Customised Swiss Army Knife

02 November 2018

Finding a Swiss Army Knife recently (I occasionally do), I decided to remove the plasic scales and put some fancy wood on it. I have outlined the method below.

Showey custom knife picture!

Method and Dimensions

If you are using one you picked up somewhere, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that it is not a cheap knockoff. I found one a while back that was made in Japan and had nasty wonky blades. The symbol also fell off. All Swiss Army Knives have 'Officer Suisse' and 'Victorinox' written on the blades. Prior to 2005 they were made by Wenger. Make sure that the plastic scales aren't riveted on and that all of the blades are in fine condition. They are often broken off at the tip. A knife I found recently had almost all of the blades and tools damaged, including the corkscrew and the screwdriver which is quite an achievement.

If you want to oil the hinges of the knife, it's best to do so before we add the wood.

The model I found appears to be the Climber model with the toothpick missing.

Climber model showing all of the blades and tools.
Climber model and tweezers.

Dimensions

Knife scales dimensions
The Climber model is considered a medium-sized knife on the Victorinox website.

Equipment

  • Drill and drill press
  • 5.5+ mm drill bit
  • Coping or other appropriate saw
  • Cleaning solvent such as rubbing alcohol
  • Epoxy glue
  • Clamps
  • Sandpapers

Method

The plastic scales can be popped off by sliding another blade underneath. Note the rivets which will require drilling into the wood to accommodate. Spare or different coloured scales can be purchased on Amazon.

The knife without the scales to show the rivets

Victorinox also sell knives with wooden scales in Walnut and one or two in Olive wood. Walnut was probably chosen for it's ease of machining and perhaps because offcuts can be cheaply purchased from furniture makers. I have chosen Bocotè wood from South America for it's beautiful yellow colour and striking grain pattern. It is a hard, dense wood, durable and easily worked. It's also very expensive.

Bocotè wood
The plastic scales fit onto the wood to trace the outline and to match the rivets for drill holes

I aimed to make the wooden scales 3.3 mm thick after sanding and finishing to match the plastic originals. Normally you might bookmatch the wood to each side of the knife, but as I'm using such a small amount it seemed a waste. I was able to get both sides of the scales onto one 2 inch cut. Note if you want to make tool slots for the tweezers etc... you will need a small knob of wood for the tool handle. Consider this when you mark out the wood for the scales.

The next step is to drill some room for the rivets. The drill side will need to be flat to push flush against the knife. You should use the side you favour the least as it's going to be glued face down against the knife. So I knew where to drill I painted the rivets and then pressed them onto the wood. You could superglue the plastic scales to the wood to indicate the drill points, but it might make it harder to judge the depth of drilling. I used a drill press with a depth stop. You don't want to drill right through the wood. The plastic scales were only 3.3 mm thick and the rivets projected out about 2 mm. I also drew around the knife onto the wood so I would know where to cut around (leave a good space for error). To drill the holes I used a larger drill bit than the rivet size shown in the dimensions picture. This will make it much easier to fit and it simply isn't necessary to fit exactly as we are going to glue the scales on. It's good to make a little extra room for the glue anyway.

I used a 5.5 mm drill bit but it still didn't quite slot in perfectly so I ended up using a mill bit to make some more room. I avoided using a drill bit with a brad point as the scales are so thin.

The scales have paint marks to show where the wood needs to be drilled.
The scales have been drilled to accomodate the rivets.

It is possible now to glue the scales onto the knife unless you want to add the item slots for the toothpick and tweezers (or whatever tools you want).

If not then the scales can be prepped for gluing. First the wooden scales must be roughed up on the parts to glue so that the glue can bind more easily. I used a knife to score it as well as using rough sandpaper. Make sure not to score where the edges will be. Also rough up the knife. Afterwards rub the scales and knife with a solvent such as rubbing alcohol or acetone to remove dirt and oils that will impede the gluing process. Most knife makers recommend Araldite epoxy glue. According to the spec' sheet a very thin sheet of glue is best. This is because it is space filling, meaning it doesn't soak into the wood. Once the glue is applied use the clamps to hold the pieces together.

Clamped for gluing!

After the glue is dry we can start removing the extraneous wood to make it flush with the metal. Then we can shape the wood into a nice handle shape and take it through the final sanding process. To make it easier I glued the sandpaper to a small piece of wood. I used grit 60 to remove most of the unnecessary wood, 120 grit when I'm getting close to the metal and then grits 180, 240, 300, 400. If you want a super smooth handle you can go further but I didn't want to make it slippery. I finished with some (expensive) Renaissance petroleum wax to increase it's visual appeal. Don't add beeswax for something you are going to handle, as it gets sticky. 0000 grade wire wool can be used before or after waxing as a buff. Bocotè is already an oily wood so I didn't add any oils. Oils such as tung oil only add a negligible amount of protection but they can add to the look of certain woods. Try some on an offcut first. A varnish can also be applied.

Here are the finished shots:

A top down shot of the finished knife.
A shot of the knife with small blade extended.
A shot with the large blade.
1 2 H