Rustic Butter Knife

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Hazel butter knife inspired by Chris Lubkemann’s Little Book of Whittling

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.

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Hultafors safety knife with yellow handle, finger guard and rounded end

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.

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Can you see the micro bevel?

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!

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Pure Tung Oil

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This bottle of pure tung oil has just arrived through the post from tungoil.co.uk. I’m keen to compare the finish of tung oil on spoons with that of linseed oil, grape seed oil or walnut oil. Like these three oils tung oil is a drying oil which polymerises in the presence of oxygen to form a solid but flexible matrix with the wood that has been treated. Like linseed oil the label ‘tung oil’ covers a multitude of sins for products with all sorts of additives to either enhance the penetration of oil into wood or to accelerate the curing of the oil. None of these products with additives can be used on kitchenware or children’s toys, which is why it it is important to search out pure foodsafe tung oil.

The manufacturers have several claims of the benefits of  tung oil over linseed oil, it penetrates the wood more easily, dris more quickly and is more resistant to mould. It will be interesting to test those claims.

The Bestwood brand is pure tung oil extracted from the seeds or nuts of the Chinese Tung tree Aleurites fordii or Vernicia fordii, a member of the spurge family. As it contains no additives it is certified EN71 toy safe.

There is some evidence that tung oil may cause an allergic response from those with nut allergies, so that must be taken into account when using it, especially on any products being sold.

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I intend to treat this apple wood spoon with pure tung oil so do check back and see how I get on. Will tung oil have a better finish than my favourite grape seed oil? For me the most important characteristic is how little colour the finish has and how much the natural finish of the wood can shine through.

Demonstrating at the Wychwood Forest Fair

Spooncarving at Wytchwood Forest Fair

The Wychwood Forest Fair is held very September and I’ve been coming since 2011 to support the Wychwood Project, a series of conservation and woodland creation projects in the footprint of the old Wychwood royal hunting forest. Recent Fairs have happened at Foxburrow Wood, just outside Witney, but the field that was used has now been planted up with thousands of trees. So, this year the event switched to Cornbury Park and what a great setting for the event, surrounded by the Cotswold landscape.

I arrived early and soon found my pitch number 125. My next door neighbour was Paul Hodgkinson of Town and Country Trees Limited who had a great display for visitors to explore.

On my other side was David from The Oxford Charcoal Company. He told me of the really bad luck the company had suffered when a lightning strike from the storms in June this year had set fire to their building, sending 10 tonnes of charcoal and much valuable equipment up in smoke, including all their banners and display material. David showed me his trailer, which although it was only ten feet away from the flames had survived largely unscathed as it was upwind of the fire. David seemed determined to bounce back from this setback and I wish the company good luck.

Our village shop the Market Garden sells boxes of Oxford Charcoal Company charcoal and I have bought some to support the company. Now we need the Indian summer to continue through the weekend for some outdoor cooking.

Some beautiful single species sweet chestnut charcoal from the Oxford Charcoal Company
Some beautiful single species sweet chestnut charcoal from the Oxford Charcoal Company

The next pitch down was the Bushcraft gang from Wilderness Pioneers who always draw a large crowd especially when they show children how to start fire seemingly by magic. They run their courses out of Wytham Woods, just outside Oxford, perhaps the most intensively studied woodland in the world. They told me that Ray Mears was recently filming there for his new TV series following waterways and Wytham is a great location with the Thames making a sweeping detour around the hill that the woodland grows on before entering Oxford.

Unfortunately my colleagues Bob Field and Ray Borritt from the Oxfordshire Group of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers were half a field and a mature tree away with their pole lathes and The day was so busy I really didn’t get a chance to go and say hello. Bob runs courses with Cotswold Woodland Crafts who also host my spooncarving courses and has a natural charm and presence at these events.

Also across the way from me was Edward and Denise Marsh, very distinctive in their medieval garb and amazing bowl lathe. Edward showed me some lovely bowls and plates he’d been able to turn at recent demonstrations. Unfortunately he’d left his bunting at home that day, but his set up still looked great.

Tony Simmons, the chair of the Combe Mill Society also dropped by and we arranged for me to do some demonstrating there on 19 October. Combe Mill is a great place to visit when they are in steam, with lots of keen and enthusiastic volunteers ready to answer questions. Demonstrating greenwood crafts in a old water and steam powered saw mill seems very appropriate.

The doors opened at 11.00am and the chance to have a conversation with any other exhibitor was soon lost as the glorious Autumn sunshine brought out the crowds. I had split a birch log that I’d cut in the Spring and it already had begun to spalt, which was a really good conversation starter with the fair goers. When I’m demonstrating I use a Stefan Ronnqvist replica of an axe found in a Viking longboat which is very distinctive. It’s good to feel some connection with the shipwrights who used such axes to craft their vessels.

A replica Viking axe hand forged in Sweden by Stefan Ronnqvist
A replica Viking axe hand forged in Sweden by Stefan Ronnqvist

The questions from visitors are always revealing. There is a lot of debate about which wood is the most attractive of the spoons I have on display. Spalted birch, plum and apple seem to top the charts. I’ve a couple of spoons with turned handles which get a lot of attention as do the Kasas.

I had also brought some willow along for the show and this was excellent as demonstrating material as I was able to whizz through from splitting a blank to rough knife work before one set of visitors disappated and another began to form. Willow may not be the best wood to carve spoons from but I give it top marks as demonstrator wood!

For some tiny visitors my chippings seemed to be of more interest, especially the pieces of spalted birch.

My family came to visit around mid-morning, allowing a quick break but the attendance was really good and the visitors kept coming right through to 5:00pm. With all my business cards and leaflets gone and a good list of folk interested in spooncarving courses it felt like a good, satisfying day which hopefully also raised much needed funds for the Wychwood Project.

More spooncarving at Wytchwood Forest Fair

Knife Review: Cuchilleria Joker 7 cm folding slip joint knife NO74

Hello, I would like to introduce a great value folding pocket knife made by the Spanish cutlery company Cuchilleria Joker.

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Cuchilleria means cutlery in Spanish and this company has been making a range of hunting, sporting and folding knives since 1987 in Albacete roughly halfway between Madrid and Alicante in South West Spain.

I bought this knife from Casstrom.co.uk, the UK distributer of Joker knives. I’ve no affiliation with the company but they provided me with good service and the knife was dispatched and delivered promptly.

This knife is the 7cm folding knife, with the product code NO74. What I like about it is that it it is an elegant little knife which can be bought in the UK for under 20 pounds sterling. Indeed if you want to shave a few more pounds off the price you can buy the same basic model with bubinga, beech or, cheaper still, plastic handles.

Another big advantage is that it is also legal to carry it publically here in the UK, because of its slip joint rather than lockable joint.

The knife is 9 cm long folded, 16 cm open with a 7 cm blade length, shorter than the imperial three inches maximum blade length to be a legal carry in public places. The blade thickness is 2 mm at weighs in at 45 g.

The blade 7cm long drop point, made from carbon steel from Toledo. We can see the words carbono stamped onto the blade. Toledo has a great history of steelmaking and swordmaking that goes all the way back to Hannibal crossing the Alps to invade Rome in thePunic Wars and many a Roman short stabbing sword was forged in the city.

There is no nail nick, so it’s a pinch opener with a generous proportion of the blade visible to grab hold of.

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When I examined the grind with a hand lens as it came from the factory it was a little rough and ready, but nothing that couldn’t be improved with a little light honing and stropping and now passes the paper cut test.

The carbon steel is obviously prone to corrosion, especially from salt water or acids from cutting fruit. That can leave a characterful patina on a blade such as this Opinel no 7, but not everyone wants their pocket knife blades looking like this.

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The Joker has steel liners and the blade lines up well in the handle.

The slip joint opens half way, then fully open. It is a good stiff joint with no play and requiring some force to close. It opens with a rather satisfying click.

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It has a nice three dimensional handle, with two brass pins and the pivit pin. Alhough the other handle choices are a little cheaper it seems as natural to have a Spanish knife with olive wood handles as it is to have a Scandinavian knife with curly birch handles. And I think I was lucky with the piece of olive wood which has some great figure that follows the curve of the handle.

I can just about get four fingers around the handle with my medium sized hand.

So with its Toledo steel blade and olive wood handles, carrying this knife is like having a little bit of the Mediterannean in your pocket. A great value Spanish pocket knife.

My YouTube review of the Joker 7 cm folder is below.

Cherry Spoon

I have just finished carving this little spoon from cherry wood. It’s untreated with oils as yet

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What’s nice about it is that it is from a pruning of a cherry tree in our back garden here in Oxfordshire. The branch was only about 4 or 5 cm wide and the bowl uses pretty much the entire diameter of the original branch. I carved it bark side up, which is why the grain is shaped that way in the bowl. It just goes to show what little material you need for spooncarving. The provenance of the wood for this spoon also gives it some greater emotional significance

cherry spoon and Iisakki carving knife

I used an Iissakki Jarvenpaa Carpenters knife to carve the spoon, with a curly birch handle, brass bolster and a stainless steel blade. Unfortunately this knife is no longer manufactured by the Finnish comapny which is a shame as I really like using it. It has a feel of a more upmarket Frost Mora 120 carving knife about it.

I’ve tried to give the spoon some three dimensionality and strengthen the stem by giving it a keel. I really like the way the grain show on the keel, seen below, with what remains of the branch it was carved from.

Cherry Spoon and Branch

Cherry spoon carved from a piece of the branch shown with an Iissakki Jarvenpaa Carpenters knife
Cherry spoon carved from a piece of the branch shown with an Iissakki Jarvenpaa Carpenters knife

Green Woodworking at the Lit and Phil

It was the half-term holiday and the rest of the family were visiting my sister-in-law on the South Coast of England. That left me with the dog to look after and a free Sunday, so what better way to spend it than to support my fellow APT Northern England members Peter, Maurice and Tessa at a craft fair hosted by the prestigious Literary and Philosophical Society in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. So, with a rucksack full of axes, knives and branch wood, the good folk of Newcastle were greeted with the spectacle of a man walking past the Central Railway Station carrying a lump of wood with three legs sticking out of it en route to the Lit and Phil.

When I arrived the circumstances were no less interesting as the various craft demonstrators were using space in the library, a wonderful, evocative space, with great towering stacks of books watched over by marble busts of the good and great of the City.

The greenwood crafts had been sited along with the book binders and the embroiderers in the adjacent library of the Mining Institute, another venerable institution whose buildings sit alongside the Lit and Phil. The room had a high glass ceiling and giant Victorian radiators. The Institute was hosting an exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Being surrounded by the banners of the various National Union of Miners branches, especially those of South East Northumberland, near my home, was very evocative.

With Peter’s pole lathe on one side and Tessa’s willow weaving on the other I set up my chopping block using one of the leather cohered seats to make myself comfortable. As I began hewing and woodchips flew everywhere it felt rather surreal to be green woodworking in the dry and the warm and surrounded by the archival resources of the Mining Institute. This was compounded when a small choir began to serenade us from the balcony singing a melody of songs including a rather beautiful rendition of the theme tune to Top Cat… ‘the indisputable leader of the gang!’

I didn’t get much of a chance to see the other craft demonstrations, but did get a chance to talk to the volunteer book binders of the Mining Institute who are doing such a good job safeguarding the many documents held in trust by the Institute, although it is a mammoth task, with many many books still in need of some tender loving care.

With free tea and sandwiches on tap this was the way to green woodwork demonstrating in comfort and style. The star of our set-up was undoubtably Peter’s have a go pole lathe and he did a great job getting a range of different folk to try their hand at polelathing. Tessa found that her willow was drying out a little too quickly in the dry atmosphere of the Library. One lucky visitor got a one-to-one tuition with Maurice on spoon carving and I got on pretty well with a birch kitchen spoon.

And so, as the visitor numbers ebbed away we packed up (it was great to have just one rucksack and one chopping block’s worth of kit) and I drew some more rather strange glances as I carried my chopping block back to the car park, noting the proximity of the Lit and Phil’s unloading bays for next time!

A Visit to the Leaky Mushroom Shed

Sunday saw the July meeting of the APT Northern England group at the workshops of Tessa Rhodes. Tessa had kindly invited us to visit her set-up in the outbuildings of Moorhouse Farm Shop, near Stannington in Northumberland. Tessa had previously described her worshops as the ‘leaky mushroom shed’ and when we arrived we understood exactly what she meant! The workspace was situated in an old mushroom shed which did indeed have a leaky roof, leaving large puddles across the floor. Still, it was a generous space that more than accommodated her pole lathe, steam bending cabinet and various willow, ash and timber materials for Tessa’s yurt building project as part of her BHMAT apprenticeship.

The set up behind the mushroom shed
Tessa and her mum had cleared a space behind the sheds to allow us to set up camp and to get stuck in to some green woodworking projects. The wind had done for the tarpaulin cover so we kept our fingers crossed that the clouds skimming overhead wouldn’t turn dark and threatening. The car tyre rim and willow offcuts made an excellent fire to boil our water and fortified with tea and cake from the farm shop we set to work.

Peter Wood had brought some beautiful planked oak, Dick Atkinson had a car full of augers and ash legs and I had a sycamore log destined to become a chopping block. Ken Surrey helped Peter prepare the plank to receive four legs to become a bowl carving bench. After careful measuring to get the right angles for a legs that would splay out to make a steady workbench Dick selected the right auger from his impressive collection to drill the holes.

Dick's amazing collection of augers
Meanwhile the sycamore log received three legs to lift it off the ground and Dick made clever use of a bottle of water to mark the top of the log for a flat surface. With a quick flick of the wrist (and a handy chainsaw!) Peter levelled the block and it was ready for immediate use.

Next up was to shave down some more ash legs for the bench, so that an inch or so of the leg stuck through the bench and could be used as a dog for bowl carving.. Here I’m afraid got carried away with the draw knife and allowing my leg to stick too much through the bench and hence be too short. Sorry Tessa!
Tessa and Ken

For lunch Tessa had promised us locally sourced sausages and, of course, mushrooms and she didn’t let us down. With the fire stoked up we were soon encouraged by the sound of sizzling and the sight of barbequing bangers. A delicious feast! We also had a very productive time planning the next twelve months worth of APT Northern England meetings. It was also really good to explore with Ken his knowledge of some of the woodlands around the North East that are managed by his employer, Tilhill Forestry, that our group could ‘adopt’ to keep an eye on in return for an occasional visit and access to some timber products.

After lunch the Tessa and her mum began the task of preparing some more of the planked oak to become the uprights and bars of a ??? cleaving break ???? whilst Ken and I began to dig the holes. A rusty old fence post (just what farmyards are good for!) helped to break up the subsoil to allow us to get down a good arms length.

Soon the uprights were in, rubble tamped down to support the legs and the holes drilled for the bolts to secure the cross bars.

It was really good to be able to help Tessa put in some of the kit to help build up her workshop as part of her developing green woodworking business. We all look forward to the next APT session planned for next year (and seeing the finished yurt!)

The finished cleave break
The finished cleave break