Handy Tools – Stacked Knife Handle Tools

I've been making stacked birch bark knife handles lately, and found a couple tools that made the process much easier.

Note that the basic tools needed are something to cut the birch bark to size (unless you're buying stacks from Russia, which are a pretty good deal, but a little short to do a complete job), and something to scrape the papery bits and any fungus off the outside of the bark. A card scraper will do just fine for the latter. You'll also need something to put holes in the bark. I use a leather punch. It works pretty good, but about every three or four pieces of bark I need to clear it out, since the bark doesn't fall out the way leather does.

As you're stacking the bark pieces on the handle, you want the holes to be big enough that you're not splitting the bark, but tight enough that the bark stays in place. Near the blade, this means punching three overlapping holes using the middle size on my punch, then two overlapping holes using the middle size on my punch, then finally a single hole using the next smaller size on the punch.

I put a handle on a piece of 7/16” tubing so I wouldn't beat up my mallet when hitting it. It also got a screw-eye so I can hang it up when I'm not using it.

Tool for compressing layers of stacked knife handle material

tool in use, pushing down a layer of birch bark

Every dozen or so pieces of bark, I'll slide the tube over the knife tang, then give it a good whack with the mallet to push everything down tightly. It gets me a tighter stack, which means less fiddling around later.

Partway through building the stack, I'll take a break to thread the end of the knife tang. For the mora 120 knife blanks I will use a 10-32 die, followed by a 8-32 die, and I thread the last ¼ inch of the tang. That seems to be plenty. I use a stack of a ¼” washer, followed by a ¼” copper washer, then a #8 washer, followed by an 8-32 nut.

After I have built the stack, but before I put on the washers and nut, I will press the stack, and bake it for 2 hours at 225F (110C). I use a couple pieces of scrap wood with some all-thread and washers and wing nuts as a press. Baking the bark will soften up any birch pitch in the bark and glue the stack together a little. It'll make for a nicer handle later.

stacked handle on a knife blank, compressed in a shop-made vise

stack birch-bark handle, with washers and nut threaded onto the tang of the knife blade to hold everything together

Then it's time to shape. I use a bandsaw followed by a belt sander.

Two birch-bark knife handles after rough shaping on the bandsaw


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