Can You Whittle With an Exacto Knife, Box Cutter, or Razor Blades?

Quite a few people have access to a wide variety of different cutting instruments including exacto knives, box cutters, and razor blade knives. There is no doubt that they are useful tools for general purpose cutting, but do they make good whittling tools?

While you can whittle with exacto knives, box cutters, and razor blades, it is not an ideal option and not advisable for those who have not yet mastered the basics of whittling. Because of the size, shape, and mechanism that holds the blades, it can be cumbersome or even dangerous to use for whittling.

These tools are designed for general purpose cutting, like opening boxes, or adding details to soft materials like craft paper and balsa wood. Using these cumbersome, and sometimes fragile, cutting tools to carve hard woods like basswood and pine may result in poor carving designs, broken cutting tips, or even accidental cuts and pokes.

Attempting to use exacto knives and utility knives without learning how to carve with the wood grain can lead to a poor carving experience. Plus, you will be skipping a vital skill when whittling, learning how to keep your knives razor sharp!

Difficulty of Whittling with Utility Knives and Razor Blades

We have all heard of the saying “use the right tool for the job” and it is very true when it comes to whittling. The specialized knives used for whittling and wood carving are designed to perform a special task that you will find difficult with most other knives.

While utility knives and razor blades may have a small cutting blade, the blade itself and the mechanism that holds them in place are not designed perform an intricate task like whittling. This makes it difficult to manipulate the blade and effectively carve the wood.

Not Designed for Carving Wood

First and foremost, utility knives, box cutters, and exacto blades are not designed for whittling or wood carving. They are primarily designed for slicing boxes or adding details in soft material like paper and foam.

Some of the utility knives with easily replaceable blades are not designed to adequately secure razor blades when carving some thing hard like wood. it can quickly become a safety hazard when using these knives beyond their intended scope of use.

In every job I have been in, there has always been at least one person to cut themselves deep enough with a razor blade that they were sent home because they were using them beyond their intended scope of use. In one instance, the employee was sent to the hospital and caused everyone to go through a training course for the proper use of box cutters in the work place.

Limited Control and Handling

Lets review the picture above. Your typical box cutter will have a wide and clunky handle, reducing the users ability to comfortably hold and manipulate the knife in the hands. The exacto blades may have a nice and pointed blade, but any long term use of the pencil like handle will quickly induce fatigue and limit directional control of the blade.

The two whittling knives on the right both have narrow, and proper length blades with a comfortable handle that easily allow you to hold and direct the blade as you see fit.

Whittling knives are designed in such a way to provide the user with a comfortable handle, enough blade reach, and with a quality blade as to improve the handling and overall control of the blade while whittling.

Blades Become Dull Quickly

While razor blades and box cutters come very sharp right out of the box, they have a habit of dulling out quickly for a variety of reasons. One of which is that there is no real control for steel hardness and the cutting blade can differ in hardness from blade to blade depending on how much heat it received during manufacture.

Softer blades will obviously wear out and deform quickly, but one of the major cause of the blades dulling out is them being too hard for the design of the cutting edge. More often than not, after extended use with most any razor blade, the cutting edge starts chipping and becoming brittle.

Brittle Blades

One of the major problems I see with razor blades are that they are just to brittle to handle prolonged use. While it is easy enough to change the blades on most models, the tips have a tendency to break when cutting into something hard or accidentally twist the blade in the wrong direction.

This will lead to damaged cutting tools that require constant blade replacements, or blades completely snapping while pushing and could lead you to swinging part of a sharp blade near your fingers and increase risk of injury.

Breakaway Blades Are Dangerous to Whittle With

If for any reason you are going to whittle with a razor blade, do not use breakaway razor blades. These are extremely unsafe for cutting anything harder than foam as they can snap unexpectedly and send whats left of your cutting edge flying towards your fingers or body.

These types of cutters are best served for only cutting soft materials like paper, foam, and tape. They are designed to easily break along the score lines and do not provide a safe whittling experience.

Woodworking Razor Blade Kits

There are several razor blade kits on the market, and a few of them are supposedly designed for wood carving. These kits are cheap and come with a variety of tools but are still not ideal for whittling.

While razor blade wood carving kits can be useful, the handle design and edge retention don’t provide a good long term whittling tool. You will have to buy more blades over time and the universal handle does not position your hand properly to provide adequate leverage and control for carving.

If you are serious about whittling, you will want to pick up a knife specifically designed for whittling. This way, you will be able to have a quality tool that will last you years with basic blade care and honing.

Can You Use Any Knife to Whittle?

There are many different knives on the market, but there are a few key aspects that make a knife a good whittling knife.

You can use any knife you want for whittling, but you want to find a knife purpose built for whittling for best results. Having a knife with the right steel hardness, blade length, and cutting edge angle will provide the user with a better tool for long term use.

Lets go over these three specifics in more detail.

Steel Hardness

Of the 3 listed, steel hardness will be the first thing you will look for. This will allow you to determine if a knife is using a steel too soft to hold an edge for a long time or if it is too brittle and will start chipping during use.

Blade hardness is commonly rated on the Rockwell C (HRC) scale. The ideal blade hardness for whittling knives is between 58 and 62. If the blade has a HRC lower than 58, the steel will be softer and loose its edge faster. If the blade has a HRC higher than 62, the steel may be too brittle and increase the chances of the edge chipping.

For a full list of different knife companies and their steel hardness, click the link below:

Blade Length

Using large, bulky, and unwieldy knives will reduce the effectiveness of the tool in your hands while carving. I have found tools like regular pocket knives and box cutters less effective when trying to add detail to your wood carving.

When whittling wood, you will usually want your knifes blade length to be less than 2 inches. If it is too long, then you won’t be able to use the tip with much control and won’t make as precise cuts as you would with a smaller knife.

Cutting Edge Angle

Another important factor in what makes a great whittling knife is the cutting edge angle and width of the blade itself.

Ideally you want to have a whittling knife with a cutting edge angle between 15 and 20 degrees to easily slice through wood. Once you start using a larger cutting edge, the knife will be harder to push through the wood. However, if you use too small of a cutting edge angle, the knife edge is more likely to deform.

What is a Good Knife for Whittling?

Now that you know the basics of what makes a good whittling knife, here are some options to choose from that are far superior to any razor blade or box cutter.

FlexCut Whittling Knives

FlexCut whittling knives are going to be your best option for any beginner picking up their first set of whittling knives. They offer a large variety of tools at great prices while being made with quality steel.

FlexCut Knife Details

SteelHigh Carbon Spring Steel
Rockwell C Hardness (HRC)59 – 61
Comes Sharp and Ready to Use?Yes
Sharp Edge After 30 Minutes? Yes
Average Price$18 – $23 Per Tool

You will be hard pressed to find better knives than these for the price. They are whittling sharp right out of the box with no need to hone the blade. As they are made of quality steel and hardened to the right levels, they maintain their sharp cutting edge for a long time.

These knives are easily purchased from most major wood carving stores and can easily be found on Amazon for a great price.

If you want a great beginner knife set to get you started for a great price, check out FlexCut’s 3 knife starter set on Amazon by clicking here.

If you want to see my full review, click the link below:

OCC Tools Whittling Knives

If you want some high quality, hand crafted whittling knives at an affordable price, check out OCC Tools for their assortment of whittling knives and gouges.

OCC Tools Knife Details

SteelO1 Tool Steel
Rockwell C Hardness (HRC)59
Comes Sharp and Ready to Use?Yes
Sharp Edge After 30 Minutes? Yes
Average Price$23 – $28 Per Tool

These knives are by far my favorite whittling knives at an affordable price. You get the hand crafted care added to each knife as well as a nice and sharp blade. You can feel the difference when cutting through wood when compared to some other whittling knives.

With the combination of a super sharp blade from the beginning, quality steel, and a nice thin cutting blade, you can easily whittle all day long.

Since these knives aren’t mass produced on the scale of Flexcut, you will probably only find them in specialty woodcarving stores online. Here are two of my favorite places to buy OCC knives:

If you want to see my full review, click the link below:

Drake Whittling Knives

Now, if you want a unique handcrafted whittling knife of amazing quality without having to wait on a long waiting list, Drake Knives are going to be a great choice.

Drake Knife Details

SteelO1 Tool Steel
Rockwell C Hardness (HRC)58
Comes Sharp and Ready to Use?Yes
Sharp Edge After 30 Minutes? Yes
Average Price$35 – $45 Per Tool

Each Drake Knife is hand crafted from tip to tip and each handle is unique in color from knife to knife. Not only that, these knives come with a lifetime warranty from Drake for defects and even breakage. Plus, each tool has a lifetime sharpening guarantee in the unlikely event that your knife edge needs to be reground back to shape.

These knives are far superior to all other whittling knives you can buy on amazon or big box stores. Drake knives are crafted with a purpose and with excellent quality.

If you want to pick up your own Drake Knife, purchase from their website directly. It may take a little longer than it would from major retailers, but that is because they are making sure your knife is made properly before sending it your way.

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!

Recent Posts