Whittling is an age old tradition that is typically passed down from generation to generation and allows people to bond over a simple yet enjoyable pastime. Not only that, it is a great way to make hand made knickknacks to decorate with or give as gifts!
Many people will teach their children the joys and simplicity of whittling as a creative and entertaining hobby. Children as young as eight years old can safely learn how to whittle with the proper guidance and patience from an experienced whittler.
Most younger kids will excel at making simple cuts and basic shapes out of wood, then painting them for the finishing touches. Parents and mentors should start showing how to whittle basic shapes like cones or cylinders and then adding details with paint to make gnomes and totems.
Lets go over some tips and proper first steps when introducing children to the world of whittling
Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Whittle
These tips below are primarily suggestions and should be adjusted to the competency of the child with sharp hand tools and knives. You may have to practice patience and understand that they will carve what they want instead of what you are trying to teach.
Teach the Safety Basics First
Your most important tip that needs to be emphasized is safety. Most children will not understand proper safety precautions or have complete foresight to know where their blade is going to travel.
Providing safety equipment like slice resistant gloves and finger guards will only go so far, so make sure you show them how to safely hold a knife if you are teaching them how to make a special cut, like a paring cut.
Keep an eye on how they are handing the knives and making their cuts so you may correct how they are making them so you can help them learn the proper motor skills to manipulate their knives while carving.
If you do encounter that your child is making an unsafe cut, don’t jump or scold them all of a sudden as they are holding a sharp knife and could accidentally hurt themselves if startled. Instead, calmly say “hold on a second, let me show you a better way to do that so you don’t hurt yourself.” This way you are stopping them in a calm manner, let them know you can make it easier and won’t hurt themselves.
Provide Safety Gloves and Finger Guards
In an ideal world, you will want to provide your kids with safety gloves to prevent any accidental cuts while whittling. However, most slice resistant gloves don’t come in child size but there are other options available.
Youth Batting Gloves for Baseball will often have thicker leather around the thumb and pointer fingers, providing some protection from an accidental knife slip while carving. You can easily find these at your local sporting goods store or big box store so you can find the right size.
Another great option is to use some sort of finger guards. Most slide on guards will be too big, but what I have found to work really well is the self adhering Ace Wraps. They can be made to custom fit most any persons fingers and can be removed for reuse later on.
Sharpen Their Knives At the Beginning
Most children will not understand the concept of how to sharpen a specialized knife like a whittling knife. Some may understand the concept that sliding the edge on a sharpening stone will make it sharp if dull, but will need time to understand why you need to hone the knife.
In the early stages, I would tell them know that you are going to be sharpening the knife but let them know that they will be doing this later on in the future. Teach them what you are doing while you are doing it with definable steps for them to understand the process.
Eventually you should have them guide you as to how to sharpen the knife, eventually transitioning them to you guiding them until they understand. If you can make it interesting, by making a rhyme or song while they are young it could help speed up the process and keep their attention.
Use Softer Wood
Nothing will ruin a kids first whittling experience faster than carving something difficult. Younger kids with the world of distractions around them will be more likely to simply drop the knife and wood to play on their phone.
Using a soft wood that is easy to whittle, like balsa wood, is perfect to help keep kids engaged in the task at hand as they can easily shape the wood and provides a decent amount of satisfaction with every slice. This will also help prevent damaging their knife from mishandling or having to put a lot of pressure behind the blade and hurt themselves.
You can even use basswood for young whittlers with a longer attention span and more experience. I would personally opt for air dried basswood or premium basswood from TreelineUSA.com for a more consistent whittling experience.
Let Them Carve What They Want
Most kids may start off wanting to whittle the pattern or design you are showing them, but may eventually just do their own thing. To them it may be exactly how they intended to make the person or bunny, but let them give the final say of what it is.
You yourself will have to be creative in what the child has carved by trying to see if the carving can easily represent something. They may have just wanted to make a cool shape and you will need to see if you can identify a shape, much like seeing animals or shapes in the clouds.
In the end you can always paint their creation to look exactly like what they intended it to be.
Start Simple, Really Really Simple
Most kids will master the art of putting a point on a stick. Matter of fact, if you hand a young child a stick and a knife the first thing they will do is carve a point on it.
You can use this logic to your advantage by painting it to look like Santa or even a gnome. If they are good enough, you could even show them how to turn it into an ice-cream cone with a scoop of ice-cream in it or even something practical like a tent stake.
Use simple shapes and paints will be your advantage. You can turn cylinders into totem poles, tiki carvings, or simplified people. Spheres can be smiley faces, baseballs, or an apple. Get creative and start small, remember paint is your friend.
It’s OK if They Don’t Want To Whittle
In the end, you may find that your kids aren’t too interested in whittling or may become more interested in a later date. Let them know you will be available if they wish to learn later, sometimes they may just not be ready at that point in time to learn. Just give it time and they may come back with renewed interest.
With that being said, you probably don’t want to invest in all of the best tools on the market for a younger child. Just start off with some basics that you wouldn’t feel bad about them damaging or neglecting. Lets go over some great choices below.
Best Whittling Knives for Kids
When picking a whittling knife for kids, there are a few things you need to keep in mind; price, how well the handle fits in their hand, and how durable they are.
Obviously you wouldn’t want to hand over your favorite Drake Detail knife as there is a high chance they may damage the very fine tip of the blade and potentially ruin a more expensive knife. This is where some of the more affordable knives come into play.
Flexcut Cutting Knife
A great whittling knife option for kids will be the Flexcut Cutting Knife (model KN12) as it has a good sized blade that is easy to control, has a rounded tip to help prevent accidentally poking themselves, and has a decently durable blade that is less likely to snap if improperly handled.
Flexcut knives come properly honed right out of the packaging and are ready to use right away. The only issue you may find is that the handle may be a little too big for the younger whittlers but you can modify them a little if needed.
You can pick this knife up at just about any place that sells wood carving tools, but the best prices are usually on Amazon. Click the link to see current prices: https://amzn.to/37Tq0JW
Lee Ferguson Carving Knives
If you are looking for a quality made, hand crafted whittling knife with a thinner handle to fit your child’s hand, Lee Ferguson Carving Knives are an excellent choice! This knife is both beautiful with the rosewood handles and comes honed and ready to use right out of the packaging.
You can pick from a multitude of different blade length and shapes to fit the size of wood that your kids will be whittling. Most of them have a pointed tip, so make sure you reinforce proper hand positioning when whittling to prevent any pokes.
These knives typically range between $25 to $30 and are worth every penny. You can pick up a knife either on Lee’s website, FergusonKnives.com or on his Ebay store by clicking the link: https://ebay.to/3oJpGBL
Swiss Army Knives
If you want a more utilitarian option that your child can use as an EDC knife, the Swiss Army knives are a perfect fit. Depending on the model you get, you can have multiple sized blades, a wood saw to cut off branches, chisels, files or a whole slew of different options.
A great Swiss Army Knife choice for kids would be the Camper as it comes with two different sized blades and a wood saw to give them more tool options when whittling. This knife will have everything they will really need for years to come regardless if they are going to be whittling or not.
You can pick up your own Swiss Army Camper knife on Ebay either new or used for an amazing price. Click the link to check current listings to find the best deal: https://ebay.to/2CnapTO
If you want to get some basic knives to get your child in to whittling, Beavercraft offers some good quality knives at a very affordable price! Not only that, their blades are typically on the ticker side which can be a plus for kids as it makes them slightly more durable.
Beavercraft whittling knives also come in complete starter kits offering several different knives and sets that can come with leather strops, wood to carve, rolling storage bags, and instructions.
A great place to start is Beavercrafts Wood Carving Kit (item S16) as it comes with two different knives and wood to wood to carve. You can then go to the Beavercraft YouTube page to watch their tutorials or the Carving Is Fun YouTube Page for my step by step guides. To pick up this great beginner knife kit, head over to Amazon for the best prices by clicking here: https://amzn.to/37rOU3s
Whittling Supplies for Kids
Your child will need more than just a knife to start whittling, they will need some wood to whittle! Not only that, is a good idea to find a way to protect their little fingers and proper tools to take care of their knives.
Best Carving Wood For Kids
There are plenty of different types of wood that you can use to teach your child how to whittle. Since they are young, it will be ideal to start them with something soft and easy to slice.
Some of the best wood for kids to start whittling on are balsa wood and air dried basswood. Balsa wood may be too soft to add intricate details to, but it will help provide both the satisfaction and motivation needed to keep your child whittling as they can quickly shape the wood with little difficulty.
Once your child understands the basics of wood carving, they can move on to basswood, which is considered by most to be the ideal wood to whittle. I personally have a preference to use air dried basswood as it it typically softer and easier to work with than the kiln dried variant that the majority of people sell.
You can buy both of these woods on Amazon and Ebay, but I found Amazon to have the better deals for balsa wood and Ebay to have the best selection for air dried basswood. Click the links below to see what the current prices are:
Balsa Wood on Amazon: https://amzn.to/37Ubwtf
Basswood on Ebay: https://ebay.to/3owiN69
Gloves and Finger Protectors
Protecting your childes fingers from accidental knife slips while they are just starting is highly important. Finding slice resistant gloves for younger kids can be really challenging, but I found this XXS glove on Amazon that should fit kids from ages 4 to 6.
If you need larger gloves, I personally use and highly recommend the Dex Fit Level 5 Slice resistant gloves as they have a nice rubber palm to help grip the wood better. Click here to check prices, colors, and sizes on Amazon.
You can also use self adhering ace wrap to individually wrap your child’s fingers if you cant find the right glove, and is what I primarily do for my dominant hands thumb. These can be picked up at any store that sells medical supplies.
For more glove options, check out my comparison of different gloves and finger guards linked below:
Eventually, your child will need their own sharpening tools to keep their knives sharp and well honed. This is also good as they won’t constantly be using yours when you want to use them yourself!
All they will need will be a leather strop with polishing compound and maybe a sharpening stone if they damage their edge. Both Beavercraft and Sharp Pebble make great sharpening tools that will easily get them started properly, check the links below for prices.
Beavercraft Leather Strop on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3KQuGyT
Sharp Pebble Sharpening Stone on Amazon: https://amzn.to/36hdxPQ
Whittling Ideas for Kids
If you need some inspiration and direction on what to start showing your child what to carve, here are some super easy whittling ideas to get them interested.
Full step by step guide here: https://carvingisfun.com/whittle-a-cat/
Full step by step guide here: https://carvingisfun.com/whittle-a-dog/
More Whittling Tips and Ideas
If you want more information on what you need to get started or more step by step guides, check out my one stop whittling resource page linked below!