Jack knife whittling - Wooden hand carved chain and rattle (ball in a cage) - two classic carving projects merged into one.

A wooden chain and rattle has long been one of the most interesting pieces of work a craftsman can make with his jack knife, in as much as the making of one requires careful cutting, the exercise is a good test of a craftsman’s skill with this handy tool.

In making the first chain and rattle, you had better use a pine block, as hardwood is not so easy for a beginner to handle. Therefore, for a first attempt, select a piece of pine free from blemishes, and plane it down to the dimensions, 433mm (17in) long, 51mm (2in) wide, and 51mm (2in) thick. With a pencil mark off ten divisions 25,5mm (1in) apart, running the lines around the four sides of the block. Then draw two lines lengthwise on each side of the block, as shown at AB and CD, making them 13 mm (0,5in) apart and and 19mm (0,75in)from each edge. With a chisel, cut out the four corners of the block down to the tenth line, as represented by the shading.


Wooden chain and rattle
Project type
Project difficulty
Skill level
for school classes and beginners
Level of workshop equipment
Hobby - Sharp and quality hand tools

L 433mm (17'') x W 51mm (2'') x  D51mm (2'') 


The chain is to be cut out of the remaining core, one link out of every two divisions.Commencing at the top of the block, remove the shaded portions I and II, as those would form only half links; then notch out the shaded corners marked III in the drawing, and gradually cut the core into circular links. Having finished this operation, draw a circle inside of each link, and cut out the wood inside of it. Round the edges of the links as shown in the drawing of the finished wooden chain. Your success in making a good wooden chain will depend largely upon a good, sharp knife and careful cutting. With a dull knife you are almost certain to split the links when separating one from another.


Wooden chain and rattle carving - Phase 1
Wooden chain and rattle carving - Phase 2

The rattle is to be made from the lower portion of the block. This part of the figure is more difficult to cut than the chain. First draw the two lines marked HI and JK, 13mm (0,5in) from the edges; then draw the cross lines LM, NO, PQ, and RS, as shown in the illustration. These lines should be similarly drawn upon the other three sides of the block. Remove the wood from the spaces shaded in the drawing, and you will then have left a centre solid block from which to cut the ball. Gently round the corners of this, and then gradually separate it from the surrounding framework. When this has been accomplished, the centre block will slip up and down. Now continue cutting the block until it is a perfect round ball, but be careful not to make it small enough to fall out of the frame, for that would spoil the entire piece of work. 

After completing the cutting, sand paper the links and rattle until they are perfectly smooth. Then oil the wood or give it a coat of varnish.

SOURCE: THE BOY CRAFTSMAN – Practical and profitable ideas for a boy’s leisure hours – A. Neely Hall (Published 1905, Lee & Shepard company)


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Submitted by Ceh Jan