A proper carving knife is a key element to your enjoyment in wood carving. The wrong choice of knife can cause you a lot of discomfort, frustration and perhaps be the reason you may even quit. There are loads of quality wood carving knives on the market today, most of which are made by well known reputable knife makers. These knives come in all different shapes and sizes, and the blade and handle styles vary greatly. No one wants to get frustrated because of the wrong knife choice, and no one wants to end up with a pile of knives he or she doesn’t use. So how does one go about finding the right carving knife?
Make an educated choice
The internet makes it easy to shop for the various knife brands and styles the different suppliers carry. Pick out a few that you think you would like. Consider blade size and shape, and handle design. My personal recommendation for a blade is a 1 1/2″ roughout blade for general wood carving and whittling. The handle design is critical and very personal because if the knife doesn’t feel good in your hand you won’t enjoy carving with it. Look through the many different brands and the types of knives that are available. Choose two or three knife makers who make the knives you like. Then ask some trusted friends and get their thoughts on the knives you’ve chosen. They may help you eliminate some and they may recommend others for you. Of course price is always a factor. You have to stay within your budget but I highly recommend you buy the best knife you can afford.
Take a test drive
One of the best ways to choose the right carving knife is to try it out. Just like you would test drive a car before you buy it, if you have the opportunity it’s a great idea to try out a knife before you buy it. Now this is easier said than done when it comes to buying wood carving knives but for example, if you have a friend who has a knife you might like ask if he’ll let you try it out. Or maybe you’re at a wood carving show and a vendor has a knife you are particularly interested in. Just perhaps he might let you try it out at his table if you ask.
Types of knives
There are basically three different types of wood carving knives:
- Fixed blade knife: blade is fixed (epoxied) into the handle and is used for all wood carving and whittling
- Pocket knife: folding blade(s) made to fit in the pocket and carry around, and is used for all wood carving and whittling
- Chip carving knife: blade is short and fixed (epoxied) into the handle as a fixed blade knife and is used specifically for chip carving
Some recommended carving knife brands (in order of my preference)
For my money Helvie knives are the best wood carving knives on the market. They come carving sharp, hold an edge well, have a wide array of blade styles and come in loads of different handle styles. The downside is that Helvies have become so popular they are next to impossible to get nowadays.
OCCT Knives are definitely my second wood carving knife choice. They also come carving sharp right out of the box and hold an edge well. Plus they are carried by most wood carving suppliers and are a little more readily available than a Helvie. Handle and blade styles are more limited, however.
Gil Drake is also one of the finest knife makers around and his tools speak for themselves. His knives also come razor sharp right out of the package and hold an edge well too. Blade and handle styles are limited here also. Drake knives can be found on the Drake website and at some wood carving suppliers. My understanding is that these knives are also becoming increasingly hard to get.
Flexcut knives are my least favorite knives. They are made with quality steel, also come carving sharp and hold an edge well. I own several Flexcut knives but never use them, though, because I find the handle and angle of the blade ergonomically uncomfortable. The price is reasonable, however, and it makes a good choice for a beginners knife. Just be aware of the handle shape. I know many carvers who use Flexcuts and love them. They cut well. I just find them uncomfortable in my hand, but that’s just me.
More on carving knives in a future blog. Meanwhile…
Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!