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Wrapping up the last details on a piece I’ve been building for the April issue, I had a nice surprise last weekend: Stealing away a few minutes while my kids took a nap (or a least pretended to), I headed out to the shop, grabbed an old carving knife and started experimenting with a piece of walnut that I wanted to use to make a few Krenov-style cabinet pulls.

I started carving away and got lost in the work. It’s something about the knife that always gets me. My father and I bought it and a similar model from an old bearded man at an art and craft fair outside Asheville, N.C., when I was no more than 10 years old. It’s a simple knife, with a little hook on the end, made from steel cut from an old table saw blade. It feels good in the hand and works beautifully.  We bought a nearly straight-bladed version as well. As soon as we took them home some 30 years ago we knew we needed more. We returned to the arts fair the next year, and then again a few years later. Alas, the maker had vanished.

My father ran across a man a few months ago who had a full set of knifes made by the same maker. None of us have any clue as to the maker’s name, but you could tell even at a glance that all of the knives were created by the same hands.

I get lost thinking of this and wondering if I’ll ever see another of these knifes – I mean, how many times can I sharpen this one before I’m left with a wholly unidentifiable handle? Do I like it more simply because I can’t get any more of them and will never know who made it? Is this an argument for or against signing my own work? And why did I ever get a philosophy degree in the first place?

When Sarah, my wife, came out to rouse me back to parenting duties, I’d completely lost track of time. I had a lap full of shavings, walnut-blackened fingers, and, sitting on the bench, an array of small pulls that, when held in place on the cabinet door, all looked, well, pretty horrible. Still, I was happy to have been there carving, thinking about both the work at hand and the memories it conjures. And it’s always good to be reminded that, for me at least, woodworking isn’t only about the furniture that leaves the shop … it’s also about the process that occurs inside. That, at least, is what I tell myself when the results aren’t up to snuff.

Matthew Teague

If you’re aiming for better results than I had on this particular day, check out “Woodcarving Basics,” which is currently on sale for $10 (regularly $49.90).

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Showing 5 comments
  • kthayer


    I miss seeing your dad at Woodzone. It was always good to chat with him.

  • David Keller

    Mathew – The person that made your knives is fairly well known in the Raleigh, NC area. Send me a note if you’d like more info.

  • tsstahl

    I suck so bad it has to be about the time. 🙂

  • The offcut

    Nice post, Matthew. For me it’s always ‘about the process that occurs inside’ and I’d be delighted to have carved any one of those pulls. Time well spent.

    Cheers, Rob

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