Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | February 3, 2011

Abegglen Detail Knife

For roughly one year, maybe longer, I have seen the photo in the Woodcraft catalog of a carving tool named “Abegglen Detail Knife.”  The knife has looked interesting and when my wife asked what I wanted for Christmas, I pointed to this knife.  Before I get into my comments about the knife I have reprinted text from both the Woodcraft catalog and from Pfeil’s web site about the knife so you have that information.

Quote from Woodcraft catalog:
“From the makers of pfeil “Swiss made” Tools. These unique detail knives are a resurrection of a lost or little known antique carving tool. These knives (which are named after a Swiss proper name) feature dual convex and concave edges that converge to point. The 4” shaft and smaller comfortable handle means you’ll be able to reach into hard to reach areas. After a few minutes use, the Abegglen will become your favorite detail tool. Like all Swiss made tools, these follow pfeil’s legendary quality formula of the highest grade, hardened steel, polished and ground to a razor sharp edge. Approximate blade width is 3/8” for the small, ½” medium, ¾” large. Overall length is approximately 7-1/2”. Natural oil finished octagonal Acacia handle.”

Quote from Pfeil web site:
“The characteristic blade of this knife has the form of a shark fin and is no less sharp than shark teeth.

“This special knife has two cutting edges, a rounded one on one side and a concave one on the other, which makes the tool extremely versatile. It can be particularly useful where other carving tools fall short, in tight places, or for deep cuts, for example, for faces, hands, or feet. It is also very useful for ornamental carving and lettering. The knife can be turned on either side, with the rounded edge or the concave edge facing right or left, as the work requires.

“With this clever knife carvers can concentrate fully on their work, without constantly looking for and changing tools.

“The Abegglen Detail Knife is available in three sizes. The locust wood handles are similar to the handles of our carving tools: octagonal, oil finish, rounded butt. The handles are shorter to fit comfortably in the hand.”

Abegglen Detail Knife

I do see one conflict with the above statements.  Woodcraft says I comes with an Acacia wood handle and Pfeil says the handle is locust.  I believe the handle on mine is Acacia.  Perhaps the type of wood on the handle varies if it is exported.

I am a firm proponent of a hooked knife.  I find them incredibly useful and versatile.  With the  Abegglen Detail Knife, we have a hooked or concave knife on one edge and a rounded edge on the opposite side.  Basically two knives in one.  I was relatively certain that I was going to like the knife but I had no idea just how much I was going to like it.  Coincidentally, when I received the knife, I had a commission piece that I was working on so I was able to give this knife an immediate work out.  As advertised, it gets into difficult to reach places with ease.  After a bit of getting used to it, it became the only knife that I used on the project.

Users may find the Abegglen Detail Knife to be an improvement on the Ray Gonzalez hooked skew knife because of the double edge found on the Abegglen.  However, having said that, the Ray Gonzalez knife may be safer to use because of its single edge.

I did initially find the handles on the Abegglen to be a bit strange in that they are a short, stubby version of what are found on a standard Pfeil gouge.  They have kind of a long shank but once I was using it, it became clear that this was a good feature that allowed accessing tight spots.  After use, I think the handle is just fine as is.  At first, it had seemed to me that the handle would be better if it were shaped more like a traditional North Coast Indian bent knife… which is also double edged.

It also became obvious to me that beyond its detail ability, versatility, and its ability to get into tough spots that this tool would be excellent for lettering and undercutting.

So, this knife is a real winner for me.

This knife comes in three sizes.  I can see good application for all three sizes.  If you are going to get one size only, I suggest the medium size.  The large is a pretty serious tool suitable for larger projects and other than its super sharpness, I am not sure why they call it a detail knife… but then, again, I suppose detail does not have to be small.

Big Word of Caution… In fact, a few of words of caution

The Abegglen Detail Knife could prove to be the nastiest knife in your collection if you let your hand slip down the shank to the blade or if you forget that it is double edged.  It is a knife that requires some skill and attention in using.  Many years ago, when I was getting used to a double edged North Coast Indian bent knife, I managed to slice the palm of my right hand (I am left handed) nearly to the bone when I let my attention slip.  That was a terrible experience that could have been avoided with proper concentration.  This knife could easily have the same potential.  Now, mind you, my accident with the bent knife was not the knife’s fault, it was my own.

Secondly, I personally believe this tool (the Abegglen) is a two handed tool.  I do not believe that it is suitable for typical hand held whittling.  I strongly suggest that you use the knife on a project that is held in place with a vice or by a carver’s screw, allowing both your hands to be free to use on the tool.

A third word of caution has to do with sharpening.  This knife is like a small curved, razor sharp, dagger.  When needed, I recommend honing this knife by hand.  Power could be extremely dangerous should the opposing edge catch on a motorized belt or wheel.  I suggest carefully and lightly using a extra fine ceramic file or rod to sharpen an edge if it ever needs it and stropping it on a flat strop or a hand crank buffing wheel at about a 5 degree angle.  During my recent project, I stropped my knife several times with a hand crank leather clad buffing wheel, turning slowly with Japanese green rouge.
It worked very well for me.

After experiencing what Pfeil has done with his knife, I have to be curious as to why they can’t seem to make a good usable traditional carving/whittling knife.

Abegglen Detail Knives

As Woodcraft’s blurb above suggests, the Abegglen has quickly become a favorite tool of mine.

It seems like the last 12 months has been a bumper year for discovering new and wonderful tools.

Stay sharp, happy carving, and be “carveful.”

Please visit my web site at

Caution, wood carving is an inherently dangerous activity due to the use of sharp  and potentially dangerous tools.  Carvers are encouraged to read and follow all directions and cautionary statements issued by tool manufacturers and to use safety devices and apparel.

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