Knife grips for carving



Knife Grips


Many different grips are used for various reasons. Some people even have their own or favour some more than others depending on the application, however the following is a list of the most common and their uses, each designed with safety elements built in.


The Power strokes


The power strokes are used to remove large amounts of material quickly. By carving down the grain with a lot of power however tends to offer less control as you are unable to properly judge any breaks of stopping points to maintain a dimension. If you require more material removed than the following grips offer, then you should probably be using an axe!



Fore hand grip:


Fore hand grip



With the back of the knife rested firmly into the web of your hand, angle the blade in your fist like grip using the shoulder to apply pressure, cutting from hilt to tip in a shearing motion.

To add further power and control place the end of the work piece on to a block or stump.


Safety tip: Safest way to use this grip is sitting down carving way from yourself to one side of your body...NEVER between your legs!




Chest lever grip:


Chest lever grip


Chest lever uses your upper chest and back to apply pressure.

By gripping the knife with the blade facing into (yet above!) the web of your hand, hold the blade high over the centre of your chest, doing the same with your other hand holding the work piece.

Start the cut at the hilt and moving to the tip by pulling your hands apart while keeping your elbows tucked in, your arms will act as levers and your chest a fulcrum.

Tip: On smaller items move your hand further down the knife handle, pass your thumb over and press against your other thumb this will make them the fulcrum offering more control and finer cuts although less power.


Carving towards yourself


Important dimensions, lines and contours will be difficult to establish and maintain if you are solely carving away from yourself. Although this seems counter intuitive and possibly dangerous, when using the following grips and techniques the hands, work, and angle of cut are all designed and placed to stop the blade/stroke before it can pose a any danger to the user.


The simple pull stroke:


Simple pull stroke


Hold the work by your thumb and fore fingers and press it into the lower part of your chest keeping fingers out of the path of the knife. Have the blade towards you and your thumb placed on the cheek of the blade close to the hilt. The thumb is then used to control the angle of the cut as you draw the blade towards your body using the work as a back stop.


Safety tip: Provided your elbows are kept tight to your sides and your knife hand's wrist is pressed to your ribs as you draw the blade you will notice your knife hand will be unable to reach your chest.





The reinforced pull stroke:

Reinforced pull stroke

Keeping your arms pressed tight to the sides of your body, hold the work and knife like you would using the standard pull stroke, however use only your index finger and thumb to cradle the work and the rest of your fingers to help push your knife hand up the in the direction of the cut. This offers added power and control.



The draw grip:


Draw grip


Holding the back of the knife handle in your forefingers placing your thumb of the same hand on the back/end of the work, using your other hand to clasp the work between your thumb and index finger. Ensure the thumb of the knife hand is out of the path of the blade as you close your hand as if making a fist providing a slow controlled cut



Tip: This grip is very useful for fine carving and finishing the ends of items.




The thumb joint grip:

Hold at 90 degrees to the back of your hand Thumb joint grip

Cradle the knife in the joins of your fingers keeping the blade 90 degrees to the back of your hand with the cutting edge towards you.

Hold the work piece in the same way if possible hooking your thumb over the top to add stability.

Hook the thumb of your knife hand over the edge of your work piece holding the work and at around 70-80 degrees. It is important you maintain this angle to provide a stable grip and protect the thumb.

A full stroke is completed once the knife has moved in an arc cutting from hilt to tip.

The stop comes when either your index finger or bolster of the knife hits the back of the work.




Reinforced thumb joint grip:



Like the pull stroke this grip also has a reinforced version, just like the standard thumb joint grip, use the fingers of the hand holding the work to push the back of the knife hand adding power and control.




Smoothing stroke

Smoothing stroke


Smoothing strokes are used at the end of a project to smooth the surfaces however can also be useful throughout out the entire project.


Hold the bevel of the knife flat to the work starting the cut in a slicing motion from tip to hilt using your thumbs to apply pressure.


Perfect for making fine adjustment but not designed to remove bulk material.







Choking up


Blade choked up

It is possible to add more control and dexterity to many knife operations and grips by 'choking up the blade'.

Choking up is particularly useful for scraping as a smoothing stroke on difficult grain and can even be used to finish a piece in place of sand paper.

Scraping with a choked up blade is also used in the preparation of hides to remove fat and any remaining flesh after the initial skinning process

With  blade choked up to its very tip it is possible to rotate the tip 360 degrees on its point creating a small depression, often used in the creation of a bow drill set in making a socket for the drill


Bowdrill set






Scrimshaw is the art carving into bone or antler (originally ivory). Normally done with needles and very small knives it is possible to achieve a good standard by choking up a large knife to its tip, providing it is sharp enough.


The knife used in this article was a 3.5 inch Adra bushcraft knife.