In this guide, I show how I made this brass letter opener, with a Zebrano (Zebra) wood handle. I’ve never worked with brass before so was curious to see how easy it was to work with. I’m really happy with the final outcome, but I think it can do with some work in regards to polishing to remove some of the scratch marks, but for a first attempt it looks great.
For this build you will need;
Step 1: Brass
I started with a piece of brass bar stock. I wanted a super clean and minimal design for this rather than anything too fancy or intricate. The piece I got was 12mm wide, 3mm thick. I cut it down to around 250mm long. I can publish my template if people are interested, let me know in the comments below if you want a printable template.
Step 2: Template
I designed a template and printed it off. I used some 3M spray adhesive to stick this to the brass stock. This will help keep the shape while grinding it down.
Step 3: Grind
I took the brass with the template on over to the grinder. I started off using an 80 grit belt which cut through the brass very quickly. I kept going and worked right up to the edge of the design. I kept dipping the brass into a jar of water to stop it getting too hot.
Step 4: Punch
I used a centre punch to start some holes for some pins. This gives the drill press a good starting point and helps the drill be not drift and make a messy hole.
Once I had made a couple of marks I took it over to the drill press and using a 4mm carbide drill bit to add a couple of holes. The carbide drill bit is probably overkill, but it’s what I used in steel when knife making so thought might as well use it. Brass is a lot softer than steel.
Step 5: Edge
I used a sharpie to colour in the edge of the letter opener, and a set of callipers to find the centre line. I then took this back over to grinder again, and using my bevel grinding jig added in the bevels to the letter opener. This worked off all the template, and I kept going until there was no more black.
I didn’t want to add a super sharp edge to the opener, but needed to be sharp enough to cut through paper.
Step 6: Zebrano
I used some Zebrano (Zebra) Wood for the handle of the letter opener. I love the contrast of the brass and wood, it looks stunning. Now fair warning, when working with Zebrano it smells really bad, so make sure you’re using a mask. You should be using a mask throughout this build, working with any exotic woods or metal.
I used the bandsaw to trim the Zebrano down to size.
Step 7: Epoxy
I took some 4mm diameter brass rod, and used the Dremel with a cut off wheel to cut it down to length. I also softened the sharp edges of these on the grinder. I had considered using a different material for the pins, but in the end decided it would look best to match to the main blade.
I mixed up some epoxy, and sandwiched the wood and letter opener in place with the pins. I wrapped this in some greaseproof paper so that the epoxy wouldn’t stick to anything. And also added a few clamps to hold it all tight. I left this for a couple of hours to make sure it had fully cured.
Then I took it back over to the grinder again, to even out the pins, and remove any glue squeeze out. I then worked up the grits on the belts until the wood was nice and smooth. I also did the same with the brass itself to remove as many of the scratch marks as possible.
I might have spent more time on this, I also experimented with a polishing wheel and compound but couldn’t remove some of the more stubborn scratch marks. If you have any ideas on how to do this better let me know in the comments below.
Step 8: Finishing
I choose to finish the wood with a couple of coats of Mineral Oil, then, of course, my homemade beeswax wood polish.
For the brass I used some Brasso to bring out the shine of the brass.
Step 9: Final Shots
For a first time working with brass, I’m pretty happy with how it came out. I will definitely be trying to make another one soon, they are great fun to make and would make brilliant gifts.