My Four Best Woodcarving / Whittling Knives

jchismar woodcarving knife

As you probably know, I do a lot of woodcarving and whittling. It’s my experience that woodcarvers are always searching for the best knife, whatever that might be. Am I still searching for the best carving knife? You betcha! However, the more I carve the more I realize, with few exceptions, the best knife is the sharpest one in reaching distance. In the coming months I will share my sharpening and honing journey with you. Today I will share a few stories about my favorite knives.

Knife #1: During my first class at American Woodcarving School the super talented carver and instructor Jerry Cetrulo handed me this knife with a dull edge. Patiently Jerry taught me how to sharpen a carving knife on an oil stone and hone with a leather strop. I surprised myself when I found that I was able to give this knife a razor sharp edge. It’s a great knife. It feels comfortable in my hand and it holds a sharp edge for a fair amount of time.

Knife #2: Excited about woodcarving I wanted to be a dude and purchase a good carving knife. This knife was the logical choice. I’m unsure who makes this knife, but it’s branded with American Woodcarving on the opposite side. The carving school sells this knife as an upgrade to people that want to be dudes. The steel is harder than the first knife, making it a tad tougher to sharpen – but it stays sharp longer. The handle is a little too fat for my preference. This knife is so good I only use it on special projects.

Knife #3: Like every ambitious novice woodcarver I headed to the internet to research the very best woodcarving knives. I learned of Dave Lyons woodcarving knives. If my memory serves me right Dave Lyons is a rocket scientist, or something, who makes carving knives in his spare time with quality steel. I had to have one! It arrived super sharp, is relatively easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. For a while it was the only knife I used. Over time I’ve found the blade too long, the handle too light and uncomfortable to carve with. I keep it around the woodworking shop to use as a marking knife and a multi-purpose cutting tool.

I also purchased a few of the fancy Lyons knives with curved blades and such. I’ve never found a use for them but I’ll keep them just the same.

Knife #4: The Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack. Lots of things are said about Flexcut tools, some good some bad. When I started to carve I was hardcore purchasing gouges by Stubai, Two Cherries, Dastra and other quality foreign makers. However a diverse palm tool selection was hard to find. Enter Flexcut. Flexcut is an american made tool company that uses spring steel for their tools. I have a pile of fixed handle palm tools and an even larger pile of interchangeable palm sized tools. I use them all the time. They’re easy to sharpen and hold a sharp edge for a long time and they are cheap enough that you don’t mind beating them up.

I wanted a folding knife that I could keep in my pocket at all times, everyday carry.  The Whittlin’ Jack was an economical choice. At first I didn’t like this knife – the blades are hard to open and they do not lock. It quickly became a beater knife, used as a marking tool and all around workshop blade. However over time I found it always in use. The handle is heavy by comparison, but I find this gives me more control. My nine year old nephew preferred the heaviness of this tool over the lightness of the Lyons knife. My use contradicts the naming of the blades: I use the 1 1/2″ detail knife mostly for roughing out and the 2″ roughing knife for detail work because it gets into tighter spaces.

So, what’s a good carving knife? I suppose it’s like a camera, whatever one you’re willing to carry around. I always have my Whittlin’ Jack nearby. If I want to bring along another non-folding knife I wrap the blade a few times with blue masking tape so I can keep it in a jacket pocket or bag. Wondering about the yellow paint? I mark most of my carving tools with yellow paint. When you’re in a class or carving with friends it’s very easy to get mixed up about what tool belongs to who. A yellow mark removes any confusion. Feel free to mark your own tools, but please don’t use yellow paint.

Buzz-saw Whirligig / Saw-Mill Buzzer

jchismar buzz saw whirligig

Also known as a button-on-a-string, the buzz-saw whirligig is a noise-making device which utilizes an object centered on a loop of cord. The buzzer described in Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys spins a cardboard saw blade to generate its hypnotizing whirring sound. Using both hands the enjoyer must hold each end of the loop and rotate the saw blade to wind the loop. The blade is whirred by adding and releasing tension on the loop which unwinds and, because of the angular momentum of the blade, winds the loop again in the opposite direction.

Making a buzzer is a fun, fast and instantly rewarding project. Cut cardboard, glue a “spool-end” on the center of each side, drill two holes for the cord in the spool-ends, thread the cord through the holes and tie the ends together to create a loop. To my amazement my first buzzer worked splendidly; however Fleur our poodle isn’t as amused by the osculating pitch emanating from the new mysterious gizmo.

I decided build a bunch of buzzers as swag for the Newark Maker Faire. Friends saved cardboard from recycling and donated it to the cause. The cord for the buzzers was retrieved from a pile of bakery string saved from years of bakery boxes. Small bits of recycled broom handle are substituted for spool-ends because I don’t have many spools in inventory.  The title artwork of my exhibit  was printed on the cardboard using a carved linoleum block. To print each buzzer ink was applied to the carved linoleum block using a brayer, the buzzer cardboard was placed over the inked block and pressure was applied to transfer the ink from the block to the cardboard. When the ink dried I cut each buzzer out with a pair of scissors.

Please stop by my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire, Saturday April 30 to pick up your free buzzer while supplies last!

The Little Match Girl – 2015 Woodblock Print Christmas Card

Hans Christian Andersen short story

Nothing says Christmas more than a tale about a little girl surrendering to hypothermia, alone on the street, afraid her father will beat her if she returned home. The Little Match Girl is a holiday tale penned by Hans Christian Andersen. The story is about a young girl forced out to the cold winter streets by her abusive father to sell matches to pedestrians about town.

Unsuccessful at her task and frightened to return home she huddles near a niche for warmth. To pass time and keep warm she begins striking matches. With each match strike the girl experiences wonderful holiday visions of food, fun and family. A shooting star reminds the girl of her grandmother explaining a shooting star is a soul entering heaven. The happy ending? The little match girl dies and joins her grandmother in eternal paradise.

Remembering the story I decided to make The Little Match Girl my Christmas card theme. The design process proved trickier than I originally anticipated. My first designs were of a shooting star, a flying grandma, the face of a little girl illuminated by a match, soaring Christmas trees and floating food. In short, the designs were too busy or gloomy. In the end I decided to join elements of grandma with shooting star and match strike sparks. It’s best to allow the imagination of the viewer to complete the scene.

2014 Christmas Card Woodblock Print Postcards

2014 christmas card woodblock print postcards
It’s hard to believe Halloween and Thanksgiving is behind us now. I started a Halloween woodcarving which I thought I’d have completed by Halloween, somehow I was sidetracked. I’ll share that Halloween carving when it’s finished – which will hopefully be soon.
Continuing my holiday tradition I printed carved woodblock print holiday postcards to send to friends and family the weekend after Thanksgiving. The photo is a sneak peak, this year the prints were made with black, blue or gold ink. The card colors were chosen randomly for the recipients. Personally I am unable to choose which color I like the most, each color adds its own character to the design.
Both Amy and I hope our postcards shine a little holiday light into our friend’s lives.


Matchbook limited edition woodcut prints

matchbook limited edition woodcut prints

Friends of mine are aware I have the unfortunate talent of remembering obscure details. This print of two open matchbooks is iconic of such details. The words were penned by my friend Chris in 1997 one evening while socializing after work. Chris is notorious for pulling ideas from the sky, writing things down and punctuating with his signature.

Immediately precious, the matchbooks found their way to my pocket and later into safe storage. The text reads, “My dream is to have sex’ with Selma Hayatt [Salma Hayek] and after she lights up a cigar and we smoke it!!” and “If I had to be anyone else other than me, I would be the ORB and wear tiny round glasses and play song #3 clouds!”

Salma Hayek is self-explanatory and the Orb is an electronic music group. We were listening to an EP of “Little Fluffy Clouds”; now you have an insight into our mindset during that time.

The edition is limited to 15 prints (print is 6″x8″ sheet is 9″x12″); price $20.00 each. Contact me for  availability.