The Tupelo Knife
by Vic Kirkman
Basics Strokes with the Tupelo Knife
The standard cajun tupelo knife used here, (two handle styles), has a 68-72mm long, single bevel blade with a hardwood handle. The blade shape is a special design that puts the cutting power where it should be when sculpting tupelo.  You must NEVER  sharpen this knife on any stone. STROP ONLY and there is a special way to do that. 
See Sharpening Demo and follow the stropping instructions there to the letter in order to take the best care of your knife and keep the fine razor edge required for carving tupelo wood. 
Return to Beginner Basics
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1. The dynamics of the BK-1 Tupelo design require it to be used in the following manner, to be most effective.  Notice the s-curve flow of the handle to blade shape.  In the forward stroke, the force is provided from the shoulder and triceps of the upper arm down through the forearm, wrist, palm of hand and through the handle of the knife to the curved cutting edge of the blade.  The length of the blade is used to its fullest potential when the entry moved longitudinally forward to the wood being shaved at a 45 degree angle to that direction.
2.  Here you can see the result of moving the hand toward the top of the frame while the knife is kept in the 45 degree angle to that movement with the wood.  Notice how the shaving is moving not only away from the wood, but also down the blade.

Depth is regulated while the stroke is in motion for best results. The depth can be varied by changing the pitch of the blade; cutting edge turned down to go deeper and cutting edge turned up to go shallow.  As you change the pitch continue to keep the 45 degree angle and only rotate your wrist  slightly either way to accomplish the pitch desired.  This requires some practice but certainly worth it in the end.
3.  This is the follow through of the stroke and it continues past the wood.  The arm should be in control here and you should not be cutting so deep that there is a lunge off  the edge of the object you are carving.  Learn by repetition to keep the wrist rigid and the angles kept in place through the entire stroke.  For proper flow, control and safety your arm must be held close to the body and swing in a pendulum fashion from the shoulder.  The wrist, hand and knife in its set angles moves as a single unit through the wood and follows through. Also notice the finger grip.  Hold the piece between chest and waist height.
4. The same motion is applied to cross grain and shorter cuts. No matter what the length of the cut required, always follow the form mechanics of the stroke taught above.
5.  Here is the classic whittling stroke everyone uses and one that most revert back to, especially when carving smaller pieces of wood.  Even in this stroke you still pull the blade at the 45 degree angle and initiate a slicing motion that removes wood from the hilt to tip instead of from  tip to hilt as shown above in the forward stroke above. Just the opposite from the forward stroke, basically.  The thumb kept below the knife path and against the wood is just extra support for small objects and safety for the thumb. 
All techniques suggested in this website are attempted at the reader's risk and the writers or webmaster of this site are not responsible for any injuries incurred by any student or reader using the techniques offered herein.
6. Use the same motion as for the forward stroke, only working with the front 1 inch of the blade.  Practice doing this small scoop stroke.  Being on the tip with its narrow width, allows the quick turn up as the tip moves through the stroke. A handy technique for carving around the neck areas of waterfowl and making sharper indents where needed.
7.  The result of this little scoop is a gouge type cut that you can regulate the radius of  by where along the blade you choose to initiate that action.  These are basic carving stokes the beginning wildfowl carver needs to master for carving Tupelo effectively.  Hear the wood sing as you follow through a nice piece of Tupelo with a sharp knife; a joy when done correctly and with the correct tool.
8. When done incorrectly and with the other hand where it is not supposed to be, the result is...


Here the hand was held up-stream in the path of the follow through. The result of this bad habit is an injury, either sooner or later.

9. Slips will be made and hopefully only minor stabs and cuts.  As you practice good form with the knife and learn the control required, the knife becomes less dangerous in your hands.  Always keep your knife very sharp. When it is sharp you have more control over the blade.  Least resistance, less danger.  Above all, keep your fingers, hands, legs and body out of the path of the intended flow of the cutting edge or point of the blade.

The author assumes no liablity for your use of any techniques offered here or in this website.

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The Sharpening of the Tupelo Knife