Although knives can be used for quite a variety of tasks, there aren’t many that possess the nostalgic charm and romance of carving. There’s just something about the act that connotes peace, relaxation, and contentment. Due to this, it’s no surprise that a large contingent of people who carry and use knives do so to have a carving tool on-hand when the opportunity arises.
It is a time-honored activity that has been done with tools of greater and lesser quality and, while a good deal of what makes a good carving knife comes down to what sort of carving you’re doing, Flexcut has tried to make a universally useful carving multitool in the Carvin’ Jack.
As with any multitool, the Carvin’ Jack is inherently a compromise: by trying to contain multiple tools in a single frame, compromises have to be made. Whether those compromises end up ruining the promise of the Carvin’ Jack will be answered over the course of this review.
Below, please use our interactive table to compare the Flexcut Carvin’ Jack to other great carving and whittling knives (and multi-tools).
|Flexcut Pocket Jack
|Flexcut Tri-Jack Pro
|Opinel Slimline No. 12
|Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack
Quick History of the Flexcut Carvin’ Jack
Flexcut is a maker of carving tools. I feel like this is important to keep in mind because the packaging and advertising for the Carvin’ Jack made it seem, to me, like some throwaway, fly-by-night As Seen On TV product that you would order and forget about a week after you receive it. However, looking at the Carvin’ Jack a little closer, you’ll begin to think otherwise.
For one thing, there’s the price: the Carvin’ Jack will run you $110-150, depending on where you look – way out of the impulse-purchase range for most people, I would imagine. Then there are the accessories it comes with: a leather strop and sharpening compound, both items that only an enthusiast would know what to do with.
Finally, there are also left and right-handed variants, indicative of an understanding of carving as an activity, and the different needs of different users.
The consensus on Flexcut as a company seems to be mainly positive. They may not have the cachet of the smaller, semi-custom or custom carving tool makers, but as a larger-scale company they put out good tools. The Carvin’ Jack, although not a product with a long history, comes from a company that understands the nature of the woodcarving hobby.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling knives that are currently for sale on Amazon:
|1) Cold Steel Survivalist
|2) Ka-Bar USMC
|3) Kershaw Cryo II
|4) Mossy Oak
|5) Kershaw Knockout
Although I would argue that ergonomics should be the first thing you look at when appraising any knife, I don’t think that anybody would argue with its supreme importance in a woodcarving knife. When you look at a dedicated, fixed-blade wood carving knife, you’ll see that most of the time they have simple, curved, comfortable handles.
You use a carving knife for an extended period of time, and really need the handle to be comfortable; hotspots and such are going to be much more noticeable on a knife you use in hard push and pull cuts for hours at a time.
In this regard, I have to say that the Carvin’ Jack is only a partial success. There isn’t anything wrong with it, per se, but the act of trying to accommodate six different carving tools within one handle is going to mess up the ergos, plain and simple. The best thing I can liken it to is the way in which a screwdriver on a multitool, though useful, is harder to use than a regular driver. The in-hand feel is never terrible, but it’s also rarely good.
I alluded to it before, but it’s worth restating that the Carvin’ Jack is the first dedicated carving multitool. While there are certainly multi-bladed knives that you can use for carving, generally they have less specialized blades than what you see here.
The Carvin’ Jack contains:
- Detail Knife
- Straight Gouge
- Gouge Scorp
- Hook Knife
That’s quite a compliment of tools, and a lot more specialized than what you’ll find on a whittling knife – which makes sense, because whittling and carving are two very different activities. If you look at something like the whittling knives that Case makes – the Seahorse – you’ll generally find a few variations on wharncliffes, sheepsfoots, that sort of thing. Perfect tools for whittling, but not quite what a dedicated wood carving instrument should be.
In other words, there just aren’t any other folding wood carving knives with the same technical bent as the Carvin’ Jack – with the exception of a few other offerings from Flexcut that comprise the rest of the Carvin’ Jack Collection; you can see the full line in this video.
The Flexcut Pocket Jack is probably the closest competition. It’s about half an ounce lighter, with two less tools; you lose the chisel and the hook knife. Personally, I would rather have a slightly heavier tool with more blade options, but your mileage may vary here.
Outside of Flexcut, you’d have to have a set of traditional, fixed blade carving knives to have anything to compare the Carvin’ Jack to. And in a straight up comparison, just as a dedicated screwdriver is better than a multitool screwdriver, so too would a dedicated detail knife work better than the Carvin’ Jack’s detail knife. But you go into the Carvin’ Jack understanding that, so I find it hard to fault it too much.
I was surprised at how light the Carvin’ Jack was; at 3.5 oz. you get a lot of tools for not a lot of weight. However, as with many multitools, the weight isn’t so much an issue as is the bulk.
You don’t want to carry this thing around in your pocket. Flexcut doesn’t want you to either, and gave you a leather belt pouch so you don’t have to. I don’t know how necessary the pouch is, personally. Whereas I can use any pocket knife for whittling, if I’m doing wood carving, I’m sitting down and preparing to spend some time with my project – I don’t know if there’s a huge need for on-the-go wood carving tools.
That being said, options are always welcome, and since the only real competition for the Carvin’ Jack is the Pocket Jack (which is still bulky) or fixed blade carving tools, I’ll give it a pass.
The Carvin’ Jack uses what Flexcut calls a “Clip Lock.” Whether or not these are mechanically any different than a lockback is hard to say, but they function just like one: the blade locks into place, and you depress a part of the backspring to release it again.
The problem with the locks is that they’re just not very strong. If you look around on the web, you’ll find that I’m not the only one with this opinion: multiple reports from different forums indicate that the locks give out with some frequency: this thread from the always-reliable Knife Forums is a good example.
The Pocket Jack has the same problem. Some of the other folding woodworking tools from Flexcut, like the Flexcut Tri-Jack Pro, feature liner locks, but these are hardly an improvement, being fairly thin and fiddly. I understand the need for lock, and I understand that there isn’t a lot of precedent for a design like this, but if the Carvin’ Jack is to stay around Flexcut needs to fix this.
Locking pocket knives don’t usually endure the stress and pressure carving knives do, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a pocket knife lock doesn’t work well in this application. Either way, this is where the advantages of having a traditional, fixed-blade carving knife really come to fore: because they don’t have locks, you don’t have to worry about them failing. If you’re really wrenching on it, it’s possible to snap them or crack the handles, but that’s very unlikely.
I think the fundamental issue with the Carvin’ Jack is that, whatever it does, a decent set of standard carving knives can do better. Granted, buying six knives will end up costing you more than the $110 the Carvin’ Jack costs, but you’ll have better-functioning and safer tools, and thus be able to use them more efficiently. It comes down to the mutlitool conundrum: it’s nice having all of these carving tools in a compact frame, but they just don’t work as well as your traditional carving knives do.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that a set of custom or semi-custom wood carving knives doesn’t cost anywhere near what a custom pocket knife would. You can get a decent set for well under $500, and if you’re passionate enough about wood carving to look into the $110 Carvin’ Jack, then you probably aren’t opposed to spending a little more for something of higher quality (you’ll find plenty of recommendations at the Wood Carving Illustrated forums).
I can, however, see a role for the Flexcut Carvin’ Jack. If you have only a few carving knives and are looking to quickly expand your toolset, it’s not a bad choice. It would certainly tide you over while you save up for a complete set of fixed-blade tools. It also doesn’t hurt that it comes with a good knife sharpener. As the first tool of its kind it’s certainly interesting. I just don’t know if it’s a tool that’s strictly better than what has worked for hundreds of years.
Rating: 3/5 stars.
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