Sunday, August 17, 2014

Knife Notes...

Knives: Shipley WK-2 New Generation, Helvie - Hammack Detail,
Original Denny 1 7/8", Dunkle Detail
For the unknowing we Caricature Carvers enjoy a good much so that I believe the majority of our carving budget is spent on knives, yes even more than wood.  As such I thought now would be a good time to revisit the marketplace and post my observations.
As stated in previous posts our knife marketplace shifted considerably in the last 10 years due to the sale of Ron Wells, Denny, and Helvie knives to Mike Shipley(Wells, Denny) and Rich Smithson (Helvie).  This shake up did not affect other knife makers such as Dunkle who still remains in the family. 
With these changes came a measure of skepticism...would the new owners be able to maintain the quality and loyalty the previous owners had so enjoyed??  Here's my thoughts:

Dunkle - No change here, John Dunkle provides a wide variety of knife shapes with very colorful handles.  While John has worked hard to not endear himself to the caricature carving collective his knives do have an undeniable quality when it comes to use in detailing and knife maintenance.  These knives have a nice flat grind that enable an easy pull and limit the chance of curruption to the cutting edge as they are the easiest to strop to the point of being almost foolproof.  The downside to these blades is that they are ideal for triangle cuts and stop cuts however they lack versatilty when it comes to whittling and rolling cuts.  John's offerings have several shapes that are perfect for initial detail knives for those new to caricature carving and are easy to maintain.  The more experienced carvers tend to limit these knives in their collection due to lack of versatility and that these knives tend to be priced at the top of the market.

Drake - Gil Drake has worked hard to gain a greater foothold in the market with his distinct gouges and the beauty of his handles.  Gil's knives do add a beauty to the toolbox and the knives are of good quality, versatile, and they come in a variety of blade and handle knife shapes.  These knives tend to be priced at the upper end of the market.

Helvie - Rich Smithson worked closely with Ken Helvie when purchasing this knife brand and has put an extensive effort and investment into the caricature carving world by forming a close relationship with some of the leading carvers in the art form.  Rich has demonstrated his pyrography ability through the application of this art to what he call his "Signature Series" knives.  He has also held knife handle carving competitions that encourage caricature carving while raising money for charities.  Of note is the signature series and how Rich has worked with the carver he has partnered with to create a knife that the feature carver has designed.  Of note is my recent purchase of a Chris Hammack Detail knife.  This knife's blade shape and handle are of a traditional shape however the grind is quite unique in the fact that the rounded bevel runs down the center of the length of the leaving a very thin spine.  This makes the knife quite flexible and also enables it to easily accomplish either large or small rolling cuts.  If this is your desire this is a knife worth purchasing.  Please understand that this style of knife is not designed for great abuse and requires special care when maintaining the blade...all the work is worth it though.  My hats off to Chris for the design, and for Rich being willing to take the risk.  For our community we should take note of the series designs but also understand that each model varies based on the designer.

Shipley (OCCT)  - Mike procured first the Denny brand and then went on to procure the Wells brand as well.  For many a caricature carver this was a dark time as Mike had taken over two of the most revered knife brands and the workhorses of our art and skepticism was high.
So let's start with what I believe had the most loyal following...the Wells brand.  Ron had produces the ultimate workhorse in knives that came with the probably one of the best grinds out there topped off with it's distinctive walnut handles.  The handles were somewhat oversized but allowed for folks like me to custom carve them for a custom and most reliable fit.  The steel utilized was excellent but not highly polished as some others are today.  I have to admit the first time I used an original I was overwhelmed at the carving ability of the tool, so much so that I ensured I bought an extra to preserve that quality for me for a long time.  Mike has had his hands full with not only the takeover of a single knife company but having to absorb both.  At the time of this writing I have to say that I believe the Wells identity when it comes to knives has been lost.  Of note here is my recent purchase of an OCCT New Generation WK-2 which is advertised as having a flatter grind that would make for an easier pull.  I have to admit I read into that statement that this would be a knife that hearkened back to what Ron had created but sadly I do not find that to be the case.  The knife is of excellent quality however it did not turn out to be what I had hoped for...a knife that Ron would have made.  I think the identity was lost to the influence of the Denny purchase and I can only hope that somehow what was lost will be recovered.
On the flipside is the Denny style which Mike had procured first and worked tirelessly to ensure it maintained its heritage.  For us carvers seeing the copper rivets go by wayside (I believe to the cost of copper) was distressing but that was the limit of the concern shown.  The 1 7/8 detail knife (1-7SK) still offered today is my go-to knife and the one knife I would recommend for beginners to first place in their toolbox and keep for a lifetime.  These knives still have outstanding versatility with an improved grind.  They allow for easy modification to fit the carvers desire while maintaining the most reasonable price point (< $25).   Mike should be commended for his efforts here as these are tools worth recommending.

Now some of you might be asking yourself what knives should a caricature carver stay away from.  For me that is easy and it is strictly due to their design.  I would not recommend a carver try and use a Flextool or Murphy (bench) knife for this style of carving.  These knives have a heavy spine and do not produce the quality of cut needed for this style.  This does not mean that they do not have their place in the carving world but rather they do not have a design that I could recommend for caricature carving.

So that's my latest perception and opinion.  It would be worthwhile to hear your thoughts on the subject

Fall is approaching fast...grab a block of wood,a sharp knife, a beverage and a seat on the lawn while you still can and carve something!!

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