In Shop Blog, Techniques

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Don’t buy the knife shown above. You’ll likely find it useless for dovetailing. It will languish at the bottom of your tool box, mocking you every time you push it and the Black & Decker battery-powered tape measure aside.

Heck, I don’t even know who makes the knife. The handle says “KST,” but my catalogs don’t turn up any tools for sale from that company. And during the last 16 years or so I’ve slightly altered its profile to suit my work. I don’t think it’s the same knife.

I don’t know where I got the knife. It’s always been in my toolbox. Did it come from my grandfather’s shop? My dad’s? I honestly don’t remember.

Yet every time I’m cutting dovetails, this knife is in my hand. I won’t demonstrate dovetails without it. If I lost it, I’d have to make a substitute.

What does this useless tool do? It’s the tool I use to make my dovetails fit the first time. After I cut the tails, this knife quickly pops out any remaining waste or fur in the acute corner that my chisel didn’t pop out.

After I cut the pins, this tool really goes to work. It cleans out the corners, natch, but it also flattens the floor of the pins. The cutting edge has a very slight curve. This allows me to put it on its side and shave any waste in the center of the pin floor down. Thanks to the curve, the knife edge never touches the baseline.

And when I go to knock the joint together, this knife eases the inside corners of the tailboard to make starting the joint easy and prevent any bruising of the pin board.

But anytime I show someone how I use the knife, they just look at me more puzzled than enlightened.

In my years of visiting other shops, I’ve found that most woodworkers have some sort of odd piece of metal on a stick that they have ground to their personal liking to do some specific chore. I’ve seen Senior Editor Bob Lang’s version (a brand of knife also lost to time). Senior Editor Glen Huey hasn’t shown me his yet. I don’t know if Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has acquired one. Publisher Steve Shanesy’s is made from a car bumper I think.

In any case, this is my knife. There are none like it and this one is mine.

– Christopher Schwarz

P.S. The dark lines around those dovetails are pencil marks, not gaps. Really. Come to my house and check it out for yourself.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Bob Demers

    Your KST knife, in its original form, can be found here
    Its a German chip carving knife. My all time favorite knife is the No 8, I just love the way the handle fit my hands. Its my do everything knife. Had it for over 20 years now, always sharpen ‘lovingly’ by hand 🙂


  • Shannon

    This post reminds me of "Full Metal Jacket". This is my knife, there are many like it, but this one is mind!

  • Mike Lingenfelter


    I took your handsawing class in Portland last year. You had had a knife on your tool list and said it was for cleaning out dovetails. I thought to myself, I do that with my chisel I don’t need a knife! Then while showing you what I thought was a clean tail board, you whipped out your knife improved it even more. The funny thing is, I just ordered a knife and it came in last week! Not sure why it has taken me so long to get the knife!

  • megan

    I don’t have to acquire one…I know where you keep yours.

  • Alex Grigoriev

    Then KST means, no doubht, Knifey Super Tool!

  • Gary Roberts

    Well… my favorite knife is an old ebony handled dissection scalpel that I ground down to a sort of Murphy knife point. My second favorite is an old Murphy knife. I guess Old Murphy sure hangs in there.


  • Charles Davis

    Chris, this post cut so deep that it nicked my inner child. You do understand that you are my personal shopper don’t you? You tell me what I need to buy and where to get it and I do as told. This relationship has worked very smoothly up till now (except for maybe one Wisner plane post in the past which caused similar confusion and trauma). How can you in clear conscience extol the many virtues of this highly-evolved super-knife(TM) only to inform us that it’s a one-of-a-kind?

    Well I’m off to grind the first metal thing i pick up and make my own super-tool(TM)… and yes, I see the irony in that the name of tool also accurately describes the maker.

    Ohhh and thanks for the invite to come over… sounds great, what time is dinner? I’m famished…

  • G. D. Blake


    Your knife looks like a chip carving knife that has seen better days. The thin blades of chip carving knives make them work well as dovetail marking knives once the edge is reground to have a bevel on only one side.

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