How to customise an Opinel Pocket Knife

Customising an Opinel Penknife - a Tinker and Fix project

I’m a big fan of customising or modifying existing products (particularly Axes, hammers and the Hori-Hori).  It can add practicality and function, or be completely decorative.  What’s important is that the item becomes unique to you and your style.

Custom projects don’t have to be complicated nor expensive and can be completed in a couple of hours.

Opinel pen knives are a classic.  They are both simple and beautifully made.  What’s more, they are easily modified to make them bespoke.

Below you’ll find a set by step guide on how to take apart your Opinel pocket knife and a couple of ideas on how you could customise both the blade and handle.  The break apart and reassembly are the important parts – how you choose to modify the penknife is completely down to you.

These instructions are based on an Opinel No. 6 with a carbon blade, but the construction of most Opinel penknives are similar so the process will work with them as well.

  1. You are going to be removing the blade from the handle. It goes without saying that the blade is sharp and you need to take care during the break down process.  I’d advise folding a piece of masking tape over the cutting edge for extra safety.
  1. The first step is removing the Virobloc locking barrel from your Opinel. For this you will need a pair of needle nose pliers or similar (a Leatherman works well for this.)  You need to prise open the barrel just enough to be able to slide it off the handle.
  1. You will now be able to see the rivet which both secures the blade to the handle and acts as the hinge. This needs to be knocked out to release the blade.  One side will be domed, the other will be more flush with the handle.  Drive the rivet out from the flush side.  You will need a punch of a similar size to the rivet and a hammer.  Be careful not to lose the rivet once removed.
  1. The blade can now be removed from the handle, along with the remaining metal collar.
  1. At this point you have a completely dissembled pen knife – and you can customise both the blade and handle easily from this point.  As an example of what you can do - we are going to paint the handle and also etch the blade.
  1. Carbon steel blades, whilst great at keeping a sharp edge, do tarnish relatively easily. We’re going to accelerate that process using a mixer of Black Tea and vinegar.  You’ll need a container that allows you to completely cover the blade.  Then make up some strong Black Tea (leave it to brew for at least 10mins – you want it strong.) Then make up a tea and vinegar mixture in a roughly 2/3’s tea to 1/3 vinegar. 
  1. Try and remove as much oil as possible from the blade. A degreaser is perfect, or if you don’t have that to hand then a really good wash.  You are now going to soak the blade in the tea/vinegar solution for at least a couple of hours.  Attaching the blade to a piece of wire makes it easier to remove.
  1. What you are looking for is a black/brown finish on the blade. The shade is completely up to you.  If you would like it darker, just leave in the solution for longer.  
  1. For the handle it’s worth giving the whole surface a quick going over with sandpaper. Once you have a clean surface you are free to produce a design of your choice.  I’d recommend using an Acrylic paint of some description.  Once the design is complete and the paint dry you could give it a coat of an oil, such as Linseed, or just leave it natural.
  1. In classic Haynes Manual style – reassembly is the opposite of the break down process. It’s key to make sure the slits in the collars and Virobloc line up with the handle to make sure the blade can fold.  Don’t worry about burring over the end of the rivet as it should hold without.
  1. I always finish with a coat of Linseed Oil, over the paint as well as the bare wood. Finish is completely up to you.

There are endless possibilities for customising an Opinel pen knife.  If you are just working on the handle then removing the blade isn't strictly necessary.  It does make the process easier though.

Have a look at our instagram (@tinker_and_fix) to see how I did all the above (it's in the main feed and in the Opinel story highlight. 

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