Woodworking On-the-Go with Modified Knives

Anytime I go somewhere and anticipate the possibility of having some free time, I like to have a knife with me to carve.

My First Modified Carving Knife

I started with a German #8 chip carving knife with a fixed blade. I modified the blade to extend the cutting edge right to the handle, and to reduce the overall blade length. Since the blade didn’t fold, I drove it into a wine cork and used that for safe carry. This is a very nice carving knife, and it has become my shop knife, used for everything from opening packages and quick scribing rapid material removal (like a small one-handed drawknife) and carving.

The synthetic cork shown here is the second or third guard that the knife has had, as they sometimes get lost. I find that this synthetic cork does hold together better than the first natural cork, since the blade width is about half of the cork diameter.

Two Folding Knives: One for Carving, One for General Work with a Chisel Tip

A Folding Knife for Carving

The German fixed-blade knife got replaced as a pocket carving knife when I acquired a folding Opinel knife with a broken tip – the perfect opportunity to make a folding carving knife, which is safer and more convenient to carry, and equally suitable for carving.

I like the Opinel knives because they are lightweight, comfortable to hold, have a simple lock that secures the blade in the open and closed positions, and feature a taper-ground high-carbon steel blade that takes and holds a fine edge. They are also very affordable.

To modify the knife for carving, I shortened the blade length, reshaped the back of the handle for comfort, fit a piece of wood inside the handle to keep the blade from closing too far, and put it to work.


A General-Purpose Folding Knife with a Chisel Tip

The knife that I carry with me most often is a cheap Gerber with a stainless steel blade. I like it because it has a handy spring clip, is easy to open with one hand, and features a stout blade with a solid frame lock. The blade is bevelled on both side, so this is more of a utility knife for me – I use it for opening packages, trimming my finger nails, and most recently, to assist in some impromptu joinery clean-up/furniture repair (dowels were too long and needed trimming).

As a reader of my blog, you likely know my affection for chisels. Knives are very useful, but chisels afford more control, and the force is applied inline with the blade. So, I decided to modify my stainless steel folder to include a chisel tip as an experiment. First, I wanted to see if it was possible, and how it would look. Second, I wanted to find out how useful this chisel grind really would be, and if it would restrict the capabilities of the knife in ways I typically use it..

I used my bench grinder and 120-grit wheel to first blunt the tip and grind it straight (I was surprised at how quickly the metal disappeared). Then, I angled the tool rest and ground a 25 degree bevel by eye (length of the bevel is about twice the height). I refined the bevel with my diamond plate, then polished it with a felt wheel charged with honing compound, which was mounted on the other end of my bench grinder.

The modified blade looks good and the ~5/8″ chisel tip seems useful, though I haven’t had a real-world application to test it. I did notice that the actual edge is not straight. This is a result of the shape of the blade – as supplied by the manufacturer, the un-ground back section of the blade is flat, the primary bevel is hollow-ground, and then there is a secondary bevel. The result is a chisel with a slightly hollow back and two trimmed corners – kind of like a lazy W shape. This chisel isn’t intended to replace a proper one, but hopefully will prove handy when one isn’t available. I will continue to carry this knife and test it at every opportunity.

Butternut – it Carves like Butter with a Hot Knife

The latest addition to my catalog of air-dried slabs for sale is butternut (Juglans cinerea). A relative to the highly sought-after black walnut, butternut shares the same grain patterns but the colour is lighter – similar to the shades of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Butternut is also lighter in weight and softer than black walnut, making it an ideal wood for working with hand tools and is popular for carvings. Other common uses include furniture and boxes. It is an ideal material to use for a sculpted/carved panel, contrasting with a comparatively simple frame. It is also ideal for chair seats for the same reasons pine is the traditional seat material in a windsor chair.

It works well with both hand and power tools and glues and finishes well. Butternut is a great wood to work with – especially for beginners.

The seat of my workshop stool is made of butternut. The legs are bigleaf maple.

Butternut Stool Seat

I made the structural members and panel of this headboard out of butternut, and finished it with orange shellac.

Construction of the Butternut Headboard

See my catalog of air-dried wood slabs for sale here.

21st Century Writing Desk – Making the Top

Last week, I saw a picture of a roof top that resembled a wave.

House with wave roof by Jules Gregory

House with wave roof by Jules Gregory

The roof prompted me to ponder the question: does a tabletop really need to be flat? Running with that notion, I carved this maple sample, dyed it black and waxed it to increase the sheen.

Carved Sample

I was really pleased with the sample, (and so was everyone to whom I showed it) so I decided to use the carved pattern on a table top. I glued together two mahogany boards and began carving texture into the panel using a #7/10 gouge.

Carved Panel1

The surface felt so good under my fingertips.

Carved Panel2

After two-and-a-half hours of carving, I had completed the 12″ x 25″ panel. During that time I did a lot of thinking (and tweeting). I came up with the idea of calling it the 21st Century Writing Desk.

Carved Panel3

So, with the top done, my next step was to design a suitable base for it. I went to my computer and started playing with designs.

Ryousuke Ohtake – Spiny Lobster


Artist Name:  Ohtake Ryousuke
Title:  Spiny Lobster
Details:  circa 2014 – 31cm – Boxwood, “beard of whale”

Why It’s Notable:

The form of the spiny lobster was impeccably replicated in boxwood.



But the realistic appearance wasn’t enough to get recognized as a Notable Inspiration. This was: the joints were carved so they move just like a real lobster would.

This amazing video (duration – 3:04) shows how the lobster moves. Note how the artist holds the part he is working on at the 0:12 mark – so simple!

I think that the ball and sockets are snapped into place.


On Team Flair: Grant McMillan

During the five years that I’ve been in business, I have made some great contacts, including local wood carver Grant McMillan.

Recently, a customer bought a cribbage board (Cribbage Board #8, the last one available) from me and requested to have some letters carved in it. Since I am not particularly experienced with letter carving, I asked Grant if he would be interested in doing it. He was, so he worked out the specifics with the client and I shipped the cribbage board to him.

I loved the font choice and thought that he did a great job with the carving.

Cribbage Board #8 with letter carving (Photo by Grant McMillan)

Cribbage Board #8 with letter carving (Photo by Grant McMillan)

On his blog, Grant writes that he jumped at the opportunity to do this carving because he “enjoy[s] letter carving, and this cribbage board is really cool, plus it would be a chance to collaborate with a fellow woodworker who I respect very much.”

Right back at you, Grant!  I think you do fine work, and that’s why you’re my go-to guy for letter carving.  Go Team Flair!


I Can Do That with Festool and Flair

Last week, I worked at the Coquitlam showroom of Lee Valley Tools Ltd. demonstrating the Festool power tools.  I was given a stack of pine and a set of plans for Megan Fitzpatrick’s Shaker-inspired Step Stool which appeared in Popular Woodworking’s column, I Can Do That.  Over the three days, I had time to build two stools.

Festool Stepstool

The design was simple – too simple.  It needed something else to elevate the project to the next level.

After some deliberation, I decided to carve some paw prints into the stool’s treads.  From the Animal Tracks guide I selected a paw print and asked another Lee Valley staff member (hi, June!) to sketch the shape proportionate to the width of the treads.  I positioned photocopies of her sketch on the treads, then taped them in place with packing tape.

To carve the design, I installed a 1/2″ core box bit in Festool’s mid-sized plunge router, the OF1400.  A smaller router would have been more agile, but I liked the idea of the additional mass which I thought would give me more control.  I set the plunge depth to about 3/16″ and routed a test piece (which you can see under the bottom step in the picture below with the photocopy still attached).

I found that I had good control plunging the bit to the full depth and moving the router around with two hands on its base.   I focused on the perimeter first, then removed the waste from the centre area.

Happy with the setup, I routed the three treads, working up to the lines of the sketch.  Then, I removed the photocopies.

Festool Stepstool 2

I wasn’t concerned with following the lines exactly, but wanted each paw print to look similar.  The shape of the core box bit didn’t leave a flat surface which I preferred.


I found it amusing that during the course of three days demonstrating Festool products, the largest crowd I attracted was while carving these paw prints with the router, which is, perhaps, the loudest of all the tools.

In other news, I wrote two sidebars which appeared in the latest issue of Canadian Woodworking (issue #84 – June/July).  Find them on pages 12 and 30.

Table in a Tree

Last weekend, I met with some of my fellow Artwalk participants and showed them the yellow cedar chair that I’d built to hang in the tree outside The Bistro Gallery where I will be showing my work.

Chair in a Tree

Chair in a Tree

They loved the concept and encouraged me to make another piece for a second tree.  So, that’s what I decided to do.

I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 10:21).

This is the eighteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Relationship Study

Chair in a Tree

Saturday was a full day in the shop.  After breakfast, I went down to the shop and built 90% of a chair which will be installed up in a tree.  (In case you missed it, here’s the back story.)

ArtWalk Tree Art I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 22:41).

This is the fourteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Something Like That

Include or Exclude?

Power carving is unlike working with hand tools because you can remove wood without regard for grain direction or knots.  To me, this is liberating as I can focus on form.

As I work, I constantly ask myself, “Do I want to save this section or obliterate it?  My sculpting approach is to simply remove the parts I don’t like and leave the parts that please me.  I often emphasize form and encourage the sculpture to be caressed by using a combination of hard and soft edges (something I learned from the work of Sam Maloof).

Pacific Yew Sculpture

Although I use an angle grinder with a power carving attachment to establish the rough shape, the final shaping is done with abrasives – first on a sander, then in my hand.  The sanding stage is perhaps the most critical stage of sculpting and I spend more time sanding sculptures than I do carving them.

The sculpture shown here is made of Pacific yew with a concrete base.  It will be for sale in my store when I finalize the price.

This is the thirteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Maple Trestle Table, Session 19 – Refining the Sculpted Base

On the morning of Sunday, April 15th, Morton and I exchanged ideas about trestle tables, spurred on by a recent sketch of a table on which he was working.  That got me yearning to build a trestle table.

I documented my progress live on Twitter which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  Here is a list of the previous Sessions:

Session 1 – Flat Boards are Boring;
Session 2 – Playing with Slabs;
Session 3 – From Two Slabs to One Table Top;
Session 4 – Clamping Odd Shapes and Sketching on Wood;
Session 5 – Routing Pockets for Battens;
Session 6 – Making Battens and Installing Countertop Connectors;
Session 7 – Installing Battens and Flattening the Underside;
Session 8 – Make Your Tools Work for You and Flattening the Top;
Session 9 – Mortises the Slow Way (or Why I’m Buying a Domino XL);
Session 10 – Curvy Legs are Always Good;
Session 11 – Straight Lines on Wonky Surfaces;
Session 12 – Fitting the Mother of all Mortise & Tenon Joints;
Session 13 – Making Things Better, Worse, then Better;
Session 14 – Battens and Complicated Tenons, Again;
Session 15 – The Trestle Comes Together Session;
Session 16 – Angled Mortises and Tenons;
Session 17 – Two Feet for Two Legs; and
Session 18 – Attachment Strips and Power Carving.

(If you are not familiar with the format used on Twitter, every update, or “tweet” below starts with a username, being the author of that tweet.  Sometimes, you see two or more usernames in a tweet.  The second (and third, etc) usernames are preceded by a @ symbol and are people to whom the author is talking.  The other symbol you see is #, which serves as a category.  I try to remember to categorize all my tweets pertaining to this project under #flairww.)

FlairWoodworks There will be much sanding today. #flairww -11:56 AM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I am happy with how this section of the leg looks. #flairww -12:02 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I think I will cut the tenons flush after all. #flairww -12:05 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I cut the tenon off and I’m using my block plane to trim it flush. #flairww -12:18 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I haven’t sharpened my block plane through this whole project. I can’t believe it’s still sharp. #flairww -12:20 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The block plane affords many different grips. #flairww -12:24 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When sanding, my objective is to remove all other existing tool marks. #flairww -12:27 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When shaping, I work the entire piece as one – I don’t let one section get further ahead than another. #flairww -12:29 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I will often make changes to the shape so I only move onto finer grits of sandpaper once I’ve established a shape I like. #flairww -12:30 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This area was too difficult to carve with the angle grinder. I’ll use gouges, rasps and sandpaper. #flairww -12:36 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks It can be difficult to remove marks and glue in corners. I use a card scraper at a low angle. #flairww -12:43 PM May 19th, 2012

LornaBourke @FlairWoodworks Good call on trimming the tenon to be flush with leg, looks very nice. -12:45 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thank you! #flairww RT @LornaBourke: @FlairWoodworks Good call on trimming the tenon to be flush with leg, looks very nice. -12:46 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Since I’m still in the initial refining stage, I am using coarse sandpaper and will sand in all ways regardless of grain direction. #flairww -12:50 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This section is now shaped. It still needs to be refined. #flairww -1:00 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This surface is far from smooth but I am happy with the shape. I’ll move on to the other leg. #flairww -1:14 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This leg needs a lot of refining! #flairww -1:20 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks 40-grit makes quick work of the uneven surface. #flairww -1:23 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m still using the first 40-grit Abranet HD sanding disc. It’s not worn out, but I’ll change it for a fresh one. #flairww -1:25 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Preliminary sanding with my sander is done. Now I’ll use hand tools to sculpt the tighter areas. #flairww -1:50 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I use a coarse, round rasp to carve until the point of the V disappears. I’m almost there. #flairww -1:55 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Then I use both sides of a half-round rasp to blend the surfaces. #flairww -1:59 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks By the way, I neither own, nor have any desire to own any fine rasps. Mine are all very coarse and cost about $20-30 each. #flairww -2:05 PM May 19th, 2012

sharpendwood @FlairWoodworks Really like the shaping you’ve done. Very pleasing lines…at least to me ;) -2:19 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When I power-carved the legs, I left this area square. I want to sculpt it to be more round. #flairww -2:28 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Oh, here is the crotch area completed. #flairww -2:29 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I used a Kutzall burr in my drill to sculpt this tight area. #flairww -2:42 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The end of this leg is much larger than on the other leg. I’m trying to decide if I should change it. #flairww -2:45 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Any guesses as to what I decided to do? #flairww -2:47 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks After cutting the bulk of the waste away, I used a gouge to roughly establish the shape. #flairww -2:58 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I used a flat spokeshave to refine the shape. No templates or measurements were used. #flairww -3:04 PM May 19th, 2012

roncbailey @FlairWoodworks really have enjoyed following this build. It looks outstanding! -3:22 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Both legs are sculpted. Before progressing to finer grits I need to decide if I want to do any more shaping. #flairww  -3:21 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thank you, Ron! #flairww RT @roncbailey: @FlairWoodworks really have enjoyed following this build. It looks outstanding! -3:22 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I don’t like the square edges on the tops of the feet. #flairww -3:53 PM May 19th, 2012

TheWoodBug @FlairWoodworks Now your talking! -3:54 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Whooo! #flairww RT @TheWoodBug: @FlairWoodworks Now your talking! -3:54 PM May 19th, 2012

tulcarvely: @FlairWoodworks what are you thinking of doing? Maybe angle bevel? or rounded? -3:57 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Probably rounded. #flairww RT @tulcarvely: @FlairWoodworks what are you thinking of doing? Maybe angle bevel? or rounded? -3:57 PM May 19th, 2012

TheWoodBug @FlairWoodworks having fun today I can see and making great progress sir -3:58 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @TheWoodBug It is very fulfilling to see it take shape. #flairww -3:59 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m not sure how much I want to round over the ends. I’ll start with the area nearest the legs, then work outwards. #flairww -4:01 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Having the right tools to do this type of work is important but trusting yourself is even more important. #flairww -4:04 PM May 19th, 2012

DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks looks great. -4:13 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thanks, Dyami! #flairww RT @DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks looks great. -4:14 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Have I inspired anybody to try sculpting part of their next piece of furniture? #flairww -4:15 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This angular corner doesn’t look good to me either. #flairww -4:25 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The near-right side is rounded. I can’t stop here. #flairww -4:25 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Again, I used my round rasp to round the V. #flairww -4:31 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Some people like to undercut their tenon shoulders. It’s not a good idea if you will be sculpting the piece. #flairww -4:31 PM May 19th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworksThat joint sure looks nice tho! -4:33 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thanks, Grant! #flairww RT @gvmcmillan: @FlairWoodworksThat joint sure looks nice tho! -4:34 PM May 19th, 2012

BCcraftmaster @FlairWoodworks that’s a great point [to not undercut tenon shoulders]. Never really thought about that but will have to keep it in mind if I decide to go “round” #flairww-4:36 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m happy with the shape of this area and will do the same on the other end of this foot, then the other foot. #flairww 5:04 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks At 5:04, I’m going for a lunch break. #flairww -5:04 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made so far today. #flairww -5:05 PM May 19th, 2012

SMeekWoodworks @FlairWoodworks Really can’t wait to see this table when it’s finished. It’s amazing. -5:47 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Wow! That was the most amazing sandwich I’ve had in a long time! Toasted sourdough, guacamole… (back in the shop now). #flairww -8:04 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m going to start shaping the left side of this foot. #flairww-8:09 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks As always, I started by defining the ankle. #flairww -8:12 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve rounded the leg. Now I’ll work on the foot. #flairww -8:22 PM May 19th, 2012

JC_McGrath @FlairWoodworks add me to the list, this looks great Chris, can’t wait to it done. Inspiring -8:30 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Awesome! Thanks, Jon! #flairww RT @JC_McGrath: @FlairWoodworks add me to the list, this looks great Chris, can’t wait to it done. Inspiring -8:31 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve rounded over the top of the foot as well as the transition into the leg. #flairww -9:10 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m happy with the foot for now, but I think the central section is too flat. #flairww -9:12 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks One way to quickly (and tidily and quietly) add shape is to carve across the grain with a deep gouge. #flairww -9:18 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks My random orbit sander and 40-grit paper quickly evened out the surface. #flairww -9:21 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks At the bottom of the last picture, you can see a section that needs to be faired, right at the base of the intersection. #flairww -9:21 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The centre section is a little more rounded now. #flairww -9:44 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Here’s another picture of this end of the base. #flairww -9:50 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I turned the base around. This side does not look nearly as good without the extra sculpting. #flairww -9:55 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve got one side of the foot shaped. #flairww -11:04 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I thought this was a neat picture. The left was sanded with 40-grit, the right side from a spokeshave. #flairww -11:07 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The shaping is done… next comes a lot of sanding to polish the surfaces. #flairww -11:31 PM May 19th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m done work in the shop for the day. #flairww -11:31 PM May 19th, 2012

Next time in the shop, there will be a lot of sanding!  Bring your dust mask!  Click here to leave a comment.