Exploring the process of hafting

I have discussed before how many of the learning processes I engage in are also about social relationships. I am keen to haft my Johnstone blade and my friend Simon Harper is someone I enjoy spending time with, and is ‘handy’ when it comes to doing practical stuff. Consequently, we got together last week to spend four hours or so drinking beer and trying and haft my blade (note finger and plaster).

haft 4

Simon is into history and prehistory (among many other things) and his fantastic replica Medieval knife (above) was used to fashion the wooden handle for my blade. I feel the need to confess at this point that no stone tools were used in the making part of this project. Partly because I wanted to do it sooner rather than later, and partly because I wanted to see how Simon would approach the task with his tools. I was learning from him really.


Simon’s first move was to select a suitable piece of wood from his wood burner pile that was approximately hand grip size. We had a blade and handle each and the above is my attempt after sawing to size, creating the slit and shaping with the metal knife.

haft 3

Functionally it is good, ergonomic and it holds the blade very tightly. Plus, I like the look of it. As you can see from the following photograph around 45mm of the blade is embedded within the handle. This provides good area of contact and the tight fit means that it has good strength in the longitudinal plane.


However, it currently has no support that would give strength in the transverse plane. In other words, if I were to put pressure on the edge by cutting it would move the blade sideways in the haft. So the question I am playing with at the moment is how to provide transverse support for the blade. I have two ideas but have not settled yet upon materials. Firstly I think some kind of mastic that is malleable when warm, but hardens when cool. This could be pressured into the slot surrounding the blade and providing good support when it becomes hard. This is the kind of material that Kiefer has producing from resin, charcoal and beeswax. However this knife is a slightly different beast. It is not a replica of anything, but a creation based upon a certain set of principles, which I cannot fully explain. It is becoming an exercise in seeing materials differently, and the toilet cistern certainly fulfils this criteria. So mastic wise I have two main candidates: chewing gum; and tarmac. I am thinking chewing gum currently as it is easy to get hold of and I think will provide the kind of rigidity needed.

Once the gap has been filled a different kind of material will be necessary, one that has a behaviour best described as ‘shrink to fit’. In the prehistoric past sinew has served this function, stretching when wet, and then tightening upon drying. The tightening provides an internal cohesion that would bring together the blade, gum and wooden elements. I still have some sinew left from my adventures at Reaseheath, although Bella, our Lurcher, has eaten most of it. However, I have seen another artist’s work that I would like to try and integrate. Micaella Pedros uses plastic bottles for exactly this ‘shrink to fit’ kind of function. This is a video of her’s on Youtube.

This hafting project has been going on for over a week now, and I carry the knife in its current iteration round in my bag with me. It sits on whatever desk I am using as I work through my different ideas on how to take the next step. The next post (in theory) should be the end result. Let’s see…