Which is the best spoon carving knife, hook knife?

I have posted before about the best axe and straight knife for carving and the third tool that is needed is the spoon knife or hook knife. Opinions vary enormously as to which is the best spoon carving knife, if you search the web you will find lots of folk vehemently arguing that this or that knife is the best, most folk however only own one or two knives so don’t have much to compare to and most folk only want to buy one so how to choose? I forged my first hook knives for my own use 20 years ago and until recently I bought an example of every hook knife that came onto the market. When I run courses it is really helpful for folk to be able to use all the different knives available and to find what works best for them. Here are just a few of mine I have about 50 to choose between.

First what makes a good spoon carving hook knife?

It needs to be sharp and hold a good edge, all the knives I mention below will do that and all except the Frost come ready to use. The curvature of the blade is important, tight curves and short blades are easy  for beginners to use but leave a bit of a ploughed field effect which most resort to sandpaper to remove. A more open curve allows a clean cut surface to be created quickly but takes more time to learn to use. My personal taste is for a gradually tightening curve on the knife this means I have whatever curve I want somewhere on the blade and can do everything with one knife. Next the profile. The blade has to run through a curve and if it is wide front to back the back edge catches on the inside of the curve and makes the edge dig in, this results in chatter rather than a smooth cut. There are two ways round this either you make a very thin narrow blade which works but flexes, or better have a broad blade but grind off the back corner and smooth it so that you have a lovely polished rounded surface running over the inside of the spoon bowl. Finally the handle, this is largely personal preference, some like small handles, others larger. Most makers give us short handles and this restricts the number and range of cuts that are possible. I like a handle around 6-8″ long.

What is below then is a subjective overview of the knives I have and I shall also include links to other makers who’s knives I have tried but don’t own.

Frosts/mora hooks. The frosts 106 is my preferred straight knife, cheap, good wonderful. Sadly the hooks are not as good. The best of the bunch is the 164 which is currently around £17 online, when new they have a rather heavy secondary bevel and are not always sharp out of the box. If you know what you are doing and round the back off with coarse emery paper then sharpen it well the 164 makes a reasonable tool. I toured the Frosts factory with Wille Sundqvist in 2003 and we talked with the owners asking why they did not make better hooks, these hooks have been unchanged for over 20 years and really should be better.

Svante Djarve, these were the first decent hooks that became available in the UK around 20 years ago, they have a distinctive ridged texture to the handles. They were far better than anything else at the time. The small hook is very very easy for beginners to use but it’s tight curvature means it leaves a series of grooves across the work. To remove these you need a more open hook or you will have to resort to sandpaper. Many people bought this hook, use nothing else and are very happy with it, if you are serious about spooncarving though you would do well to learn to use a larger hook. Svante Djarve large hook (pictured below), this is a very good tool amongst the top three or four hooks available and the fact it is easily available mail order is good too. At the time of writing these are retailing at £42.50 which makes them a few £ more than others.

Ben Orford, when Ben made his first knives they were straight copies of Svante Djarves small hooks which are always popular with  folk who have not yet put in the time to learn to use a larger hook properly. He also produces a more open thin knife which will smooth out the rough cuts of the small hook, I find these flex in use and chatter if used for heavier cuts. I also prefer to be able to do the job with one knife rather than having to use several. I worked with Ben a little on trying to develop a better profile not sure if this ended as the flatter curve crook knife or medium knife on his site, they were better but still not quite there for me.  Ben’s handles are all quite small so folk on courses with small hands always like them, he’s a really nice guy and gives good customer service.

Hans Karlsson, is undoubtedly one the best green woodwork toolmakers out there. I have used many of his tools and he is the only smith where I can say every one has worked really well. This is his hook, when I first saw it I though it had drawbacks, the curvature is fairly even without the wide flat section I like and it is quite narrow front to back which sometimes results in flex. For some reason in use none of this matters, it is a wonderful knife in fact this is the knife I recommend above all the others that are easily available at the moment. Currently £34.50 and very good value.

Del Stubbs of Pinewood Forge makes excellent knives, his straight sloyd knives are the best I have used, the hook knives are very good and I would always recommend them to anyone in the US though Del currently has a long waiting list.

Now I have saved the best spoon carving knife to last. in 2004 I worked with  a smith at the national folcraft school in Sweden who had completed his dissertation on woodworking tools, surely here was the man who would make me the perfect spoon knife? No he told me that knife was already made by someone else a chap called Bo Helgesson. It changed everything I thought I knew about how these knives worked, the very broad blade should have chattered through the cut but being very rounded off at the back it flowed smoothly through, the high polish and incredibly fine 17 degree edge angle go through wood like it’s not there. I was lucky to buy a few batches of these and still use them for my courses though Bo is not always easy to buy from. If you see them in stock anywhere buy one. There are probably only two folk who have used more spoon knives for longer than me, Del Stubbs and Jogge Sundqvist and both rate the Helgesson as the benchmark knife.

It’s 5 years since I was last able to get a batch of Bo’s knives and it has been difficult having students using them and then having to buy something less good. I have worked with various smiths and companies getting prototypes made in the UK and never been happy. I have now finally got prototypes of spoon blades which are excellent. They are made from flat bar rather than round, I rate them as virtually as good as the Helgesson hook. They come razor sharp and hold an edge extremely well. I am not sure how long the first batch will take to come through so in the meantime there is plenty of choice in the links above.

Update to add that I am now producing these knives for sale, you can find them here.

For the sake of completeness I would like to add three other good makers, I don’t have these knives but I have used them.

Dave Budd nice hand forged ethos

Dorset Woodland Blades top quality control good blades

Nic Westerman excellent blades

17 Responses to Which is the best spoon carving knife, hook knife?

  1. ziggy January 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Thanks for the round-up. I have recently gotten in spoon carving, and find the Frost knives to be less than pleasant to use, a real workout, with not a lot of reward. Pretty dull.

  2. jarrod January 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey Robin, another great post. Very informative. Few people can compare that many hook knives. Well done.

  3. Survival in the Wasteland January 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Robin, for th' sake of clarity, are you saying you will have these hook knives you've had made available for sale in th' future? ~thanks for th' comparisons… rico

  4. Robin Wood January 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Thanks Ziggy and JarrodHi Rico I will have knives available but when and how many I can not say. If you need a knife in the near future buy one elsewhere I can't promise when I will have stock available. It's frustrating but that's the way it is.

  5. privatepinstripe January 31, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    For the record, I used a 'Robin Helgesson' today under Robin's tuition and it was Brilliant with a capital B.

  6. woodnstuff February 1, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Looks like you've finally found the holy grail Rob!Put me down for a lefty and righty when you put order in.John

  7. Howard Lobb March 8, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    I an interested in the different Knives that you and others are using and one I have seen is a “Bottoming Knife” it was refered to as a knife to take off the nubby bits left from turning a bowl,,, I use traditional Haida bent knives and they seem to be very simular to the ones you use ,,, Some of the Haida knives are beveled on both sides and flat on the bottom or outside of the curve if that makes sense so they can cut in both directions as they a generaly pulled while removing wood and pulled or pushed for the finer cutting or grain changes,,, I guess my questions would be – Do you know of these knives? Do your TRADITIONAL spoon or bent knives have this double bevel for working in both directions or do you solely use lefts and rights,,, The curves of your style of knives are beautiful and very much like the knives I use though I think your handles are much shorter and your blades apear to be nicely thicker,,, Is the reason for the short handle a preference or tradition?

  8. Robin Wood March 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    Howard, The knife that some are calling a “bottoming knife” is a copy of one I started using 17 years ago. I forged it from a car spring after watching Caesars bark canoe and the great work of the mocataugan. I left it long and thought I would try it out for a while before cutting the handle off to length, I developed a style of working with it two handed for cleaning inside bowls, it is not a traditional tool that you will find in any of the old bowlturners photos but it works for me. I never gave it a name, people only do that when they make tools for sale. I am familiar with the NWC knives of Haida and other NWC peoples. I have a set made by Greg Blomberg of Kestrel tools, they are good at what they are designed for. I tend to put 8″ handles on my spooncarving knives I think most makers handles are too short which restricts the number of grips you can use effectively.

  9. Howard Lobb March 11, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Thanks Robin,,, I was very sure that you would be familiar with the NWC knives and the nice surprise was that you have some of those fine kestrel knives,,, I would like a couple myself,,, the ones I have are light on thickness and more suited to finishing work,,, I’m looking for a heavier gage and some longer blades,,, would you please put my name in for one of your knives and let me know whenever that happens,,, I agree that most handles are on the short side ,,, long handles can be made shorter so in my little mind even a foot long makes more sense that trying to make a short one longer,,,I like mine thick as well as it is less tiring ,,, I’m right handed mostly,,, I carve a lot of spoons and bowls as well as masks occasionally by the look of the knives you are making I’m very interested in your spoon knife,,, thanks again

  10. Rose September 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderful round up. As someone thinking about getting into spoon carving this is very helpful. And it led me to your blog which is incredibly inspirational! Thank you so much for putting this information together. I only wish I lived in the UK again so I could come to Spoonfest. It looks heavenly.


  11. Amaury August 11, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Thank you for this topic Robin, I’d like to get into spoon carving and I saw on a website some pfeil spoon carving knife… Do you have an opinion on them ? Thanks again

    • Robin Wood September 4, 2016 at 11:04 am #

      I don’t like them, their carving chisels are superb good value and ready to use their spoon knives are not.

  12. teris setyanto October 23, 2015 at 6:24 pm #


  13. Job Suijker December 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Thanxs Robin for your information. I am wondering what your opinion is About pfeil spoonknives? I’ve got one (nr 23 round large) but iT doesn’t seem to work well, though they are great toolmakers. Could be THE grinding angle or THE curve of THE knife. Mora spoonknives seem to work better.
    Greetings job,

    • Robin Wood January 19, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

      I have not used pfiel spoonknives but if the mora work better I shall not be rushing out to try them.

  14. Abraham January 24, 2016 at 1:37 am #

    Do you know of any quality online videos showing how to forge your own hook knives? Or would you perhaps be willing to make one of your own? Thank you for all the amazing work you do!

  15. William June 9, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    In Jan 2013 you mentioned you would eventually have your model of knife available? I didn’t see any indication on this that the knives were made available. Has the opportunity passed?

    Great review of the Carving tools! after looking at the different models you highlighted it was much easier to look at other home crafted knife sites and know what shapes to seek out.