It’s the Bulge

Several people have emailed me pointing me to different places where I’m told I can buy the style of striking knife I just finished making.  To all of those people, I offer my sincere thanks. But the fact is that none of the commercially available knives are quite right. They all lack “the bulge”.

It’s not really evident in the knife I just made, because I simply got tired of filing metal away.  So the bulge on my knife is not very pronounced.  But it’s there, albeit not as deep or as shapely as I would like it to be. For reference again, here is the Smith’s Key knife.


Note how behind the knife blade, the shaft tapers in, then bulges out, then tapers down to the awl point.  Here’s a photo of Christopher Schwarz’s antique version.  Note the same bulge.


This bulge lifts the awl end off the bench, making the knife easier to pick up, and it makes it settle into the hand much nicer than a straight taper.  All of the other knives that I’ve found available commercially that are a similar style do not have the bulge.  They have a straight taper from the knife to the awl.

Here’s one I bought from the smiths at Williamsburg next to the one I just made. The Williamsburg knife has no bulge. In this overhead shot of my new one, you can see the slight bulge a little better.  It’s more noticable in the hand than it is by eye. Like I said, I would like it more pronounced (and I may someday grind it down some more), but I can feel the difference.


And the standard knives currently sold by John at Black Bear Forge. Again, straight taper (though I’m sure John can forge in a bulge, his standard knives just don’t have one).


And finally one from Woodcraft. Sorry, but this one is just plain ugly, and that knurling looks down right uncomfortable for long sessions marking out lots of joinery.


So thanks again for all the suggestions, but I’m still looking for a good commercially made example like the one in Smith’s Key with a nice round handle with “the bulge”. Though now that I’ve made one, I guess I can stop looking.


2 thoughts on “It’s the Bulge

  1. Bob,

    I didn’t mean to imply those other examples were equivalent to yours, much less that they might be better. I am glad my comments encouraged some analysis and comparison of features and functionality. I hope it will lead each of us to choose and individual style to best fits our needs, and maybe even result in improvements to the “state of the art.” I have striking/marking knives of several different designs, including the blacksmith forged style. I don’t have a Smith’s Key style like you made, so I have a question you should be able to answer. The forged knives attempt to provide a facimile of a bulge or grip by putting several twists in the flat tool steel they are made from. How does Smith’s compare, ergonomically, to the forged type, in your experience?

    I agree with you that the machinist’s scribe, as carried by Woodcraft, is not very elegant. I only mentioned it because it is relatively inexpensive, and it does have two marking points on one tool, even though it is intended to make marks in Prussian blue instead of wood.

    I hve another variation an a theme that I ground down like you did, but I shaped the knife end with two bevels instead of one (similar to the Blue Spruce or Chester Toolworks or Lee Valley knives) and instead of grinding a bulge in the middle, I turned a wooden grip that I slipped over the center of the shaft. Using a lathe to make the grip makes it a bit easier to experiment with different shapes.

    • Sorry William, somehow I missed this question.

      Compared to the knife I have from Williamsburg, I think the Smith’s Key knife is more comfortable. It’s a little longer, making it balance a bit differently in the hand. The knife end is a bit longer, allowing for a slightly less cramped grip. And because the bulge area is smooth, it rests comfortably into the fingers better in my opinion. I’m not crazy about the twisted knives. They look really pretty, but they’re not quite as comfortable to me. I also prefer a slightly lower angle. I could grind the angle lower on my Williamsburg knife, but that would shorten it even more, so I leave it alone.

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