Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives

My Method of Fitting the Pin in a Single Pin Stub Tang Handle

This is not a tutorial per se, it's more like a simple description of a process. The question keeps coming up so I decided to leave this description where it can be found so I don't have to type it again. Sorry, there are no pictures, you're going to have to READ (I hear the dismayed groans in the background).

We are talking here about a stub tang knife. Such knives have a blade of any design, any length, any thickness but the tang is only a few inches long and about a half inch to three quarter inch wide. I use this style a lot on 4" hunters and 10" kitchen knives. In all cases my tang is never more than 2.5" long when measured from the point where it meets the blade. I have made a 20" bladed short sword with a Micarta handle attached this way on a 2.5" tang. It has stood the test of time without any damage whatsoever to the handle even though I have invited quite a few large people (not to mention myself) to whack and pry and twist the knife in an effort to break the blade or separate the handle. It's been 15 years and the handle is as solid as the day I made it. The blade's OK too but I had to regrind the tip.

The secret to this kind of performance from this handle design lies solely in two areas: one, if it must withstand heavy abuse the handle material must be very tough such as Micarta or straight grained wood. Burl wood works fine with a single pin handle but can fail if heavily abused although that's because the wood snaps, the pin still won't budge. And two, the pin must be properly fitted.

And that brings us to the point of this discussion: how to fit the pin. Here's how:

We'll assume you've made the blade and fitted up the guard. The guard has been permanently attached to the blade but, at this point, I prefer to leave the guard unshaped (but with the surface finished on the front side) and the handle material still in block form. You can work out ways to do this same process with pieces of antler and other round materials but block materials are easier.

Figure out where you want the tang to enter the block and mark the area where you will drill the tang hole. It is possible to use a honking big drill and make a huge hole that will accept the tang but I don't recommend it. Instead, drill 3 holes in the end of the block. The drill should be the same or slightly larger diameter as the tang thickness. With the guard in position on the tang, measure the remaining section of tang. Mine are usually 2". Whatever it is, that's how deep the three holes need to be.

The next step is to connect the holes. To do this, I use my Harbor Freight hand piece which is a poorly designed copy of a Foredom. You can use a Dremel or any similar tool. With a Roto-Zip bit fitted into the hand piece or Dremel it should take about two or three minutes to convert the three holes into a slot. Once you can slip the tang into the handle block all the way up to the guard you're done with this part.

With the tang inserted into the block and the guard properly positioned against the block mark the points where the top and bottom of the guard meet the block (the marks go on the flat side of the block). Hopefully, your guard is well fitted and does not move up and down on the tang! Remove the tang from the block. Using the marks to locate the guard, place the tang against the side of the block so that the tang is positioned just as it was when it was inside the block. Trace the outline of the tang on the side of the block.

Look at the outline of the tang on the block. Mark a spot in the center of the tang and about 3/4 of the tang's length from the front. This is about where the pin should go.

A word about the pins. On any but the very smallest of knives I use at least a 3/16" pin, on big knives a 1/4" pin. My pins are made from 416 stainless and they have been hardened but not tempered. This is an important part of this process because softer pins will bend! We don't want the pin to bend, it must stay rigid. So, if you're going to make a single pin handle and you have any real expectation of having the knife survive hard use and be passed down through generations forget about brass pins or thin pins of any kind. Don't cut corners here, use steel pins and harden them!

So, now you have a hole in the handle block and your hardened pin can just slip through the hole without binding (a 'clearance' hole). Put the block and the handle/guard back together and go to your drill press. Clamp the handle block onto the drill table or into your vise making sure the top surface of the block is perpendicular to the drill chuck. Also make sure the the blade and tang are free to move.

At this point I have to assume that you are prepared to drill through the tang because you:

A) softened the tang with a torch or avoided hardening it in the first place

B) possess a straight flute carbide drill in the exact size required for the cleanance hole which will allow you to drill the hardened tang (this is my method)

Put the appropriate drill in the chuck for drilling the handle material. Position the drill over the mark you made for the pin location. REMOVE THE TANG FROM THE HANDLE!! Drill the hole for the pin all the way through the handle. Blow the sawdust out of the handle without removing the handle from its position on the table.

If you are using a carbide drill for a hardened tang chuck that drill now. Put the tang and guard back in the handle. Be very careful that it lay exactly as it should and stays firm against the handle material. Hold it in position with your hand. Lower the drill through the pin hole until it touches the metal of the tang. Apply just enough pressure to make a nice dimple in the metal. Withdraw the drill, do NOT try to drill all the way through the tang.

Take the tang out of the handle, clamp some scrap material to the drill table or into your vise. Position the tang so that the drill sits in the dimple you made and drill through. Don't be concerned about the exact postion of the hole, it doesn't matter at all.

Now, put the blade, guard, and handle material together and run the pin through the handle. If you did everything correctly, the pin can be pushed through with just finger pressure or, at most, very light taps from a leather or wood mallet. There should be no more than a hairline space between the guard and the handle material but you should be able to move the parts slightly if you try.

The next step is to cut a piece of good old red fiber spacer material to fit behind the guard. This material, sold by EVERY knife supply house worthy of the name, is about .030 thick. When the fiber is placed behind the guard and with the handle in place if you look through the pin hole you'll see that the tang hole is now out of line with the hole in the handle - and that's exactly what we want. There is now a little cresent moon of metal at the rear of the tang hole that prevents us from inserting the pin. Our next task is to remove SOME of this metal.

For this job, a carbide burr in our Dremel or hand piece is just the ticket. Use the burr to remove some metal at the rear of the tang hole, slip the handle on and take a peek. Keep doing this until about half the cresent is gone.

This next part is the key to the entire process so please do it as described. Assemble the handle, place the pin in one side. Holding the handle IN YOUR HAND (not against a table, not in a vise, etc) and using a light weight leather or wood mallet (or a piece of hardwood weighing not more than one pound) tap the pin into the tang. I said TAP! This is why you're holding the knife in your hand and striking with a light weight mallet. If this amount of force - and just this amount - can gently force our unbending hardened pin through the handle then the camming action of the hard pin and the out of line holes will pull everything together very snugly without splitting the handle material and without shearing off the end of the tang. If the pin stops before it gets through, tap it out from the opposite side, remove a little bit more metal, and try again. In the unlikely event that you get too impatient and take too much metal thus allowing the pin to fall through just add another piece of spacer material and start again.

Finally, when the pin fits properly and you're ready for final assembly fill the handle with epoxy and put the pin in for the last time. I generally cut off any extreme excess material from the handle block before gluing but final shaping of the guard and handle is done after the glue sets. Once you're used to doing this process, the entire fitting up process can be done in 15 minutes or less. Not only will you have a great looking handle with superior strength but you'll also have a knife with a better balance than most other handle types can provide .....

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Ray Rogers Handcrafted Knives