I’ve been using my Dan Koster Bushcraft knife for several months now and for the most part it’s really good quality knife, albeit a slightly heavy one . However, one of the design characteristics that I’ve been disappointed with from the day I received it was the shape, and specifically the thickness, of the natural canvas micarta scales. After several months of regular hard use and far too many bouts of hand fatigue, I finally decided to re-shape the micarta scales myself.
This would be my first attempt at working with micarta as a medium yet alone shaping a handle of a knife, so it was a bit of a daunting challenge – which is mostly the reason why I had put off fixing it for so long and tried living with it. I consulted with some friends who have more experience with these things than I do and watched a lot of YouTube videos about knife making. I felt ready to take a stab at it.
Using my drill press and some drum sanding attachments of varying diameters, I started slowly removing material from the sides of scales in the two areas where I knew I would have to do the most shaping. In the before and after picture below you can see the thickness of the original scales on the left and the drastically reduced ones after all my sanding on the right.
I based the desired form factor for the scales on several other bushcraft knifes that I had seen where the scales are form fitted to a more natural grip with thinner sections front and back and a thicker, rounder middle section. After removing most of the micarta on the sides of the scales I had to start cleaning up the edges to smooth them out and create a rounder more natural cross section.
Luckily, micarta is very easy to work with and can be sanded very quickly. I did the majority of the shaping using my electric drill press, then switched to finishing it by hand to have more control. I was surprised to see how easily a drum sanding attachment went through the aluminum handle rivets at the same time as the micarta, if you’re trying this yourself be sure to go slowly with the power tools! Micarta is a messy material too with very fine fibers, so make sure you wear a face mask to protect yourself from inhaling all the dust.
To finish the sanding by hand I used 600-grit sandpaper cut into a long thin strip approximately 12 inches long by about 1.5 inches thick. I placed the blade of the knife in my bench vice (wrapped to avoid damaging it of course) and used the strip of sandpaper like a polishing cloth, sliding it back and forth across the micrata handle to sand and polish it. The technique worked really well and produced very smooth and even curves.
I still have a little more finishing to do, which you might be able to notice in the photo above. The curves are not entirely smooth yet (says the OCD side of me) so I’ll keep working it with the 600-grit sandpaper until I’m happy. Even as it is, the grip feels extremely smooth and comfortable – much better than the original thick slabs and no more hand fatigue.
I was almost at the point of giving up on this knife or considering selling it, but after spending several hours working on reshaping the scales it feels like an entirely new knife and has been given a new lease of life. It’s definitely still not a lightweight knife that I would plan taking on longer hikes, but for day hikes where I can trade off a few ounces elsewhere to carry it, it’s really great to have with me.
Despite my initial trepidation to hack away at the handle of a moderately priced custom knife, I’m extremely happy with the result. Have you heavily modified any pieces of equipment to the point where you either save it or ruin it? If so please share your experience via the comments, it would be interesting to see what we’re all mod’ing.