Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Carving a name sign with a hobby knife.

One of my good friends had to have her old horse put down due to old age. I had carved a name sign for that horse, and she asked me if I would make her another one in case she got herself a new horse.
I told her that I would be happy to make her a new sign for her future horse. About half a year ago, she told me that she had bought herself a new horse.

I was excited, and also a bit scared, because some horses have incredible long names, and I would hate having to carve a name like  "Vognmandsgårdens Marli" (An actual name of a pony that we once looked at).
Luckily my friend's new horse didn't have quite such a fancy name. Even though it isn't exactly short either.
Some breeds of horses have their own "symbol", and I have previously carved the symbol of Danish warm-blood horses, which is fairly straight forward: A crown and a wavy line below it.

Since her new horse is a mix of two different breeds, I opted for the logo of one of them: the logo of the PRE (Pura Raza Española) It is a horse seen in profile, and I think I'll be able to make it look OK.

I write the name I am going to carve in a Word document, and for my name previous carving projects I have used the font: Clarendon bold. But since it is not available on this computer, I have found another font that is OK for carving too: Mongolian Baiti size 160.

After printing out a document with the name, I tape it to the board I am going to carve. In this instance the board is made out of the longest step from the salvaged pilot ladder. This wood is rather soft, so it should be fine for my type of carving.
I measure the distance from the top and bottom of the letters to the edges of the board to make sure they are in the middle.

The next step is to take a hobby knife with a new blade. If it is of the break of type, I break of one piece of the blade to have a fresh edge.

Using a light cut, the letters are carved out of the paper. The trick is to use just enough pressure to leave a very fine line in the surface of the wood. Sometimes the letters are very close to each others, on this sign the lower part of the I and the X are almost touching. In that case I just move the line a bit so there will be a small space between the individual letters.
Once that is done, I remove the remains of the paper.

I start by cutting in the middle of the fat line on one of the letters. I try to hold the knife at an angle of approximately 60 degrees sideways.
Once I have obtained a small V shaped ditch, I gradually make it wider and deeper, taking care to maintain the centre of the V shaped ditch in the middle.

To get into the rhythm of carving again, I normally start on some of the easier letters. I.e. all the ones that are not round or curved. In this name the only difficult letter is the S.

I have decided to leave the horse profiles on for a little bit longer while I try to muster the courage to try carving them.

A good source of light will greatly aid the work.

The sign with taped on templates.

Carving out the letters of the templates.

Hard to see, but there are faint lines of the letters.

The approximate side angle  while carving.

The first steps of carving.


  1. Cool! I might have to give this a try.

    1. Name signs make a fine gift. And they are pretty quick projects too.
      I normally like them to be painted, but that is a personal preference.

  2. Very nice description for this process, Also really like that you are showing using a simple knife that everyone has, it demystifies the process, and shows that this isn't something that only "Pros" can attempt. With the ease of custom letter templates (printouts) it really is easy to get started and from my experience, even the first attempt amazes onlookers, since many typefaces were created to be quickly and easily carved.

    1. Hello Jeremy.
      Like you say, it really isn't hard to get an amazing result even for the first time.
      The great thing about hobby knives is that they come sharp right out of the box. I actually prefer the break off type, because my opinion is that the point itself is a bit sharper than on the "solid" blade type. But there is not much of a difference though.
      For the horse profiles I think I'll use a small chisel and make the entire profile like a flat depression. My guess is that a V shaped horse would look a bit strange.

  3. Hello Dear Jonas,
    My name is Paul i am violin maker, please, tell me what your email?
    Congratulations on your blog and share good information!
    Thank you, greetings from Brazil!

    1. Hello Paul.
      I am glad that you like the blog.
      You can email me at mulesaw

  4. Once again you impress me with your ingenuity! Here I am, with a recently purchased set of carving chisels, and I haven't even gotten around to sharpening them. You, on the other hand, are carving with a utility knife.

    1. The great thing about a utility knife is that there is precious little need for sharpening :-)
      As long as it is letters, a utility knife is really good.
      For the small profiles of horses at the ends of the board, I have used a smaller scalpel like knife I once got for free at a flea market. I also used a small gouge from the same set. I'll show them in the next post.