Introduction: Upcycled Kid's First Knife - With Custom Oak Handle
This Instructables helps you make a safe, ergonomic and personalised cooking knife for you toddler, or young children. It can be done for less than £10/$15, with basic tools.
For many parents, this is a great Fix to not having to use a sharp knife, or an ineffectual plastic once. (I even had a dad friend make one, in an evening after work, after seeing this! So it's that easy!). Please vote if you like it =)
My dad taught me to cook when I was a a boy, but my first memory of cooking was with my grandmother - chopping bananas. Now that I'm a dad myself, I wanted my 3 year old to enjoy cooking also. The problem is that one can't give a sharp (sharp blade or pointed tip) knife to a toddler, and the 'safe' ones are often so dull, they don't cut properly - either becoming inadvertently dangerous by having to apply a lot of force, or by demotivating the child as they protest 'the knife doesn't work!'. Others are plastic and have light serrations, but this teaches the child the wrong ('sawing' action) with a knife.
V1.0: Butter Knives:
The best compromise I found was an old-fashioned Butter Knife. This is safe in that it has a rounded tip, but also the steel is so 'fine' that it can press-through even hard things like carrots and potatoes. However, my only issues with this were;
- the handle was too slim / poor grip
- the handle was especially slippery when wet
- the blade (~5inch) was too long (for my son to control)
The Butter Knife is a good start (my Gran used this after all), but I wanted to improve on this, and it is why I made a 'mini' blade, by shortening the steel, and also replacing the handle with a 'chunkier' wooden handle, which has better grip (and is not slippery when wet either).
This Instructable helps you create a handle, and also modify a knife to suit your child's need.
In addition - I should point out that this is not 'just for kids', but having worked on various inclusive design projects, 'chunky grips' (e.g. OXO Good Grips) are also helpful for people with Arthritis, or other impairments with their hands.... so one could make this for anyone who needs a small affordance to better enjoy cooking!
Naturally, this guide is shared in good faith, and only you as a parent/guardian can evaluate what you feel is appropriate for you child. Although I cannot accept any liability for this. If still unsure, perhaps just buy this instead (LINK). Have fun either way!
Butter Knife - I'd personally look in a Charity/Thrift Shop, as these are cheap (mine were 20p each). Alternatively, ebay might get lucky, e.g.
Suggested Tools: Rotary Tool, with grinding wheels, Drill with a range of bits from 4-8mm, Small Vice/Clamp, Knife (for wood-working / whittling), Sand Paper (ideally ranging from 100 to 1500 grit), Blow-Torch (or gas stove flame will do), Dust Mask, Goggles.
Super Glue and Epoxy 2-Part Glue - Link
Optional: Sharpening Stones, Whittling Knife (LINK) (if no penknife/leatherman to hand).
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Step 1: Finding Your Timber
You do not want to work with wet wood (green), as it will dry out and then split.
This leaves you three options:
- A. cut green wood and leave it to 'season' (slowly dry).
- B. cut green wood and place it in the oven at 100C for 30mins, take out for 1hr, repeat 2-3 times. (This only works with small branches like this, FYI).
- C. Find branches which have been snapped by cows/deer, and are not growing/shooting leaves, but have likely seasoned over time. [This is what I did (as you can see from the 'mangled branch' in the second picture].
Dry wood has no 'green' bark (see first image), and ideally if you have a damp meter, it should be under 10% moisture. If in doubt, give a quick dry-out in the oven as suggested above.
Step 2: Planning Ahead
It's worth visualising what you are intending to do, so here's a cut-away - showing how the 'tang' (spike) will fix into the wood. The red being the anticipated shape.
It makes sense to plan out what sort of shape, length, profile of handle you think will suit your kid(s). Perhaps prototype with some plasticine first, to involve them more...?
Step 3: Cutting the Faux Handle Off
It's an irony that the handles are fake/imitation ivory on these knives, yet their steels (Sheffield in the UK is famous for this), are in mint condition, even after decades of use! So I didn't feel too bad hacking-off the old plastic/resin handles!
To remove the handle, I suggest cutting laterally down the handle with the rotary grinder tool. (Wear mask and eye protection, and gloves if needed).
Once cut both sides, hit the handle on a hard surface, and/or rotate it back and forth, and it should come free.
Optional - re-grind some of the grooves on the tang, this will help adhesion later on. Use a vice, as blade gets hot / may jump in your hand!
Step 4: Centre Hole
Mark the centre of the wood.
Find a drill bit which is perhaps 0.5-1.0mm smaller (dia.) than the tang at its widest point.
Drill to a depth as shown, so the hole is deeper than the tang is long.
Mark on the outside of the branch as a note (when cutting off).
Drill perhaps 5mm deep, then rotate a 1/4 turn, to see if it is aligned laterally / looks straight. One could use a vice, but I found eye-balling this is fine, as most branches are imperfect.
Press in the blade part way, and check straightness / alignment.
Step 5: Whittling the Rough Form
I used my Leatherman knife (also how I sawed off the branch in the first place), but one can use other workshop tools, or indeed a whittling knife.
Keep working the form to the approximate size, but perhaps with 3mm excess than what you'd like to end up with.
TIP: As you can see, I've left the excess of the branch such that it allows me to hold the work-piece without having the blade near me.
Safe to say, if you have not whittled or used a knife like this, perhaps look at a video first! (LINK)
Step 6: Optional: Burning-In!
I saw this trick, when they attach antler / bone handles to knifes. Safe to say, it's a tiny bit dangerous (as it involves heat), but it's kinda fun, and get's a really sung fit for the tang/handle. Do so only if feeling confident...
Heat up the tang (I used a blow torch). When the metal is a dull orange / slight change in colour - plunge into the wood hole. Give a wiggle, and remove. Repeat until a good fit is achieved. Note: I did not heat it to a crazy temp (yellow heat), nor did I leave it in too long (this may split the wood).
Step 7: Forming the Handle End
I used the branch to allow me to work the rounded end of the handle as shown. Not removing just yet.
Step 8: Profiling the Steel
The steels vary in design and size, but it make sense to try to ensure there is a nice transition between the handle and the steel (The Bolster). I drew around this with pencil, and then continued to work the wood to a shape I was happy with. Note - this was with a finer (not serrated) knife blade on the Leatherman.
Step 9: Parting
Now that I was pretty happy with the handle profile, I dug deeper into the end profile, to remove it from the branch. The moment of truth!
Note the handle is NOT glued on. Just tight-fitting.
Step 10: Saw-Off Butter Knife
I marked out the profile of the knife. I kept the blade about 2.5inches (6.5cm) long, and roughed out the approximate curve of the tip.
Step 11: Rough Sanding
I used coarse grit papers (100-400) to sand down the handle.
I noted the profile of the bolster (steel) as I was working.
Tip: Keep the steel wrapped in Masking Tape to avoid scratches and give grip.
Step 12: Hardening the Grain
The wettest part of the handle is likely to be the interface between the bolster and the handle. I was worried that this may cause it to split over time, so I applied some Super Glue to the face, and a little inside the hole. I then sanded this down, so it was flush with the steel.
Likewise, some dirt and debris may have accumulated around the bolster/tang, so I also sanded this back to be clean surfaces for gluing.
Step 13: Glue Together
I used a 2-Part Epoxy to glue these two parts together. I took note of which side was the 'top' so I assembled them the right way. Any overspilling epoxy - I wiped up with a tissue.
Step 14: Blunting & Grinding the Blade's Curve
I had a couple of sharpening stones, but this is possible with sand papers, as the steels are very fine, so can be worked with time. Either way, the idea is to give the tip of the knife a nice curve, so that it is safe, but looks aesthetic also.
I also took time to blunt the blade itself to a dullness I was happy with. I can't advise you hack at your fingers to verify this, but find a way to satisfy yourself that this is sharp enough to be useful (cut vegetables), but not so sharp it will cut skin (I'd suggest if it cuts a tomato skin, easily, it's too sharp!).
Step 15: Preserve the Wood
Wood absorbs water. This causes swelling. This makes wood split.
So one should apply oil, wax or varnish to wood to preserve it. You can buy fancy oils and waxes, but I found applying Olive Oil in multiple layers works fine. Apply until it does not seem to 'absorb' any more so readily.
UPDATE: As per comment below from Jeff, he recommends that Mineral Oil is perhaps best. Seems available on amazon.com and .co.uk. Howard's brand is well reviewed. Thanks Jeff!
Step 16: Ready, Steady - Cook!!
Here is the finished knife. I was very happy with it, but I was also pleased my son loved it...after all, as most parents know, kids want to use 'your' tools, but it's often not safe, so now he has 'his own' knife, and all is well.
Step 17: Appendix 1: Whittling Knifes
The first knife I made using my Leatherman. It did a great job, but I was aware it was not 'comfortable' on the grip for long periods of time. So I found a fair priced whittling knife, and I have to say it was nicer to use for long periods, but not critical, as I was not intricately carving the handle.
However, because of the move controlled force, I found that I was able to cleanly cut over knotts in the wood. I found this hard to do with the Leatherman. And as a result, this inspired me to whittle in a more 'technically challenging' wood like Yew, which was just a joy to work with.
Wood Knives: https://amzn.to/37FGxeN
Good Book: https://amzn.to/37Ic1AY
Step 18: Appendix 2: Magnetic Knife Rack
I realised that I didn't want to put my son's knife up with my *sharp* knives, so I thought I better create his own knife rack. I loved the offcuts of wood from this project - and it inspired me to make these disks into the 'homes' for the knifes.
- Draw around magnet (I used a 20x3mm Magnet (Link)).
- I drilled in multiple holes to a depth of 4mm (the bit itself was only 3.5mm deep, so this is easier than in sounds).
- I finished this 'pocket' with a larger rotary bit. A sanding drum can also be used (as these things often come in an accessory pack).
- I test-fit the magnet in the 'pocket'.
- I tested that the magnet could hold the knife easily.
- I applied a thin film of super glue to the face of the disk. Allow to dry.
- Sanded back from 200, 500, 800, 1000 grit to give a smooth and strong finish.*
(I did the same for the back also).
- Applied Epoxy to fix magnet in place.
- Applied Sugru (LINK) to the back, or No-More-Nails sealants will works also (just use some sticky-tape to hold in place while drying).
- Stuck the disk to the kitchen tiles.
Step 19: Appendix 3: Good Woods
I researched various woods that are more or less likely to warp/split with time (and moisture). The key search term is 'stabilisation', in that if the wood needs a chemical to stop it expanding or contracting with moisture.
Another way to look at this, is to consider how tightly the wood grain is and if it sands to a 'glossy finish'. The most available wood I would find (also often with snapped branches!) was Yew. It also makes for a very attractive wood to work with, but as mentioned before - a very sharp knife is required if whittling.
Note: Yew berries are poisonous, but after speaking with various carpenters and cabinet makers, although extra care should be taken with the dust, as it can be mildly irritant, I was assured that the wood is not toxic. It was of course used for Longbows and other hand tools, but if in doubt, revert to Oak.
Step 20: Gallery
This is a great 'training knife', as I have been able to allow my son to not only learn 'best practice' for cutting, but also to allow him to explore, without fear if it being too serious if he makes a mistake.
Part of the benefit of the knife being good steel, is that as he grows older I can sharpen the knife to match his ability. Right now I still need him to remember to keep his fingers clear, and not eat off the knife blade, but once he's reliably learnt this, I can sharpen it in line with his maturity.
Participated in the
Fix It Contest