Whittling 101: A Guide

Whittling 101: A Guide

Posted by Clayton on May 28th 2015

whittling knife

If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, whittling is a great way to relax but also stimulate the mind. Whittling is the art of carving wood to create different objects and designs. Some whittlers simply create small artifacts and shapes, while others use the talent to carve and decorate furniture, instruments, and more.

Whittling is a beautiful way to create objects that show the craftsmanship of the knife strokes and all of the hard work that goes into each unique piece. Many people whittle just to pass the time and keep their fingers nimble; others have quite the talent for making some amazing tools and objects out of wood.

As with all things, whittling takes time to get the hang of. There is a lot more to the activity if you’re looking to do more than just skin a twig. With the proper equipment and some patience, whittling is a great activity for all ages, and it is a great way to keep your hands busy.

What You'll Need

For whittling, there isn’t much that you’ll need besides a knife and some wood. At the beginning, you’ll want to look for woods that are softer, as these will be easier to manage. You don’t want to start out with tougher woods, because there is a greater chance for injury if you haven’t mastered the movements yet.

You’ll also want to make sure that your knife is sharp, as a dull knife isn’t going to make the process any easier. Consider investing in a high-quality knife that will help get the job done more smoothly. It’s also suggested that you invest in some thumb protectors, as these tend to get the brunt of the cuts when you slip up. These are fairly inexpensive and well worth the purchase to protect yourself and your project from blood.

What Wood to Look For

As mentioned, softer wood will serve you better in the beginning. Another thing to look for in the wood you whittle is whether or not it has a fairly straight grain. Wood that has grain going in various directions will be harder to whittle, as will wood that has a lot of divots and knots in it.

Try to use wood that has already been prepared for whittling so that you aren’t doing any harm to the environment. There are craft and hardware stores that have whittling wood available for purchase, and this will ensure that you’re also getting wood that is good for this type of project. You can also use sticks and twigs that you find already on the ground, as these are great for whittling around a campfire or when you’re just enjoying the outdoors.

Common Wood Types

Some of the most common wood types used in whittling include:


Pine is said to be a fairly soft wood; however, it does have a coarser grain than some of the other options. Pine comes in a bright white or a soft yellow, which can help you choose the type depending on what you’re going to make.


Balsa is another soft wood that’s great for whittling; however, it tends to be more popular than pine because it has a softer grain.


The most popular wood for beginners, basswood is the option with both soft wood and a softer grain. The makeup of the tree makes it easy to whittle, and it has a creamy looking tint that is very pretty for finished projects. Basswood and Balsa are both fairly easy to find at craft and home hardware stores.

Types of Knives

There isn’t one specific knife that you will need to use for whittling. Many people have their own preferences, and whatever works best for you is perfectly fine.

Pocket Knife

The pocketknife is one version that many people swear by, as they always have their pocket knife on hand, and they become comfortable whittling with it. A pocket knife is a completely acceptable option for whittling, not only because it’s handy for the activity any time, but also because of its different options. A pocket knife generally comes with a few different sizes and shapes, so you can always get more creative with your designs and details when using a knife like this.

Whittling Knife

If you don’t own a pocket knife, or want something more in tune with whittling, then there are knives that are designed for whittling. There are a few different styles, but it’s important to note that these versions have fixed blades, meaning they won’t fold in and protect themselves.

While you’ll have to be sure that you purchase a sheath to protect your blade, there is an added sturdiness to a fixed blade that you won’t get with the folded options. You can feel confident knowing that you can apply a lot of pressure, if necessary, and you’ll get the desired effect with these knives. A lot of these versions also have an added bonus of a curved handle, which is great if you’re spending a lot of hours working on projects. A pocket knife with a straight spine will be harder to hold and less comfortable than these specific knives.

Getting Started

Assuming you’re a beginner, the best way to begin whittling is to start shaping the wood into the shape you want. This is generally done with a push cut, pushing the blade away from the body to get the general shape and angles down before more detailed whittling.

Don’t dig in too deeply to make the process go faster—take your time! Remove thin layers slowly to ensure you don’t crack the wood.

A pull stoke is the most popular form of whittling, but, for beginners, it’s best to use this tactic when you start detailing. Make sure to use your thumb as the stabilizer, but keep an eye on it so that you don’t nick it with the knife. Following a thorough whittling guide will be helpful throughout your first few projects to make sure that you’re being smart and safe about your new hobby.

Whittling can be a really fun project so long as you follow safety protocols and keep your knife sharp for optimum performance. It’s important to remember, before you begin a project, that you are working with a sharp knife, so becoming distracted or working in a busy space can be cause for disaster. Make sure that any children and pets are clear of your work area, and that you have a lot of clear space to work and focus.