Friday, February 22, 2008

Woodcarving Knives - Woodcarving Article

"That's not a knife, this is a knife!" The famous line from 'Crocodile Dundee' still makes me laugh. In my mind a knife is the number one tool you'll need to start woodcarving. They can be used in many different situations and can make a surprising number of cuts (which we'll cover in a future show).

Many beginning carvers think that all knives are created equal. Unfortunately this is not true. Pocket knives are not a good choice for a wood carving knife. While you can 'whittle' all day with one they are not designed for serious carving. That leaves us with the large selection of knives designed just for carving. I put them into three categories: the bench knife, the detail knife and the woodhog (roughing knife).

The Bench Knife

Woodcarving Knife Wood Carving KnivesThe bench knife or cutting knifeis the one knife I would own if I could own no others. It is a jack of all trades and a master of none. This makes it very versatile. While there are other knives you will want to add to your collection as your needs grow, this is the knife to buy first.

I prefer a bench knife with a blade from 1 - 1 ½ inches long. I like the blade to have some mass to it so it doesn't 'stutter' through the wood when I make deeper cuts but I don't want the blade to be too thick or I can't use it for more delicate work.

The Detail Knife

Woodcarving Knife Wood Carving KnivesThe next knife I recommend you add to your collection is a detail knife. As your skills progress you will want the details on your carvings to become crisper. Eyes are an especially important aspect to many carvings and they cannot be carved well with a bench knife. Detail knives are made with a thinner, more flexible blade that allows them to make these cuts.

You will find detail knives of infinite variety. I like one with a blade around 1 ½ inches long. Thin bladed with good flexibility. I have used details knives that are much shorter and more flexible than mine. They work just fine, too. Find what you like and use it.

The Woodhog (Roughing Knife)

This is my favorite knife of the bunch! The roughing knife is used to 'rough-out' projects. If you aren't familiar with the term roughing-out let me explain. Basically you start with a square block of wood. You may apply a pattern and end up with a squared-off piece of wood in the general shape of your desired carving. At this stage the carving needs a lot of wood removed to get it to a place where it even looks like a carving project. The roughing knife can remove large amounts of wood quickly and efficiently during this phase.

At over 2 inches my woodhog has a long blade. The blade is also pretty thick. The combination of length and thickness means it has a lot of mass compared to a bench knife. I can make serious cuts with this knife without it jumping around. That's what you want.

roughing_s.jpgDo not add this knife until you are familiar with making safe cuts. I don't use this knife with a lot of force which would be dangerous. I have learned to let it do the work for me. Learn to cut well with your bench and detail knife before graduating to the woodhog.

The Part Before The End

If you can, try a knife before you buy. Some handles feel good to some folks and terrible to others. You don't want to put good money into a tool that fatigues your hand. That brings me to another point. Buy a good quality tool if you are serious about this hobby. I would rather have five quality tools than ten tools of lesser quality.

Just a reminder but knives can be dangerous. Do not use big movements to cut. Always know where the knife will go if it slips. I refuse to sit next to people who can't control their tools. They aren't safe. If people won't sit with you it may not be because you smell peculiar. It may be that you are scaring them.

The 'Getting Started Series' encompasses six articles:

This article originally appeared in Carving Magazine.