5 Essential Knife Techniques:
Jason Townsend looks at knife skills in the context of working in-the-round
Knife carving is on the increase as far as popularity is concerned, but is also one of the oldest forms of
carving. There is a lot one can do with just a knife, and it starts with five basic cuts, which form the fundamental basis for all knife carving projects. Here, I look at those five cutting techniques.
• With carving knives, there is no one size fits all in terms of blade shape. There are an untold number of different blade shapes and sizes out there and although you can start with a single blade, it is well worth experimenting with blade shapes and sizes to fit your particular style or particular task in hand. A good first blade would have a straight cutting face and be about 40mm long.
• When working with sharp tools, it is essential that you wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and observe some basic safety precautions. Always have some plasters handy just in case you do accidentally cut yourself; it can be easily done, even when simply reaching across the bench to grab another tool. I also suggest keeping some alcohol swabs handy too so you can clean the area before applying a plaster.
• Gloves. Gloves. Gloves. A good quality pair of cut-resistant and stab-resistant gloves are an essential item in a woodcarvers’ toolbox. The pair of gloves shown are made from a high quality Kevlar weave with nitrile coating on the palm for good grip and an extra cut resistant layer where the thumb meets the palm. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of wearing at least one glove (on the hand that doesn’t hold the knife).
• Leather digit guards are also worth looking at and can be worn on the thumb of your cutting hand and/or the finger and thumb of your non-cutting hand. They will not offer the same level of protection
as a good Kevlar glove, but have their place in the toolbox.
1. Paring cut
The paring cut is where the knife is pulled towards you. Position the thumb of your cutting hand securely on the piece of work, place the knife blade on the work with your thumb outstretched and grip the knife between your palm and fingers. Pull the knife towards your thumb to make the cut. A leather guard on the thumb of your cutting hand and a glove on your non-cutting hand is a good precaution with this cut because the blade is coming towards you. The blade should be fully under your control though because it can only travel until your fist is clenched. If the piece of work is longer, you can move your thumb down the piece of work while keeping the blade in place and continue the cut.
2. Thumb-push cut
The thumb-push cut is where the knife is pushed away from you. With this cut, the thumb on the hand not holding the knife does all of the work. Grip the knife between your fingers and palm with the thumb resting on the back of the knife, the blade facing away from you. Grip the work with the hand not holding the knife and place the blade on the work in front of the thumb of this hand. The back of the blade (or the back of the knife) should rest on this thumb. Extend the thumb so that it pushes the blade along the work to make the cut. This cut has a very high degree of control because the blade can only travel as far as you can, flex the thumb of the hand not holding the knife.
3. Stop cut
This essential cut involves pushing the blade into the wood to make a cut that other cuts can butt up against. Holding the knife between your palm and fingers, place the thumb on the piece of work and lower the blade to the place where you want to make the cut. Push the knife down into the wood. You can use the tip of the knife for a smaller cut or the very base of the blade for a more powerful cut. You will only be able to go to a certain depth before the blade will be unable to travel further. Do not use too much force with this cut or you risk the knife slipping and having an accident.
4. Stab cut
The stab cut is one that is essential in chip carving, but has its place when used with knives that have a variety of blade shapes. This cut is most useful when trying to cut out a triangular piece of wood. Make two stab cuts and can then use a thumb-push or paring cut in order to remove the chip of wood. Hold the knife in a similar way to that for a stop cut but you want to bring the tip of the blade down onto the work rather than the cutting face of the blade. Knives with a curved cutting face are not so useful for this and knifes that have an angled blade are the most useful. Again, don’t use too much force with this cut because the blade will only be able to travel so far into the wood.
Scoring is used in all sorts of contexts. Once you have marked a design out onto a piece of wood, you might score the wood along the lines of the design. You might also score with a knife to make a cut that another cut can butt up against, much like a stop cut. A variety of blade shapes can be used for scoring, but knives with a curved cutting face are probably not an appropriate choice; a straight cutting face is the most appropriate. As with the stop cut and stab cut, don’t use too much force when scoring because the blade can only cut into the wood so much; it is much better to repeat scoring if you want a deeper cut.