Blog – The hook knife, the different shapes and their carving properties

Nowadays us spooncarvers can choose from a wide range of hook knifes. This can be a bit daunting when you start on your journey of spoon carving. In this blog we take a closer look at the spoon knife. I will cover a spoon knife is and how size and shape influence its carving properties. In this blog I limit myself to models that are factory-made and thus can (easily) be purchased.

What is a hook knife?

Basically a hook knife is a bended knife. As a result, unlike a chisel or gouge, the cutting edge of the hook knife is perpendicular the to the handle. This bending can occur in different shapes and sizes.

Right- and left handed knifes | pull (draw) or push knifes

The hook knife is usually used as a draw knife. With a draw knife you carve towards yourself instead of away from yourself. You hold the knife with the carving edge facing you. Using your thumb as a support, you make a squeezing motion with your hand, creating a carving motion towards your thumb. If a right-handed person uses a left-handed hook knife, the carving edge faces away from the carver, and it becomes a push knife. You can then push the knife away form you with your thumbs resting on the blunt backside of the knife. Normally you only need one spoon knife to carve an eating spoon, but sometimes it can be nice to have both options. For example with larges shapes such as a serving spoon, for hollowing out pots, bowls or drinking mugs.  

Double-sided blades or single-sided blade?

There are manufacturers who offer knifes that are sharpened on both sides of the blade. These are the so called double-sided knives. This may seem very efficient, but these knives usually only have a very short blunt part to rest your thumb on. This means that fewer carving techniques are possible. The ones that involve supporting with fingers or pushing with the thumb(s) will be difficult to perform. That’s why I prefer to work with two separate knifes.

What shapes of spoon knifes are available?

There are 3 shapes of knives. Round, open and compound. With a round hook knife, the blade follows the shape of the circle to approximately halfway. It therefore appears as if the knife would run almost completely round. With the open knife, the blade only follows a small part of the circle, making the shape more open (flat). With a compound knife, as the name suggests, these two shapes are combined. With the open shape ending in the round shape. A bit like a Fibonacci circle

Different sizes of hook knifes

The 3 shapes of spoon knives are available from small to large. Some manufacturers or blacksmiths will only make 1 model in 1 size, others make multiple shapes and sizes. The shape and size of these 3 shapes may be slightly different per manufacturer. The difference per manufacturer is often in price, steel quality and availability (volumes and the models they make).

Different shapes and brands of spoon knives

When to use what shape or size?

You will get the best results if your knife is the shape and size of the hollow you want to carve. So for a small round coffee scoop, use a small round spoon knife for the smoothest carving result. For an eating spoon, use a larger open or compound model for the smoothest result. If you use a knife with a smaller diameter than the hollow you are carving, you will get grooves.

Combining the carving qualities of different knifes

Carving away wider, thinner chips of wood with a bigger knife is harder on the hands than caving away narrower, thicker chips with a smaller knife. That’s why some spoon carvers choose to do the coarse hollowing work with a smaller knife and the last few cuts with a large knife for a nice smooth result. This can be very useful, especially if you carve a lot, because it reduces the strain on your hands.

Playing around with the different properties of hook knifes

Do you want to hollow out a flat or concave shape with deeper lying facets? Then you can use a smaller spoon knife to carve away chips and thus draw facets. The facets break the light, causing different shades that can create an interesting and pleasing pattern.

Which knife should I buy?

If you are just starting out as spoon carver, it’s best to buy a slightly larger compound knife. This allows you to experiment with carving different shapes of spoon bowls while still achieving a fairly clean knife finish. Also it allows you to venture into other projects like mugs. To start, buy the knife of your preferred hand. So a right-handed knife if you are right-handed, and a left-handed knife if you are left-handed. Choose a knife wit a good price/quality ration. An example of such a knife is the Mora 164. Preferably you get the set including a sheath. Because this will be better for your fingers, the knife and also your wallet.

Happy carving!

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If you want to know more about tools for spoon carving, take a look at this blog post.