Canadian Woodworking

Shop Knives

Knives in the shop can make short work of a whole host of tasks: Everything from opening boxes to tweaking delicate hand-cut dovetails.


Knives in the shop can make short work of a whole host of tasks: Everything from opening boxes to tweaking delicate hand-cut dovetails.

Author: Vic Tesolin

The knife that probably gets the most use in my studio is the utility knife. It has an advantage over other knives because a fresh edge is only a snap away. That is not to say that you can’t sharpen a snap blade. I’ve been known to do it myself but it’s nice to know that if I feel like being lazy, I can simply snap my way to a fresh edge. As the name suggests, the utility knife excels at utility work; jobs like opening cartons, cutting tape and sharpen­ing pencils. However, I’ve come to use my utility knife for precision work like marking dovetails, mortises, and slicing veneer.

When buying a utility knife, try to stay away from the cheap ver­sions. A good quality knife should have a blade that locks into place and should have some type of gripping surface on it. These two features are key for safety and usability. A good quality util­ity knife should only set you back about $10, so go ahead and splurge a little.

The other two knives that get used often in my studio are my violin knife and detail carving knife. Both do similar work although the violin knife has a thinner blade that allows me to get into tighter spots. The violin knife most often gets used to clean out the corners on dovetails, while the detail carving knife is handy for quick trimming jobs. My violin knife is shop-made with a custom sculpted jatoba handle that fits my hand like a glove. My version has a high-carbon steel blade that I purchased from for about $30. Ron Hock has been making blades for many years and the quality he offers is extremely high.

To make the handle, start with a block of hardwood that mea­sures 6” x 1” x1”. Re-saw the blank with a band saw to make two halves; one at 9/16” and the other at 7/16”. Dock the knife blank about three inches below the bevelled edge so that your knife doesn’t end up too long. Rout a groove 1/16” deep by 1/4” down the middle of the thicker half, stopping the groove at three inches. Doing this in the thicker half will ensure that the knife blank is centered in the handle. Mix up some epoxy and glue the knife blank and handle parts together. Once the glue has cured, drive the business end of the knife into a cork for safety and shape the handle to your liking.

Like any edged hand tool, it is essential that your shop knives are kept sharp. A dull knife causes the user to push harder on the tool which can lead to poor cuts and outstanding injuries. Back in my army days, my sergeant always said, “If your knife ain’t sharp, what’s the point of carrying it?” Good advice often transcends work environments.

In my opinion, having a selection of keen-edged knives in your shop is essential and at their relatively low cost, there is no reason not to have them.

Last modified: September 29, 2023

Vic Tesolin - [email protected]

Vic is a woodworking instructor and author.

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