Whittling With Exacto Knives and Utility Knives

You can use both exacto knives and utility knives for whittling and to great effect. As they have replaceable blades, this makes it easy to quickly swap your blade for a sharp one and keep whittling. Plus, with their super thin blade, you can easily get into tight corners and remove wood from hard to reach places.

If you are a beginner, I highly recommend that you use a dedicated whittling knife over any disposable blade knife, especially if this is your first time carving wood. As these blades are not permanently fixed in place, there is a much higher potential for injury by using them.

Lets go over some over some pros and cons of a few different types of these disposable knives to see if they are right for you. Also, at the end we will go over why you should use an actual whittling knife instead.

Using Exacto Knives for Whittling

Exacto Knives are a cheap and easy way to add detail work to your wood carvings. They are easy to find, easy to use, and you don’t have to sharpen them.

I have on hand but hardly use it as I have a few super sharp and thin whittling knives available to use with a more comfortable handle and with a blade that may not come loose and fall out during use.

Exacto Knives may be a useful whittling tool, but shouldn’t be used as your primary wood carving knife as there are some major drawbacks to them as well. Have them available to you if you need them, but don’t rely on them too much.

Lets go over some pros and cons of using exacto knives for whittling.

– Pros

  • Very cheap – You can find simple sets with replacement blades for less than $10 at your local general goods store or online.
  • Super sharp blade – Right out of the box they come sharp and ready to use. No need to worry about honing the blade, just install and use.
  • Easily get into tight places – The blade is nice and thin making it easy to get into small corners and shave off small pieces of wood in hard to reach places.
  • No need to sharpen – If your blade edge gets dull, just replace it. The blades are quite cheap and considered to be disposable.
  • Different style blades available – Not only do they have the standard triangular cutting blade, but you could get some flat chisel style blades as well.

– Cons

  • Blade can come loose – This is a major safety hazard. After using for a while, the twist clamp holding the blade in place may come loose and allow for movement or complete separation of the blade from the handle.
  • Uncomfortable to hold – After using for a long period of time, the slender handle may start to become uncomfortable to hold.
  • Limited usability – You won’t be able to slice off large sections of wood at a time and harder woods may brake the tip of your blade.
  • Knife can break – Overuse or improper handling can lead to the blade breaking completely. The most common part that breaks on mine are the tips.

Using Utility Knives for Whittling

Utility knives with replaceable razor blades are a decent and cheap option as well. They are more robust than exacto knives but still have some of the same faults.

They may be useful if you need to take off large sections of wood without dulling your primary whittling knife but the big handle may interfere with precise handling or prevent you from maneuvering the blade where you need.

I myself never utility knives as I find the handles to be too cumbersome to be practical. Plus, some of the blades have come loose on me while using the quick change utility knives making them unsafe for use.

Lets go over some of the pros and cons of using utility knives for whittling.

– Pros

  • Cheap – These tools can be found at nearly every hardware store for less than $15 and the blades are themselves very affordable.
  • Super sharp blade – Right out of the box, the razor blades are very sharp and you don’t need to bother touching them up on a strop.
  • Thin blade – The thin blades make it easy to quickly slice through wood and chip off decent sections at a time.
  • No need to sharpen – If your razor blade gets dull, just replace it. These blades are designed to be disposable and easily replaced.
  • Stronger than exacto knives – Because of their extra width, these blades are usually stronger, making them less prone to breaking while in use.

– Cons

  • Blade can come loose – I have seen plenty of people get hurt from razor blades coming loose in the quick release utility knives. I don’t like to use them for this reason alone.
  • Most handles are not very comfortable – They aren’t designed for prolonged comfort in the hands and sometimes are quite heavy.
  • Bulky design – The blade edge is usually a triangular section of the razor blade with the rest of the handle around it. This can prevent you from making use of the half of the blade edge you are useing.

Don’t Use Breakaway Utility Knives for Whittling!

I have found that the breakaway utility knives are probably your worst choice of razor blades to use for whittling.

Because the blades are already scored to break, it increases the chance of the blade breaking while in use. This could cause metal to get stuck inside of your sculpture or create an edge to catch your hand on if your blade decides to break while pushing on it.

I would avoid using these knives for any wood carving project as much as possible, especially if you are a beginner!

Why You Should Use a Whittling Knife Instead

If at all possible, use a purpose made whittling knife instead of any utility knife or exacto knife for your wood carving projects. They may be more expensive, but knowing that the blade is fixed and secure settles it in the end for me.

A purpose made whittling knife offers the user many benefits over utility knives and exacto knives besides being a safer knife. Lots of them are made of quality steel and are less likely to break, while coming in a bunch of different sizes and shapes to fit any wood cutting need.

My whittling knives can cut circles around any razor blade style knife any day. They are just a superior option for just a little more money. Lets go over some of the pros and cons of using a whittling knife instead.

– Pros

  • Fixed blade – This is a major deal to me. I don’t like using knives that have the chance to close on my hand or come loose. Any knife that you can replace the blade on will wear out and come loose over time.
  • Quality steel – Whittling knives will have quality made steel with a Rockwell hardess (RC) between 58 and 61. Razor blades can be very inconsistent with their RC range anywhere between 55 and 65.
  • Comfortable handles – Many whittling knives like the Flexcut knives have a nice and comfortable handle designed for prolonged use.
  • Multiple blade designs – Utility knives come in one size and shape, whittling knives can come in dozens of different blade sizes, shapes, and thicknesses to fit just about any need.
  • Designed for cutting wood – This is one of the most important traits, whittling knives are designed to cut wood. The quality made knives will have the right thickness, blade angle, hardness and handle to make your whittling experience that much better.
  • Price (both pro and con) – I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for, but good quality whittling knives can be found for $20-$30 each and never have to buy a replacement blade!

– Cons

  • Have to sharpen – You will have to maintain your knifes blade edge, but it really isn’t that bad. My wife always tells me that I enjoy sharpening my knives more than I enjoy whittling (she is probably right).
  • Price (both pro and con) – Whittling knives are indeed more expensive than a utility knife or exacto blade, but you do get what you pay for.

If you are ready to get started, check out my One Stop Whittling Resource Page for more information.

Brian Carver

A long time carving enthusiast that enjoys carving wood and stone. The main person behind the Carving is Fun website and YouTube channel. Always has way to many carving tools and is willing to try new and exciting carving projects!

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