Mighty Fine Carving

One of my favorite blogs is the St. Thomas Guild. As best as I’ve been able to figure, theirs is the only English Language blog for Medieval Woodworking in the Continental Tradition. It’s no flaw that most English-Language blogs follow the English Tradition, it is the primary origin of historical American woodworking after all. Having a preference for investigating Continental European tools and techniques over their English counterparts, the St. Thomas Guild is a great gateway resource.

In the posts, here and here, the guildmembers discussed the addition of carving tools to their medieval toolchest. The shoulder-knife intrigued me. Medieval (and later) woodcuts have proven to be a great resource for recreating and understanding pre-17th century woodworking. It’s the shoulder knife that is used to cut the finely detailed intarsia (technique) which gives us those glimpses into history.


Intarsia carving of the artist, Antonio Barili, 1502

Getting deeper into Non-English Tradition woodcarving, adding a shoulder knife or two to my inventory seemed a wise move. Between the Barilli intarsia and the example provided by the St. Thomas Guild, I figure up the details for making my own.


This is the shoulder knife produced by the members of the St. Thomas Guild, fuller details available on their blog.


The St Thomas Guild shoulder knife was cut and shaped from cherry, I presume from a flat sawn board or riven from straight grained stock. This supposition comes from the appearance of the grain run out over the course of the curve. They also enlisted the work of a German master-smith to forge the knife blade.

Different makers, different techniques. I’d been re-watching episodes of The Woodwright’s Shop and paid special attention to an episode featuring Mr. Peter Follansbee where he and Mr. Underhill carved wooden spoons. The important part I took from this was working from the natural bends and crooks from the branches. A quick trip through the firewood pile yielded a couple appropriately crooked pieces of Black Locust. Either by nature of the wood species, dryness, or issues with my froe and (lack of) a chopping block, splitting these out was a bit of a pain. From there a drawknife followed by a spokeshave cleaned up and dressed the natural crook in the wood. I don’t know the exact length of either one, I didn’t bother to measure. Using my own body as the rule, these are about a cubit in length.

Shoulder Knives

Blades were the easy part. A couple pieces of flat stock were chopped down and rough shaped with an angle grinder and files. A quick kerf cut in the “short” end gave a place to mount the blade. Mounting was done by boring a couple small holes through the kerfed section and blade tang. Two brass pins peened over lock the whole assembly together. Given the peculiars of the edge geometry and the handle, I figured the best way to sharpen these was with files.


It’s my supposition that the naturally occurring shapes in wood were used whenever possible to get to the final shape of a tool as efficiently as possible. So, here they are.

Shoulder Knives Close

I’m looking forward to playing with them shortly.



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