What a Tool

May 23, 2016

Sometimes I wonder if people are making fun of my carving knives.  I get asked all the time if I make them myself.  The answer is yes.  When I get the chance to find a good piece of yew wood, I'll shape it and sand it down to suit my grip.  I'll use files or high-speed steel, then I'll grind it to the desired thickness and curve, then wedge it within the head of the wood.  Finally, I'll wrap the metal in place with sinew.  Whether it's an adze or a carving knife, it's made to my liking for weight and comfort.  It has to be, given that I'll be spending several hours each day with it. 

 

When I say "making fun", I mean are people just amused that it's not Black & Decker, or are they charmed by old-style methods of carving?  I like to think it's the latter. 

 

Centuries ago, creating one's own tools was just how it was.  They would find an already-sharp object such as a jagged rock, and then grind it against different grains of stone to create a knife.  They did the same thing I do today: chop off a branch of a yew tree (other hard woods are okay too), sand it to their liking, then attach the knife to the handle.  If the carver kept their knife clean and sharp, it could last for many years.  In fact, several of mine simply needed to be re-wrapped and they were as good as new.

 

So why don't I just buy a set of carving knives and be done with it?  Because there is no one-size fits all with knives.  Imagine if your only choice for a pen was one brand, or you only had one type of hairbrush.  Holding something in your hand like a pen, hairbrush, scissors, razor, knitting needles, you name it - is very personal.  If it doesn't feel right, you aren't going to like using it.  In some cases, carving with the wrong knives can be an occupational hazard if it causes wrist pain.

 

Knives are the tools in my shop that I have the most personal connection with because I spend so many long hours using them.  They have to be perfect -- for me.  I sell knives, but I also encourage a carver to make their own to create the right bend that they require.

 

Aside from that, I have to admit that I feel pride that amidst all these new power tools and technology, I'm still ultimately carving with a knife or adze that my ancestors might have used.  As far as my power disc sander goes...well I suppose my ancestors would have loved to have traded some furs for something like that 238 years ago. 

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