At the Cutting edge of carving
Click here for pdf
Rob Exton introduces a new tool maker, investigates how a new tool evolved and learns how to put handles on blades…..
Duncan Chandler is a bushcrafter, full time parent, New Forest resident, and part time tool maker, trading as Dorset Woodland Blades, who likes to push the boundary of what is possible and fun to develop.
Thinking about the native American crooked knife and his desire to make one Duncan turned to the Bushcraft UK forums to glean information from others about these interesting knives (http://www.bushcraftuk.com/forum/
￼showthread.php?t=47354) There was much discussion from many people including Robin Wood who mentioned “There is a superb site and downloadable book about￼ these knives here http://www.mocotauganthebook.com/” which I have visited and concur that this is a delightful book with some beautiful knives to admire.
It transpires that there are crooked knives throughout the world whilst the true Native American knife should be called a Mocotaugan which is today generally pronounced “mah-kuh-TAW-gun. The essence of this knife is that held with the palm of the hand facing upwards and is drawn towards you as a single handed draw knife. The big advantage being that the work can be held in the other hand and you don’t need a shave horse. It is understood that a birch bark canoe can be constructed with no more than an axe and this tool.
Over a few month Duncan developed a range of shapes and sizes of blade suitable for use as a regular Mocotaugan alongside which he developed a bowl carving blade at the behest of, and in collaboration with Robin Wood.
There was a picture of Robin using this blade at the Bodgers Ball last year in the last issue of Living Woods, but I first came across it when I viewed Richard Law’s videos on bowl carving and surface finishing http://www.flyingshavings.co.uk/Flying_Shavings/Movies.html. These videos were made subsequent to Richard being on one of Robin’s bowl carving courses and acquiring the blade from him. This got me hooked, so to speak, and subsequently received my gleaming blade from Duncan.
Making handles and developing a system
I have often thought how useful it would be to have just one or two handles into which several blades could be fitted, thus saving room in your pack or tool bag. I decided to take this opportunity of trying out this concept.
A nice block of walnut provided the base stock for a short handle which, inspired by the pictures in the Mocotaugan book, I shaped into a symbolic animal head shape which is known as a ‘fetish’. This embellishment takes over from pure function giving the tool some artistic merit and personal ownership.
The crooked knife is most likely thus named not due to it having a curved (hooked) end but more likely because the blade is canted backwards from the handle by 10degrees and will be bent up at the hilt by 12degrees giving the most ergonomic profile from wrist to cutting. Because Duncan had incorporated these angles into the blade manufacture I only had to fit the blade tang in a straight, mid axis, point of the handle.
With a rebate cut for the tang to sit in 2 holes were drilled of 8mm to take the M4 threaded inserts (www.modelfixings.co.uk) which are fitted with an allan key and glued into place with epoxy. The blade is then fitted with M4 bolts which hold everything secure and tight. The more traditional way to fit this blade would be to glue it into place with pitch or resin and to bind it with rawhide or wire to stop it moving.
The knife worked well, was very sharp and certainly proved the concept of the tool and the removable blade however this blade was really designed by Robin to be used for the inside of carved bowls and to be used 2 handed with a long handle (30-45cm). With the lower hand holding steady as a pivot point, the upper hand acts as a power source and movement controller.
A length of Hawthorn with a natural curve, lent itself perfectly to the required long handle with very little work needed. A fetish of an Owl adorned the top and a hole at mid point allowed for securing a sheath or a neck strap. With a recess cut the M4 threaded inserts were glued in place and the blade bolted down.
This is a good tool, working well on an Oak burr dish . It cuts cleanly and is shaped in such a way as to cope with any grain direction at various points on its curve. It also does a fine job of finishing a flat board, such as the kitchen worktop I experimented on, working just as well as a travisher but with a different hand action.
Robin Wood uses these blades on his bowl carving courses and supplies them to students. With this in mind I asked Robin for some input to this article:-
Robin said “”Duncan’s engineering background shows in his blades. I have forged my own tools for nearly 20 years and use them every day so I know what I want and what works. Duncan really understands that a small difference can change a tool from one which is just OK to one which works really sweetly. Best of all once he has refined the design he can repeat it so you know that each blade comes ready to use with the perfect profile, temper and razor sharp.”
Whilst a wizard with the metal work Duncan does not feel as confident as a woodworker so only supplies blades without handles. This does mean that they are cheaper than some other tool suppliers but you will have to put some effort in to get a tool that feels right to you.
Spoon knives, Sloyd knives, adze heads and carving blades are all on offer from Duncan either in a choice of shapes or as designed by you if you wish to commission a special. A collection of Spoon knives is on a pass around via the bodgers forum, www.bodgers.org , for comment and refinement of shape and function. The sample I had was handled nicely by Duncan with a quirky angled tube inserted for a, neck carry, thong. It has an extended curve giving more options for cutting with only one tool in your pack, spoons on the gentle curve and the bottom of cups at the tight end..
The Sloyd knife is made from a laser cut and hardened blank some 10mm x 60mm plus the tang which is then shaped, to any design you want and sharpened. The standard blade is some 45mm which I found good to use, especially the rounded back against my thumb, but some others thought they would like a shorter blade as well as this one.
I shaped a handle from Yew and drilled a 6mm hole through the centre to accept the tang. There are holes in the tang for brass rod pins if you wish to use them but this isn’t strictly necessary. With the hole filled with epoxy resin the blade is pushed home and the brass pins are inserted. Left overnight to dry, the pins are snipped off and polished and the handle finished.
I spent a couple of hours making a butter spreader from a piece of birch and found the knife a good performer in all grain directions and particularly on large flats. With a leather sheath this has now joined my regular carving kit.
There is a fine tool maker in The North Western USA called Greg Blomberg.of Kestrel tools http://www.rockisland.com/~kestrel/ who has inspired Duncan to create a few carving blades based on those of the Haida Tribe who carved totems, masks and bowls. These blades are double edged and have a variety of profiles to suit the carving task at hand. These blades are circa 40mm long and are generally fitted to a 20-25cm handle with a shallow bend halfway for single or double handed use. I based this handle on a great tutorial from, www.caribooblades.com – woodwork tools – bottom of page – how to make a crooked knife – which gives concise instructions as to the handle geometry.￼
I used smaller M3 threaded inserts and bolts for these blades which worked fine although I would have wished for the tang to be 20mm longer and the holes further back from the end of the handle. This would have left more wood to fix into and enabled me to drop the nose of the tool to give a clearer view of the working area. Duncan will be making me some of this design for me to test soon along with another 80mm length version.
The adze that Duncan produces is based very much on those of Kestrel tools and requires a recessed mortise to hold the blade, screws or bolts to secure and to help with the shocks it takes, a binding with rawhide would help.
This adze has been designed for a short handle and is already bent at a sufficient angle that you can mount it at 80 to 90 degrees to the shaft. I experimented with a natural Ash branch but found the angle to be to sharp and would now suggest that the natural flare at the butt of a tree would be more appropriate as a starting point for a handle.
It must be appreciated that to get the best from an adze it needs to be right for your stature and swing and it may take some experimenting to get the angle right.
Here we have a solid tool maker, with nice quality blades, at a great price. If you enjoy the process of developing your own tools, putting the handles on is as much fun as using them afterwards.
Spoon Blades £15
Sloyd Blade or derivative £15
Mocotaugan or bowl blade £30
All prices include 1st Class UK mainland postage and there are quantity discounts available
You can contact Duncan at – email@example.com
For bowl carving courses using these blades. www.robin-wood.co.uk