Hook knives are most commonly used for spoon carving and are also known as spoon carving knives. These knives are mainly used to scoop out the wood from a blank in order to create a bowl shape. Unlike a chisel, you don’t have to worry about rough cuts when using this knife. Additionally, if you use a hook knife, you can choose to avoid having to sand the bowl of your spoon – the blade will provide you with a relatively smooth finish.
When using a hook knife, you should make sure that you are holding it in your dominant hand and your thumb and other hand are clear of the path of the blade. Move your wrist in arced movements, making sure to be careful not to take too much material from the wood. Ensure that each motion drags across the width of the cavity you want to create so that there is no wood build-up in the middle.
While hook knives certainly aren’t the most versatile of woodcarving tools, they’re definitely a great addition to anyone’s tool kit. The hook knife is even better if you often work on projects that involve creating a bowl shape, such as spoons and bowls, as a hook knife can come in very handy then. Before you can start using your new knife, you first need to understand how to use it.
Essential Techniques To Know When Using a Hook Knife
When it comes to using a hook knife, there are some techniques you can keep in mind and experiment with:
Hold the knife in your dominant hand.
Ensure the knife is held securely in your fingers and your thumb is free. This will make it easier for you to use the knife without any delays. Additionally, this will allow you to use your thumb as an anchor when you use the blade. It is critical to ensure that your thumb is out of the way of the motion of the blade so that if you push the knife too far, it doesn’t hit your thumb and cause an injury.
Use the ‘potato peeler’ grip
Lay the knife flat on the surface of the wood, and tilt the blade slightly so that you can start to remove slivers of the wood from the larger piece. Move your wrist in a small, arced motion when using the knife, moving across the grain, and making sure not to dig in too deep, as you may end up taking out more material than you want to. This technique is a good one to use for spoon carving, especially when working on the bowl of the spoon. Remember to keep adjusting your grip so that your thumb remains out of the way of the knife.
Try the ‘twist cut’
Wrap the fingers of your non-dominant hand right around the knife, resting on either the handle or the blade. Then, hold the knife into the wood, and use your dominant hand to twist the knife – there is no pulling motion involved here. You can use the same motion across the grain and down the grain.
Try the ‘pivot’ grip
This grip requires you to use a hook knife that has a longer handle and will not be effective if you have a shorter, stubbier knife. Use your fingers to create a pivot point at the spot where the handle meets the blade. While doing so, make sure that the flesh of your hand is out of the way. Use your non-dominant hand to create this pivot, and then use your dominant hand to start removing material from the wood blank.
For a more visual description of the above techniques, watch this short 5 minute video:
Projects With a Hook Knife
While a hook knife is primarily used for spoon carving, this doesn’t mean you’re limited to a single pattern. Some projects that you can try using a hook knife include:
1. Carve a Basic Spoon
If you’ve never carved a spoon before, or if this is your first time using a hook knife, it’s essential that you start with the basics. Once you have your blank ready and your shape chalked out, you can begin working with your hook knife.
Focus on the bowl to start, shaping it to your desired depth. Once you’ve finished the bowl to your satisfaction, you can move on to the rest of the spoon. For more information on how to work on the rest of your spoon, you can refer to this guide on spoon carving for beginners. You can also refer to this video for more help:
2. Carve a Bowl
As mentioned previously, hook knives are mainly used in spoon carving. However, they can be used for other projects as well, thanks to their efficiency in carving a hollow in a wooden blank.
Another project you can attempt with your hook knife is working on a bowl. As with the basic spoon, you will start with a blank, with the pattern for the bowl drawn on. Once that is ready, you can start working on the hollow center of the bowl using your knife.
Work from the center, carving in small sections until you’ve carved the blank to your desired depth. Make sure to leave enough of a border for the rim of the bowl when doing so. Once the hollow is complete, you can leave the bowl as is or shape the outside of the bowl. For a better idea of how to carve a bowl using a hook knife, you can refer to this video:
However, one drawback of using a hook knife for bowl carving is that larger bowls can take a long while to carve. If you’re looking for a faster alternative, consider power carving. If you have never power carved a wooden bowl, you can refer to our Bowl Power Carving Guide for some useful tips.
3. Try Carving a Kuksa
Also known as a guksi, a kuksa is a drinking cup carved by the indigenous Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Traditionally, this vessel is carved out of a birch burl, though you can use a wood of your preference when working on your own kuksa.
Carving a kuksa is, in fact, relatively similar to carving a spoon. Once you have a wooden blank of an appropriate size, draw out your design for the kuksa. Next, cut the blank to shape. You can now start using your hook knife to carve out the bowl of the kuksa.
Remember, the bowl of your kuksa will be significantly deeper than the bowl of a spoon – this utensil is meant to serve as a drinking cup and so should be able to hold a good amount of liquid. Carve the bowl to your desired depth with your hook knife, then move on to working on the rest of the kuksa. For more help on how to finish your kuksa, you can refer to this video:
How to Sharpen a Hook Knife
One of the biggest challenges of working with a hook knife is what happens when the blade loses its edge. These knives cannot be sharpened like regular knives – you will need to be very careful when doing so. That said, once you know how to sharpen it, the process requires limited time and effort. If you’re wondering how to sharpen a hook knife, all you need to do is follow the steps below:
- Lay your hook knife flat against a sanding stone or sandpaper, tipping it forward until the bevel only just touches the stone. Hold the angle, and start sharpening along the bevel, using clean sweeps.
- Make sure you’re removed metal all the way to the edge. There are two ways to do so – for the first, use your fingers, dragging them away from the cutting edge, feeling for a burr. If you feel a burr all along the border, you can be confident that you’ve removed metal. For the second, you can use a jeweler’s loupe to look at the edge of the knife to identify the scratch pattern from the abrasive. If the scratches go all the way to the edge, you can move on to the next step.
- For this step, you’ll need to use a finer sanding stone than the one you used in the first step. Sharpen your knife as you did in the first step, and check to see if you have removed any metal.
- Repeat the step once more, this time with even finer sandpaper (or a sanding stone). Once you’re confident that you’ve removed enough material from the outside, you will then need to move on to the inside of the knife.
- For this step, you will need a ceramic knife sharpening rod. This should be readily available in your local hardwood store. This rod is incredibly fine and allows you to create an extremely sharp edge.
- Rest the knife flat on a surface, with the open part facing up. Rest the rod flat on the inside of the bevel, and move it back and forth across the blade, polishing the inside as you do so.
- Smear some metal polish on a dowel or other cylindrical object, and polish the inside edge of your hook knife. This step allows you to remove the fine scratches created by the ceramic knife sharpener.
- Finally, do the same for the outside bevel. Smear some metal polish on a piece of MDF, and use the same action you used to sharpen the knife in order to polish it.
Your hook knife is now ready to use efficiently! Remember to test your newly sharpened and polished hook knife on a piece of scrap wood. If you’re not sure how often you should sharpen your hook knife, check out the article we’ve written about it for the answer. For a better idea of how to sharpen your hook knife, you can also watch this short 7 minute video:
Tips to Working With a Hook Knife
While the guide above should be a great way to get you started and used to working with a hook knife, here are some other tips to keep in mind when carving with this knife:
- When carving a knife, remember to drag your knife across the entire length of the bowl in order to avoid a build-up in the middle. Alternatively, you can start carving in the middle of the bowl and carve on both sides.
- If there is build-up in the bowl of your spoon, you can use your hook knife to get rid of it. Drag the blade of the knife down the center of the bowl – where the build-up of the wood is – and slowly remove the material. Make sure to use a sharp knife so that your knife doesn’t get stuck.
- Once you’ve removed most of the build-up, drag your blade along the bowl to create a level depression. This helps remove any imperfections you may have made if you removed too much material from the center of the spoon.
- If the bowl of your spoon is shallow, and you can’t drag your hook knife into the bowl or find yourself fighting the grain, you may need to use another technique. This technique will allow you to carve in four directions, ensuring you don’t carve into the gran of the wood and weaken it, causing the spoon to snap.
In order to do so, start carving down for one-quarter of the bowl and rotate your bowl, changing the quarters and the start point. Continue using the technique until you get the desired depth for your spoon. For a better idea of how to use this technique, you can watch this video:
A hook knife is a must-have in every woodcarver’s arsenal, particularly if you prefer working with hand tools over power tools. Among other benefits, this knife is a great addition to your kit if you’re planning a long hike or are going camping – in an emergency, they’re a great tool to have available to you to carve bowls, spoons, and other utensils if necessary!