With my “Bottoms Up” post a couple weeks ago, there was a comment/question about what I use to do the lettering and date. I thought I’d elaborate more on the answer in this post.
In the photo above, I’m using the grip and knife with which I do just about all small lettering and incised decoration, especially on spoon handles and bowl bottoms. Whether for the lines of a letter or a tree branch, the method consists of making two slanted cuts that meet at the bottom to form a v-cut. Sometimes I will vary the grip a little, raising the blade more for tighter curves. Regardless, I always pull the blade rather than push it. I use the movement of my shoulders rather than fingers to do the work, and the spoon moves as much as the knife. They are like dance partners.
Other knives will work as well, pocket or otherwise. I think the key is the slight curve at the tip of the cutting edge. This allows the blade to track more smoothly and ease out of cuts. I like the pocketknife because it fits right in to the outer web of my thumb and forefinger. My knife is 3 1/2″ long closed and 5 1/4″ long with the pen blade open. Plus, it is always right there in my pocket. The blade will not be sharp enough new. I reduce the bevel angle to a very fine edge, and strop it.
Here are a few examples of incised decoration and lettering I’ve done with that same knife. Click on the photos for an enlarged view.
For lettering that is a bit larger, I’ve been messing around with an adjusted blade in a utility knife. I ground a shallow curve into the thin blade then sharpened it (see the photo to the left). I can put more “oomph” behind this blade. I’ve included photos of a bench (elm seat, oak legs) that I made last year with the incised carving on the bottom done with the adapted utility knife.
The more I learn the more I realize how little I know. In our age of computer generated, machine cut inscriptions, artful lettering is often overlooked. This short video of a true letter artist, Martin Wenham, asks us to pause and reconsider.