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Finishing

All that's left now is some finishing, both for the handle as well as the blade of the saw.  Also, I wanted to use this opportunity to practice a little bit of carving, mostly just for the experience.  You can practice and practice and practice on scraps, but rarely does it do as much good as "practicing" on the real thing.  One of the biggest reasons I took up building tools (other than the fact I needed some) was to give myself an opportunity to hone some previously un-tried or forgotten skills, and these saws were no exception.

Carving

I've acquired an interest in carving as of late, and wanted to practice some for projects I want to do this winter.  These handles were a great opportunity to practice a little bit of it, albeit to the horror of others...

Being this is norsewoodsmith.com and being of nordic decent myself - I thought something of a celtic/viking flair would be appropriate.  A repeating theme in viking art is intertwined snakes, so I came up with a pattern that fit onto the handle, drawing right on the handle - then used an exacto knife to outline it:

That alone isn't enough, as the line made by the razor knife is too fine.  I brought out my chip carving knife - the one dad made for me a few years ago, and followed the lines I'd just made with the razor knife.

On the first ones I tried, I came back in and widened the cut by angling the chip carving knife about 45 degrees.  

With later ones, I didn't bother.  It turned out to be unnecessary - after a finish was put on, just having the line was enough:

After I finished carving the patterns, I hand sanded the wood to about 220 grit.   More than that is unnecessary, and you risk burnishing the wood so it won't accept a finish properly.

This, obviously - is a completely optional part to making saws.  I was just having fun doing it, and wanted to personalize them a bit more.

 

Finishing the Wood Handle

As a final step to preparing the handle, I hand sand it with 150 then 220 grit sandpaper until I'm satisfied with the finish.  Being these are tools, and not show pieces - I don't spend an inordinate amount of time preparing them...  Besides, I expect these saws to get used, so damage is bound to happen over time in any case.  It's most important for comfort during use and for protecting the handle itself, so that is where I place my priorities when finishing tool handles.

My favorite finish for tool handles is Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO), followed by a few thin coats of shellac.  BLO is pretty simple to apply, just wipe it on and wipe it off after about a half hour or so...  I do this twice in a day, and let it dry at least overnight before the next stage.  I thin it about 20 percent with mineral spirits in the summer and about 50 percent in the winter, so its the consistency of a runny syrup.

If BLO is the only finish I want to apply, I'll give it no more a coat a day until I'm satisfied with it.  It must be dry before you apply the next coat - the way I tell is to hang the scrap piece of cloth I used for wiping the oil on over my vise, or another such metal object, and wait until the oil in it makes the cloth stiff...  You know then the oil in the handle should be hard as well.  The standard safety warning about storing oily rags and spontaneous combustion should go here...  so be aware of what you do with them.

For these, I wanted to take it a step further and use something a little nicer - so I only put 2 coats of BLO on the handles - then after it dried, I brushed on a couple coats of shellac.  There seems to be some sort of a stigma that surrounds using shellac in flake form, so I'll briefly go though preparing a batch.  

I prefer using flakes to using pre-mixed shellacs like what's available from the hardware store, and the reason is simple...  once mixed, shellac has a pretty short shelf life.  Manufacturers can mix in chemicals that extend this shelf life, but when I look at what's on the shelf at the store, I wonder how long that can has been sitting there...  1 month, two...  or maybe even 6 months or longer?  Flakes will store indefinitely and are easy to mix up - and you only have to mix up what you are going to need.

I usually don't bother going through any measuring dance...  you know, you need xx ounces of flake, xx ounces of alcohol, and you must chant a love sonnet to the lac bug using an ancient celtic dialect while...  I'm getting off track, aren't I?

I start with a couple of pint sized jars that have good lids.  You'll need two, though - one to mix it in, the other you'll need to filter it after the flakes have dissolved.  Besides flakes and jars, the only other requirement is alcohol - any denatured alcohol from the hardware store will do just fine, no need to get fancy.

For something close to what's called a "2 lb. cut", or the standard thickness for finishing, I start by filling the jar about 1/3 full of flakes:

Then, add in the alcohol, filling the jar until it's about 2/3 full, put the lid on and shake it up:

It takes at least a couple hours for the flakes to dissolve in the alcohol.  When the flakes have dissolved, you need to filter what's left out - I've found that the material from an old tee shirt works best.  Others have used coffee filters, but I find they take too long (if I can even get the stuff to go through them) and an old shirt works plenty fine.  Why must you filter it?  Shellac is made from the secretions of a bug, and the flakes are often unscreened (or only partially screened) to remove the junk that can get into them:

You'll find pieces of bark, pieces of bug - bunches of stuff you don't want to get into your finish.  Straining it through a filter of some sort will remove the impurities.  It won't remove the wax, though...  The wax in shellac isn't always a bad thing, but there are times you might want to remove it.  To make your own dewaxed shellac, all you have to do is let it sit in the jar for a few days undisturbed.  The wax will settle out to the bottom, and you can then cant off the "dewaxed" shellac off of the top into another container.  If you don't - remember to shake up the shellac occasionally as you use to keep the wax in suspension.  Actually, you should always remember to shake it a bit before using it, as there will always be something that needs mixing in there.

For more information on shellac and other finishes, you can refer to Homestead Finishing's articles (also a good source for shellac flakes) by Jeff Jewitt - He's also written some books on finishing, and I've found pretty much anything written by him to be golden.

Just for the experience, I tried a few different methods for applying the shellac, including brushing, sanding, wiping, etc...  and found the best method for the handles to be to brush on a couple coats, about an hour apart from each other and allow that to dry overnight.  Sand that by hand with 220 grit sandpaper, and wipe on another coat of shellac using cloth from an old tee shirt.   After that dries at least a couple hours, hand sand that with 320 grit sandpaper, and wipe on a final coat of shellac with the tee shirt.  When that had dried thoroughly, I "sanded" the handle using 2 grits of scotch-brite pad, the first a medium then a finer grade, to where I had just removed the gloss from the finish.  A coat of paste wax buffed on at this point to bring back a little sheen and to protect it, and the handle is ready for assembly.