How to Make a Sgian Dubh Handle

thistle image by Paul Knott from

The sgian dubh (pronounced skeen-doo) is a short, sharp knife and an essential part of traditional Scottish weaponry. It's also called the black knife. Scots men and women carried these little knives for eating, cutting rope and to use during hunting. Many men carried their sgian dubhs in the top of their hose garters in the homes of friends so they were clearly visible. Outside friendly territory, these little knives made deadly concealed weapons. Both blades and handles come in a variety of shapes and designs. When making your own sgian dubh handle, choose a Celtic design that means something to you.

Stand your handle blank vertically on end. A handle blank is simply a small block of hardwood. Place your ferrule in the centre of the top end. A ferrule is a metal band that will eventually cap your sgian dubh handle.

Trace around the outside and inside of the ferrule with a pencil. The outside line is a guideline for carving your handle. The inside line helps you install the ferrule later.

Place a small, circular blade on your hand-held rotary tool. Carve away the square edges of your handle blank first. Carve away more thin strips of wood until your handle blank roughly matches the shape of the line in step 2. Make the wood as smooth as possible.

Place your ferrule against the side of your handle so the top edge of the ferrule lines up with the top edge of the handle. Draw a line under the ferrule; repeat on the other side. Carve away wood from this line up, shaping it to the inner line from step 1.

Sketch your desired design onto your new handle. Choose from Celtic knots, the traditional Scottish thistle and a woven broom-straw design. Snap the rotor stylus onto your hand-held tool and push the tip against your pencil lines to carve out your design.

Sand your sgian dubh handle to get rid of burrs and splinters in your design. Wipe away the sawdust with a soft cloth and then apply a thin layer of wood conditioner. Run a bead of wood glue around the top of the handle and slide your ferrule down onto it. Let the conditioner and glue dry overnight.

Place the end of your blade blank against the centre top of your sgian dubh handle. Trace around the end of the blade blank with a pencil. Using a #8 or #10 bit, drill out the space inside your pencil lines by pushing the drill vertically into the wood. Smooth the edges of the hole with your rotor stylus.

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