The swivel knife and the flat knife are two completely different knives which you might mistake for one another. The main difference of the two lies in their parts and use in leatherwork. It is vital to learn how these tools differ from one another to maximize their use in your projects and to know what is the best brand of knife to purchase.
What is the difference between a swivel and a flat knife? Swivel knives are small hand tools with a sharp blade and a rotating handle responsible for carving and tooling leather. The flat knife or skiving knife has a thick blade and a wooden handle used for thinning and cutting parts of the leather.
In this article, I will discuss the functions of a swivel and a flat knife and how they are used in leatherworking. I also included some of the best swivel and flat knives that you can purchase and tips for beginners to handle these knives properly.
Swivel Knife: For Tooling and Carving Leather Designs
Tooling and carving leather requires a hand tool that produces precision and great control to create prints and leather designs. A swivel knife is a tool that leatherworkers trust in this delicate task.
Parts and Uses of a Swivel Knife
A swivel knife is a chisel-edged blade mounted in a pivot. Its body turns 360 degrees for easy and smooth curve cuts and is held like a pencil. It cuts an outline of decorative design to the leather as a preparation for the tooling process. Leatherworkers considered the swivel knife as a difficult tool to master.
Four parts make up this knife. The yoke or the saddle, which is the top part of the swivel knife, is a place for the index finger to put downward pressure in making cuts. The rest of the tool rotates between the thumb and other fingers to easily change direction in carving without turning your hands so much.
Connected below the yoke is the neck, a long rod that adjusts to change the knife’s length. The barrel that holds the blade in place is below to the neck. The other fingers are placed in the barrel to control the knife properly.
The last and most important part of a knife is the blade. This flat angle blade is attached to the barrel and cuts designs. The blade just goes on the leather surface and does not cut through it.
Best Swivel Knives for Leatherwork
Here are the best swivel knives in the leatherwork industry for your precise and detailed leather carving and tooling.
Tandy Leather Craftool Pro Swivel Knife: Ball Bearing Knife
This ball-bearing swivel knife has the best sharp blade made of stainless steel. The yoke turns smoothly, making it easier to work on curved lines. Professional artisans choose this tool as their carving buddy. The Tandy leather craftool comes in two sizes. The small swivel knife has an angled blade for thin leathers, and the large swivel knife has a hollow ground blade. You can find this on Amazon for $54.95.
Knoweasy Swivel Knife: A Tool for Beginners
For beginners, the Knoweasy swivel knife is the right tool for you. It is a small and sharp carving tool made from special steel that is flexible in your hands. The length and rotation bearing can also be adjustable to suit the leatherworker’s preference. This is available on Amazon for$11.99.
OWDEN Swivel Knife- Small: For Detailed Carving
The OWDEN swivel knife is used for precisely detailed carving and is suitable for your delicate leather designs. This knife comes in three sizes; small, medium, and large, to suit the leatherworker’s hand size. The knife is made of a brass handle and a steel blade. Each swivel knife comes with two blade sizes and a hex key. The blades are interchangeable to cater to both small and large blades. Its handle height is also adjustable and costs $22.90 at your online stores.
Inton Swivel Knife: For Professional and Amateur Leatherworker
The last knife on the list is the Inton Swivel Knife which is made of ceramic blades. This knife is used for leathercraft carving and is suitable for both professionals and amateurs. The handle rotates 360 degrees for comfortable use. You can purchase this at the cost of $19.99.
Swivel Knives Tips for Beginners
Mastering this tool may take a lot of time for experts and beginners alike. As with any other craft, practice is the way to go. For swivel knives, start with leather scraps to practice cutting straight and curved lines. Here are some tips to make your carving better.
Press hard into the leather to leave a deep mark where the bevel would fit perfectly for tooling. Put enough pressure on the yoke to create deep marks.
For cutting straight lines, keep the knife straight at a vertical position, so the blade goes deeply into the leather. For curved lines, tilt the knife away from you. This way, less of the knife goes into the leather, allowing you to make turns and curves easily.
Sharpen your knife before use. This helps to prevent you from forcing the blade into the leather and damaging it.
Wet the leather with water before carving. Leather absorbs prints easily when they are wet. It also prevents leaving unnecessary marks on parts of the leather that are not used for the design.
Flat Knife: For Skiving Thick Leathers
A flat knife or commonly known as a skiving knife is another essential tool in leatherworking. It is used for skiving and cutting leather and requires practice to master the handling of this tool.
Uses and Parts of a Flat Knife
Thinning leather parts and cutting leather shapes is the primary function of a flat knife. A thinned leather makes stitching and punching holes easier for the leatherworker. It is also used to add depth to products in making pockets and bending leather corners.
A flat knife has two essential parts, the handle, and the blade. The handle is in the upper part of the knife, where you wrap your fingers for control, and is made of wood. The sharp blade connected to the handle has a flat edge that removes parts of a thick leather by gliding it through the material’s surface.
There are two ways to hold and use a skiving knife. The first method is to wrap your fingers on the wooden handle and glide it over the leather. However, this method may cause harm and leather damage because it lacks control and may remove more leather layers than you intended.
For a controlled grip, place your thumb at one side of the blade near the handle. The index and middle finger go to the other side of the blade for balance, and the two remaining fingers will be your support under the wooden handle. This method avoids skiving too hard on leather and gives the leatherworker a way to insert enough force.
In cutting leather, just use the corner of the blade, tilting it at a 45-degree angle and cutting to the direction desired. The blade corner is sharp enough to cut and is easier to maneuver for curved surfaces.
Best Flat Knives for Leatherworking
Here are some flat knives which most leatherworkers use and trust when it comes to skiving.
Chartermade Premium Skiving Knife: Your Handmade High-Quality Knife
A Chartermade skiving knife costs $199.99. Handmade by Terrick of Chartermade South Africa, this knife is made from only the most delicate steel blade and wooden handle materials. The steel blade has superb edge retention, which remains razor sharp with just a regular stropping. It cuts gradually and slips into the leather with ease. The wood handle comes from an African Teak wood which is ergonomically shaped for skiving and cutting.
TandyPro Tools Skiving Knife: Premium Leathercraft Tool
TandyPro skiving knife is a premium leathercraft tool designed in China for cutting, skiving, and trimming leather. It is crafted for precision, balance, ease of comfort, ergonomics, and long wear.
The knife is made from steel brass and engineered wood that can be used on high-end leather of any project. You can purchase it for $44.99.
BANYOUR Leather Knife Cutting Knife: Semicircular Knife
Banyour’s knives are made from high-quality steel and wooden handle. Its semicircular knife is a suitable cutting edge for many types of leather materials. This knife is used by professionals and amateurs, easy to control, and can cut perfect leather shapes with its very sharp blade. You can find it on Amazon at $11.99.
Craftsha Japanese Leather Knife: Wear-Resistant Knife
This high-end Japanese traditional skiving and utility knife is made from high carbon steel, which is wear-resistant and not prone to rust and discoloration over time. To preserve its good quality, it is advisable to keep it in a dry place and oil the knife when not used. You can make a purchase of this knife at Amazon for $37.66.
Flat Knives Tips for Beginners
Use a thick granite, marble, or glass as a skiving board, to give your hand flexibility to move. The board must be hard enough to not make cuts on your working table. Always skive on top of a hard surface so the blade will hit the board and stop there. This prevents the blade from going out of the direction, which may cause danger to the leatherworker.
The knife’s direction in skiving should be from bottom to top of the leather, moving away from you and not towards you. It prevents the blade from being in close contact with your body.
Sharpen the knife as often as you use it to make skiving and cutting easier. Keep in mind to be careful especially around newly bought or newly sharpened knives. Use a leather strop to get that razor blade consistency and sharpen the front and backside of the blade.
Now that you know the difference between a swivel and a flat knife, you are now able to identify what kind of knife you’ll need most in your projects. Take extra precautions when handling these knives to avoid any tool damage. Even for professional leatherworkers, mastering their use will take a lot of time, so you should not rush and use it hastily, disregarding your safety.