Knife strokes


Hopefully you’ve already taken a look at this post on knife safety, so now to look at different knife strokes, or cuts.  It’s important to know what knife stroke to use and when so that you can work safely, efficiently and effectively.

First up are a couple of power strokes; these are strokes that I use to remove large pieces of wood.  Be particularly careful with power strokes.

Off to one side

Hold the knife in your dominant hand and the wood in the other.  It’s much safer, and also gives more power, if you cut downwards rather than off to the side horizontally.

Keep your dominant arm straight without locking your elbow.  Start cutting with the part of the knife blade closest to the handle and move the knife across the length of the blade to create a slicing motion.

knife safety | knife skills | Kent | south east | London

You can also do this sat down.

knife safety | knife skills | Kent | south east | London

Chest lever

I like this knife stroke as it gives a lot of power but keeps the knife within your own body width.  When I’m teaching this I get people to practice without a knife in their hand first.  I get them to place their fists against their ribs just below the chest in a King Kong type way and then pull their elbows backwards.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

The heel of your hands should stay in contact with your ribs at all times.  To help with this, focus on moving your elbows and not your hands.  This movement brings your latissimus muscles into play (muscles in your back) which are much stronger than your biceps.  With a little practice you can synchronise the movement of your elbows with your breathing, using the expansion of your diaphragm to start the movement.

Hold the knife in your dominant hand but instead of having the edge of the knife downwards, turn the knife 135° so that it’s pointing off to the side.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

Hold the wood in your non-dominant hand and bring both hands up to your chest.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

Bring your elbows backwards to make the cut.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

You can also use the chest lever to carry out detailed work.

Chest pull

‘Don’t cut towards yourself’ is a maxim that is ingrained into us when using a knife.  However, there are a couple of exceptions to this and the chest pull is one of them.  Although I should clarify a little; whilst the knife does travel towards your body, your hand is still behind the blade.

Place the wood into your breastbone and hold it with your non-dominant hand at the very end.  Hold the knife in a forehand grip but with the edge uppermost.  Make sure that the knife tip is pointing away from you.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

Re-enforced chest pull

This is closely related to the chest pull described above, but this time you wrap the fingers of your non-dominant hand around your dominant hand.  The movement comes from pushing with the fingers of your non-dominant hand.  This is a fantastic knife stroke and gives you a huge amount of control.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

Because the movement comes from you pushing with your fingers, as soon as you stop pushing, the knife stops moving- so a very safe knife cut.

Thumb push

This is a lovely little knife stroke that gives loads of control.  Hold the knife in your dominant hand and the piece of wood in your left.  Use the thumb of your non-dominant hand to push the knife forwards.  I tend to put my thumb on the handle of the knife.  Here I’m sharpening the end of a drill for friction fire lighting.

knife cuts | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Thumb pivot

Here we’re pivoting the knife around the thumb of the non-dominant hand.  Keep the thumb on your non-dominant hand still whilst your dominant hand rotates the knife about your thumb with the bevel of the knife more or less flat on the piece of wood.  I tend to put my thumbe on the back of the handle as it’s more comfortable.

It allows you to take off fine shavings and is a great knife stroke for getting a smooth finish, so for instance on a spatula.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

Potato peeler

This is another knife stroke where you cut towards yourself.  The key here is to make sure that your thumb is well below the top of the piece of wood you are cutting so that you don’t cut yourself.  I’ll use this wherever I need to put a chamfer onto a piece of wood, such as the top of a wooden tent peg.

knife strokes | knife cuts | knife skills | south east | Kent | London

You can see photos from our carving courses, and all of our other courses, on our Facebook page.


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About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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