Rebalancing a Cheap Santoku Knife

So I bought a lurid green $8 Tomodachi Santoku knife at K-Mart, which was the first non-stick-coated Santoku-shaped knife I’d seen since that comment. It’s made by Hamilton Forge Ltd, one of those generic names that doesn’t produce any search results worth mentioning and so probably isn’t a real company:

Tomodachi Santoku knife

Tomodachi Santoku knife

The knife has a huge steel blade with a solid plastic handle injection-molded around a short tang, which put the balance point maybe 50 mm out into the blade. I didn’t like the feel when I waved it around in the store and really didn’t like how it behaved on the cutting board.

The way I see it, I can fix a too-light handle…

Pursuant to that post, I have a bag of tungsten electrodes, some complete with a glass seal:

Tungsten electrode with glass seal

Tungsten electrode with glass seal

Wrapping some masking tape around the glass, tapping it with a hammer, then sliding the tape-with-fragments into the trash got rid of the glass. The bulbous tip seems to be a stainless steel tube welded around a thin tungsten shaft, so I clamped it in the vise and whacked it with a chisel; tungsten is strong-but-brittle and cracks easily:

Fracturing tungsten electrode

Fracturing tungsten electrode

Of course, whacking a tungsten rod didn’t do the chisel the least bit of good, but it was about time to sharpen that thing anyway.

Why use tungsten electrodes instead of, say, ordinary drill rod? Tungsten has about the highest density you can get without going broke, getting poisoned, or dying of radiation exposure. That useful table gives elemental density in g/cm3:

  • aluminum = 2.7
  • iron = 7.9
  • lead = 11.4
  • gold = 19.32
  • tungsten = 19.35
  • osmium = 22.6

Can’t afford gold, not even I would put a lead slug in a kitchen knife, and I had the electrodes, so why not?

Waving a neodymium magnet over the handle convinced me that I could drill a hole slightly more than two inches deep without hitting the tang. I briefly considered drilling half a dozen smaller holes, but that started to look like a lot of work and I don’t have any suitable gun drills.

The business end of the electrode measures 1 inch long and 0.1375 inch in diameter. A hexagonal cluster of seven rods fits neatly into a round hole about 3×0.137 = 0.413 inch in diameter: quite conveniently a nice, long Z drill. So I clamped the knife between two strips in the drill press vise and had my way with it:

Drilling knife handle

Drilling knife handle

Actually, I spot-drilled with a center drill, then used a long step drill, stopping with the 3/8 inch step just kissing the low side of the handle, to get the hole mostly on center, before running the Z drill down about 2-1/8 inch. The handle walls became so thin that they flexed around the drill to produce an undersized hole, so I reamed it with a hand-turned 7/16 inch drill and the electrodes fit with no room to spare:

Tungsten electrodes in knife handle

Tungsten electrodes in knife handle

Yeah, that’s a crack in the top electrode: tungsten is brittle.

A dollop of epoxy atop the electrodes should seal them in place forever. I clamped the knife (in its color-matched scabbard) with the angled end of the handle water-level, so the epoxy settled in a neat, symmetric blob that looks better in person than it does here:

Epoxy seal over tungsten weights

Epoxy seal over tungsten weights

The epoxy forms a plug over the ends of the electrodes and (probably) doesn’t extend very far down between them, but they’re firmly jammed in a snug hole and (probably) won’t ever rattle around.

Seven electrodes weighed 32 g and, figuring the missing plastic rounds off to slightly over nothing, the handle now has 60 g of additional weight out toward the end, producing a knife weighing 185 g that balances near the narrowest part of the handle. It’s somewhat heavier than I’d like, but I can cope.

The edge came from the factory reasonably sharp; a few passes over the sharpening steel touched it up nicely.

Early results: it cuts cheese perfectly, drifts to the right in melons, cuts wafer-thin slices from a loaf of my High-Traction Bread, and dismantles fruit with some clumsiness. Overall, I like it, although I could do without the bright green color in a big way.


  1. #1 by Robert on 2012-08-30 - 07:36

    hmm I thought your usual maniacal attention to detail would not have said “good enough for govt. work” and would have 2-stepped the epoxy application. Getting some in between the electrodes further down would have taken more time but eliminated any possibility of a future rattle even if Mrs. Ed throws the lurid green $8 Tomodachi Santoku knife @ Mr. ED, misses and hits a block wall…

    Sounds like the lurid green $8 Tomodachi Santoku knife is now a fine substitute for a small cleaver when chopping vegetables (like the finger chop method we see on TV)

    Nice work, ED! Good way to use that stuff we get and the wives call JUNK.
    “What are you ever gonna do with that old Junk?” :-)

    • #2 by Ed on 2012-08-30 - 08:20

      in between the electrodes further down

      They fit so snugly that I wasn’t worried. If a rattle ever starts and gets so bad we can’t stand it, I’ll harvest the tungsten slugs, add a piece of thin steel to the heap, and call it a learning experience.

      a fine substitute for a small cleaver when chopping vegetables

      Mary chops peppers into chunks for freezing, because that wide green blade carries big piles across the cutting board to the tray, but I find the other, smaller Santoku blades work better for me just before supper… [grin]

  2. #3 by smellsofbikes on 2012-08-30 - 13:19

    Aw, and here I expected you’d drill out the handle and just melt the tungsten and pour it right in. What could possibly go wrong?

    Along with the electrodes, I had/have a chunk of milled tungsten about 20cm long, with two big clamp areas on each end and the middle pocketed to form a big open area. In use, they put about 4kA across it and shot copper wire into it. The copper would immediately melt and vaporize and shoot upwards to coat polyimide film: the biggest physical vapor deposition setup I’ve ever heard of. That machine had its own room and nobody was in there when it was running.

    • #4 by Ed on 2012-08-30 - 13:41

      a chunk of milled tungsten

      I know that such a thing is possible, but … [boggle]

      Your place has so many fun toys!

      • #5 by smellsofbikes on 2012-08-30 - 23:31

        I think your workshop has more cool toys. I’m trying, though!

        • #6 by Ed on 2012-08-31 - 08:04

          Aye, only because I got a head start…