Whittling: Ultimate Guides for Beginners – Tools, Tips, Resources & More
Whittling is an addictive hobby that is practiced by millions of people across the globe. It is very easy to do and you don't need complex or expensive tools to get started. If you are looking for information about whittling, you have come to the right place. Beginners are most welcome here! Even if you have no idea where to start, our ultimate guide to whittling will show you how to whittle like a professional. Let's get started!
Last update on 2023-09-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What is Whittling?
Whittling is not a new hobby. It has been around since man first developed sharpening tools many thousands of years ago. Whittling is simply shaving a piece of wood with a carving knife to get a particular design. It can be a face, a shape or anything in between. There is no general rule when it comes to whittling. All you need to whittle is a piece of softwood and a high-quality knife with blades made from tempered steel for the best result. Additionally, a sharpening stone for whittling is also recommended.
Whittling is a little bit different compared to wood carving as it is easier and requires almost no skill at all. It also has a more rugged finish, which makes it look very artisanal. Any newbie can start whittling in a matter of minutes. Of course, there are some guidelines and techniques that you need to familiarize yourself to get the most out of your whittling project ideas.
What Beginners Should Know About Wood Whittling
Before starting to whittle, there are some important factors to take into consideration. This will make your whittling project ideas easier to accomplish and more enjoyable.
Types of Wood: When whittling, it is recommended to use only soft wood. They are more malleable and can easily be carved with little effort. Soft wood like butternut and basswood are a please to whittle with. Hardwood like white oak and even Mahogany should be avoided if you value your hand.
Knife: Additionally, the knife used is also very important. The best whittling knife provides a sharp hardened steel blade with a large and comfortable handle. The handle is usually made from resin and has an ergonomic shape to fit well in the hand. This helps limit hand fatigue and allow you to whittle for longer periods of time.
Project Type: If you are a beginner, start with easy projects. Most whittling books for beginners have easy to accomplish projects that will get you started right away.
Resources to Learn About Whittling: Books are not the only way to learn how to whittle. There are also many useful resources you can find online. Later on in this guide, we will list some additional resources for your reading pleasure.
Best Wood for Whittling
As stated above, the best wood for whittling for beginners is softwood. They are much easier to work with. Once you’ve developed some skills, you can move on to more difficult and harder wood like Mahogany. The finish is well worth it. Hardwood also lasts much longer than soft wood and tend to keep their shape and texture better over time.
Additionally, we recommend that you go with wood that have straight grains. Even if the wood is a little bit coarse, like butternut, it is not really a problem as long as the wood grains are straight. They are easier to cut through and does not “chip” the wood in the wrong direction.
But, one problem remains. There are hundreds of softwoods that can make the choice somewhat confusing. To help you, here are some of the best wood whittling woods. They are can easily be found in any lumber yard.
Basswood: It is a light brown softwood with a very fine grain. It is extremely easy to cut through and ideal for beginners. You can use basswood with a pocket knife, but a professional whittling knife will give you a better result. Since it is so soft, basswood is one of the best wood for beginners.
Balsa: It is another softwood that looks similar to basswood, except that it is a little bit deeper brown. The grains are straight and it is equally easy to whittle on. Balsa tends to turn yellow-brown as you whittle. This is a common characteristic of this wood and there is nothing to worry about.
Butternut: It is one of the most popular whittling wood out there. It has bigger and coarser grains, but it is equally easy to work with as it chips away very easily. It is also a popular wood that can be found in most lumber yards. With some luck, you can even get it for free.
Twigs and Branches: Who would have guessed? One of the wonders of whittling is that you can work with twigs and branches. That’s right! Unlike what you may think, twigs and branches are excellent materials to work with since they are extremely malleable and soft. You can make ornaments or decorative objects with them, and best of all, they are absolutely free of charge! Fallen twigs and branches will work just fine for your whittling projects.
Best Knife for Whittling
There are many specialized whittling tools available on the market. They work better than your average pocket knife and deliver a more comfortable and professional whittling. To help you find a good tool for the money, we made a selection of some of the best whittling knives. They are great value for money and should not cost you too much.
Morakniv Wood Carving 120 Knife with Laminated Steel Blade
Editor's Rating: (4.7 / 5)
The Morakniv 120 wood carving knife is one of the best whittling knife on the market. It is small, measuring only 9” in length with a blade thickness of 2.7 mm. Since the blade is so thin, it can easily shave away thin layers of wood providing you with more control over your whittling work. Additionally, the blade is made from laminated steel which is very durable and long-lasting. Best, this blade material can also be used with any sharpening stone for whittling.
The handle is very comfortable and made from oiled birch wood. It is a very solid and durable wood, that still remains quite comfortable to the hand.
Lastly, we like this model because it is almost price the same as a regular pocket knife but it delivers much superior handling and performance when whittling.You can definitely feel the different when comparing this knife with a regular pocket-knife.
Beginner Palm and Knife Set
Editor's Rating: (4.8 / 5)
This Flexcut “set” packs a serious punch. This is an all-purpose kit that will allow you to perform chip carving as well as whittling. This 4 knives set includes a whittling knife, detail knife, a sweep gouge and a V-tool. The sweep gouge and V-tool knife allow you to dig deep into the wood and remove big chunks of material. They are also pointy-tipped so you can easily work in tight spots. The handles in all the knives are ergonomic and will limit hand fatigue when used for an extended period of time.
Flexcut is known for their high-quality accessories and you will not be disappointed with this kit. Best, they are made in the USA. It is a fairly affordable whittling/chip carving kit that should last you a long time, even if used every day.
Morakniv Wood Carving 164 Hook Knife with Carbon Steel Blade
Editor's Rating: (4.4 / 5)
Our last recommendation is another Morakniv knife. However, this is a hook knife that is ideally suited for detail and spooning work - but will work great when whittling. The hook shape and pointy tip will help you draw a layout in your material so that you can easily “chip” away the layers with a whittling knife later on. The handle is made from oiled birch and it feels great and very comfortable in the hand.
This knife is one of the best whittling knife money can buy. It is made in Sweden and it should technically last you a lifetime. It is also fairly affordable for its quality. If you do not own a hook knife for whittling already, we highly recommend you get this model. It makes whittling much easier and fun at the same time.
When whittling, it is very important to use a whittling knife with a sharp blade. A dull blade is difficult to work with and will not provide the precision necessary to whittle. The best way to keep your knife sharp is by using a sharpening stone for whittling. Those sharpening tools are specially made to help keep the tough steel blade sharp and as thin as possible. Additionally, some models even have a coarser side to smoothen edges directly on the wood. Very practical.
One sharpening stone for whittling that we recommend is Old Timer SSOTCP. This sharpening stone is double sided with a fine 350 grit side and a coarser 180 grit backside. The fine side is used for honing and the coarser edge for smoothing out edges. It is very versatile and will come is handy more often than not.it is also quite affordable regardless of how low your budget is.
Protective Gear for Safe Whittling
Whittling is not without its dangers. Remember, you are using a sharp knife to whittle and without protective gear, an accident is begging to happen. It is very important to always wear your protective gear while whittling, especially if you are an absolute beginner still learning this hobby. To help you whittle in a safer way, here are some protective gear that we recommend.
Large Thumb Guard
This protection gear is by far the best on the market. It slides over your thumb and does not prevent you from maneuvering your whittling knife. It is made from split leather with an elastic cloth backing. This means that it fits tight to your thumb while providing you with the protection that you need. What we like about this model is that it is delivered as a pair, so whether you are right-handed or left-handed, you can still use this protection guard.
Cut Resistant Work Gloves
This glove is made from DuPont Kevlar which means that it is very cut resistant. While it is not technically a whittling protection gear, it will come in very handy since it is lightweight and allows you to maneuver your whittling knife with great ease. You can also use this protective gear for other purposes that require cutting and it will work just fine. It is very high-quality and should last you quite a while.
How to Whittle Wood
Whittling is not very hard. However, you still need some basic techniques to get the job done. Here is how to get started whittling in as few words as possible.
Choose the Wood: First, you will need to choose the wood. It is recommended to work only with softwood if you are a beginner as they are easier to cut. You cannot go wrong with wood like brass wood or butternut. You must also pay attention to the wood grain. Always work with wood that have a straight wood grain as they are much easier to cut without “chipping” away. You cannot go wrong with wood like basswood, butternut, and balsa. They are a whittler’s favorite.
Use a Whittling Knife: While you may be tempted to use a pocket knife, and you can, it is always recommended to use a dedicated whittling knife. They are designed to provide the comfort and reliability needed. They are also sharper than the regular pocket knife and deliver more accurate cuts. However, if you do not have a whittling knife handy, you can still go ahead and use the traditional pocket knife. Bear in mind that the experience will not be the same as using a specialty whittling knife.
How to Cut the Wood: Now that you have chosen your favorite wood and knife, hold the whittling knife’s handle as firmly as you can and extend your thumb. Your thumb acts as a pivot and guides the blade over the wood. Then go in the direction of the wood grain and not against it. It will be much easier to cut and carve through the wood this way. By using your hand as the focal point, you all guaranteed to provide the necessary force to whittle with precision.
Keep your Blades Sharp: Your whittling knife has to remain sharp at all times. This is the first and most important rule of whittling. Before and after every use, make sure that you sharpen your knife using a sharpening stone for whittling. They usually have a very fine grit of around 320 which helps keep the blade ultra-sharp.
Read More: 7 Best Pocket Knife Sharpeners
Wear Protection Gear: Of course, if you are an absolute beginner then you cannot whittle without having proper protection. You do not need fancy protection gear and a simple thumb protection cover will work just fine.
Types of Whittling Cuts
There are several types of whittling cuts you will have to perform while whittling. Seasoned whittlers use those whittling techniques every day to make awesome designs. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Straightaway Rough Cut:
With a straightaway rough cut, you make thin cuts on the wood and try to carve the general shape of the design you want to reproduce. As the name suggests, this is a rough cut and a preliminary step before starting to use more advanced techniques. However, we know a few whittlers that exclusively use the straightaway rough cut to make a complete work of art. It might be difficult for newbies, but it is nice to know that the possibility is out there.
When using this technique, it is important not to cut too deep but rather “shave” thin layers, layer by layer. Take your time. The more you shave, the more you will find that the design will start appearing on the wood. Of course, a soft wood like basswood or butternut should be used with this whittling cut type. You will have a lot of difficulty whittling through hardwood with the straightaway rough cut method.
With a pull stroke, you use your thumb as a pivot and pull the whittling knife towards you. This method is the most common whittling type and it is also a very comfortable position to work. The thumb allows the blade to maneuver with great accuracy and this method works well with the straightaway rough cut. Simply draw a rough pattern using the straightaway rough cut and then use the pull stroke to get a more accurate carving out of your material. The pull stroke is the best method to get an accurate whittling pattern since you have so much control over your work this way.
It is highly recommended to use protection gear when using the pull stroke method as it is one of the riskiest whittling types.
The push stroke is the contrary of the pull stroke. With this method, you place your thumb on the back of the knife blade and push the blade over the material. Since you have the support of your thumb, the blade has more force to dig deeper into the material. It works only with a carving knife and not other tools like a V-knife or hood knife. However, both the pull stroke and the push stroke are excellent whittling methods to get a detailed whittling result.
Best Whittling Tips
To help you make the most out of your whittling time, here are some quick tips and tricks that will surely come in handy.
- Always use a short blade of no more than 1.5 inches. The shorter the blade, the more control you have over your whittling as your hands will be closer to the material.
- If you are a beginner, never use hardwood like Mahogany, leave alone white oak. They are very difficult to work with. Go with softwood like basswood or butternut for ease of use.
- Draw a pattern or design using a #2 pencil before you start. It will be a guideline for your whittling.
- Go slowly and in small steps. Remember, you cannot go back once the cut is done. It is always better to know in advance where and what you want to carve before doing it.
- Your slides should be not too big and comfortably fit in your hand. Work with slides of around 4” in size, no more.
Easy Whittling Projects for Beginners
To help you get started, here are some easy whittling projects for beginners.
Baby Dinosaur: The baby dinosaur is a fun project that does not require a lot of skill. Absolute beginners can easily do this project.
Carved Viking Chess Piece: This is an awesome carved figurine of a Viking. You will need rudimentary tools like a detail knife and a carving knife to do this. Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to Vikings.
Squirrel: The squirrel looks like a complex figure, but it is actually very easy to do. Just draw your squirrel design on the wood and start whittling.
American Indian Side-Figure: Again, another newbie friendly whittling project. Many whittling books for beginners use this figurine as a model. You will need a carving knife and a detail knife for this project.
Figurine Sets: The sky is the limit. You can do any animal or figurine you want with minimum skill. Check the polar bears and the baseball guy figurine below. Amazing, isn’t it?
But it does not stop there. If you want to check out more awesome whittling designs, then visit those links for more:
Best Books for Whittling
We took the liberty to gather a collection of some of the best books on whittling. They are made especially for beginners and should keep you busy with fun projects to work on.
Little Book of Whittling
Editor's Rating: (4.6 / 5)
This book by Chris Lubkemann is available as both a kindle app as well as paperback. It is a 104 pages whittling manual exclusively for beginners. It contains beautifully illustrated color photos that will help you get a clear idea about how to whittle correctly. The end purpose of this book is to make you become an expert whittler, and we have to say that it does so rather elegantly.
Complete Starter Guide to Whittling
Editor's Rating: (4.8 / 5)
The Complete Starter Guide to Whittling is written and published by the Editors of Woodcarving Illustrated. This popular publisher is known for their simple woodworking guides written in a simple and clear language.
This is a 96 pages paperback book that contain 24 beginner-friendly whittling projects, step-by-step instructions, and ready-made patterns. You can glue those patterns on your material and start whittling right away. Of course, it contains color illustrations and tip and tricks that will help you become a master whittler in no time.
Big Book of Whittle Fun
This is another paperback publication from Chris Lubkemann. This 144 pages guide contains 31 whittling projects that are very easy to make. It is beautifully illustrated and easy to follow. All you will need is a piece of wood and a carving knife. Some projects in this book only require a branch or a twig to get started. Yes, it's that easy! Now you can spend some quality time sitting on your porch.
If you are looking for a hobby and still undecided, whittling is a very fun pastime. It does not cost much, and as long as you have a knife and a piece of wood, you can get started. The sky is the limit with whittling and only limited by your imagination. We recommend that you check the whittling books for beginners mentioned above. They contain many fun projects to help you get those most out of whittling.