She's lived in the same mountainous region all her life and our family made their living working the land and tending to their many small olive orchards dotting the countryside. Her elder brother (my great uncle), known for his physical endurance, was apparently in charge of some of the more rugged orchards that clung to the mountainside. While taking a break from his responsibilities one day, my great uncle went rabbit hunting in the adjacent foothills and suffered a stroke and died. As a sign of mourning, the family decided no longer to tend the orchard in this area and the olive trees simply aged and returned to their unpruned, wild state. Despite the encroaching urbanization of the area, the isolated location of the plot has allowed it to retain its wilderness feel.
With my grandmother's recollected memories of the location, I hiked through this hilly region to find some of the neglected trees in this family plot. The small goat path I followed eventually led me to a cluster of olive trees at the base of the Nif Mountain range's foothills where my great uncle passed away.
The "mourning" orchard - olive trees are the pale green cluster
Olive trees are beautiful and even give off a faint resinous aroma of their precious oil. Near the back of the plot where the old orchard gives way to tall pine trees, I spotted a tree with a curious broken branch whose shape seemed perfect for the crooked knife blade I had been working on back home.
A broken branch crook; Fit my hand nicely
I didn't have any tools with me, so returned back to the village and borrowed a neighbour's saw to cut this piece and a few other branches as samples the next day. Olive wood is a very dense hardwood, with a tight grain that makes it ideal for carving and shaping.
Once back home and continuing with the crooked knife project, I cut out and roughly shaped a few handles from scrap wood to get a feel for the best design. Below are some of the templates I had prepared. A cherry handle, yellow birch, and two olive branches brought back from Turkey. Lots of deliberation and second guessing, but eventually I settled on gently curving olive wood branch (3rd from top) rather than the naturally bent crook that had originally caught my eye as the former seemed to feel the best in terms of weight, shape, and grip comfort - although I flipped it around from the orientation shown in the picture below.
Once I decided on the handle and the blade orientation (angled off the centre line), I proceeded to mark and chisel out a slot for the tang to fit.
Underside of handle with chiselled slot
Using a piece of white birch from a log destined for the firepit, the shim piece was carved to also fit in the carved groove. The tension of these pieces held tightly with waxed whipping thread would hold the blade into position
Carved shim; Nice fit; Beginning whipping
To end the whipping a stitching needle was used to pull the excess line under the whip. The shot below gives you the idea, but I wrapped it several more times.
After a bit more sharpening on some wetstones and honing on a strop, the knife was holding an edge nicely. Here's a picture showing it in action shaving down some scrap cedar.
Haven't decided if I'll decorate the handle with some pyrography or leave it as is. But I now have a working crooked knife with a bit of special family history.
The completed crooked knife
UPDATE: April 6/10: A post on improving the crooked knife lashing and securing the blade has been published.