Whittling: A Wood Carving Skill That You Need To Know


Home ImprovementTech

Whittling is not a new concept. In fact, this wood carving art has been around since the beginning of mankind. 

Our ancestors have used this special skill to build houses and make household items. Despite the advent of modern technology, manual skills, such as whittling, are still useful in many areas of our lives. 

Since this is traditional art, there is no specific guideline for whittling. It depends on the skills being passed on through generations and the creativity of the individual.

In this article, we will go deep into what whittling is, how it is done and all the great things you can make with this beautiful skill. We hope you enjoy!

Definition Of Whittling

What is whittling? Simply put, whittling is an art where you carve a piece of wood by using a knife. 

For the best results, you should use a high-quality blade knife with tempered steel. You can also use a sharpening stone for additional help.

Whittling is a rugged version of wood carving as it doesn’t require the perfection demanded by wood carving. In fact, it is so easy to learn that anybody can apply this skill in a matter of minutes. 

Once you get the hang of it, you can use this skill to make designs and carvings on any piece of wood. If you are more business-minded, you may even start selling your creations for a good profit!

Types Of Wood To Be Used For Whittling

There are two types of wood commonly used for carving wood – softwood and hardwood. You can use them both for whittling. However, as a beginner, you should start with softwood. 

The most accepted types of wood are balsa, butternut, pine, and basswood. We will brief you on these kinds of wood before we proceed to more important issues.


Balsa is a softwood that is fine grain. It is commonly used to create model airplanes. You will likely notice carvings from balsa in the local hobby shops and craft shops. 


We don’t recommend butternut to absolute beginners, as it may be quite difficult to work with. If this is your first time at whittling, butternut should be the last experiment on your list. 

Regardless, it is still soft and fine-grained for whittling. The problem is its coarse grain which may be discouraging for beginners. Butternut softwood can be found in a lumber yard.


Pine is a popular softwood but it has coarse grains, which are not as coarse as butternut. We recommend white and yellowish pine wood for whittling. It may be less remarkable than balsa or basswood. 


Basswood is a good choice for whittling novices. It is soft and has a fine grain.

You can find this wood at any craft store at an affordable price. Its creamy tint is what people notice about it at first. 

Before we conclude this section, we would like to stress the fact that if you are deriving these woods from the lumber yard, avoid knots and growth rings. They can be very hard to cut. However, you may not have to worry about this factor if you are purchasing the wood from a craft store. 

Tools Needed For Whittling

Although some people used a pocket knife for whittling traditionally, nowadays you can find good knives specifically designed for whittling. These knives have a long handle and a fixed blade. 

The long handle provides comfort and reduces hand fatigue. So you will be able to work with it for a very long time. Moreover, the ergonomic shape of the handle is designed for maximum comfort. 

It doesn’t cost much either. The price of a whittling knife may cost around $20. 

In addition to a whittling knife, you will also need a sharpening stone to sharpen the blade whenever it becomes blunt. 

Safety Measures

Even when you are working with a small knife, it is still a knife and you have to be careful with it. The shreds of wood that you cut off may become a source of pain as well if you are not careful. 

So our first advice is that you must keep your knife sharp at all times. A blunt knife is more prone to injuring you compared to a sharp one. Plus, wear a thick pair of gloves when you are whittling. 

For those of you who need a little guidance in sharpening a knife, follow the instructions – you must keep the blade inclined at 10 to 20 degrees when you are sharpening the knife. Only use your elbow, not your wrist when you move the knife back and forth over the ceramic sharpener. 

Lastly, you should take it slow when you are whittling. You may injure yourself when you are rushing. 

How To Cut And Design

Softwood won’t resist the knife, so you will be able to peel off layers quite easily. You just have to make sure that you are maintaining the angles right. 

You must run the blade parallel to the grain streaks of the food. Notice which direction is with the grain and which is against it. You can find this out by identifying which direction is giving you the least and most resistance.

It will be easier to cut with the direction of the grain as it will be the path of least resistance. It will allow you to aim longer cuts. 

If you want to design on the wood, you have to trace out with a pencil first. It will be easier for you to create a form when you have a blueprint. 

Several steps must be followed to make designs on the wood. The first stage involves cutting basic shapes. Then you should continue to make light cuts until you reach the desired representation. 

In All

Whittling sounds like a fancy word for a simple work as cutting wood. You don’t need a lot of sophisticated tools for whittling, which makes the task ten times easier and faster. 

It takes a few minutes for a beginner to learn the art of whittling. It takes them a while to carve out complex artifacts, but there are lots of helpful resources on the internet for that. 

Therefore, we hope you learned a lot from this article and you will be able to share this knowledge with others eventually. We encourage you to keep improving your woodworking skills. Have a great day!

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