Carving by John Lindman

The two essential skills for canoe building using traditional methods is splitting and carving. Here are a few points that might make carving easier.

First is your knife. It must be sharp and have a correct edge on it. The bottom of the knife must be flat. This is vital. The angle of the edge on top will determine the amount of wood that comes off at a time. The same principle as a plane. I spoke with Henri Vaillancourt one time and he told me he has two knives, one for removing wood and one for finish work. The former has a gradual bevel and the later a steeper bevel. Get the edge as sharp as you can. I use a file - some think I am nuts for doing so but it works for me. Some prefer a stone and even better a diamond plate. The point is that it should be sharp and cut effortlessly.

Next is the grain of the wood. If you find your knife hops at all yet it is sharp then you are going against the grain. The cardinal rule of splitting is split from the top of the tree down. The opposite holds true with carving. It is not as vital as with splitting and in some cases I have found it didn't work but for the most part carving is much easier going from the bottom of the tree up.

Shave the wood, don't whittle it. Ideally, shaving curls should be coming off. Of course there are times with cedar where you can remove large slices but the surest and most efficient way in my opinion is to not dig. Work the knife like a one hand plane.

The last tip is hold the knife so that your forearm runs parallel to the piece you are carving. An error often made is to hold the elbow away from the piece and carve with the tip of the blade. You lose control. You will find that when it all comes together you can carve without a lot of effort. You won't be holding the knife so tight and you will be able to move your fingers at the end of the day.

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