My Thoughts On Carving Knives
This is a short article on carving knives. It is not meant to be a comprehensive thesis, rather my
thoughts on the knives I own and the way I use them in carving.
The first thing to note about any carving tool is that the tool needs to be razor-sharp. A dull tool
will just frustrate you and is dangerous, to my way of thinking.
I will not go into the sharpening process here as there are many articles on the web to show you
how to sharpen and keep your tools sharp . Here is a link to a good article about Sharpening: Smokey MountainWoodcarvers, “How We Sharpen”
The knife I use most is a Denny knife with a 1-7/8? blade. Cost is about $21.00. I use this for most
carving chores, roughing out, stop cuts, etc. The blade is long enough to block and rough out and do
most of the normal carving that I do.
There are many sizes and styles of carving or bench knives available. If you are first starting out, the simple
“Murphy” knife is a good, inexpensive solution. You can get them for about $15.00 just about anywhere.
I have had many of them and have re-ground most of them for detail knives. They have
good steel and make a good serviceable all-around knife. There are many other knives out there so
just try as many as you can afford; that is a fun part of this pastime, owning tools, hehe. I confess I
have about 30 knives of all sizes and shapes and want more. One other thing to note: there are a lot
of knife makers out there. Just make sure you get a known brand like, Denny, Flexcut, Stubi, Ron
Wells, Helvie, etc. Also there are some great custom knife makers out there like, Rick Ferry (Little Shavers),
Allan Goodman, and many more.
I also use a “detail” knife that was hand-made by Gene Webb. It has a 1-1/4? blade that is thin
and flexible. It is used to get into tight places. I use it to carve details on my carvings like eyes.
The thin and flexible blade allows me to get into places that you can not reach with my larger
Denny knife. It has a very sharp point and because of that you need to be careful not to use it as
a lever and snap the point off. I have had this knife for about 10 years and have snapped the
point off twice and had to re-grind it, so it is now about 1-1/8? long.
Once again there are many makers who create “detail” knives so try out several and find out
which kind you like. I re-grind old bench knives that I no longer use to make detail knives, so that
is one option you may look into if you have the equipment and aptitude to do this.
Another knife that I use sometimes for carving eyes is a Denny skew knife. Like the detail knife it is
handy for carving eyes and for getting into tight places.
I also have several pocket knives that I carry and use to whittle and carve when I am out and
about. When I first started carving faces, I used to carry small pieces of branches in my pocket
and would practice carving faces on them using a pocket knife.
My main carving pocket knife is a ” Kershaw, Double Cross”. It has two blades that lock, one is a
Warren Cliff style blade, the other is a clip point. I use the Warren Cliff blade mostly. You can find this
knife online in a lot of places.
If you would like one that is shaped and sharpened for carving, you can get one here: Little Shavers: Kershaw Double Cross. It comes shaped and sharpened for about $54.00.
I have several pocket knives that have been modified for carving. The ones shown are a Boker
Congress that I modified and a Muller Congress that a friend of mine re-ground (D. Boyd). Both of
these knives work very well and I carry them if I know I am going to be carving on the spot
somewhere. The blades are Carbon steel, so I have to watch out for rust if I am carrying them in the
hot months and I will be sweating.
Another subject is handle shape. Knife handles come with all different sizes and shapes. How they fit
your hand will be determined by the size of your hand and how you hold and use your knife.
In the photo above are some of my knives and the different handles that they have.
#1. A Flexcut Regular knife. The handle is fairly short, but fits my hand very well. This is a
comfortable handle for carving. I have a medium sized hand and it fits me well.
#2. My Denny knife. It has a stick handle, it fits me very well for most carving chores.
#3. A Helvie Detail knife. Has a small handle with finger grooves. I really don’t like this much, but would
be good for a person with small hands.
#4. My Gene Webb Detail knife. Has a contoured handle that is also thin. This fits my hand very well. I
can also hold it like you would hold a pencil.
#5. A Bench knife I built, the handle design is from an article in WoodCarving Illustrated. The blade is
one I re-ground from an old Schrade-Walden pocket knife blade I found. This shape is very
comfortable, but I need to thin it down some.
#6. A Murphy Bench knife. Handle is ok, but needs to be thinner for my hand.
#7. A knife that was built for me by a custom maker ,( Flip Johnson). The handle is similar to what
Ron Wells makes; probably my favorite handle style. Works quite well for heavy carving also.
Conclusions: There are many knives available today for carvers. They come in many blade shapes
and sizes. There also many different handle shapes and sizes. The best thing to do is try out ones
you might be interested in, ( maybe from another carver) find the ones
that fit your hand and your style of carving. Remember, part of the fun in carving is collecting the
knives and tools. So Have fun trying them all out!