Thursday, January 24, 2013

Carving with a pocketknife

Recently I was at a remote cabin in Wyoming with the Boy Scouts. We were snow caving, building Quinzee huts over the weekend for boys to sleep in. In the cabin I noticed there were signs depicting various troops that had stayed in the cabin over the years, most with the Troop number burned or written into the wood. A few had carved items, but I hadn’t seen our troop, despite the fact this was the troops 5th trip up there.

I set about one afternoon to leave our mark, but didn’t want just a Sharpie signature. After finding a flat piece of firewood, I took out my pocketknife and decided to give carving a try.


I started with outlining a letter with the blade. Then I worked the knife in, severing fibers and digging 1/4” or so in. From there, I’d flatten the blade and shave out sections of the wood. The first letter ended up going in both directions (left/right and up/down), which had me digging in and splintering against the grain. Later I switched to just shave along the grain.


I also learned to lightly outline things with a bare scrape, and then digging in slowly, pushing the blade in along the line I wanted and then slowly levering it down to make a mark. Slowly I’d reposition and make another mark, until I had an outline.

Once I had a place for the blade to stop, I could shave. I only went down around 1/4”, indenting the troop number.


It was slow work, and I’d see kids come watch for a minute and then move on. I kept working all afternoon and eventually got the “Troop 636” into the wood. I gave it to a kid, who used a piece of burned wood to blacken the letters. A few signed it the first night.

Later I noticed another kid erasing out the blackened sections that were outside the letters. Another kid used a sharpie to further blacken the letters and everyone signed it.


I needed a panorama photo to get the whole thing, which was about 2 ft long. The wood isn’t that bent, it’s my poor photo skills.

Someone put it on a ledge above the window. Very cool. If we go back next year, I may bring a carving chisel and do another one.

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