Being able to use the swivel knife on the first try may be a little difficult, but with the information, I plan to give you, you will know the most important things about the swivel knife, choose the best for your work and carve with it in no time. But first, what are the best swivel knives for leather?
The best swivel knives for leather in no particular order are;
- Tandy Leather Craftool Pro Swivel Knife-Small: Best angled blade for carving sharp curves and corners.
- Knoweasy Swivel Knife: Best for beginners and is used for tooling straight and long curved lines.
- OWDEN Swivel Knife: Best for detailed Carving.
- Inton Swivel Knife: Best Ceramic Blade swivel Knife.
This thoroughly researched guide is to help beginners and professionals alike to make the right choices and also to discover everything there is to know about the swivel knife. Click Here! to jump ahead if you want to quickly learn more about the Best Swivel Knives for Leather.
What is a Swivel Knife?
A swivel knife is a small hand tool with a chisel-edged blade and a pencil-shaped handle used mainly for carving or tooling leather. The swivel knife has a small pivoted saddle or yoke on top of it where the forefinger sits while the thumb and the rest of the middle fingers holds it in place.
To some, using the swivel knife is one of the most difficult leatherwork tools but just like any other leatherwork tool or skill, it requires practicing a few carving drills and in no time you will master it.
What is a Swivel Knife Used for?
Generally, a swivel knife is used to cut the outlines of a design on the grain surface of natural leather and is usually a precut followed by a series of tooling or carving activities.
After the swivel knife is used along the edges or outlines of a design on the surface of leather, various stamping tools such as pear shaders, camouflage stamps, bevels, etc is used to carve out the design using various tooling and carving techniques.
Do You Really Need a Swivel Knife?
If you intend doing a lot of carving or tooling in most of your works, then getting a good swivel knife is a great idea but if tooling is not on your checklist for decorative techniques for leather work, then it won’t be necessary you get it.
There are other functions the swivel knife can serve that you might also want to take into consideration such as using it to make precuts on shapes to be cut out of leather with a utility knife, exacto knife, etc.
Best Swivel Knives, Blade Types, Differences & Uses
There are a few differences you might notice with the swivel knives you come across. The differences may range from the shape of the blade, the thickness of the blade, the handle, material, overall quality, etc.
1. Angled Swivel Knife Blades
These types of swivel knife blades have the edges of it’s blade slanted or angled at various degrees depending on the brand of swivel knife you buy. The angled blades are generally fantastic for cutting sharp curves, corners, short curves and corners.
The angled swivel knife blades comes in different widths. The size of the width also plays a role as to the type of cuts you make.
Generally, the regular angled swivel knives you will buy will have a fairly heavy thickness. There is also swivel knife blades that are thin. The swivel knives with thinner blades are considered filigree blades.
The swivel knife with filigree blades like the high quality craftool swivel knife from Tandy Leather are perfect for delicate cuts and much finer details. It also cuts a lot deeper into the leather compared to the regular swivel knife blades.
So if you intend making very detailed carvings, a swivel knife blade that is angled and thin are great for such purposes.
2. Non-Angled Swivel Knife Blades
The Non-Angled Swivel Knife Blades are swivel knife blades with a straight edge. These types of swivel knife blades are perfect for cutting straight lines, long straight lines or long curves. The thicker non-angled swivel knife blades are also great for making precuts for shapes to be cut from thinner leathers.
The swivel knife with the non-angled blade are the type that is great for beginners. If you’re interested in this type of swivel knife, you can check out the Knoweasy Swivel Knife on Amazon!
3. Hollow Ground Swivel Knife Blades
The hollow ground swivel knife blades are straight-edged but have the actual surface of the blade ground to be hollow or curved inward on both sides. The hollow ground shape leaves it with less surface polishing area and makes its polishing a lot faster.
The hollow ground swivel knives are great for making straight cuts and details dues to its thinner blades. More importantly, these blades will give you more functionality once you get used to them.
The hollow ground swivel knife blades are also generally thinner and come with narrow chisels or wider chisels.
If you’re interested in a swivel knife with hollow ground blade you can use for all sorts of straight and detailed cut designs, you can check out the OWDEN swivel knife over here on Amazon!
4. Ceramic Swivel Knife Blades
The ceramic swivel knife blades are similar in shape to regular steel or ruby blades but have it’s blade made from ceramic materials. The big advantage to using a ceramic swivel knife blade is that you will never have to sharpen it although a bit of frequent stropping on a piece of cardboard treated with jewelers rouge will go along way.
Carving leather with ceramic swivel knife blades is generally smooth, quite easy and becomes better and better to use with time especially if it’s like the Inton Ceramic Stainless Steel Swivel Knife from Amazon!. The more you strop and carve with it, the more smoother it gets and the less drag you will get.
5. Swivel Knife Double Blade
The swivel knives with double blades as the name implies places double line cuts on the leather. With a high quality swivel knife that has a double blade, you will be able to creatively make really nice tooling impressions and designs.
Pro Tips For Using a Swivel Knife
1. Always Keep your Swivel Knives Sharp
One key point for using the swivel knife is to keep it sharp all the time. You must pay particular attention to how sharp, smooth, and shiny the chisel edges are for the best results.
When swivels knives are not sharp, instead of opening up the grain layer during carving, it will push the grain layer inward or down and that results in ugly carved lines.
2. Keep your Stropping Paddle Close
Stropping the blade of the swivel knife frequently helps to maintain consistent sharpness on the blades edge. You should do a lot of stropping especially when your blade it new and also anytime you pick up your swivel knife to carve to get a nice shiny edge.
After you’ve used your swivel knife after a while and you realize the blade begins to drag a bit on the leather when you carve or tool, then it’s a good idea to give it a nice strop again.
You will strop a swivel knife by applying a fine grit compound over a strip of cardboard or piece of leather and pull or rub (hon) the chisel edges of the swivel knife 5-10 times on each side.
Lastly when stropping, make sure to pull at an angle below or equal to 45 degrees. At the end of every pull, lift the swivel knife off the strip before continuing. This will prevent the blade from rounding off instead of being sharpened.
3. Predetermine the Type of Cut You Want
Would you want a deep wide-cut or would you prefer a narrow cut? The longer tapered blade edge of the swivel knife results in thin carved lines while the much shorter ones results in a more wider bevels.
Knowing the kind of cut you would like to see in your carving will help greatly in choosing the kind of swivel knife to go in for.
Before you start to carve on your leather practice! practice!! practice!!!. Need I say more? Practice carving basic shapes like simple straight lines, arcs, curves, “S”, “Ƨ”, “O” etc. You can concentrate on making the curves or lines look the same.
Also, work on a couple of variations like big, small, slanted, or skewed if possible. This will generally train you to build your carving skills in tooling in any direction.
It’s very normal if you’re good at carving one way more than the other especially when starting out. With consistent practice, you should be able to work on it.
6. Dampening Your Leather
Here’s another important tip to remember. The dampness of your leather before you start tooling counts a lot and contributes greatly to the overall outcome of the work. Before using you’re swivel knife, you would want your leather to be dampened deeply enough without it being soggy.
So what you do is to use a foam soaked with water and use it to case the leather. After that, leave the leather for a while and when you notice it’s beginning to dry, returning to the original color of leather, you can start to carve.
7. Best Way to Hold a Swivel Knife
This is the most important tip every beginner should bare in mind. When holding a swivel knife, what you’re basically doing is pushing down on the yoke or saddle on top of the swivel knife with your forefinger, pulling with your middle finger, and steering the knife with your thumb.
The way you put your forefinger on the yoke or saddle of your swivel knife is to place it up to the first knuckle of the forefinger.
The entire mechanism of the swivel knife is quite challenging to get familiar with. However, it’s something you can get used to with the few practice drills started in this post in Tip number 4.
So remember to push down on the blade deep enough with your forefinger and as you’re pulling with the middle finger you can control the blade with your thumb to maneuver nice cuts for your carving.
8. Make Deep to Light Cuts
Start your carvings by sinking the swivel knife deeply into the leather at the starting point of the carve and end with a lighter stroke. You should do this by pulling the knife towards you while gradually fading it out towards the end of the stroke or cut.
9. Always Keep The Knife Vertical
It’s understandable how sometimes people get tempted not holding their swivel knives upright although there are a variety of angled swivel knives that may require the user to slant the swivel knife quite a bit.
Yet still tilting or slanting the swivel knife all the way isn’t a great idea. Always keep the blade vertical and vary your cuts with either edge of the swivel knife.
How to Sharpen a Swivel Knife Blade
It feels terrible when you have to use a swivel knife that drags. It’s really painful, and it hurts the hand so badly. And so you need to always keep your swivel knife blades sharp and here’s how you do it.
- To sharpen a swivel knife blade, you need to mount the blade to be sharpened on a keen edge sharpener.
- With the help of an oiled (sewing machine oil) whetstone (medium to fine grit) lay the keen edge sharpener that has your swivel knife mounted on it on the whetstone.
- Adjust the keen edge sharpener so that the blade edge of the keen edge sharpener is nicely angled on the whetstone.
- Now push the keen edge sharpener back and forth while the swivel knife blade drags over the oiled Keystone. Do this till you get an even edge on the swivel knife.
- Unmount the swivel knife blade from the keen edge sharpener, hold it over the whetstone and sharpen it again this time your running it over the whetstone sideways (not up and down like you did earlier) on both sides till you get out the grind marks from the initial sharpening.
- Put the blade back into the swivel knife.
- Put a fair amount of jewelers rouge on the grain side of a strip of leather and strop the sharpened swivel knife blade to polish the blade.
How to Sharpen a Ceramic swivel Knife Blade
Generally, your ceramic swivel knife blades will never require sharpening but what you are required to do is to frequently strop the blades on a piece of cardboard treated with jewelers rouge. All you do is to strop both sides of the ceramic blade 5-10 times repeatedly and your tool will be set for tooling.
How Sharp Should Swivel a Knife Be?
You can attain the perfect sharpness for your swivel knife after the swivel knife has been sharpened with a whetstone and polished over a strop. If you have a well-centered cutting edge, that is shiny and smooth with no grind marks after sharpening and polishing of the blade then your swivel knife blade is sharp enough.
How to a Swivel Knife on Leather
Watch this video on how to use a swivel knife on leather.