How I Carved A Knife In A Log

by Paul Nicholls

the finished carving of knife in a log

The finished article. Below is a step-by-step guide to how I got there. Photo: Paul Nicholls

A few years ago I wanted to carve a knife out of wood, as if it had just been stuck in the top of a log.

I came up with this idea after having seen some pictures of knives displayed this way. I gave it a lot of thought and then came up with a plan and set about my new project.

The first one I carved was given to Ben and Lois Orford but unfortunately this one was stolen from their display stand at a show. So, I carved Ben and Lois not only a replacement knife, but also a carving of an axe, both of which are replicas of Ben’s work.

I was so pleased with those carvings that this led to me carving a replica of Paul Kirtley’s PK1 knife, made by Raven Armoury. The carving is a life size replica, approx. 8 and a half inches long and 1 inch wide at the handle

I found a lovely piece of dead standing Hawthorn. I chose dead standing as opposed to green as it is less likely to split when drying out.

I made side and front view paper templates of the knife which were to scale and used these throughout the carving process.

I now present a step by step photo record of how I approached this project.

Getting Started - Material Selection And Preparation

The piece of wood selected was about 18 inches long and four inches wide fairly knot free with a slight curve in it. Then I made a level saw cut, to the depth of the bark, all the way around the log. This cut around the circumference marked the point at which the knife would be stuck into the log. I then stripped the outer bark from the half to be carved into the knife.

A gnarly log to be carved

1. The starting point - a gnarly-looking bit of hawthorn. Photo: Paul Nicholls

stripping the log for the carving

2. Level saw cut around the circumference and bark stripped above. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Using Templates To Draft The Shape Of The Carving

I then used templates to draw the two dimensional profile shapes of the knife onto the wood. These were based on photographs of Paul's knife.

templates drawn onto the wood

3. Template shape drawn onto the wood. Photo: Paul Nicholls

templates drawn onto the wood

4. The other profile. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Starting To Carve - Removing Excess Wood

First, I made stop cut on the same saw line where I cut originally to de-bark. This cut is where the point of the knife will appear to be stuck in the log base. Then, I began with carving away the sides. Removing some wood meant I lost my sketch, so after a while I re-drew the front profile. Similarly later on with the side profile. It's important not to lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.

Carving a knife in a log

5: Carve away the sides first, note the position of my hand. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Draw the templates front and profile

6. Re-draw the front profile. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Re-Draw the side profile

7: Re-draw the side profile. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Now To Make Some Saw Cuts...

I put the axe down for a moment to make some saw cuts. These are made down towards the template lines drawn on the wood and help remove further material quickly and efficiently. Accuracy is key here, do not cut past the blade lines.

cutting down to the blade lines

8: Cut down to the blade line (Outside template line) with a saw, about 3-4 mm apart. Accuracy is key here, do not cut past the blade lines. Photo : Paul Nicholls

cutting down to the blade lines

9: Cut down to the blade line (Outside template line) with a saw, about 3-4 mm apart. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Getting The Shape; Remove All Excess Wood From Between The Saw Cuts.

Gently and carefully break out the pieces of excess wood so you end up with the rough outline shape of the knife. I used my Ben Orford 4" Woodlander knife for this as it is ideal for close, fiddly bits like this.

break out the bits of wood

10: Gently break out the bits of wood. Photo: Paul Nicholls

break out the bits of wood

11: You should end up with the rough outline shape of the knife. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Tidying It Up

This is close work so I took my time over this part, carefully shaping the wood right up to the template lines. I continually checked from all angles to ensure lines were straight and balanced. I used my Ben Orford English Sloyd carving knife for this.

carve everything back to lines

12: Carve everything back to the template lines making sure it is all square and that the blade and handle are in line. Photo: Paul Nicholls

carve everything back to lines

13: I use my Ben Orford English Sloyd knife for fine carving. Photo: Paul Nicholls

carve everythng back to the lines

14: Always checking that the lines are straight. Photo: Paul Nicholls

carve everything back to the lines

15: Make sure it is all square and that the blade and handle are in line. Photo: Paul Nicholls

carve everything back to the lines

16: Carve everything back to the template lines making sure it is all square and that the blade and handle are in line. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Shaping The Knife; Rounding Off The Edges

Now you need to cut the corners off to get the curves. Make sure you cut equal amounts on both sides. I have drawn lines on the knife to help me, but again, I continually check all angles during this process. Take your time at this stage and do a little at a time so as to prevent taking too much off. You should be able to feel when you have the curve right. Don't worry about the pencil marks as they will come off once you start sanding.

cut the corners off

17: I've drawn lines to highlight where to cut the corners off. Photo: Paul Nicholls

cut the corners off

18: Make sure you cut equal amounts both sides. Photo: Paul Nicholls

cut the corners off

19: Cut the corners off, making sure you cut equal amounts both sides. I’ve drawn lines on the knife to highlight this. You will judge for yourself how many times you need to do this. Photo: Paul Nicholls

The Final Touches; Adding Fine Detail, Sanding and Oiling

At this stage, I refer back to the original knife, or images, to add any fine details that make it a true representation. For sanding, I use Abranet as I find it does a better job than regular sandpaper, particularly on fine carvings. To finish, I just applied a light coating of Walnut Oil which gives a lovely sheen.

sanding and fine detail

20: Add any fine detail that makes it a true representation. Photo: Paul Nicholls

sanding and fine detail

21: Time to sand down the knife. Photo: Paul Nicholls

sanding and fine detail

22: Nearly there! A final sanding. Photo: Paul Nicholls

Why Not Have A Go?

It would be fantastic if this photoblog inspires you to carve something similar. Feel free to ask any questions about this or any other featured project. Good luck if you have a go and don’t forget to send pictures!

carving of a knife in a log

Showing it in a good light; Walnut Oil gives a lovely sheen to the finished carving. Photo: Paul Nicholls

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Paul Nicholls, from Bedford, attended his first Bushcraft course in 2008, where he met Paul Kirtley, who was leading the course. The course had a huge impact on Paul and he spent the subsequent six years learning and practising more new skills. Now known as “Spoons” to his bushcraft friends, Paul has developed a particular love of carving. After helping with Frontier Bushcraft informally in 2013, he was invited to join Frontier’s instructional team in 2014.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick

Fabulous, been looking forward to this blog and not disappointed. Brilliant piece of work and great post to show how it was done. Thanks spoons.

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Liam Gadd

Very nice work!

Reply

Ronny Machado

Man…that’s a beautiful work of art, and yes…very, very inspiring…

Thanks for sharing the whole process

R.

Reply

Astrid

Love this Paul!

Reply

Stephen Walker

Hi Paul,
Excellent carving from a genius idea.
More inspiration!!
Thanks,
Stephen

Reply

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