It was off to Shipton-under-Wychwood in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotwolds as a guest of the local scout group. Their leader, Nicole Calvert, had seen me demonstrating spoon carving at the Wychwood Forest Fair and we arranged an introductory knife skills event for a dozen 12-13 year olds members of the Shipton Scout Group.
As an evening meeting we only had an hour and a half for our session, so the key focus was on safe use of the knife. The ‘bubble of blood’ always seems to catch youngsters attention and there was much waving of limbs to see who was within extended arm distance of each other. The ‘triangle of death’ – the space between the knees and groin in which we never use a knife also seemed to catch folks’ attention.
Gory warnings over, the scouts chose their materials- freshly cut try-sticks of hazel and also most importantly a knife. The majority used a Hultafors safety knife, with a bright yellow handle, finger guard and rounded tip on a carbon steel blade. They are inexpensive to purchase but the handle can sometimes be a little big for small hands.
I also had a couple of Morakniv Rookies. They have a stainless steel blade and smaller wooden handles than the Hultafors.
I was also interested to try a newly purchased Svante Djarv children’s carving knife with a smaller 2 inch or 5 cm rounded blade. I sourced mine from www.woodsmithexperience.co.uk. As a hand forged product from Sweden this knife is way too expensive to be a first choice for sessions such as this but it was a lovely tool and the scout who chose it definitely enjoyed the experience.
Finally I had a petite E. Jonsson child friendly knife, also made in famous knife-making town of Mora in Sweden. This was used by the Scout with the smallest hands in the group. A clean sweep of Swedish-made knives!
First we practiced taking the knives safely out of their sheaths and back again and then it was time to make some shavings!
We kept the knife grips simple for this introductory session, starting with the elbow grip and the power grip and knee grip variants, carving away from the body to put a sharp point on their stick.
Cutting with the grain of the wood and navigating knots were also valuable introductory skills picked up by the participants.
For those scouts who had done some carving before they also practiced with dry heel rods to get a feel for the difference between green wood and dry wood.
In a final free-carving session peeling off the bark from the stick to make a wand or light sabre was a popular activity!
It was really wonderful to listen to the quiet concentration of the scout group as they carved their sticks and to watch the shavings pile up around them. It was important to take mini-breaks to keep their concentration from flagging and avoid mistakes being made.
Some scouts used a cut-resistant glove on their non-knife hand to create a little more confidence and having hazel sticks of various thicknesses was helpful for the complete beginners in the group.
With some demonstrations of the use of the froe for cleaving wood and hewing a spoon blank with an axe thrown in it was a satisfying evening of green woodwork and bushcraft skills.
Thanks again to the Shipton-Under-Wychwood Scout Group for making me feel so welcome and I hope we can continue our exploration of knife skills again soon.