Choosing The Right Carving Knife

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:

  1. Fixed blade knife: blade is fixed (epoxied) into the handle and is used for all wood          carving and whittling
  2. Pocket knife: folding blade(s) made to fit in the pocket and carry around, and is used for all wood carving and whittling
  3. 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)

1) Helvie 

2) OCCT

3) Drake

4)  Flexcut

Helvie

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

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.

Drake

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

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’!

The Woodcarving Academy

The other day I spoke a little bit about online wood carving classes.  Well today I’d like to tell you about a terrific alternative to taking online classes…and that is, watching videos through the Woodcarving Academy.

The Woodcarving Academy was established in 2020 as a result of the health concerns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Through the Woodcarving Academy wood carvers are allowed to attend workshops from the comfort of their own homes using any personal computer or hand held device.

The website offers dozens of videos created by some of the country’s top level instructors.  More videos are added regularly as they are created by the instructors.  With a paid subscription to the Woodcarving Academy you can view any videos you like for as many times as you like.

Subscription rates:  Monthly = $19.95   Quarterly = $49.95   Annual = $139.95

In my opinion, this is probably one of the best deals that’s come along since wood carving videos have been around.  The cost of an annual subscription is less than the cost of most single in-person wood carving classes!  Plus you’re learning from some of the best carvers in the country in the comfort of your own home!  I’m not a paid spokesperson!

Woodcarving Academy Instructors

Dave Stetson, Kevin Applegate, Floyd Rhadigan, Pat Moore, Ryan Olsen, Dale Green, Mark Akers, James Miller, Stu Martin, Jim RedHawk, Janet Cordell, Dylan Goodson, Fred & Elaine Stenman, Bob Hershey, Donna Menke, Carolyn Halbrook, Mark Gargac

Video topics

Caricature carving, realistic & western figures, bark carving, dolls, relief carving, realistic humans, wood burning, caricature animals, birds & wildlife, chip carving, wood spirits & wizards

Check out the Woodcarving Academy website at: http://www.woodcarvingacademy.com and remember…

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

                       

COMMENTS:

How Can I Tell If My Knife Is Sharp?

Today’s comment comes from Bill.  Bill writes:

“Thanks so much, Bob! I am most grateful for your answer! I can tell a difference already. Best of luck with your new blog.”

Thank you so much for you kind comment, Bill!  I’m glad I could help!

Let the chips fly!  Tell your carving friends about Wood Chip Chatterand don’t forget to send in your questions

and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!

I Love My Up Sweep Knife!

We have comments today from Phyllis and Ned.

Phyllis writes:

“Thanks Bob. I learned a couple of things by your response to Bill. I was given an upsweep knife a few years ago and at first I didn’t like it, but one day I picked it up and now it’s one of my favorite knives. Take care my friend.”

I’m glad you’re finding your up sweep knife useful, Phyllis.  They are very handy knives to have in your arsenal and in fact, there are some carvers like Don Mertz who use them exclusively.  Thank you for sending in your comment!

Ned writes:

Good article!!”

I’m glad you liked it, Ned and hope you found it helpful.

Thank you to Phyllis and Ned, for your kind comments!

Let the chips fly!  Tell your carving friends about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to  send in your questions

and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!

How Do I Know If My Knife Is Sharp?

Today’s question comes from Bill.  Bill writes: “Thanks, Bob, for starting this blog!!! My question: When I watch videos of some of the well known carvers doing what they do the best, it often looks as though they are cutting through butter rather than wood. I buy my bass wood from the same place that I know some of them do and my knives are very sharp, but I’ve never been able to slice it like they do. Do they have a special technique, a different grade of bass wood or something else? Again, thank you!!”

Bill, that’s a very good question, and one that I think many carvers have on their mind.  When it comes to wood carving knives there is what seems to be sharp and what is truly carving sharp.  A carver’s knife may not be as sharp as he thinks it is.  Many carvers test the sharpness of their blades by shaving hair off the back of their hand.  This is not a good test as most any blade with a somewhat decent edge will shave the hair off the back of your hand.

Just because a knife can shave the hair off your arm doesn’t necessarily mean it can cut a piece of wood.  The true test to see if your knife blade is truly carving sharp is this:  Take a block of basswood and try to make a cut across the end grain.  Not with the grain, but across the grain.

A truly carving sharp blade should be able to make a smooth cut across the end grain, a cut which is perfectly smooth with no ripples, chips or drag marks.  If you see any of these your blade is not carving sharp and requires more stropping.  The cut should be as smooth as a baby’s…well you know how the saying goes.

It is possible your knife is already carving sharp.  However, there is another reason why it might not be cutting through the wood as well as it should, and that is the angle you are holding the blade to the wood.  Too steep of an angle and your knife will dig in and not cut properly.  Too shallow of an angle and your blade will “slip” across the wood and only take off small wood chips.  Try changing the way you hold the knife in your hand to change the angle of the blade as it approaches the wood.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly; the way you actually carve the wood will make a difference.  Most wood carvers push and pull their knives straight through the wood as they carve.  The blades on most wood carving knives are not meant to do this.

They are designed to be sliced through the wood as if you were slicing a loaf of bread.

A slicing cut makes all the difference in the world when wood carving.  Try it and see for yourself!  The next time you’re carving first make a cut by pushing or pulling the blade straight through the wood.  Then make a second cut but this time push or pull your blade through the wood as you make your cut.  I guarantee you will notice a big difference.

This is one reason why knives with up sweep blades work so well.

Helvie Up Sweep Knife

The up sweep blade has a natural slicing motion as it is pulled through the wood.

Note: These same principles hold true for gouges and V-tools as well as carving knives.

I hope you all find these few pointers helpful.  Meanwhile…

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

PS: Please send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going.

Am I Ready To Take A Class?

Today’s question comes from Dean.  Dean asks: “How can I tell if I have the right level of experience or skill before taking a class?  Do certain instructors focus on certain skill levels?”

Wood Carving Class Today!

Just like you’re never too old to learn how to carve, you’re never too new or inexperienced to take a wood carving class.  Most instructors today teach from roughouts which is a block of wood carved out on a CNC machine to produce a carving in its very rough form.

Typical Roughout

  The basic shape is there but all the detail work is left for the carver to do.  If you take an in-person class the instructor is right there to guide you along and help you wherever you get stuck.

The latest concept in wood carving classes are online classes which are becoming more and more popular.  These are classes you take right at home on your computer live with the instructor where you have a front row seat to watch the instructor carve the entire carving as you carve along with him.  The necessary roughout is sent directly to your home prior to the beginning of the classClasses are generally 8 hours long and are broken up into 4 two hour sessions which usually run on a Saturday and Sunday over two consecutive weekends.

Online classes have some advantages over in-person classes.  1) You save time and travel expenses because you take them right at home.  2) The classes are taped and are made available for the students to review (as often as they like) for two weeks after the class has ended.  The downside there, however, is that although you can interact with the instructor over the computer during the class you don’t have the advantage of having the instructor providing you with hands on assistance like you would in an in-person class.

I think I may have digressed here though…..

So no, you are never too new or inexperienced to take a class.  In fact, I have never met a carver yet who said he/she was sorry for taking a class.  Regardless of your skill level you will always learn something from taking a wood carving class, and that in itself makes it worthwhile.

To answer the second part of Dean’s question…no, most of the carving instructors I know of do not differentiate between beginner and advanced students.  During class everyone just carves at their own pace.  There is no race or time limit to get finished.  In fact, many students don’t ever finish their project in class.  They take the project home to finish afterwards along with lots of new knowledge gained from having taken the class.

So whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced carver taking a wood carving class is always a good idea.

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Thank You Everyone!

I hope everyone had a great weekend and a healthy and safe 4th of July holiday!  I want to say that I launched Wood Chip Chatter over the weekend (Saturday, July 3) and the response has been overwhelming.  A great big thank you to all of you who have subscribed to my blog over this inaugural weekend!

Just one of the reasons I started Wood Chip Chatter was to encourage active discussions  regarding all kinds of topics pertaining to wood carving and whittling.  Any topic at all…..

I want start off the new month of July with some interesting wood carving topics so I’m inviting you all to send in your comments and questions so we can get some “wood chip chatter” going!  Remember, there are no dumb questions.

I’m happy to offer any help I can or answer any questions you might have.  I’m here to help!  Just click on the Contact tab at the top of the Home page and enter your information.

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Welcome to my blog!

Here is a simple but useful bandsaw repair tip!

New 10″ Rikon Bandsaw

How to adjust the blade alignment (tracking) on your Bandsaw

The “tires” on bandsaw wheels can be critical for proper tracking. Have you changed them in recent years? There should be a slight crown to the tire which draws the blade toward the center of the crown. If you back off all the blade guides (side blocks, backing wheels) so that there is no contact with the blade, the blade should track near the center of both wheels. If not, you have an alignment problem. If the blade tracks okay, you may need to adjust the guides better.

The tires should fit snuggly on the wheels. Mine wore out a couple of months ago and I couldn’t keep the blades or tires properly on the wheels. Start by loosening the blocks or guides that contact the sides of the blade. There should be a pair for the top and a pair for the bottom. Then there is a bearing that is behind the blade on top and one on the bottom. Loosen all these and then place the blade back on the wheels and tighten it up just enough to keep it in place., The top wheel should have an adjustment on the side, that moves the bottom of that wheel in/out which is what adjusts the tracking of the blade. Moving the bottom of that wheel in one direction should make the blade move toward the inside of the wheel and vice versa. Turn the wheels by hand until you can get it to ride in the center. then try it momentarily with the power on and see if it tracks ok. If all that works, then you can start by tightening the blade until it doesn’t flutter. Then you adjust the different blocks/bearings so that the blade tracks properly through the cuts. If you still can’t get it to track properly, then check and see if there is any damage to the mountings for the wheels. It is recommended to release tension on the blades when they are not being used. Leaving them under tension can cause tires to get out of round and even broke one of the castings holding my upper wheel in place! Hope this helps!

One would think the start would be to open the cover (as you did to change the blade), then place a straight edge (yard stick?) across the edges of the wheels. Maybe not! I just did that on my 12″ Craftsman (that presently tracks fine). and the wheels are NOT aligned. So much for logic! Somewhere (perhaps on the back side) is a screw that adjusts to camber (the angle of the upper wheel relative to the machine). I would start by adjusting the camber until the blade will stay on while turning the wheels by hand. Then try power and adjust the camber until the blade tracks near the center of the upper wheel. All guides should be out of the way during this process.

The camber adjustment for the upper wheel is a setscrew with locknut in the hub. Loosen the locknut with a wrench, then you can turn the setscrew to change the camber of the wheel. When it tracks fairly well, tighten the locknut.

Tighten the wheels to the correct blade tension and reset and tighten all of the guides (top and bottom).