Wa-Handle Dimensions and Shaping

Wa-Handle Dimensions and Shaping

When I first started making handles for Japanese knives I didn’t have access to many product examples to compare so I searched the internet for a sizing chart of sorts. It turns out there wasn’t a very detailed one. The best I could find was mainly just “length of handle versus length of blade”, but it didn’t get into any specifics. I kept searching and found pieces of information here and there until I pieced together some good proportions to start testing. You find out pretty quick on prep-heavy days what works and what doesn’t. After a lot of personal experimentation and feedback from others in the kitchen these are my go to dimensions for a Gyuto / Chef knife:

Octagonal Wa-Handle Dimensions

Blade length: 210-270 mm
Handle length: 135 mm
Ferrule end width: 18 mm
Ferrule end height: 23 mm
Butt end width: 20 mm
Butt end height: 26 mm
Chamfers: 5 mm marked in from corner.

I find these dimensions work well for a few different reasons. The handle is big enough to house the tang of the knife without becoming structurally weak or feeling too bulky. The slight taper toward the blade is balanced and gives a good secure grip without giving the feeling your hand is creeping forward. The handle is a good length for fitting a wide range of hands but not long enough that you find it hitting your wrist when doing detail work with the tip of the blade.

Shaping an Octagonal Wa-Handle

I like to use all natural wood for my knife handles, in my opinion there is no substitute for the feel of natural wood for a tool handle. The method for shaping that I’ll be showing here doesn’t require a bunch of fancy machinery or expensive tools.

I should mention that the butt end and ferrule end square (90 degrees) to the top of the handle. This makes the top of the handle in line with the spine of the knife and the bottom face of the handle taper up toward the blade. Both sides taper in from the butt end toward the blade. I account for all of this when doing my layout, which is why you’ll notice my tang slot is up from centre at first.

After glue-up I like to take a couple shavings off the top face of the handle to give me a good reference point for marking out the centre of the handle along with the tang slot.

Once I’ve established centre and marked the tang slot I drill out some pilot holes to start the slot.

At this point I start connecting the pilot holes using the drill at an angle. After that I move on to digging it out with a jig saw blade held with a small pair of vice grips. Then square things up and refine the slot with some small files.

Once the tang is tightly fitted, I begin layout of the handle shape. I find it better to fit the blade before shaping the handle so that when making the tang slot, if I go slightly out of square I can easily adjust the layout to account for it. Going the other way (shaping the handle and then cutting and fitting the tang slot) means it needs to be 100% perfect out of the gate or you’re going to have spend a great deal of time tweaking the fit. More than likely you’ll end up having to bin the handle because you’ll end up with a skewed fit or a slot way bigger than intended.

Working from my top reference face, first I mark the 18 mm wide, 23 mm tall ferrule end, followed by the 20 mm wide, 26 mm tall butt end.

Now I just plane down to my layout marks and I have established the dual taper of my handle.

Some people only eyeball the chamfers but I find it beneficial to have a visual aid of what I’m shooting for. It can be pretty difficult to mark out the chamfers accurately, which is probably why most people do only eyeball it. I made a handy little guide out of a scrap piece of walnut that gives me perfect 5 mm chamfers every time.

Once I have my chamfers marked I use my hand plane to remove material down to the line. I hold my plane in one hand and essentially use it like a mandoline (kitchen tool). The most import thing is to pay attention to grain orientation. It can look a bit wonky and be harder to keep track of once you’ve started. Lose track of it and you will quickly ruin your handle and have to start over.

At this point I’ll lap all the faces on a 320 grit sanding block. Then I’ll sand a small chamfer on the edge around the butt end and the ferrule end. This handle is now ready for finishing. My go-to for finishing woods that aren’t naturally water resistant is 100% pure Tung oil, followed by my custom wax polish.

I use epoxy to mount the blade and this knife is now ready to be put to work.

wa-handle by Colton Organ
wa-handle gyuto with saya by Colton Organ
Dowel Wa-Handle Method

Dowel Wa-Handle Method

I discovered some Japanese style handle makers out there use a method of construction involving a dowel insert. Essentially the handle and ferrule are drilled out to receive a matching size dowel with a slot cut from the dowel to fit the tang of the blade. I found this method has a few advantages for assembly and makes tang fitting a little easier.

I decided to try it on my Tojiro knives that needed some upgrading.

Knife Specs

Type: Tojiro Shirogami Gyuto
Length: 210 mm
Steel: Shirogami #2 (white #2)
Handle Shape: Octagonal
Handle Material: Claro Walnut, Wild Apple wood
Handle Length: 135 mm
Ferrule: 30 mm
Ferrule End Width: 18 mm
Ferrule End Height: 23 mm
Butt End Width: 21 mm
Butt End Height: 26 mm

Type: Tojiro Shirogami Petty
Length: 150 mm
Steel: Shirogami #2 (white #2)
Handle Shape: Octagonal
Handle Material: Claro Walnut, Wild Apple wood
Handle Length: 120 mm
Ferrule: 28 mm
Ferrule End Width: 15 mm
Ferrule End Height: 18 mm
Butt End Width: 18 mm
Butt End Height: 21 mm

Saya – Knife Covers: Poplar


Fujimoto Nashiji Rehandle and Saya

Fujimoto Nashiji Rehandle and Saya

Fujimoto Nashiji knives are made exclusively for Knifewear, a Canadian importer of high end Japanese knives. The core of the blade is Aogami #2 (blue #2) carbon steel clad in stainless steel. This gives all the benefits of a carbon steel knife with less maintenance since the only part that can rust is the exposed cutting edge.

The request for this knife was to make it stand out from the crowd. After some dialogue back and forth the only real request was that I use some funky figured wood. Here is what I came up with.

Knife Specs

Type: Fujimoto Nashiji Gyuto
Length: 243 mm
Steel: Aogami #2 (blue #2)
Blade Height: 47 mm
Tang Thickness: 6 mm
Handle Shape: Octagonal
Handle Material: Maple Burl, African Padauk, Ebony
Handle Length: 143 mm
Ferrule End Width: 19 mm
Ferrule End Height: 23 mm
Butt End Width: 21 mm
Butt End Height: 26 mm

I particularly like the size and dual taper on this octagonal handle. It is a good size for a workhorse knife but is still nimble for finer work. The ferrule has been sealed around the tang of the knife with epoxy to prevent moisture from entering into the handle. The blade road was lightly polished out to give the knife a bit more of a refined look. I think the contrast with the hand hammered finish goes nicely. The knife was then hand sharpened on a progression of synthetic Japanese water stones and finally stropped with 0.5 micron compound (30,000 grit).

Shun Classic Rehandle

Shun Classic Rehandle

Shun knives are quite popular in commercial kitchens. They’re very durable and usually treated as such. This early model Shun Classic 10 inch chef knife has seen hard use and better days. The blade is pretty badly curved and has seen frequent sharpening. The resin impregnated wood part of the handle is also twisted out of it’s seat. Let’s see what kind of shape we can bring this knife back to.

I had a different idea initially but due to the design of the “tang” the┬áplan is to re-handle this knife using the existing D shape bolster and end cap as a guide. This knife has been retired for a while now and the owner doesn’t like how high the tip has been ground over it’s life. So in addition to thinning this knife behind the edge I will also re-profile the blade.

I marked out my stock for the handle and started drilling the holes to fit the “full composite-tang.” A method of tang construction I’ve never seen before. I imagine this is how all of Shun’s knives are constructed. I roughed out the D shape of the handle before assembling with epoxy.

Using a metal file I flushed up the wood and steel of the handle. Opposed to using a sandpaper block which just grinds the metal dust into the wood. Once I was happy with how the handle felt in the hand I moved on to finishing. I’ve been trying out Boiled Linseed Oil finish on my handles and with lots of coats it seems to hold up very well. It is not a film finish so you still get the feel of the wood in your hand. Unlike mineral oil, it is a drying oil so it does cure and this particular stuff is food contact safe.

I sharpen all my knives on a progression of Naniwa Professional Stones. Followed by stropping with 0.5 micron honing compound. That’s taking it to approximately 30,000 grit. Totally unnecessary since it won’t hold it very long but does it ever sing.

Rehandle a Japanese Chef Knife

Rehandle a Japanese Chef Knife

Working in a kitchen, I get to play with knives quite often. I also tend to buy more knives than I will ever need… This Tojiro 21cm Gyuto (Japanese Chef Knife) and 15cm Petty were my latest purchase from the friendly bunch over at Bernal Cutlery down in San Francisco. Originally I planned to treat the blades, oil the handles and put them work. That was the case for a short time… until I was inspired to try making a Saya. Saya is wooden sheath with retaining pin.

In typical fashion for me I decided hey why not make a Saya and rehandle it! I have been wanting to try rehandling a Japanese knife for a while and decided to go for it. I use the 15cm Petty more often at work so I decided to start with the Gyuto. In the next week or two I will give the Petty knife the same treatment.

The woods used are White Oak and Ebony. The Ebony is the keys from a decommissioned piano so I’m not sure what species it is. Everything is finished with boiled linseed oil.

Handle Dimensions:
Length: 135 mm
Width: 18 mm
Height: 26 mm
Ferrule: 36 mm
Ebony: 4.5 mm