Whittling 101

Are you someone that is intrigued by creating a carving with your own hands and crafty skills? If so, then you have come to the right place! Here, we will be talking about what whittling is, and how to get started.

What Is Whittling?

Now, whittling is a hobby that has been around for ages. This hobby started when the very first carving knife was created many many years ago. Whittling is actually one of the cheapest hobbies a person can take up considering there’s not much involved other than a knife and some wood. Some would say that whittling is a “cheap therapy” to relax the mind and focus all your attention to the task at hand. Whittling stands on its own as a carving art form. The difference between whittling and other carvings is that rather than carving detail into an already existing wood piece, the end result turns out to be a standalone sculpture. It’s important to remind yourself that if this is a new hobby for you and you haven’t quite gotten down the skill set yet, don’t be hard on yourself because everything takes patience and practice. You will be well on your way to being a successful whittler in no time.

The Wood

Obviously the wood is a very important component to whittling 101. With that said, it’s good to know what woods are best to use while engaging in this art form. Soft woods are the best woods to use for whittling because they cut nice and easy. Typically, no matter what wood you decide to choose, you will want to try and stray away from the wood that has the grain flowing in multiple directions due to the fact that it makes for a much harder whittle. Also, try and avoid woods with knots! If you thought whittling through scattered grain was tough, I can assure you that you don’t want to battle a knot.

Now, there are a few specific types of popular whittling woods that I have listed below:

Basswoodbasswood is actually recommended for beginners. Back in the Middle Ages, German sculptors preferred this wood to craft elaborate altar pieces. This wood is easy to work with because of how soft it is, as well as the little grain it possess. Basswood is also pretty cheap and affordable.

Balsaif you can’t find basswood, balsa just so happens to be great for beginners too. This wood is lightweight, inexpensive, soft with light grain. Whereas, basswood is more of a rich creamy color, balsa is a light to medium brown.

Pinepine is the most common wood used for whittling. Pine is very soft, cuts easy, and is easily available. The downfall is it has a courser grain. A course grain will make it easy to chip. Some people say that they don’t believe that pine actually holds detail very well. Others say that the grains just make it look much different from what basswood would look like.

Butternutif you are looking for the perfect wood to help you transition from softwood to hardwood, then this is it. Just like pine, butternut also has a courser grain and is easily found at a lumberyard.

Twigs and Branchesyou don’t actually need to go out and purchase specific types of wood to whittle when it can be found in your own backyard. Twigs and branches of almost all types of trees make for great whittling wood.

The Knife

Once upon a time, most people would just use their pocket knives to whittle with but times are always changing and now there are far more options to choose from. With that said, there are people that would argue and say that a pocket knife is the only true and acceptable way to whittle. A nice perk or two that a pocket knife has is its easy portability as well as the fact that most provide multiple blade types in one single knife. However, there are several types of specialty whittling knives. The difference between a pocket knife and a specialty whittling knife is the specialty whittling knife has a fixed blade which means that they don’t fold like how the pocket knife does, The specialty knife does have the pocket knife beat in the comfort department though, as the handle curves to fit in your hand just right to help reduce fatigue during long sessions of whittling.

Whittling Cuts

There are several different cutting styles that exist when it comes to whittling. Here, I will be providing a few examples of these cutting styles to give you some insight on the more basic techniques.

Pull Strokewhich is also known as “Pare Cut”, is the most common cut found in whittling. To properly preform this cut, you are going to want to hold the wood in your least dominant hand and the knife in your dominant hand. You are going to want to have the blade facing towards you while making your cut. The pull stroke gives you more control over your blade and is the best option as far as detailed cuts go.

Straightaway Rough Cutting- Unlike the pull stroke, you will want to keep this blade facing away from you. You will want to use this cut in the beginning of your carve to create the specified shape. While keeping the blade facing away from you, you will want to make a long, smooth cut with the grain and not against it. Keep your slices thin.

Push Stroke– aka “thumb pushing”, is often used, in most cases, when the pull stroke can’t be used. You will want to hold the wood in your least dominant hand while you hold the knife in your dominant hand with the blade facing away from you. Go ahead and put both your left and right thumb on the top of the blade and push forward. Use one thumb over the blade and use the other thumb to guide it.


Keep Your Knife Sharp- Make sure to AlWAYS keep you knife sharp! This is one of those cases where “the sharper, the better” comes into play and is actually safer for once. When the knife you are handling is dull, it increases your chances of a slip up from the additional pressure you will have to use.

Take Your Time- There is no need to rush! As said prior to, whittling is supposed to be relaxing and a way to destress. When you rush, you are leaving room for more accidents to occur. Slow down and take your time. The greatest things come from patience.

Wear Gloves- If you are someone that isn’t quite comfortable with the knife strokes, then I would go ahead and recommend to wear a pair of gloves, specifically these special whittling gloves that are designed to provide more comfort while whittling rather than your standard leather work gloves. They may feel a little awkward at first but they will grow on you!

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