Skiving Knives

Picture of two skiving knives lying on a piece of leather

Both sizes of skiving knife sold by Lisa Sorrell

I recently bought a couple of skiving knives from Lisa Sorrell, and I’ll start this by saying this:

Run, do not walk, to Lisa’s website and buy one. One of each if you can afford it, but the big one if not. If you can’t afford a US$45 knife, that’s Ok, but if you can get one of these.

Back? Good.

Yes, they really are that good. One of the hallmarks of Lisa’s work is her intricate and beautifully executed inlay. That technique requires an incredible level of accuracy in skiving fiddly pieces of inlay leather and she uses these knives.

They’re Japanese and made from layered steel. Ductile steel on the outside and very hard steel on the inside. They are double-bevelled, unlike some other skiving knives but that’s Ok, it makes them useful either right or left handed.

Close up of the sharp ends of skiving knvies showing the different textures of steel in the knives

Here you can see the different textures of steel in the knives.

I don’t know where Lisa sources them from, but they have this mark on them:

Close up of a Japanese maker's mark stamped into the steel of a skiving knife

The maker’s mark on the skiving knives sold by Lisa Sorrell.

When I got them these were the sharpest out of the box knives I have ever encountered, scalpels included. I’m pretty good at sharpening things, but these set a new standard for me.

When I’m not at reenactment events I sharpen my leather working knives and awls on a series of extremely fine grit abrasives stuck to a glass shelf from the hardware store. The abrasives are 3M microfinishing abrasives I get from Lee Valley Tools stuck down with carpet tape, which is a wide high-tack double sided tape. The leather bit is for sharpening awls and other things that aren’t a good match for the very fine abrasive stuck to the glass.

Picture of a sharpening surface made from three grades of 3M micro abrasive sheet and a leather strop stuck to a glass shelf.

Sharpening surface made from three grades of 3M micro abrasive sheet and a leather strop stuck to a glass shelf.

These knives get a light honing on the finest grit between uses, and that’s it.

I’ve used a few skiving knives of various shapes, including ones I’ve made myself, and I’ve gotten passably good results with most of them but these are the first ones I’ve used that I didn’t feel at all like I was fighting with in any way. Like any really good tool they get out of your way and Just Work.

They work well skiving thicker veg tanned leather as well as soft garment weight stuff.

Wide skive taken with one of Lisa Sorrell's skiving knives in some 2mm veg tanned leather.

Wide skive taken with one of Lisa Sorrell’s skiving knives.

This is some quite soft garment weight leather about 0.8mm thick. The wide knife easily skived it down to nothing at the edge.

This is some quite soft garment weight leather about 0.8mm thick. The wide knife easily skived it down to nothing at the edge.

To store them I just made a couple of sheaths out of manilla folder wrapped around the knife a few times and folded over at the blade end to close it off.

Sheathes for my skiving knives made from manilla folder and gaffer tape.

Sheathes for my skiving knives made from manilla folder and gaffer tape.

These aren’t just for skiving. You can do all of the cutting required to make a pair of medieval or renaissance shoes with one of these knives.

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