When whittling, technique is everything. Here in this article, we will discuss the different ways you can hold your wood carving knife for the best results while being as safe as possible.
Hold the knife securely and comfortably in your dominant hand in a fist grip with your fingers and thumb wrapped around the handle, or your thumb on the spine of the blade depending on the cut to be used. Always ensure the blade is the correct way around, facing away from you, with the cutting edge against the material.
Hold the material securely with a holding device or safely and firmly by hand. With the holding hand behind the blade.
When performing a forward slice cut ensure the cutting edge is against the material and the blade is slightly angled, not straight across. Cuts should not be forced, they should be easy slices. This will result in a more relaxed, safe, and satisfying experience.
Always cut away from yourself!
If cutting toward your body extreme caution should be taken and material should be positioned and held in an appropriate manner to avoid an accident.
Holding the knife for the 4 basic cuts
You most likely already know the 4 most common cuts in wood carving:
- V cut
- Sweeping cut/slice cut
- Stop cut
- Pyramid cut/triangle cut
The short answer is that you hold the knife exactly the same as you usually would for all of the above cuts except for the pyramid cut where you hold the knife in a similar way as you would hold a pencil or a pen when you write. This also depends on the type of knife you are using, if it’s a chip carving knife and not a whittling knife the pyramid cut will be a little different.
For a better visual understanding, watch the video below of an experienced carver performing and teaching the 4 cuts. Pay close attention to how she holds the knife, as well as the various ways the non-dominant hand is helping to carve the workpiece.
It is always good to see a picture once you understand the concept in detail. Now that the most basic ground is covered on this question, there are a few more things you should know.
Are All Wood Carving Knives Held The Same Way?
The above are the most basics grips that exist. Depending on region you may come across different terminology and maybe even a slightly different explanation, however, they can still be categorized as one of the above.
Other knife grips also exist and you can see them here. This is not necessry especially if you are reletavly new to wood carving.
Whichever knife or technique that you are using to cut wood, just remember to you hold everything firmly and under control.
Safety for when holding a whittling knife
A very common mistake that many beginners do is the thumb position on the non-dominant hand (where you hold the wood). If you extend your thumb you are at risk of cutting a bit of it off, so avoid that.
- Always fasten wood to a cutting board where possible
- Secure the cutting board to a work surface or hold securely
- If holding a piece of wood by hand, ensure the gripping hand is behind the blade.
- Always make sure material is secured or held firmly.
There is some protective equipment you can invest in (especially if you are a beginner). It is not a “must-have” as many will do just fine without it.
However, with that said you are most likely going to end up stabbing and cutting yourself a couple of times. It should not be a big of a deal, but if you want to have some protection, here is a quick review of the best items.
Click on one of the images below of the product you like to be taken to Amazon and get it for yourself!
What you see below is a Kevlar Glove. This is one of the cheapest things you can get to partly help yourself from cuts with a wood carving knife.
When wearing kevlar gloves as protection during wood carving, you should only put it on your non-dominant hand (the one that is not holding the knife) as you shouldn’t get too worried about the other hand.
There are some pros and cons of kevlar gloves. The pros are that they are very affordable and they will protect your hand very well if your knife slips.
The cons of these gloves are that they wear out fairly quickly and they do not protect you from stabs. This basically means that if the point of the blade touches the glove it will pierce it and go through towards your skin. Pokes are much less frequent than cuts but it is still something you should be aware of when getting these gloves.
The next gloves you see below is the Brushed Stainless Steel glove. This is segnificantly more expensive than the glove you’ve seen previously but it has it’s advantages
Steel gloves do the same role as the kevlar gloves, protect you from slice cuts but they also protect you from stab cuts. They are also of much higher durability where one pair should probably last you your lifetime. With that said, this is a very expensive product to buy and it is not a necessity, so don’t rush to buy it.
The next product we will mention is finger tape.
When wearing gloves, it is arguably more difficult to carve wood, when wearnig tape this problem is resolved.
Finger tape is a compromise between protection and comfort, while it will not completely prevent you from cuts, it will absorb a large portion of it in the most dangerous places.
Make sure to have your knife sharp
A sharp knife is a knife that is easy and safe to work with. Very often if you have a blunt knife, your technique will be replaced with brute force which is both dangerous and unnecessary.
The best way to maintain the cutting edge of your knife is with a sharpening stone or a strop if you want to sharpen your knife as you’re carving. Every 15-40 minutes depending on the wood you are working with and your wood carving speed, run a few strokes along the strop to keep the knife razor sharp, if you see the knife getting very dull, then use the stone.
After you sharpen your knife too much sometimes it may leave a dark mark in the wood as you cut it. To prevent that, you can run your knife along a 100 grid sandpaper.
Throw some water on the sandpaper when sharpening your knifeTIP
If you can go through the end grain without any issues then your knife is ready to be used again.
How to hold a knife when chip carving
We actually have an article called 7 chip carving tips for beginners. The 3rd tip is about holding your knife correctly. Click on the article name above to read it if you want study the matter in more detail.
For a more general experience, here is a summary of how to hold a chip carving knife:
Holding a knife correctly in chip carving is the key to creating a consistent cut, and a consistent cut in chip carving is a cut that looks the best. You should also hold a knife correctly for safety and better control. This only comes with practice.
The basic position is what you most probably are going to start with. Here you place your knife in the curve of your index finger with the rest of your hand resting on the handle. You then chip carve by applying the force on just the handle and not the blade.
As for thumb position, you must always have it wrapped around the handle, or on the spine of the blade depending on the cut to be used.
There are more positions than just the basic one that we have covered in our article, but this is by far the most important one.
This was a safety guide on how to hold a knife when wood carving. We hope you found this article useful and wish you a great time applying the knowledge.