Totem Paper Knives




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By Robert De Groat

C totem 52.gif (23682 bytes)Paper knives or letter openers are ideal for a winter evening's whittling in the Troop den while stories are being told between instructions.

The best wood to use is debatable. Very frequently the eccentric formation of knob branching on a particular piece of wood attracts your fancy. In that case the hardness or softness of the wood doesn't matter.

The woods to use (in order of their popularity) are: Red cedar (because of its rich reddish tones), walnut, silver beech, sassafras (rather soft, but has fine grain), birch, oaks, dogwoods, cherry, apple, osage orange (very beautiful golden grain and the hardest wood in America), and any other hardwoods.

When cutting the wood allow several inches to spare on each end, as the wood checks and splits slightly when seasoning. To season the wood put it away in a warm dry place for several months, or leave it in running water for a day or two and then let it dry thoroughly.

Determine which way your knife is going to rest and cut one blade on that side. The bottom blade should have as little cutting on it as possible as the knife should rest flat on a table top. Most of the cutting should be done from the top side of the blade. Round the cut near the handle, where the bark joins the blade. Never cut the joint where the hilt joins the blade at a sharp angle as in most kitchen knives, but rather make it more rounded as in the illustrations.

The curve is better looking and lends a better finish. Leave the bark on the handle whenever possible, to retain the rustic appearance. Carve in the animal design on the handle. The end of the hilt may be cut at an angle to show the grain and medullary rays to their best advantage. Sandpaper the knife carefully, first with rough paper and then with a smoother grade.

Rub the knife with a dust known as "rottenstone," which you can get in the drug stores for about ten cents. This acts as a filler. Dust off the rottenstone and shellac the knife, using clear white shellac. Some fellows like to put the name of the place where the wood was found, or some little inscription on this first coat of shellac. A second coat of varnish may then be applied, and, when dry, the knife is finished. The second coat acts as a preservative.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.