The fixed blade knife – the simplest and most useful of tools
Walk onto any North American job site where carpenters are working and ask if anyone is carrying a fixed blade knife. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find one. Most will carry some type of utility knife, more often than not something fitted with “break-away”, disposable blades. But it’s rare that someone will be carrying a knife that requires regular sharpening. Some older types may carry a small penknife that is kept sharp, like my Grandfather who regularly used his knife for “surgically” removing splinters and slivers, a grisly task that I could never get used to (I, always preferring to “dig ’em out” with a set of tweezers.) Of course many woodworkers prefer to use knives for marking and for carvers, fixed blade knives are essential. But, whether it’s due to work methods or job site rules, fixed blade knives are not that popular as a working tool for general use. And that is a shame, because while being one of the simplest tools, a good quality, properly prepared and maintained fixed blade knife is an incredibly useful tool.
The situation changes dramatically when one looks at job site or shops in Norway,Sweden or Finland. Everyone has a sheathed knife attached to their belt and for good purpose. Because Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish carpenters use their knives to accomplish a host of tasks.
Roald Renmaelmo told me in a recent correspondence that the ideal tollekniv should be at least 3mm thick and ground with a single bevel at an included angle of 22-25 degrees. He suggested that an angle of up to 30 degrees was still workable, but any angle higher than thirty degrees would necessitate regrinding the blade. He also suggested sticking with a carbon steel blade at a Rockwell C hardness of between 52 and 55. Remember, any alloy that is promoted as extraordinarily durable or resistant to rust will not take a keen edge. And when working with a knife, a keen edge is what it’s all about. Honing a single bevel requires a little practice but makes for superior performance. Of course regular stropping is a must.
There are a number of good suppliers in the US. But I’ve done business with two whom I have found to be very helpful. Ben’s Backwoods inventories a number of Swedish and Finnish knives and his prices and service are very good. Ragwood Forge has a large selection of Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian knives and Ragnar (the owner) offers finished knives from the very economical to some extraordinary custom knives (with attendant pricing.) Ragnar also has a large stock of blades (I mean a really large stock) for those who prefer to make up their own handles (apparently most Scandinavian carpenters.)
I’ve asked Roald if he and his associates might put up a post or two on traditional knife work. Perhaps, with a little cajoling, he can be persuaded. You’ll find out a lot more about Scandinavian traditional carpentry and joinery on Roald’s blog, hyvelbenk.wordpress.com. And if you copy and paste Roald Renmælmo to Youtube, you’ll find an ever expanding series of videos about traditional woodworking and the work that is being done by the Traditional Culture Faculty and Student Body at the University of Gothenburg. It’s well worth investigating.