How to Whittle: A Beginner’s Guide

Many people out there have a lot of experience whittling. Some might even still give away their spare time to making small objects from wood, like pens and toy soldiers for the kids or something. The problem with such an activity is that it can be difficult to get started without some guidance on how exactly you should go about this hobby. From crafting your own tools and cutting techniques, we’re going to tell you what’s needed in order for you to make some nice quality pieces that will last a lifetime.

“How to whittle for beginners” is a survival guide that will teach you how to make your own tools. You’ll be able to make everything from axes, knives, and spears with this easy tutorial. Read more in detail here: how to whittle for beginners.

Vintage man whittling a wood with knife.

Before he’s sent to school, the Yankee lad is well-versed in the wonders of that magical weapon, the pocketknife. While listening to his mother’s lullaby, his melancholy glance turns to it.

He cheerfully gives up his hoarded pennies to get it, then leaves no stone unturned until he can hone it; and that instrument has played a significant role in the education of the youngster. To the child whittler, his pocketknife conveys a developing awareness of tangible objects.

Projectiles, music, and the work of the sculptor, His chestnut whistle and shingle dart, his elder pop-gun with its hickory rod, its crisp explosion and rebounding wad, his corn-stalk violin, and the deeper tone from his pumpkin-stalk trombone, all conspire to educate the youngster. His bow, his arrow of a feathered reed, His wind-mill, which raised the passing breeze to win, His water-wheel, which turns on a pin; or, if his father lives on the shore, You’ll see his ship, “beam ends upon the floor,” full rigged, with raking masts, and timbers stanch; or, if his father lives on the shore, You’ll see his ship, “beam ends upon the floor,” full And waiting for a launch beside the washtub.

As a result of his brilliance and jack-knife drive, he’ll be able to tackle any challenge you throw at him in no time; Make whatever jim-crack you want, whether it’s melodic or silent. A plow, a sofa, an organ, or a flute are all examples of tools. Make a locomotive or a clock for you, Create a waterway or a floating dock. Alternatively, bring Beauty forth from a marble block. — In a nutshell, make anything for the water or the beach. I said, “Make it,” from a child’s rattle to a seventy-four. —ay! He’ll create the object and the machine that produces it if he takes it on.

And once the item is created—whether it is to travel on land, air, or sea— Whether on the water or gliding over the waves, Alternatively, to roll, circle, or slide on land; Whether whirling or jarring, striking or ringing, Whether it’s a piston or a spring, a wheel, a pulley, a sonorous tube, wood or metal, the thing intended will undoubtedly come to pass; because, when his hand is on it, you can be sure that there’s something going on, and he’ll make it run.

John Pierpont’s “Whittling”

Whittling is an excellent hobby for men who want to make something but don’t have the space or equipment to do it, like as building a dining room table. Or for the guy seeking a contemplative experience to help him focus his mind. Or for the man who just wants to pass the time on a camping vacation. It’s one of the most affordable and accessible hobbies out there–all you need is a knife and some wood.

I don’t recall ever making a pumpkin-straw trombone or a little windmill, but as a kid, I did whittle several wayward twigs into tiny spears (small, yet surely capable of downing a saber-tooth tiger if needed be).

Now that I’m an adult, I’m constantly seeking for new ways to relax and new interests to explore. When I think about relaxation, I picture an elderly guy sitting in a rocking rocker on the porch, a knife in one hand and a piece of wood in the other. As a result, I have decided to delve further into my childhood passion. I’d like to share what I’ve learned about how to get started with whittling with you today.


What You’ll Need: A Knife and a Block of Wood

The Wood

Softwoods are ideal for whittling since they are simple to cut. Feel free to go to tougher woods after you’ve mastered the fundamentals of whittling. Look for wood with a straight grain, which is easier to whittle than wood with a grain that runs in multiple directions, no matter what kind of wood you use. Avoid wood with a lot of knots since they’re a pain to whittle.

Whittling wood may be found at your local lumber yard or woodworking shop. Hobby Lobby and other craft shops often have a selection of softwoods suitable for whittling. I got all of my whittling wood for a few dollars at Hobby Lobby. As you browse, just keep your gaze away from the artificial flowers and wicker baskets.

I’ve included a list of the most common whittling woods below.

Basswood. For millennia, basswood has been used for woodcarving. It was the favourite wood of German artists who created magnificent altar sculptures throughout the Middle Ages. It’s a great wood for whittling since it’s soft and has little grain. Basswood blocks come in a variety of sizes and may be found at your local craft shop for a cheap price.

Pine. Another typical whittling wood is pine. It’s soft, cuts quickly, and comes in a variety of colors. It does, however, have certain disadvantages. Some whittlers believe that pine does not maintain detail well. If you’re whittling with a fresh pine twig or branch, you’ll have to wipe the sticky sap off your knife on a frequent basis.

Balsa. Balsa wood is a soft, low-cost, lightweight wood that’s ideal for new whittlers. Hobby Lobby and other craft retailers sell it in large quantities at a reasonable price. For a little less than $4, I got nine blocks of balsa wood.

Branches and twigs at random. To whittle, you don’t need a pre-cut piece of wood. Whittling may be done using twigs and branches from a variety of trees. There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire and whittling away at a twig while chatting with your friends. A typical object to carve from a tree branch is a wooden knife.

The Knife

Three blades folding green handle pocket knife.

Knife for the pocket. For years, whittlers have created ruggedly attractive pieces of art with little more than their beloved pocket knife. Some purist whittlers would claim that the pocket knife is the only instrument that can be used for authentic whittling. Because of their portability, pocket knives are an ideal alternative. You can simply take out your pocket knife and start carving your wooden masterpiece whenever you discover a decent piece of wood. Another advantage of pocket knives is that they come with a variety of blade types. You may simply open up your smaller, more flexible blade when you need to conduct some more detailed carving. Do you need to make larger cuts? Make use of the bigger knife blade.

Flexcut specialty whittling knife with small blade.

Knives made specifically for whittling. Today’s market offers a variety of specialist whittling knives. They don’t fold, unlike pocket knives, and have a fixed blade. Fixed blade knives have a little more heft to them than folding knives. Specialty whittling knives also include curved handles that fit nicely in your hand and assist prevent tiredness during lengthy whittling sessions.


Flexcut has a large assortment of whittling knives, including this starting set, which I purchased from them. The knives have served me well. They sharpen easily and maintain an edge well. When compared to carving with a pocket knife, the ergonomically contoured grip does help prevent hand fatigue.

When you’re whittling at home, it’s ideal to have a set of speciality whittling knives on hand, while you may use your pocket knife for on-the-go whittling sessions.

The First Whittling Rule is to Keep Your Knife Sharp.

Vintage man sharpening pocket knife on stone.

Keep your knife sharp if you want your whittling experience to be enjoyable and calming. When I initially started whittling, I observed that the wood was becoming more difficult to carve. I assumed it had to be the wood, so I simply kept going, increasing the pressure with the knife. After my hands began to hurt, it occurred to me that my knife was probably in need of some sharpening.

I resumed cutting after a few strokes on the sharpening stone and rasp. It was like if I were slicing a hot chunk of butter. The blade sliced through the wood with ease.

Now, anytime I see the wood becoming more difficult to cut, I come to a halt and sharpen my knife.

Do you have no idea how to sharpen a knife? There is no need to be concerned. We’ve thought of everything:

  • What is the Best Way to Sharpen a Knife?
  • Sharpening Your Edged Tools: The Essentials

How Not To Get Blood All Over Your Project, or Whittling Safety

I went at it with wild abandon the first time I tried genuine whittling (not simply turning a twig into a spear tip). “Hey, I’ve lived my entire life with knives,” I reasoned. I’m certain that I can carve this piece of wood without harming myself.”

Pride precedes the collapse.

After about five minutes, the knife blade slid off the board and slashed my thumb, creating a nice-sized laceration. I persisted, but my product was splattered with blood. After another ten minutes, the blade skidded off a knot and brushed across my index finger. There’s more blood. My wood became slick with hemoglobin at this point, so I had to quit.

I recommend the following whittle safety guidelines to prevent the same bloody ending as me:

Take it easy. There’s no need to hurry! Whittling is meant to be a calming and contemplative activity. When you’re cutting in a hurry, you’re more likely to make mistakes. Make each cut slowly and carefully.

Maintain the sharpness of your knife. Not only will following the first rule of whittling result in superior cuts, but it will also guarantee that you maintain all of your fingers. Dull blades have a propensity to glance off the wood and go straight for your hand instead of cutting. Even if the blade isn’t sharp enough to cut through wood, it’s generally sharp enough to cut through human flesh.

When you initially begin, use gloves. When you initially start whittling, I suggest wearing a pair of leather work gloves until you become used to the varied knife strokes. Yes, the gloves are a touch heavy at first, but you soon get used to them.


If you don’t want to use gloves, a thumb pad will suffice. Your knife-holding hand’s thumb usually takes the brunt of the nicks and glances. Wear a thumb pad to safeguard your thumb. They’re really inexpensive–you can get leather thumb pads for roughly $1.50 on Amazon. The trouble with them is that you’ll have to purchase a new pair when they wear out. Duct tape is another option that works just as well. Wrap your knife-holding thumb with duct tape before you begin whittling. Use the following strategy to prevent getting sticky material on your thumb:

  • With the adhesive side facing out, wrap one piece of duct tape around your thumb. Wrap it tightly enough to keep it from slipping off, but not so tightly that your thumb loses circulation.
  • Then, with the adhesive side facing in, wrap a couple of pieces of duct tape around your thumb. A total of four or five layers should enough.

Grain of Wood

It’s sometimes simple to detect the grain direction of a piece of wood just by looking at it. However, this isn’t always the case. Start making little shallow cuts in your wood if you’re having trouble determining which direction the grain is moving. Cuts done with the grain peel away cleanly, but cuts made against the grain provide resistance and finally split. 

The majority of your cuts should follow the grain of the wood. Cutting your wood against the grain causes it to break, split, and overall look bad. Furthermore, cutting against the grain creates additional resistance in the wood, making whittling considerably more difficult.

If you lose track of which direction the grain goes while working on the project, don’t become irritated. It occurs to the majority of individuals when they first begin woodworking of any type. At the very least, that happened to me. Just keep practicing, and you’ll get the hang of determining wood grain.

Whittling Cuts Types

In whittling, there are other cutting methods, but for the sake of this post, we’ll simply stay with the fundamentals. The instructions are written with the assumption that you are right-handed. If you’re a southpaw, just flip them.

Rough Cutting Immediately

A man whittling a wood to make Sharp edges.

Use this cut to carve the overall outline of your product from the very beginning. Hold the wood in your left hand while firmly gripping the knife with your right. Make a long, sweeping cut away from your body, with the grain. If you cut too deeply, the wood may split. To reduce the wood to the required size and form, make multiple thin slices.

Stroke of Pull (Pare Cut)

A man applying pull stroke for whittling.

If you’ve ever seen an elderly man whittle, you’ve probably seen him use the pull stroke. It’s the most common whittling cut. As though you were paring an apple, make this cut. In your left hand, hold the wood, and in your right, hold the knife with the blade towards you. To pull the blade to your right thumb, brace your right thumb on the board and compress your right fingers. Keep your strokes brief and steady. Keep your right thumb clear of the blade’s path. Wear a thumb pad for increased protection.


The draw stroke allows you to have a lot of control over your blade and is ideal for intricate cuts.

Stroke of Push (Thumb Pushing) 

Whittle push stroke using thumb.

The pull stroke isn’t always possible where you wish to cut. When it happens, it’s time to use the push stroke. With the blade pointing away from you, hold the wood in your left hand and the knife in your right. Place your right and left thumbs on the knife blade’s rear. With your left thumb, push the blade forward as your right thumb and fingers guide it into the wood.

For intricate cuts, the push stroke, like the pull stroke, provides you more control over your knife.

What Should You Whittle?

Vintage man whittling fish out of wood.

So you’ve got your tools and wood, and you know how to make the fundamental cuts. So, what are you going to whittle?

For beginners, I recommend keeping things basic. Beginners should start by whittling an egg, according to Keith Randich, author of Old Time Whittling. Yes, it’s an egg. I know, it’s not exactly thrilling. However, a basic craft like an egg is a fantastic way to convey the law of wood grains to new whittlers. This is a step-by-step method to cutting your own wooden egg.

You may go on to some easy patterns after you’ve mastered the egg. Cowboy boots, as well as animals, are popular whittling projects. Books with ready-to-use whittling designs are available. You only need to transfer the design to your wood and begin whittling.

You may also simply wing it and come up with your own design. I thought whittling a duck’s head would be fun, so I got a piece of wood, sketched an outline of a duck’s head on both sides, and began whittling.

A whittling out duck head out of wood.

I began a duck head a few days ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s coming out better than I expected.

You may be ready to go on to the truly amazing projects like wooden chains or the strange ball in the cage after months of practice. Maybe you’ll be as wonderful as this old-timer one day:


Whittling Resources is a company that specializes in the acquisition of

If you’re interested in learning how to whittle, I strongly suggest the following books.

Chris Lubkemann’s The Little Book of Whittling This is an excellent book for beginners. Lubkemann is mostly interested in whittling branches and twigs. This book includes a step-by-step tutorial on how to carve a beautiful knife out of a tree branch. You can view them on his website, which can be found here.

Walter Faurot’s The Art of Whittling When you’re ready to move on to more sophisticated tasks, get this book. It includes designs such as a chain, ball, and cage, as well as some easy puzzles.



The “whittling kit” is a tool that has been used for centuries. It is an excellent tool to have in your survival kit, as it can be used to make many things like spears and knives.

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