I fell in love with the crooked knife 20 years ago when I watched Cesar’s bark canoe the most incredible wood craft film showing César Newashish, a 67-year-old Attikamek building a canoe with three tools, a cheap axe, a pen knife and a crooked knife. Apparently simple tools like these can often be surprisingly complex to get working properly with slight differences giving a knife that works like a dream or one which is a near miss. A few years ago I started following the work of Jarrod Stone Dahl, an incredibly talented woodworker in Northern Minnesota, Jarrod makes birch bark canoes and snowshoes and has spent long hours refining and understanding the crooked knife. I had always wanted to learn to make and use one of these knives well and Jarrod also wanted to come to SPOONFEST so we arranged for him to stay on and run a three day course, it was fantastic. These are some of the crooked knives that Jarrod brought for us to try and to learn from.

As well as good tools Jarrod also brought tools which didn’t quite work properly so we could understand and feel what made the difference.

 So to work, we started with roughly shaped blanks of O1 tool steel, we clamped them in vices and filed the profile and bevels with coarse files.

Then it was up to the forge to bend the profile in the blades. Jarrod was a great teacher and very good at demystifying bladesmithing. It wasn’t hard, it is very simple technology and so long as you don’t read too much of the techy stuff on the internet and baffle yourself then anyone can do it. You don’t need a forge, a simple blow torch will do or even an open fire.

 Jarrod gave a quick demonstration of how to put the required bend in.

Then each of us in turn had a go with Jarrod pointing out where to aim the hammer blow. This is Richard Law, some may know his flying shavings blog.

 next up Barn the spoon

The curve you are after is almost but not quite straight then a gradually tightening curve at the end. It is easy to make it too bent.

 This is Adam Hawker one of the tutors for Guy Mallinson’s courses.

Here are our blades alongside a good finished knife.

 Next comes hardening, basically get it hot (dull orange heat or if you have a magnet handy the point at which it looses magnetism) and quench in oil. This makes it hard but brittle.

 Now test with a file, it should skip off if the hardening has worked rather than biting deep as it does on soft steel.

 After hardening comes tempering this is involves heating it in an electric oven to about 230 degrees C. This softens and toughens the steel so it won’t break in use.

Now we just had to make the handles.

Getting the handles just right for your hand and particularly the thumb rest in exactly the right position saves enormously on the amount of strain on your wrist when using the tool.

 After carving the handle we drilled then to take the tang of the blade.

 Some of us glued the handles in and others fitted them by binding them in place with a wooden wedge to hold them, then it was time to sharpen them up.

  And then we got to use them. They basically do any job you can do with a draw knife but without the hassle of carting round a shaving horse to hold the work.

I think we were all impressed at how well the tools worked and for those that had done no toolmaking before it is a real empowering experience to take a piece of steel and turn it into a razor sharp cutting tool that really worked well.

 Here’s Adam making shavings.

  and here are our finished knives

Jarrod is a truly great craftsman and wonderful teacher, it’s unlikely that UK readers will get the chance to learn from him in the near future but for US readers he teaches a wide range of traditional skills courses from toolmaking and snowshoe making to birch bark work and spooncarving, I would highly recommend looking him up. To see more of his work check out his blog here . or his website here

It has been a real privilege to work with Jarrod and fun too.

Author Robin Wood

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