My wife had asked for a custom chef's knife with a handle made from old denim. I always wanted to make denim "micarta", and that's a great excuse for another instructable.
My inspiration for this project was a great Youtube video called "How I make paper micarta the easy and clean way, no gloves needed" by JF- Knives:
I used denim fabric instead of paper, and a different epoxy resin from the one shown in the video. I also ended up using gloves at some point, since epoxy inevitably gets all over the place.
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Step 1: Materials, Supplies, and Tools
In no particular order:
1) Rectangular plastic container with straight walls and flat bottom - I found the perfect sized "Pencil Case" at Jo-Ann Fabric store for $2. The inside LW dimensions are about 7 1/2 by 3 1/4 inches.
2) Denim - My old comfy denim shirt will not be thrown away, and will live forever as a handle. I cut about 20 pieces 7 3/8 inches long by 3 1/8 inches wide. I ended up using 16 pieces for the thickness I needed.
3) Wax paper - Good for places you don't want epoxy to stick to.
4) Thin plywood pieces (sized same as fabric) - wrapped in wax paper.
5) Epoxy Resin - I used Clearcast Epoxy 7050. Purchased on ebay for about $30 for 48oz - meaning 32 oz of epoxy and 16 oz of hardener (2:1 mix ratio). I've never used this kind of epoxy before, but hoping that it will stay clear and sand/polish easily.
6) Mixing cup for epoxy - I used an old restaurant takeout container, which I labeled with 1/4 cup volume markings (used 1/4 cup measure and water to determine the latters).
7) Popsicle stick for mixing epoxy
8) A block of wood wrapped in wax paper - to help tamp down fabric in epoxy.
9) Rubber spatulas - I found mine at a dollar store. It was a double-sided one, which I cut in half to get 2 tools
10) Kitchen Scale - just in case volume markings didn't work out.
11) Last, but not least - CLAMPS!
Step 2: Prep Container
Take one of the wax wrapped plywood pieces and place it on the bottom of the plastic container. This will ensure that the bottom of the finished MYcarta piece will stay flat during/after clamping. The piece of wrapped plywood should be very snug - this will keep most of the epoxy on the top of the plywood.
Step 3: Mix Epoxy
Pour hardener into mixing cup. I weighed the cup (scale has the tendency to turn itself off, so zeroing doesn't always help), poured about 1/4 cup of hardener,
Pour 1/2 cup of epoxy on top of hardener. You can make a larger volume of epoxy (increasing appropriately the volume of hardener) if your mold container is larger, or if you're making a thicker piece, or just to be on the safe side.
Mix well for about 5 minutes. This particular epoxy has a long setting time, so I could take my time and do everything slowly and carefully.
Step 4: Layer, Pour, Spread, Repeat
Place the first strip of denim into the container, on top of the wrapped plywood. Pour a couple of tablespoons of mixed epoxy on top of the strip. Use rubber spatulas to gently spread epoxy evenly while keeping the denim strip straight and flat. You'll notice that epoxy will start to penetrate into the fabric.
Place a second strip on top of the first, and continue to use spatulas and a wooden block to press down the fabric.
Keep adding small amounts of epoxy, and keep evenly spreading it, adding new strips as the others become saturated. Keep using the block of wood to tamp down fabric and to bring epoxy to the top.
I used 16 strips to get to my desired thickness (ended up just over 3/8 inches), and used up all of the mixed epoxy (slightly more than 3/4 cup) in the process.
Make sure the last of the strips is saturated with epoxy before proceeding to the next step.
Step 5: Clamping
Place the second plywood piece (in wax paper) on top of the denim.
My second piece was thicker to prevent clamps from sticking to epoxy. I used 4 clamps to slowly but firmly clamp the entire container. Some epoxy seeped out, but not as much as I expected. I kept cleaning up the seepage with paper towels for a few minutes.
Step 6: Wait for Epoxy to Set
Leave the whole mess alone overnight or longer - epoxy instructions said 8-12 hours.
Step 7: Unclamping and Unmolding
The moment of truth has arrived! Remove the clamps - hopefully they didn't stick to the project.
Pop the solidified mess out of the plastic container. That was easier said than done. I used a screwdriver to work around the perimeter (watch out for sharp epoxy shards), to loosen the insides, and finally removed the epoxy sandwich from the box, which did not survive the unmolding. The wax paper did its job, and after breaking off a few thin sharp epoxy shards, the plywood sandwich material separated from the beautiful and very flat denim filling.
Step 8: Done!
At this point I cleaned up the rough edges, polished a small area to see the results, and set the piece aside to wait for the knife (which will take me a while to make).
The color of MYcarta turned out darker than the faded denim, but I think it looks good. The thickness was just over 3/8 inch (1 cm), which should be just right for the chef's knife.
Step 9: Lessons Learned
This particular epoxy had a long setting time, so there was no need to rush the job.
Next time I will wrap the plywood, so that the tape is on the outside face, and the inside face is very smooth (you can see tape imprints on MYcarta on both sides).
Next time I would also make a plastic or wooden template for cutting out fabric - both for consistency and to save time.
It's good to have a set of helping hands to feed you the pieces of fabric, while you're holding epoxy covered utensils. Many thanks to my lovely wife for helping out, for taking pictures, and for keeping me generally entertained by pointing out various deadly and dangerous things around my workbench.
Step 10: Update - Testing Material
I am still a long way away from making the intended chef's knife. However, I had a WIP knife that needed handles, so here it is with the finished handle. My wife called it "The Skinny Jeans Knife".
I also played around with making a ring - this material is very lightweight and strong. It also finishes nicely with fine grit sandpaper. I will definitely be making more denim mycarta. My son's shirt is in grave danger...
Update to update (2019) - the chef's knife was finished a few months ago to everyone's satisfaction (see picture for proof)