Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | September 10, 2019

My Favorite Woodcarving/Whittling Knife

This post is the first of a series where I identify my favorite woodcarving tools.  The first will discuss my favorite woodcarving knife.

This is a dangerous article to write.  Note, the title is “My Favorite Woodcarving/Whittling Knife.”  Telling a carver which is “best” knife is like telling a grizzly what the best meat is to eat.  There are as many opinions on this as there are carvers.  In addition to endless opinions, there are a myriad of applications; many begging for a specialty knife.  So, what I am attempting to do here is after some 60+ years of whittling and carving is to present my favorite knives based upon my experience.  I will break this down into two categories; fixed blade and folders and offer a little history.

First, A little History

I really don’t remember how old I was when I began to carve but I was pretty young.  I am an old guy and when I was a kid every boy I knew carried a pocket knife (no school stabbings either).  I am thinking my very first knife was an Imperial brand fishing style (pocket) knife.  It was a piece of junk, but the price was right… probably less than $2.00 in the early 1950’s.  I used that knife for everything including whittling.  Of course, my early whittling was pretty limited… putting points on hot dog sticks and carving wooden knives and swords.  From there, I had many a pocket knife that I do not recall… either the style nor the brand.  As a young adult when I had a little more money and was working more on skill, I purchased a JA Henckels Twin Brand.  I still own it.  It is a real vintage beauty with stag scales.  With this knife, I could take whittling seriously.   Also, as a young adult, I became obsessed with “sharp.”  A knife had to be sharp and few people that I knew could do a decent job of sharpening a knife.  My Henckels was good steel (Solingen, Germany) and I could get a good edge on it despite the fact that back then a decent sharpening stone or system was both rare as hen’s teeth and expensive.  So, with my fascination with sharp edges, I was on the constant look out for quality knives.  The original Boker’s were also a good knife.  The problem that I had with any those standard pocketknives was that after 000’s of miles of use, the blade pivots got sloppy.  I tried to tighten them, but they were never as good as new.

Somewhere in the late 1960’s I discovered a knife called Jak’s Knife.  It was very similar to the later introduced Warren Knife.  It had a selection of blades that fit inside the handle for convenient carrying.  It was Jak’s knife that introduced me to “small blades” and to a hooked blade… which became one of my favorites.  The steel in Jak’s knife was also the first high carbon steel that I experienced, and I could put a fine edge on those things that held for what seemed like forever.  In the 1980’s I was introduced to fixed handled carving knives.

Between then and now I have purchased knives made by or offered by:

Fixed Blade

Savage Forge (Retired)

Northbay Forge

Cape Forge

Deepwoods Ventures

Diobsud Forge (Closed)

Drake Knives

Kestrel Tool

Moraknil (Formerly Frost)

 

Folding Knives

Oar Carver

Flexcut

JA Henckel’s Twin Brand (the older originals)

Boker Tree Brand (the older originals); and

Rich Notto (now deceased) folders (Spear point and Wharncliffe locking blades)

Then, there are countless others that I have purchased and tried… some good, some not so good.  I found that all the knives listed above are or were all good knives.

What I Like in a Knife

Features that suit me include (1) High quality high carbon steel (2) A shorter blade.  I respect the fact that folks can carve with long blades, I just prefer shorter versions and I have better control with a shorter blade (3) A blade with a slight upward curvature… something akin to a clip blade; and (4) A comfortable strong handle.

A guy that marvels me is Giles Newman (www.GilesNewman.com).  Giles carves exquisite, intricate jewelry and spoons using a 2 ¼” Moraknil Swedish knife.  Boggles my mind!  Then you have the late Dudley Carter that carved gorgeous statuary with an axe and adze.  Clearly, anything with an edge can be used by someone to create excellent carvings.

I tend to be a traditionalist.  I want a knife that looks like a knife… not a machine or something from the movie Bladerunner.

So, what’s my Favorites?… the Winners are….

Today, when I sit and whittle or “whittle carve,” as my friend Don Mertz (www.woodbeecarver.com) describes holding a carving in your hand but using small gouges as well as knives, I find myself always going for same few default knives.  They are:

Fixed Handle Knife:  Northbay Forge Straight Knife… www.northbayforge.com  I find this to be a high-quality knife that not only looks pretty dang cool, but also holds an edge like few others and is very comfortable to hold in my hand.  It is a strong knife with a perfect bevel.  It comes in three sizes for small and large projects and the price is very reasonable… plus it is hand forged and it looks hand forged.  I tend to use the medium and small the most.

North Bay Straight Knives

Folding Knife:  Oar Carver.  I have a few versions of this knife.  I bought the originals then followed up with attractive bone handled versions.  These are well made and are a true pocket knife.  Easy to carry.  While called an Oar Carver, named after the originator and designer, Ross Oar, they were made by Queen City Cutlery.  Sadly, Queen City has closed its doors, but Oar Carvers may be found in the secondary market on the Internet.  In the below photo, the bottom two are each locking blades.

Oar Carvers

Favorite Runners Up

Fixed Blade:

DeepWoods Ventures… good steel and edge holding, gorgeous handles.

Moraknil… Laminated Swedish steel, amazing edge holding and bevel.

Folding Knife:

Flexcut Spoon Carving Jack… good steel and great bevel, comfortable handle.

Flexcut Carvin’ Jack… even though these things are pretty strange looking and not so comfortable to hold, they offer a knife and several gouges all in one handy little package.  If you live on a sailboat or in a motor home and carve, these things are a must.  One needs both the right- and left-hand versions to accommodate push and pull carving strokes. Despite Flexcut’s being good steel they are stamped out and have very rough backs on the blades, so they need to be ground smooth for comfort sake.

So, the bottom line is, if I had to grab a couple of carving knives and run for the hills, they would be the Northbay Forge straight knife (knives) and the Oar Carvers.

When buying a whittling knife make sure it is good steel, blade and handle shaped to your liking, and comfortable in your hand.

I would enjoy hearing and I am sure readers would enjoy hearing what your favorite carving knife is and why you are choosing it.

Thank you for reading.  Remember, always be “carveful” and stay sharp!  No one is compensating me in any way for my recommendations or comments.  My recommendations and my comments are strictly my personal opinions.

 

 


Responses

  1. Michael, you are still “sharp as ever” with putting words together that cut right to the core of what makes sense and is important. Your journey of discovering your favorite knives has blazed a trail for others to follow to explore their own favorite knife and knives. I often say about accumulating knives ~ “One is dandy, two are handy and three are never enough,” so the search goes on. In my own case, my favorite knife is the one I have in my hand at the time by the feel of the slicing cut and the comfort of the handle.(I have many favorites) ~ Whittle out some more written descriptions of your journey and I look forward to reading and savoring them when they are published. BEE CARVEFUL Carving Friend. >

    • Don, my friend, you are always so kind and wise. I love the fact that your favorite knife is the one in your hand at the time.

  2. If you can find him you might investigate Mudd Sharrigan of Wiscasset, Maine. I dread what happens when the wonderful knives he’ made for me wear out at last. He is not a young man; of course, I’m not either.

    • Thank you Lou, I will look him up. Good knives don’t wear out so I suspect yours will not.

  3. Would be wonderful if you could join our facebook group “Caricature Carvers” https://www.facebook.com/groups/418485591546954/
    Thank you

    • Thank you Yaron. I made a choice to remove myself from social media about 3 years ago. I do see some benefits though… as with your group, however. It’s even a bit of a stretch for me to do a blog. Thank you for reading my blog. Keep sharp!


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