Monday, April 02, 2007

Making Crooked Knives

This article first appeared in the April 2006 Woodwork Magazine No. 98

Crooked knives are small knives with bent blades, handy for hollowing spoons or other small wooden items. I first became familiar with crooked knives when I attended a yurt-building workshop taught by Bill Coperthwaite from Maine. Bill, who is head of the Yurt Institute has been actively involved in education for many years, teaching yurt building but also sharing a philosophy of life based on voluntary simplicity, profound respect for human cultures and passionate regard for nature. I noticed during the workshop that whenever Bill wasn’t busy sawing or actively instructing the work of others, and whenever there was a pause for conversation, Bill was busy carving something in his hands. When I asked what he was doing, he showed me a small precisely carved spoon he was making from a persimmon branch and the small crooked knife he was using to hollow its bowl. He explained that many native cultures had a version of the crooked knife and that his travels and studies had led him to the far north where he learned to make crooked knives from an Eskimo boat maker.

Inspired by Bill’s crooked knives, we made knives at Clear Spring School, but we made them out of solid scrap blanks of tool steel given me by a plane maker friend and while they turned out well, they also were time consuming and complicated to make. In the fall of 2004, I attended a New England Association of Woodworking Teachers meeting at Moses Brown School in Providence Rhode Island. Among the activities planned for the meeting, was making crooked knives. Having some prior experience in making and using crooked knives; I looked forward to the chance to see how another teacher would approach this challenge. It was an activity I really didn’t want to miss.

Ironically, Bob Elliot, middle school shop teacher at Moses Brown had also learned about crooked knives from Bill Coperthwaite, but he had obviously paid more attention to his lessons. The simplicity of his design allowed all the teachers to make knives and begin carving in less than an hour. This inspired me to once again involve my students in the making of knives, but using the additional knowledge gained from Bob. While Bob Elliot used an old hand saw as a source for the blade stock, At Clear Spring, we used an old 1” wide band saw blade with the teeth dulled on the belt sander, and while we used thin bungee cord to wrap the knives in Providence, at Clear Spring we used leather scraps. While our crooked knives were not as beautiful as the one I first saw in Bill Coperthwaite’s hand, ours, being made from a worn out band saw blade by students who then turned them to the carving of wood, carried a sense of practical beauty that I’m sure Bill will understand.

You can learn more about Bill Coperthwaite from his book, A Handmade Life

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of crooked knives,interesting stuff