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.