Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The joy of quiet tools

My first draw knife 3" cutting edge 1095HC, great for carving and shaping.

A young man received a cordless screwdriver for his birthday and was so excited he had to call his dad and brag.
“Dad my wife bought me a cordless screwdriver for my birthday. Isn’t that great!”
“That’s great, but all my screwdrivers are cordless son.”

I’ve been a begrudging convert to the wonderful world of hand tools, those magnificent items that don’t run out of power unless you get tired of working. Like most people hand tools frustrated me to no end. This is a result of two common reasons: 1. I had poor quality tools 2. I lacked the knowledge of how to maintain and use those tools.

Power tools are easy, you can use a mitre saw or drill press without knowledge of electronic engineering or how wood grain affectsthe cut. The difference between an orbital sander and a handplane is that one requires practice and knowledge to use effectively. Practice at using a tool? That is an absurd notion. Quality hand tools can cost triple their powered counterparts, so why bother? Ahhh, the experience! The satisfaction of knowing your tools, their strengths and weaknesses and how to get the most out each one. I noticed with power tools, the danger is immense: eye, ear, respiratory protection is constantly required. Smooth a board with a belt sander and you’ll be cleaning the shop for week, use a plane and you can listen to Howlin’ Wolf at low volume and clean up is a few minutes of sweeping. The gentle swoosh of sharp plane iron is a welcome change from the terrible whine of belt driven machines.

To create something, is to understand it.

My first hand tools were made on a whim. I thought draw knives were just neat looking, so I made one. It has taken me hours of practicing to read wood grain and control my depth of cuts, but now it is much faster at finesse shaping than a sander or saw.

Kiridashi in 1095HC 60rc paracord wrap

Next was my first Kiridashi, a very simple Japanese utility knife. I had a few inches of left over steel from a project and so it came to be. It sat on my bench unused for some time, until I had to cut leather for a sheath, my fancy utility knife was botching the job so out came the tiny simply knife. BAM! It cut far better than a razor, making my life safer and easier.  

My next journey is to make my own chisels as they are the heart of any shop. I still love my bandsaw, but realize that sometimes things are much easier if it stays quiet.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Ah, breakup is finally in the air in South Central, Alaska despite a snow storm all weekend long. The past two weeks have found me in the shop but working on my house and not on knives. I finally got some time in the shop late last night and became a bit nostalgic when I came across these images from the past summer. The knife was made based on some equally historic pedigrees. The handle is a ode to Scagel Knives who made the leather and antler handles famous during the first half of the twentieth century and continue to draw investors today. The blade is Scandinavian inspired with the grind but I added a secondary bevel, a sharper point and some file work versus a standard Puukko design. The overall design is a to be a tool and not a weapon, with the cutting to be done in drawing motion and not a stabbing or pushing motion. 

The knife was made for someone who did something remarkable, they vouched for me. To me this was a very generous act and one that seemed a bit out of place today. I have come across many people who say they will help you out, or do something for you, only to find out that their word isn't all that valuable. So when someone staked their hard won reputation on me, it meant alot. Saying I trust you is one thing, to trust someone else with your reputation is another. At least that is what I was raised to believe and will continue to pursue in my lifetime. Maybe its just glorified "golden age" thinking, but reputations used to make people honorable and trust worthy, not contracts written by hired gun attorneys. So this was my small way to honor that, a nostalgic knife for a nostalgic act. 

Knife Specs:
Blade: 4" 1095 HC RC 58-60  (8.25" AOL)
Handle: Black tail antler, nickel spacers and leather washers
Sheath: 7oz leather (pouch style)

I just wanted to post a photo of my backyard in the summer. View from Flattop just behind Anchorage, It won't be to long now.