This is one of the most personally important pieces of carving on this website. A sgian dubh (pronounced something like ‘skee-an doo’) is a small knife traditionally worn in the sock when wearing a Scottish kilt. The name means ‘black knife’, as in ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ knife. It is supposed to represent good intentions (as the knife is clearly on show and not hidden), combined with a readiness to defend oneself.
My late father’s family were Scots and, when I got married in 2015, it seemed right to honour them all by wearing traditional dress with a kilt in my clan tartan.
The blade had to be bought as I had no tools, forge or the necessary skills to make a good Damascus steel one. The silverwork was also made by a skilled local jeweller and specially sent to Edinburgh to be assayed.
The handle and sheath are laburnum wood, from a tree which stood in the garden of the house that I grew up in. It was cut down long ago and the place is no longer owned by my family. My father would hang a hammock from this tree for my mother to rest in when she was pregnant with me.
I picked up the stone set into the end of the handle on a beach in the Isle of Man in 1989. It is riebeckite, a microgranite that is found on a small Scottish island called Ailsa Craig in the Irish Sea. The same stone is also set into the centre of the boxwood kiltpin.
This rock is also used to make stones for the sport of curling. When making the knife, I discovered that this island has another name in Gaelic: Carreg Alasdair, which means ‘Alistair’s Rock’!