Artificial Sinew vs Natural Sinew - Knife making

iantodd92
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iantodd92
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March 12th, 2018, 3:47 am #1

Hi all,

I am making a deer antler handle for a hidden tang knife, and trying to figure out what a good transition would be going from the blade to the handle. I was thinking about filing down the antler so it doesn't hang over the bolster and then wrapping it in sinew.

My main question is what differences would i see between natural sinew and artificial. I want to make sure the wrap stays tight and rigid and I'm worried that artificial will act more like a fabric and not last. I have not worked with either material previously, and all thoughts are appreciated!
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Quillsnkiko
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March 12th, 2018, 5:51 am #2

I think I would go with real..with a coating of hide glue over it after its wrapped. You can wrap artificial pretty tight....but it will fray with friction on it ( pulling it out of the sheath and putting it back in ) and since its waxed...you really cannot put glue over it and have it hold well  in my opinion.
Artificial will work....but I think real would be more durable. IMHOP Also when real drys it gets tighter.

Real has held on old artifact kept dry for well over 100 years. Quills
" You can't stop the waves .... but, you can learn to surf."
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Michael Bootz
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March 12th, 2018, 6:32 am #3

I would also use real sinew. For the reasons Quills stated and because I don't like the look of artificial sinew (it is and therefore looks like plastic).
Before using artificial sinew I would use some nice plant fiber cordage (hemp or whatever is readily available) and after wrapping coat it with either hide glue or thinned carpenter's glue.
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Papaxfour
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March 12th, 2018, 2:34 pm #4

I have used both artificial and real sinew with good results with both. With either I use Elmer’s glue and push it into the wrapping and it dries clear. If I am going for original looking, I use real sinew and pine pitch glue.


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Robson Valley
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March 12th, 2018, 5:00 pm #5

Most carving knives used in the Pacific Northwest are surface-hafted, crooked knives.
Many have a cord whipped and tapered nose.  I have made (in wood) about 2 dozen in that style.
Little groove at each end to catch the cord, it never shows..

Start the whipping at the fat end.  That way, the cord cannot spool off on top of smaller windings. 
Mine is just #18 tarred nylon seine cord for mending ocean fishing nets.

Any chance that the artificial sinew could pick up any water in wet conditions?
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iantodd92
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March 13th, 2018, 12:21 am #6

Quillsnkiko wrote: I think I would go with real..with a coating of hide glue over it after its wrapped. You can wrap artificial pretty tight....but it will fray with friction on it ( pulling it out of the sheath and putting it back in ) and since its waxed...you really cannot put glue over it and have it hold well  in my opinion.
Artificial will work....but I think real would be more durable. IMHOP Also when real drys it gets tighter.

Real has held on old artifact kept dry for well over 100 years. Quills
Thanks for the advice. I couldn't agree more on a material that has held for over 100 years. I hear natural sinew is fairly tricky to use. i have watched a few youtube videos on how to prepare the sinew. Any suggestions for working with real sinew?
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Quillsnkiko
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March 13th, 2018, 5:50 am #7

I have only used back-strap sinew..which is for sewing. With that you kind of twist the sinew piece around to break it free from the tissue that sort of encases it and separate it into stands..dampen it with saliva...and if its long enough start wrapping.

You can roll it and twist several strands to make your thread longer if you want.Pull it tight...it will tighten more as it drys. wrap as thick as you want to go.Let it dry.You might put a  thin U-shaped piece of thread in before the last 3-4 wraps so you can grab the free end and put it under the wraps.

Makes for no loose end...at the end.

Let it dry and coat it with some kind of glue..... remember hide glue is not waterproof...so if its going to get wet...you either have to use something else or coat the hide glue when it looks to be wearing out.
I do not know anything about leg sinew though.I believe you have to pound it to separate it...but not sure. Maybe one of the guys knows more about that. Quills
" You can't stop the waves .... but, you can learn to surf."
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Michael Bootz
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March 13th, 2018, 6:31 am #8

Yup, you have to pound leg sinew. Just take a round rock with no sharp edges, put the sinew on a flat surface and pound away (don't pound it like crazy, though). After a while it will get more "pliable" and then you can twist it and separate it into strands, like backstrap sinew.
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Forager
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March 14th, 2018, 3:00 am #9

I've made and used stone knives over very many years using primitive means and materials.  I bind them with either plant fiber fine cordage or deer sinew, then paint each with hide glue.  The difference is in the esthetic and in durability.

If I need an all-season knife which will be getting wet frequently, I'll wrap it in fine Dogbane cordage, sinew will do if it's one which I'll use indoors or from a jacket pocket.  

As mentioned, sinew dries into a solid mass and the individual fiber bundles need to be separated through light pounding with  a stick against a log (a stone will work as well, but the wood-on-wood method is 'gentler' and minimizes the possibility of unintended damage which stone might deliver).  Moistening the sinew with saliva contributes digestive enzymes which help to slightly break down the proteins in the sinew which may bind them more solidly once it sets, but water will also work quite well.  

Once rehydrated the sinew becomes limp and elastic.  I pinch the beginning of a fiber onto the hafting joint and simply wrap it around until I can press the end onto what I've already wound around the handle.  Then take up another strand and overlap the end of the last piece, wrapping that around to travel further down the joint.  This is repeated until the joint is covered.  Every 'end' is simply smoothed onto the existing wraps, they blend into each other.  

And yes, as it dries it 'shrink-wraps' - actually squeezing cold pitch out from exposed areas.  I haven't tried twisting the individual fibers since my knives are rather scrappy affairs meant for hard and practical work, and don't warrant special treatment.  

When done with careful attention they each look good and justifiably 'primitive', and will perform in the field or in the home for many years of regular use.

I'll attempt to post a picture showing each in final form....

recent stonework 002.jpg ...if that worked and a picture might be seen, I have Quills and Michael to thank for their explanatory 'how-to' in the General Discussion forum.  If not, I have more to learn.
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Quillsnkiko
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March 14th, 2018, 3:28 am #10

Glad it worked for you Forager....I am still working on remembering how to do it.Ive got to take NOTES!~! CRS Ya know? Nice looking knives...and thanks for your expertise. Quills
" You can't stop the waves .... but, you can learn to surf."
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iantodd92
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March 14th, 2018, 12:22 pm #11

Quillsnkiko wrote: I have only used back-strap sinew..which is for sewing. With that you kind of twist the sinew piece around to break it free from the tissue that sort of encases it and separate it into stands..dampen it with saliva...and if its long enough start wrapping.

You can roll it and twist several strands to make your thread longer if you want.Pull it tight...it will tighten more as it drys. wrap as thick as you want to go.Let it dry.You might put a  thin U-shaped piece of thread in before the last 3-4 wraps so you can grab the free end and put it under the wraps.

Makes for no loose end...at the end.

Let it dry and coat it with some kind of glue..... remember hide glue is not waterproof...so if its going to get wet...you either have to use something else or coat the hide glue when it looks to be wearing out.
I do not know anything about leg sinew though.I believe you have to pound it to separate it...but not sure. Maybe one of the guys knows more about that. Quills
Thanks for the run down! Last question, in order for the wines to stick to the antler well would you suggest prepping the antler surface by sanding or smoothing out the surface?

Other than that I appreciate all the info, my blank should be here in 2 or 3 days and i can get this started.
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Forager
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March 14th, 2018, 7:27 pm #12

I taper or recess the haft joint to the expected depth of the wrapping so that the binding contour flows continuously (no 'step') with the handle into the blade.  The binding lies between the tapering of the handle and the broadening of the blade, so it has no place to go in terms of slippage.  As to prepping an antler haft area, if you don't remove the ridges so that it is smooth, the sinew will stretch over them, leaving tiny spaces which will gradually fill with undesirable substances.  The completed haft joint should be a solid mass, comprising a very close fit of the blade to the handle (do this 'dry' in pre-assembly and mark one face of the blade and the matching contour of the handle for immediate reference), a pitch mixture which serves as an adhesive filler and a tight wrapping of the sinew or cordage.  

Pitch cools very quickly and working time may be increased by warming the handle and the blade - this way once inserted you can spin the knife to see how true and centered the blade is within the handle while it remains adjustable prior to setting.

This makes for a knife which is clean in presentation and feels comfortable in hand.  It also invites a grip which is closer to or just on top of the blade, a significant criteria in stone knife usage which is quite unlike our modern steel tools.  Placing the thumb and index finger past the haft so that the blade is 'pinched' will prevent the force from being cantilevered, focusing stress through the blade into the material being worked.  Both the blade and the haft will last longer in this approach. 
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DagoMtz
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May 9th, 2018, 12:30 am #13

Artificial sinew found at local HobbyLobby. Coated with Flex Coat Resin used to build fishing rods.
20170105_153323.jpg
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dewayneflo
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May 9th, 2018, 7:37 pm #14

great do you us wood too and what kind ?
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dewayneflo
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May 10th, 2018, 3:57 am #15

Forager wrote: I've made and used stone knives over very many years using primitive means and materials.  I bind them with either plant fiber fine cordage or deer sinew, then paint each with hide glue.  The difference is in the esthetic and in durability.

If I need an all-season knife which will be getting wet frequently, I'll wrap it in fine Dogbane cordage, sinew will do if it's one which I'll use indoors or from a jacket pocket.  

As mentioned, sinew dries into a solid mass and the individual fiber bundles need to be separated through light pounding with  a stick against a log (a stone will work as well, but the wood-on-wood method is 'gentler' and minimizes the possibility of unintended damage which stone might deliver).  Moistening the sinew with saliva contributes digestive enzymes which help to slightly break down the proteins in the sinew which may bind them more solidly once it sets, but water will also work quite well.  

Once rehydrated the sinew becomes limp and elastic.  I pinch the beginning of a fiber onto the hafting joint and simply wrap it around until I can press the end onto what I've already wound around the handle.  Then take up another strand and overlap the end of the last piece, wrapping that around to travel further down the joint.  This is repeated until the joint is covered.  Every 'end' is simply smoothed onto the existing wraps, they blend into each other.  

And yes, as it dries it 'shrink-wraps' - actually squeezing cold pitch out from exposed areas.  I haven't tried twisting the individual fibers since my knives are rather scrappy affairs meant for hard and practical work, and don't warrant special treatment.  

When done with careful attention they each look good and justifiably 'primitive', and will perform in the field or in the home for many years of regular use.

I'll attempt to post a picture showing each in final form....

recent stonework 002.jpg...if that worked and a picture might be seen, I have Quills and Michael to thank for their explanatory 'how-to' in the General Discussion forum.  If not, I have more to learn.
where do you get your wood handle and do you sell them?
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Forager
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May 11th, 2018, 2:49 am #16

dewayneflo, I gathered the wood for my knife handles during hikes in the forest.  The top one in the picture is weathered Beech (if memory is accurate), the bottom one is Highbush Blueberry.  Send me a PM to describe what sort of handle(s) you are interested in and we'll see what's possible. 
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