TOUCAN - TOtally Useless Companion Anyone (should) Need




About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

'It's a particular kind of satisfaction when a tool that you designed and built works surprisingly well and there's still margin for growth to make it better.'

I wrote this a few days ago, after I tested this new blade desgin. The origin of this came from the eternal discussion between axe junkies & machete/parang folks on which is kind of the best tool to have with you 'if you had just one to choose'. Just one. Some will swear by their compact forest axe, some by their sami knife and others by their kukri. The discussion goes on, and despite the fact much - for not to say everything - depends on the environment in which you're gonna use it, the question stays open 'if you just had one to choose one'. Let's say on a blindfolded mission, destination nowhere & everywhere. Think about it, it's quite entertaining. And quite frustrating, sometimes.

As a no-concessions-guy I've never been into that discussion, actually, but I love the idea thinking about it. I carry my Hultafors bushcraft knife, a custom no-name carving axe, my Jauregi forest axe and a jungle blade my dad forged for my 10th birthday almost all day and no tree resisted to all this firepower ever. And not one trip in the woods was ever unsatisfied, also. But, imagine, if you really had one tool to carry, what would it be?

Let's be honest. Sometimes – even some many times - a parang or machete ain't just enough, and sometimes that good ol' blister & beer soaked forest axe ain't just enough, either - no concessions on that bushcraft knife btw.

Recently I was in a good mood for scetching - again - and one idea led to another beer which gave me the idea of just one beer more and before I realised it I was getting really serious about a tool that could be ànd axe ànd parang. It had to be a jungle-proof device that was able to clear, dig, cut, limb, split & carve at the same time. And open a bottle. It had to be simple & compact. And easy to make. Quite a lot of parameters, though, but at the glance of the first stars I felt quite satisfied about the little bird I just designed.

I named it 'toucan' – for obvious reasons.

The bird, you know, not the rock star.

This project is still in progress, and therefor I need your help. Are you folks giving this any potential or does it seem just another fail in tool-making history? Think about it, and let me know. Many thanx!

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Step 1: Overview

The toucan is basicly a handle with a pivotable heavy blade. In 'open' position it's a jungle knife, or parang, whatever, and in 'closed' it's a small axe.

The blade is attached to the handle with a double safety - a device that's still in development btw. In the first tucan (see pic) it was a solid bushing and a bolt for extra security. In version 2.0 the 'eye' of the bird became more complex for extra safety.

It's not a one handed folder. It's not even a folder in the first place. It's just an articultation.

To go from axe to parang you loosen/remove the bolts with an allen key.

Very basic. But very sturdy.

Pics: Toucan 1.0

Step 2: Creative Setup

All my projects are born on paper. During the past years I filled hundreds of pages with ideas, scetches, plans etc. From paper it goes to template and from template to prototype.

And from prototype to the bottom of the sea, sometimes.

Or covered with 50cm solid concrete.

Step 3: Handle Overview

The handle is the most technic challenge of the project. I wanted it ànd light ànd sturdy, so I chose the same solid piece of 15mm aluminium I bought to build the picapow. Remember that one? Still using it btw.

Cutting aluminium without a waterjet is a pain. I've had the best results with a heavy duty jigsaw and simple wood blades. I tried magic, I tried mind power, I tried metal blades & I even tried those 'special alu' blades. The only thing that was really special about them was the speed they became totally worthless. Their tiny teeth got very rapidly 'saturated' with sticky alu dust. Stay to good ol' wood blades. Or be nice to someone who has access to a waterjet.

So, simple wood blades. The cut is less smooth, I agree, but it's easier to smooth the edges down than to change or clean a blade every 5 minutes.

Once the handle is roughly cut out you can smooth the sides with files or belt sander. No need to get it shiny in this stage, aim is to get those lines smooth, not to get a mirror.

Since I wanted initially a nice wooden look - and because wood feels so much better than aluminium - I glued 10mm thick hardwood to the sides which I planed to 3mm once the bicomp resin was set. I didn't use a template for them since it was just too simple to sand the excess away later. Btw, bicomp is really great stuff. Use clamps to hold it tightly together for a few minutes, it hardens fast.

Next time I'll use templates for those scales too btw. In the next stage you'll be drilling a few holes and this process produces so much heat that it'll mess up the connection between alu & wood. Learning from mistakes, you know. And sharing with others. Instructables, you know.

Drilling these holes is best done on a tower drill to get a perfect 90° angle. Big hole is 16mm diameter, the small ones 7.5mm. Use WD40 to lubrifiate the bit whille drilling. Or vegetal oil. Or polar bear wax, whatever.

End the stage with putting a 8mm tread in the small holes.

So, first you do the cutting, then the drilling, then the glueing and at last the sanding. In that order, somehow.

Finally you're good to go for what makes this type of handle really awesome: the octagonal shape. I used a simple router with a 45° router bit (for wood, initally) and it worked just perfect. Say the word: octagonal. You've got to feel it to believe it.

Sand the whole down with a 180 grit and you're done. Linseed or walnut oil to finish.

If you're not using those wooden scales, sand it down to 1200 grit and admire yourself in that mirror.

Pics: Toucan 2.0 as it came out of the workshop.

Step 4: Blade

For the blade of Toucan 1.0 I used 'a' 4mm thick carbon steel.

During the years I collected a whole bunch of hardware. From old cast steel bath tubs to WWI ammunition. Preparing for the apocalypse, you know.

For this design you only need a heavy powerful blade - 4mm thickness is a must. I don't remember where I picked the one up I used for the first version of this design, but as you'll see later it wasn't definitely my best choice ever.

Use that template for shape & holes. Be precise. Go to bed early the day before.

If you're using already hardened carbon steel, you're doing good to remove the hardness for it'll be a lot easier to cut & drill. Heat it in the forge - or a forest fire - and let it cool down slowly. Cut with jigsaw (metal blades) or a disc sander. Check out this site for more info on the heat treatment process, there are some awesome projects where this process is explained in detail.

Next step is the bevels. I put 30° bevels on each side. Other angles will be tested to see which one gives the best results.

Once you're happy with the shape you can harden it again. Heat to cherry red in the forge and once is doesn't stick to a magnet anymore you quench it - read: dropping in vegetal oil and letting it cool down. Last stage is the tempering. This stage is necessary since a quenched blade is brittle as glass. So it needs to be 'softened' to make it workable. One way to do it to place it in the oven at 220°C for 30 about minutes.

These are just the basics, you know. When you're not a blacksmith, the best way to get a decent blade is to send it to a specialist to get it hardened for you. Check the net.

Step 5: Safety Components & Pivot

To hold the blade tightly to the handle I used two pieces.

The first acts as a pivot point. It's a steel bushing-like piece made with a 6mm thread inside that's pressed to the handle with a 6mm bolt. I asked a friend to make it for me since I don't have a lathe.

The second is a 8mm bolt that acts as safety and that prevents the blade from pivoting.

Pic 1: Toucan 1.0 with the safety bolt directly fixed to the handle.

Prc 2: Toucan 2.0 with the safety bolt fixed to a net that has been welded to the bushing.

Step 6: Maiden Trip & First Upgrade

I tested the toucan shortly after its built and wrote this about it:

Today was the day, yay! I put the tucan to the test and besides a few - one, in fact - hics in the whole story it didn't end up at the bottom of the sea after use. That 'hic' was the steel I used. In fact it wasn't the steel itself but the way I heat treated it. I guess the tempering was a big fail and so I got a blade as brittle as glass. No major problem, we'll do better next time.

As I said, the overall feeling is quite great. It holds nicely in my hand and the fact the blade is slightly off center doesn't seem to bother much. With a decent blade and the right bevels this tucan can be a keeper, so I'm going to put it in the hands of some other brutal fellas to discover their feelings about it.

I asked a few friends online about their first ideas and I'm also asking this to you guys. What's your opinion about it?

Some early comments on the design:

- blade too much off center, probably uncomfortable

- bevel of the parang side too long, possible danger

- big risk of loss of that allen key, potential disaster in nature

These comments in mind I decided to go for tucan 2.0, with a better blade, a shorter bevel, a more centered blade and a solution for that runaway allen key.

But, during the routering of the pivot zone the handle became so hot that the bicomp lost grip and the wooden scales came off. So I kicked them out of the project and returned to full basics. Also, I drilled a few more holes in the handle to gain some weight. The handle I mean, not my body.

Pics: Toucan 1.0

Step 7: Toucan 2.0

After the disaster of the first tucan I went back to the shop and worked on some upgrades.

To list a few:

- 3mm carbon steel blade

- modified blade design

- slimmed down handle

- blade more centered

- modified safety device

Ready for test run 2!

Thanx for passing by, and let me know what you think about it.

Step 8: Toucan Vs Jauregi Meat Axe

Technical details for junkies only ;)

Overall weight Toucan vs Jauregi: 788 gr vs 695 gr

Weight Toucan blade 3mm: 393 gr

Weight Toucan blade 4mm: 373 gr (slightly smaller in size)

Weight Toucan handle: 378 gr

Length Toucan jungle knife: 350 mm

Length Toucan handle: 240 mm

Length Jauregi handle: 240 mm

Length blade Toucan: 170 mm

Length blade Jauregi: 140 mm

Cutting edges Toucan: 90 mm

Cutting edge Jauregi: 115 mm

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    42 Discussions


    16 days ago

    my first thought for improvement is adding a "safe mode". maybe you could make the blade thinner and fold it into the handle, I don't know. my next thought is a locking mechanism that I've seen on shovel/pickaxe that folds together, I probably won't explain this well but, here goes, there is a piece of metal that has a square end and a round end, it has a powerful spring in it which is attached to the handle, the hole that it fits through is square but when you push it up the circle area unlocks and let's you fol the blade up or down then you let go and the spring locks it into place putting the square edges back on. if i can get an image of this I will share it here.


    Question 1 year ago on Step 1

    I am you not have access to a milling machine?

    This would be a simple part to cut with my bridgeport. It has CNC capability so much easier than using a Water cutter. Water cutters are great for cutting out multiple flat pieces. Same as laser/plasma cutting.

    But the mill can chamfer all the sides and the drilled holes, also do exacting different level cuts that seem to be required. Also, you and everyone else is more likely to know someone with a milling machine than someone with a water jet cutter.

    4 answers

    Answer 1 year ago

    Excellent idea! But no, I don't have a milling machine - I'm an old school woodworker you know... Thanx for your advice, I'll refine my search field in my area to find someone with such a toy ;)


    Reply 1 year ago

    I wish you all the best with your project. I too make knives, it's an enjoyable hobby. I am personally working on new mechanisms for working steampunk style blades with working pneumatics and possibly hydraulic movements.

    Best wishes,



    Reply 1 year ago

    Very nice to meet you Pete! Did you post on this site? I'm gonna have a look, I'm really curious about your projects! Axe on!


    Reply 11 months ago

    I'm sorry, I just don't have time to be loading photographs onto here, I wouldn't know where I would begin anyhow.
    I am a bit old school, ("a bit" being an understatement!) My wife bought me this tablet, and I am just about able to message people. But, as you can see....4 months late. I don't hold out hope for my technological advances :-)


    1 year ago

    Lovely piece, but I definitely have reservations about a blade that can swivel like this.


    Tip 1 year ago on Step 5

    On the safety bolt to hold the blade in place, have you thought of possibly using a hitch pin, making it easier and faster to switch positions, and no key to carry around.

    3 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    You know, despite the fact that I love your idea and I agree about the time it would save, those two bolts are really functional. Old-school, but functional. It's the kind of tool that will be heavily abused - and it's built for that - and those two bolts solidify blade & handle as hard as possible. Adding a 'normal' pivot - as in classic folders - or safety pins will make the tool less sturdy and more apt to break, my opinion. I've been really abusive with a lot of folding knives, and after the hard work they all became less sturdy. It's a decision to make, agreed, but I'll go for the heaviest duty on this one ;)


    Reply 1 year ago

    Combining the comments of AlexanderM194 and ZaRue... don't think about the safety pin as a replacement for what you already have, reconsider the hinge methodology entirely. For example, the cotter key on a bolt doesn't take much abuse - the nut does all the work of holding things tight, the cotter key just makes sure that everything else can't change positions (prevents the nut from loosening in the example, or in the Toucan it prevents the hinge from shifting from one locked position to another). Thoughts?


    Reply 1 year ago

    I like this. But it seems like it is too big, so a modified one?


    1 year ago

    To reduce the strain and potential enlargement of the pivot and safety pins, what about adding a second safety pin? The triangle is one of the strongest and most stable structures.

    And/or instead of using a round pivot point, what if the blade had 'fixed' positions using a shaped central pin and socket? The tool could then be made with a triangle of locking connection points to secure it. (using the hex key fasteners.)

    The wood on the handle looked more 'comfortable' to me and also gave me an idea as to where you could include a space for the key and maybe a few survival items like flint, fishing hook with line (and a bandage or two just in case ;) )


    1 year ago

    Making the bit by your fingers blunt means it looks like you've lost a lot of potential machete blade. Would it be wrong to have a symmetrical handle (like a mallet), and the opposite side of the blade sharp? That way no slicing your finger in axe mode, longer machete blade, and if the "top" of the axe is sharp but the bottom blunt you can use it as a Froe. You could call it "Tou and froe" :)

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Or a "Tucan Froe" :)


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanx a lot! Don't be jealous, it was just the beer... ;D


    1 year ago on Step 8

    Just a thought: if you swapped the parang edge to the opposite side so that the parang's spine faces your fingers when in the hatchet configuration, then you could use that parang edge--while in the hatchet configuration--as a froe.


    1 year ago on Step 8

    So, as far as the locking mechanism alan key, could you make a hallow in the handle Instead of the multiple holes? Then just use that to hold the key, stops the runaway, and adds a way to store something like a hone or firestarter.
    Some kind of bolster would also be nice.
    Im not a metal worker, i just like knives and other bladed items.


    1 year ago

    Warning: bye fingers!