To the Combe Mill Tea Rooms with Jen, Phil and William to explore wood carving with kids. William has kindly volunteered to be our guinea pig to help us structure some wood carving and whittling sessions for children as part of Combe Mill’s education actives. Despite his tender age William has some experience of whittling with a knife already, using his ink stained but much loved round tipped Opinel number 7. He would have been happy to dive straight in to whittling a point on to a hazel rod which he has already sawn to length with a folding wood saw. However we practice our safety talk first using evocative imagery such as the ‘bubble of blood’ to describe the outstretched arms length distance around someone that could cause injury and asking William to think carefully about where the knife blade could end up before any cut is made. One difference between adult and children’s wood carving courses that is clear straight away is the need for more clearly defined boundaries regarding health and safety, so for instance being clear that all knives not in use are put back in their sheath or folded away and demonstrating the way to pass a knife to someone else handle first.
William was fine with the power cut away from his body to the right of his legs to quickly remove wood to put a wicked point on the stick. He quickly adopted the push cut to take smaller, more controlled cuts and the notch cut to create rings and circles on the hazel stick.
I was keen to get William’s view of the Hultafors safety knife and was pleased that he quickly took to it. There is no doubt that a knife with a rounded end is more limiting in the type of carving or whittling work that can be done. For instance, carving a two prong fork from a hazel rod requires the use of the sharp tip to begin the split between the two forks. However, given that William is under ten years old the rounded end feels like an important compromise between the functionality of the tool and the risk of stabbing injury. The yellow handle of the Hultafors knife did help it stand out from the inevitable piles of books, tools and woodchips that developed in the tea rooms.
We gave William a hook knife to use to carve a rustic spoon from his hazel rod , but coordinating holding the bowl of the spoon and sweeping the hook knife blade at right angles to the grain to start the shaping of the bowl was quite a challenge for him.
It was also really interesting to observe how long William’s attention span was. This helped to shape the length for our proposed sessions with children.
Based on William’s invaluable feedback we will be exploring several shorter sessions for children to first develop and then build up their confidence in using a knife for whittling with a high tutor to child ratio. I’m looking forward to the sessions!
The image of a child whittling on a stick with their favourite pocket knife seems at once very homely and yet in the UK faintly worrying if linked to stories of knife crime. Can we reclaim our wood culture and the concept of the knife as a tool to be used in our service to shape wood? If we can it will start with children and giving them the opportunity to explore their interest and creativity in using a knife in a safe and responsible manner.
If you live in or around Oxford and would be interested in finding out more about our wood carving and whittling sessions for children at Combe Mill please do get in touch via the blog and we’ll send more details.
The best present Santa brought me this season was a new wooden scrub plane made by the Czech company Pinie. It has a beautiful rhino handle up front and a wooden body made from beech and a sole from hornbeam, all sourced from the forests of the Czech Republic. Pinie wooden planes in various shapes and sizes are available on Amazon and are very reasonably priced when compared with their metal counterparts.
The blade of the plane is curved and is set at 45% in the body of the plane. The 3 mm thick metal of the blade does a great job of quickly removing thick shavings from the surface of the board through the large mouth of the plane, leaving gouged grooves like a gently ploughed field across the surface of the wood. These can then be planed out by a jack plane when the board is approaching the required dimension.
By taking diagonal stokes at at 45 degrees to the grain of the wood it is possible to deal with knots and undulating grain to begin to shape the piece into a board.
I really enjoy taking ‘found’ green wood, such as the fallen limb of a tree and after initial shaping with the axe, use a variety of planes to shape the wood down to make an object such as a chopping board.
Here in the photo I’m working on a piece of field maple (Acer campestre, Britain’s only truly native maple species) which snapped in December storms to leave a large split piece of wood. I’ll slowly thin it to size, letting the surface dry out a little before taking off a few more millimetres of wood and repeating until it’s ready to be put aside to season and then, perhaps a year later , come back to it for final dimensioning with jack and jointer planes.
Here’s another piece of field maple that is destined to become the hardwood handle of my three foot crosscut saw to replace a temporary softwood handle. It will be a good feeling to know the provenance of the wood in my hand when it is sawing up the next fallen limb which has fallen victim to high winds.
Having played with the Pinie scrub plane (I’ve seen them described affectionately as ‘woodies’) I am keen to know how it would compare with a vintage Stanley No. 40 scrub plane, but looking at their prices on eBay is a bit scary. I would also like to try the Lie-Neilsen scrub plane which is based on the Stanley design, but that may have to wait until Santa visits again next year!
I had fun carving this rustic butter knife from a fairly chunky hazel rod. The diameter of the rod was about one and a quarter inches with six years of growth rings in it, and the finished knife around 11 inches long. I took inspiration from Chris Lubkemann’s book, the Little Book of Whittling for the design, especially his signature rooster’s head pattern which adorns the butter knife. Of course, carving in the round means that the piece retains the pith of the wood, seen at the tip of the butter knife blade, but, fingers crossed, no checks or splits so far.
I carved it in preparation for some work with children and their parents planned as part of the educational activities at Combe Mill, a historic steam and water mill powered sawmill here in Oxfordshire. Thinking through some of the challenges of working with children, especially the safety aspects, has been interesting and I’m looking forward to some experimentation with the son of a colleague in the coming days. Volunteers at Combe Mill are managing a woodland area close to the Mill by coppicing hazel, so it is very exciting to use this as a resource for whittling fun.
I purchased a couple of Hultafors Safety Knives at a very good price from the Axminster.co.uk website (no affiliation!) and it will be interesting to see how children take to them. The rounded ends, finger guard and colourful handle all earn big ticks on the safety angle, but whether they will pass muster as real knives will be interesting to see.
When I tried carving with the knives they were very sharp from the box, but came with a very fine micro-bevel on the blade, which made it quite difficult to get the knife to register on the surface being carved. Some honing and stropping seems to have restored a single Scandinavian grind to the knives.
I’ll also be experimenting with hand protection for the non-carving hand, including a thumb guard for paring cuts. I’m looking forward to working with a younger audience and tapping into their natural enthusiasm for all things sharp!