How To Whittle: Whittling For Beginners


Whittling is useful for many situations – it is ideal for when you are trying to craft something, it is perfect for someone looking for something meditative to aid with centering his thoughts, and it is a perfect pastime for anyone who is on a camping trip. However, for whittling to work for you, you need to know how to whittle. 

For most beginners, whittling appears complicated. However, this shouldn’t be the case. With this guide to whittling for beginners, we will help you get started with a pastime that you will love. 

How to Whittle: What Will You Need? 

To get started with whittling, you will need two main things – the wood and the knife. Choosing the wrong wood and knife is what makes whittling for beginners hard. Below, we will help you get the right gear. 

The Knife 

When it comes to choosing the knife, you have 2 options – your trusty pocket knife or a specialty whittling knife. We will take a deeper look at both options below:

Pocket Knife 

For years, whittlers have used only their pocket knife to make great-looking works of art. Pocket knives are an ideal choice because they are portable. This means that every time you find a good piece of wood, you can simply whip out the pocket knife and start whittling. 

Another benefit of using the pocket knife is that you will find multiple blade types on the same knife. If you need to do the more intricate carving, all you will have to do is open up the smaller and more flexible blade. When you need big cuts, you will simply need to use the bigger knife blade. 

Specialty Whittling Knives 

In the market, various types of whittling knives exist. The whittling knives have fixed blades, unlike the pocket knives. This means that they do not fold. 

While the fact that they do not fold makes them less portable, it is also a benefit since it offers the whittler more sturdiness. When using the pocket knife, the folding blades offer less sturdiness. 

Another great benefit of using the specialty whittling knives is that they usually come with curved handles. The handles fit comfortably in the user’s hands – this reduces fatigue during long whittling hours. 

The Wood

Softwoods cut nice and easy – this makes them the best type of wood for whittling for beginners. Once you learn the whittling basics, you can always move on to the harder woods. 

Irrespective of the type of wood you intend to use, look for wood featuring a straight grain. This type of wood will be much easier to whittle compared to wood that has a grain going multiple ways. Knots are a booger to whittle – for this reason, try to avoid whittling woods with a lot of knots. 

If you are planning to go camping for the first time and you would like to carry some whittling woods to use for pastime after setting up the camping tent and before grabbing your sleeping bag, the following list should help you:

1. Basswood

This wood has been used by the best woodcarvers for millennia. It was used by German sculptors in the Middle Ages to make elaborate altarpieces. Basswood is good to whittle because it does not have much grain and is soft. 

2. Pine 

Another traditional whittling wood, pine is readily available, cuts easily, and very soft. However, pine has some drawbacks. Some whittlers think that the wood does not hold detail very well. If you are using a fresh pine branch or twig, you will have to clean the blade regularly to remove the sticky sap.

3. Balsa 

Soft, lightweight, and inexpensive, Balsa is an ideal option for those who are learning how to whittle. You can get Balsa at the craft store. 

4. Random Branches and Twigs 

Precut wood blocks are not the only ideal wood for whittling. Branches and twigs from most types of trees are also perfect for whittling. Random twigs and branches become an ideal option if you forget to pack your whittling wood when grabbing your camping gear

Ensure Your Knife is Sharp 

The first rule of whittling is that the knife you will be using has to be sharp. Sharpening your pocket knife or specialty whittling knife should make whittling both relaxing and pleasurable. 

When using a blunt knife, added pressure will be needed to get the results you are looking for. Within a short time, you may find your hands aching. This can be stopped by making use of your sharpening stone. 

Safety Tips for Whittling for Beginners

Accidents are a common issue among whittling beginners. Fortunately, you can avoid getting blood all over your project. All you will need to do is follow the safety tips outlined below:

1. Take It Slow 

You do not need to rush. Keep in mind that whittling is supposed to be both meditative and relaxing. Every time you get in a hurry with the cuts, you will be increasing your chances of cutting yourself. Making every cut both slow and controlled is the key to staying safe. 

2. Ensure the Knife is Sharp

Instead of cutting, the dull blade tends to glance off the wood and head right towards the whittler’s hand. While the blade may not be sharp enough to cut the whittling wood, it will be sharp enough to cut into your flesh. Keeping your knife sharp can help you avoid losing your fingers. 

3. Wear Gloves 

When you first start whittling, wearing gloves is an ideal way to avoid cuts. Until you get comfortable enough with all the different knife strokes, be sure to pack some leather gloves in your picnic backpack if you intend to do some whittling. While the gloves may feel cumbersome initially, you should be able to adjust quickly. 

4. Use a Thumb Pad 

If you cannot afford the leather gloves right now, be sure to invest in the cheaper thumb pad. The thumb on your knife-holding hand usually gets the brunt of the glances and nicks. To protect this thumb, wear the thumb pad. 

Another ideal solution that may work is to use duct tape. Before you initiate the whittling session, simply wrap the knife-holding thumb with the duct tape. 

Understanding the Wood Grain 

While you may be able to tell the direction of the grain on your whittling wood by simply looking at it, this is not always the case. If you are having a hard time trying to figure out which way the grain is going, start by making shallow and small cuts in the wood. Cuts made with the wood grain peel away smoothly. The cuts you make against the wood grain will have resistance and will end up splitting. 

When whittling, the majority of the cuts you make should go with the wood grain. Cuts made against the wood grain cause the wood to split and tear, making it ugly. In addition to this, the resistance you have to deal with when cutting against the grain makes whittling extremely hard. 

Types of Whittling Cuts


Before you get busy with the whittling wood and knife after setting up the camping tent, you must understand these whittling cuts: 

1. Straightaway Rough Cutting 

This cut is perfect at the beginning of the project – it will help you carve the project’s general shape. Simply hold the wood in the left hand and the knife in your right. Make a long and sweeping cut with the grain and away from the body. 

Do not cut too deep since you may end up splitting the wood. Make a couple of thin slices to reduce your wood to the desired shape and size. 

2. Pull Stroke (Pare Cut) 

This cut is ideal for old-timers. However, with proper care, it can be used by people who are learning how to whittle. For this cut, imagine that you are paring an apple. Holding the wood in the left hand and the knife in the right with its blade facing you, brace the right thumb against your wood and squeeze the right fingers to draw the blade to your right thumb. 

Keep each stroke controlled and short. Ensure the right thumb is not in the way of your blade. Wear a thumb pad for added safety. 

3. Push Stroke (Thumb Pushing) 

The push stroke becomes important when the cut will not allow the pull stroke. Hold the wood in the left hand and the knife in your right hand with its blade facing away from you. Place both the right- and left-hand thumbs on the back of the knife. Push the knife blade forward with the left thumb while the right thumb and fingers guide the blade through the wood. 

What to Whittle 

If you are sitting in your camping chair wondering what to whittle, you should try to keep things simple. For example, when the dinner is bubbling on your camping stove, start working on creating an egg out of your piece of wood. While the egg may not be exciting, it should help introduce you to the wood grain laws. 

After mastering the egg, move on to simple patterns. For example, you can try making cowboy boots out of your wood. You can also try making some animals out of the wood. 

If needed, you can invest in a book showing the whittling patterns. Alternatively, you can always make up your patterns. For example, if you intend to whittle a duck’s head, you can pick your piece of wood, draw an outline of your duck’s head on both sides and then start whittling. 

Note: When it comes to what you can whittle, you will only be limited by your imagination and experience. As your experience grows, you can move on to even more interesting art pieces. 


Q: What Can I Whittle?


If you are a beginning whittler, the best thing to do is start with the simplest things. As your experience increases, you can move on to more complicated objects. Below we have examples of the things you can whittle: 

  • An egg – This is the simplest. 
  • Cowboy boots – Slightly harder. Work on this after the egg. 
  • Animal parts – For example, try whittling a duck’s head.
  • Tent stake – This is the literal foundation of most outdoor survival shelters. If you will be sleeping in a tent, you can always make the tent stakes from scratch. 
  • Fishing spear – Wielding the whittled fishing spear on the riverbank should make you feel like a boss. 

Q: What Do I Need to Start Whittling?


To start whittling, you will need 2 main things – wood and a knife. Softwoods work best when it comes to whittling. For the knife, you can use either a pocket knife or a specialty whittling knife. For safety purposes, you may want to invest in a thumb pad and some leather gloves. 

Q: What Kind of Knife Is Best for Whittling?


Specialty whittling knives are generally sturdier and feature a handle that feels more comfortable in the whittler’s hands – these qualities make the knives more ideal for whittling. However, if you own a pocket knife, you can also use it to whittle.

Q: What Is the Difference Between Wood Carving and Whittling?


Whittling specifically refers to the process of holding a piece of wood in the hand and shaping it with simple tools, in most cases, only a knife. On the other hand, wood carving is a more general term (umbrella term) – whittling is a form of wood carving. Wood carving, however, allows for a greater variety of techniques, projects, and tools. Wood carving may involve tools like gouges, mallets, chisels, etc. 

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Feeling bored at home or while exploring the wilderness? Simply whip out your knife, grab a piece of wood and take advantage of whittling to create something useful. 

Learning how to whittle is easier than most people think it is. With our guide to whittling for beginners, you have all the tips you need to avoid injuries and to help you achieve great results more quickly. 

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!