YouTube creator Kiwami Japan is famous for making hand-made knives using materials that odd, rare, and not exactly sharp to begin with. He’s made knives out of Amazon boxes, aluminum foil, and even family-friendly gelatin.
In another one of his fascinating videos, he makes a knife from a single piece of solid wood. And not just any wood, mind you; this particular knife is made from Lignum Vitae.
What is Lignum Vitae?
The Roughbark Lignum Vitae tree, native to the Caribbean and northern coast of South America, is known to be one of the heaviest and hardest woods on the planet, living up to a group of woods nicknamed ‘Ironwood’. Lignum Vitae registers 4,500 pounds-force (lbf) on the Janka Hardness Scale, over twice that of Bois d’arc (Osage orange) wood, a more common hardwood in North America. The reason it isn’t as well-known as more popular wood types, like oak or pine, is that it’s slow-growing, heavy, and very hard to work with.
Its difficult workability is evidenced by Kiwami’s efforts to make a single knife. Let’s go through the process.
1. Cut the Basic Shape of the Knife
Using a Japanese Pull Saw (or Ryoba) he cuts the wood to length, then trims a thin section off each side and a sharp angle cut on the front to create the thin blade portion of the knife. The sawing process is all done by hand taking much more time than cutting normal wood.
2. Sand it Smooth
It wouldn’t be a Kiwami Japan knife video without the sanding and sharpening process. He starts by rough-sanding the sides with an 80-grit piece before working his way up to 120-grit sandpaper. He also sands the handle of the knife to make the edges smoother and easy to grip. Finally, the sharp edge of the blade, a chisel grind (or single edge angle – common among Japanese culinary knives), gets an initial 80-grit sanding before having a 320-grit sanding, then a 600-grit sanding.
3. Sharpen the Blade
With the knife shaped and initial blade grind completed, the final sharpening is done. Four whetstones passes are used: 6,000-grit, 8,000-grit, 12,000-grit, and finally, 30,000-grit. The consecutive passes work together to smooth the wooden blade and prepare it for the final sharpening and polish.
4. Strop it Sharp
For the final step, the blade is stropped on a stropping paddle lined with a thin piece of leather. One of the best things you can do to keep an edge on your knife is to strop it when it gets the least bit dull.
5. Slice and Dice
After stropping the knife, the Lignum Vitae knife is ready to go! It slices, it dices, it shaves, and can even cut through a plastic water bottle.
Though the blade is obviously thicker than metal and made of heavy wood, it gets the job done when put through Kiwami Japan’s infamous vegetable cutting tests. What’s most interesting in this whole process is how regular knife making tools and techniques were successfully used to shape, hone, and sharpen the wood blade.
Kiwami Japan has hundreds of knife making videos on his YouTube channel in which he takes unconventional materials and turns them into works of knife-making art.
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