The most simplest form of wood carving is whittling, that is carving a stick or block of wood with just your knife. This is one of my most enjoyable past times and as I almost always have a knife with me, can do it just about anywhere.
What is the Point of Whittling?
Whittling is the process of slowly shaving off slivers of wood from a stick or block of wood with a knife to make shapes or sculptures. For many people, it is a pastime or a way to create small artistic creations.
Quite a few people start off whittling by just slowing cutting off little chunks from a stick using their pocket knife with no real intent of creating something. You don’t have to start whittling with an end result in mind, but just the simple act of cutting away at a stick with your trusty pocket knife is an enjoyable pastime.
It is Relaxing
The act of just whittling a stick to a point or shaping a piece of basswood into a small figure is a very relaxing activity. It’s fun to just slowly watch the wood chips build up or whittle down the stick to nothing with nothing guiding you and can just ease your mind after a long day of work.
Even when I am trying to carve a small figure, it can be quite relaxing to watch as the block of wood in your hand slowly starts to take shape and become something completely different. You may even find that what you planned on creating change while you are whittling and become something completely different. These sometimes turn out to be my best carvings as it sometimes comes more naturally to me.
Great Way to Pass the Time
If you are bored and need something to do, whittling will help you pass the time. While you are slowly chipping away at the wood, your mind will tend to focus on the task at hand and not worry so much about the distractions around you or how much time has elapsed.
I can easily sit and whittle a block of wood for an hour or two and not realize how long I have been doing it! Whittling something allows me to just focus and enjoy myself in the task at hand and usually ends up with a cool result at the end.
Fun Way to Make Gifts and Decorations
One of the best outcomes for whittling is that I now have a way to make small, personalized gifts for family and friends! You can easily make something for your parents, gifts for your friends, or even ornaments and figurines for the house!
My parents are more appreciative of something that is made by hand rather than purchased from the store. In their words, “knowing it was made by someone they care about just for them makes it even more special.”
Plus, you can make something that doesn’t exist in the world and is completely unique! You can make decorations for your house that specifically fits a theme or create one of a kind ornaments to show off on your bookshelf.
Sell Your Carvings
If you are up to opening up an online shop or going to a craft market, you can also sell your pieces of art to others and pick up some extra money to help fuel your creative outlet.
One thing that seems to always do well are small animal figurines like common pets and animals. Heck, you can even go to a local dog show and set up a table selling small sculptures of various dog breeds and probably make a small profit while doing a hobby you enjoy!
Easy Way to Be Creative
The act of whittling isn’t difficult or even hard to do. You can set your own difficulty level by deciding on what you want to do, sharpen a stick or whittle a small figure. You can do as much or as little as you want, in the end you are the judge on if your project is finished.
You don’t need much to start whittling, at bare minimum you just need a sharp knife and a stick from the yard. There is no need to purchase anything special if you just want to whittle away at sticks, your trusty pocket knife will do the job just fine.
How to Get Started
Like most people, I started whittling as a kid by picking up a stick on the ground and started shaving away wood with my trusty knife. I had absolutely no end result in mind but just wanted to chip away at a stick.
There is almost no barrier to get started whittling. All you will need is a nice sharp knife, wood to whittle, and a way to keep your knife whittling sharp so you can keep whittling safely.
Something to Whittle With
You can whittle with any knife you feel comfortable using. Lots of people whittle with a folding knife and you can carry them almost anywhere. These are great options for most people and you can make some really nice wood sculptures with them.
My preferred whittling knifes are smaller fixed blade knives with more durable, high carbon steel blades. I don’t have to worry about these knives closing on my hand and holds its edge longer instead compared to the softer steel found in most every day knives.
Even if you are interested in purchasing a knife designed for whittling, they are quite affordable and easily found both online and in crafting stores. You can check out my One Stop Whittling Resource Page if you want to some great options.
Something to Whittle
You can whittle any wood you want, and if I am camping or in the back yard I usually just pick up a random stick off the ground, find a seat, and start whittling.
Another great option is purchasing creative blocks from your local craft store or purchasing an easy wood to whittle, like basswood, from various online stores. I made a list of my favorite places to buy carving wood, if you want some ideas where to start looking.
Something to Keep Your Knife Sharp
Now that you have your preferred carving tool and a nice piece of wood to shape it’s time to start whittling! Yes, but you will need something to help maintain that sharp edge on your knife as you use it.
The key to successfully and safely whittle something out of wood is keeping your knife whittling sharp and knowing where your fingers are at while cutting.
If your knife gets dull or damaged, it can cause you to have to apply more force behind the knife and increase the chance of injury from the knife suddenly moving with a lot of force behind it. Also, you won’t get as clean of cuts and the sculpture may not carve the way you want.
Lots of whittlers just use a leather strop with polishing compound on it if their knife is already sharp to begin with. By stropping your knife before, during, and after use, you can maintain the edge as you slowly wear it down while whittling.
Other Items to Consider
All you need to successfully start whittling is by having the 3 things listed above, but another thing to consider is safety.
You will be working with a very sharp knife very close to your fingers and could accidentally cut yourself. Thankfully there are lots of cheap ways to protect your hands and fingers.
The most common thing that people use to protect their hands are cut resistant gloves. These are usually made of Kevlar fiber, steel reinforced nylon, or even metal mesh gloves!
If you want to see a full comparison of the different gloves and ways to protect your hands, click here to see my article showing several different options.
Other options are wrapping your fingers with athletic tape or even using leather finger guards for more dexterity!
Finally, if you have specialized high carbon steel whittling knives it would be a good idea to have a place to store them and some oil to coat them in after use. This way your knives are protected from possible damage and you will help prevent them from rusting .
I hope you enjoy whittling just as much as I do! If you are ready to get started, check out my One Stop Whittling Resource Page for more information.