smooth, NOT until the silver metal shows. The brown/black looks good and helps protect the metal to some degree.

Step 2: Sharpening

I used the belt sander for this one, but the disk sander, or a lot of hand sanding can also be used.

Ensure your blade has a nice shape. The years were not kind to this one and it had a few flat/lumpy spots that I reshaped to give a nice continuous edge.

Establish the bevel along both sides. I do this by eye, so I'm not sure what the angle is. The idea for a machete is for it to be sharp enough to cut through viney materials, but easy to sharpen. Take your time and work slowly, and you'll get better looking results. Go fast, and you'll likely overheat the edge and ruin the temper of the steel.

I go for a consistent line on both sides so the edge arrives in the middle, but the grinding starts at the same position on each side.

Step 3: Wood Selection and Cutting.

Selecting material is the fun part. For this project I used a piece of cherry I split off of last years firewood.

Running it across the jointer a few times gave me some good clean reference surfaces.

After that, you'll need to cut it to width, thickness, and length. A table saw can do both, but since my miter saw is set up, I used it for cross cutting. That... And Dewalt's Miter Gauge is absolutely terrible. "You need a bigger table saw" Yep. If you buy it for me, I'll hop right on that.

Tracing the handle allows me to get the length I want.

the thickness is determined byu personal preference. I prefer striking tools to have handles of 1 and 1/8 inch thick to be comfortable for me.

Center punch each hole location after cutting to the size you like.

Center drill and then drill the hole locations out.

Add screws to outer holes and make sure they are snug so you can saw the handle shape out.

Using your Scrollsaw (With the light you added! ) cut to the middle, or just outside, of your traced line. This should give you some leeway in the shaping process later.

On to attaching!

Step 4: Attaching the Handle

Sand to remove all rough saw marks, but DO NOT sand your line off. You need the extra space for shaping. Sanding the rough marks off will help you line up the handle pieces.

Drill out your holes to the size of your rivet wire.

Cut your wire to 1/4 inch -3/8 inch larger than the thickness of your material.

Mix your epoxy and apply to ther INSIDE face of your handles.

CLAMP! You'll have to clamp twice, but the epoxy cures fast, so it shouldn't slide much.

Push your wire rivets through the holes now, before the epoxy cures. You need 1/8 inch or a bit more on BOTH sides. Make sure they are where you need them in case epoxy gets on them and glues them in place.

Peening. I should have taken video of this, but I did not. In short, you will need to set the end of the rivet on your anvil and strike it LIGHTLY! flat several times to "Swell" the end of the rivet. Then flip your ball pein hammer ball side down and strike off center slowly and deliberately creating a dome shape. Flip when the rivet is nicely domed and swollen. Repeat on the other side. You may have to flip the handle several times but doing so will draw the wood tighter to the steel. I will make a video if necessary.

Once all three are done you can move on to shaping.

Step 5: Shaping and Finishing Up

Sanding... Lots of sanding.

I start with 50 grit on the lathe at a high speed to remove lots of material quickly. Sanding until I get close to the shape I want. Once I am satisfied with the overall shape, I switch to 150 at a lower speed. I sand with 150 until the handle begins to smooth out with no noticeable lumps or dips. Final smoothing is done with 180-220 grit hand sanding with the grain. There's not a whole lot more I can think to say about the process other than keep at it until you are happy with the feel of the handle.

Once you feel happy with it, rub in a few coats of boiled linseed oil and enjoy your restored tool!

The finished photo is on the intro page. You could play around with aniline dyes to get more color if you like, But I prefer the natural colors of Cherry, It will darken with age and use, and I'm okay with that.

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    5 years ago

    I think I would leave the sharpening bit to the end.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Perhaps. But I already had the grinder and sander set up so I used them then. A piece of plastic tubing with a slit in it will protect you from the edge as you work. Or, cutproof gloves.


    5 years ago

    I just use plain nails as rivets. I cut them off a little proud of the material I am riveting together, and peen the cut end down. The nail head is OK for the other side. One trick is to cut the nail with a cut off disc, so the cut end is not pinched by wire cutters. I guess you could file it flat. But it is easier to form up a head in steel if you start off with the cut side flat. Another thing to consider is countersinking holes you peen rivets into. That way your mushroomed rivet head has a place to sit.

    Your copper rivets look nice, but I don't have any ground rod kicking around. I got loads of beat old nails though. I think everyone does. Well, maybe not. But I sure do.


    Reply 5 years ago

    For the record, 1 foot of #4 ground wire (Approximately .201 diameter) costs $1.39 at most home centers. Cheaper than rivets. And not hard to get. I found this bit, But a trip to the store tells me it is still a viable option for your average DIY'er. The nails are still a good idea though.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Yeah but plain nails are already headed up on one side. Plus I got a bucket of the things. Also I worry that copper is a bit soft. I guess it'd be OK though. But if I bought a foot of wire to make rivets out of I'd probably lose it. I'll go to the grave with my bucket of garbage nails. That's one mill stone around my neck that I'll never be free of. Which makes them a convenient material to use.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I feel ya! I thought the copper would be too soft for a long time myself, but it seems to hold up very well.


    Reply 5 years ago

    i found the ground wire. it's a little smaller than 1/4 inch, so it makes the perfect rivet. barring that, I've used old roofing nails before and they look pretty good too. just clip them off 1/8 inch longer than you need and peen them out. another one I've done is threaded rod. it's just soft enough to peen evenly.