Our Readers: Sharp Eyes and Good Memories


Whittlin' Jack and his slimmer little brother

A couple years ago (four and a half to be exact) I wrote in response to questions from several readers about my funky old knife and where to get one. The questions came because of an article in the August 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine titled “Best $20 I Ever Spent.” In between the time we went to press and the time the issue came out, the maker of my knife changed direction and quit making the one I had in favor of some inferior examples bearing the same name.

I’ve owned Whittlin’ Jack for about 25 years now, and although the blade is smaller than it used to be from sharpening, it will likely last longer than me. It didn’t cost much and has served me well and survived my rough handling of it. I’m not really looking to replace it, but it’s nice to have a spare (or two or three or four) just in case.

A couple weeks ago, a reader kindly clued me in to similar knives made by the R. Murphy Co. in Ayer, Mass. The company has been around since 1850 and makes knives of nearly any shape and size for nearly every conceivable use. If you have a regional preference for an Oyster knife, they have them. Need a hook, yarn or paperhanging knife? They have those too. Most of the knives are made in the United States, the prices are reasonable and the quality is good.


The Murphy knife fits the hand nicely

My new knife took an edge well, didn’t require much prep work and I like the way it fits in my hand. Technically, this isn’t a marking knife. Because it’s beveled on both sides I need to tilt it a bit when running it along a straightedge. I use mine as a general purpose knife in addition to marking, so the two-sided blade suits me and the way I work. The handle is quite a bit thinner than the Whittlin’ Jack and that makes it feel more like a pencil when striking a line. I don’t have enough experience with it yet to see how I like it for other uses, but I think it will be fine.

If you have a favorite old tool, leave a comment and let us know what it is. If you want to get sappy and sentimental on us, that’s OK. I feel a little guilty for entertaining thoughts of putting my old knife out to pasture.

Robert W. Lang

7 thoughts on “Our Readers: Sharp Eyes and Good Memories

  1. gdblake

    Bob:

    Quick question, do you have any idea how the Hock 1-1/4″ Carving Knife (#CK125) compares in size to your old Whittlin Jack? In the pictures they look close.

    gdblake

    1. Robert W. Lang Post author

      I just went and measured the blade length on my knives; Whittlin’ Jack is 1-13/16″ long and the Murphy knife is 1-7/8″. Ron makes great stuff and I don’t think the shorter length of his knives would make much difference. It might even be better; the shorter blade would be stiffer.

      There are also some different shapes of this type of knife, I’m thinking the one that comes to a point would be better for reaching into tight corners. I took a look at the Hock Tools website, and you can buy the blades unhandled. That makes it tempting to jump down the knife handle making rabbit hole.

      Bob Lang

      1. tsstahl

        A sale on knife blanks at Woodcraft and some of my daughter’s play-doh left within reach set me down the knife handle making path.

        The work can suit your mood, too. The range is from very nice immediate gratification type of work for simple jig created handles to hair pulling consternation as you try to carve the perfect ergonomic shape based on squeezed play-doh. Maybe if I weren’t so lousy at carving…

  2. Bowyerboy

    I have 3. An old drawknife and a large screwdriver that were my Grandfather’s and a small oilcan that was my Grandmother’s. I really need to replace the handle on the screwdriver someday.

  3. GregMiller

    Gidday, Robert. Great knife! I have been using a knife just like your new skinny one, as my marking knife, since I bought it 23 years ago. Dastra brand. Technically I think it’s a chip carving knife. The long point is great for getting in there to mark out the pins from the tails when I am hand cutting my dovetails. The bevel on both sides is handy – I just tip it, as you say. So accurate and nice in the hand. This marking knive lives in my apron front pocket, so it is always with me. To avoid stabbing myself or piercing my apron pocket with its very sharp long point, I keep a wine bottle cork in the end of the tool. I only need to change the cork about once a year!

  4. Eric R

    I got a couple of old tools that were my dad’s, that I wouldn’t take ANYTHING for….
    and they are getting divided up to my boys, who God willing, will do the same.
    Thanks Bob.

  5. BikerDad

    The Persuader. It’s a Nupla 2lb Dead Blow Hammer, one face is steel, the other is rubberized plastic. Using it taps into that deep well of joy that a toddler has when he pounds on something with a hammer.

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