Welcome to BeginnerWoodCarving.com the website devoted to the ancient craft of wood carving and whittling.
This site is devoted to providing you the information necessary to get started carving and whittling translating your own ideas into physical sculpture.
In this first post we will provide you insights on the techniques and tools necessary so that you can get started whittling right away!
What is Whittling?
Whittling is the art and style of woodcarving performed using a carving knife. Opposed to relief carving and other techniques whittling typically produces a sculpture oppose to adding detail to a piece (such as furniture). A trademark of whittling is that the knife strokes are clearly visible on the final piece giving it a rugged natural feel. Below are some examples of pieces created through whittling.
What Type of Wood Should I Use?
Simply put.. that depends!
Woods can be separated into two categories, softwoods and hardwoods. Both can be carved or whittled but starting out you are going to want to stick with a soft wood and probably something with a finer grain. The following are the most popular choices:
Pine: Pine is very soft but has a bit of a coarser grain than the previously mentioned 2. You can get pine that is very white or slightly yellow and is another great choice. Some would say the pine is slightly less distinctive than the Basswood or Balsa.
Butternut: The most difficult of the “beginner” whittling woods but will also give you the most distinctive piece of the 4. Butternut will have a courser grain which will make it a bit more difficult to avoid chipping during the whittling process but it’s soft and easy enough to carve through that it still is a viable beginner piece. You will likely need to go to a lumber yard to get Butternut.
Note for any piece: Avoid growth rings & knots. This will be less of a problem if you buy in a craft shop but if you go to a lumber yard keep this in mind as it can be very difficult to cut around the growth rings.
K I’ve Got the Wood. What Else Do I Need?
A Carving Knife
While traditional whittling was performed using a pocket knife it’s much easier and more comfortable to purchase a purpose built knife for whittling. These generally have a fixed blade and a longer handle. Since a good beginner starting knife is only $20 it is a certainly a worthy investment.
I found this one on Amazon:
A Sharpening Stone
Carving through wood is certainly going to dull the blade, sharpening is a necessity both for joy and safety. In the technique section below there is a video demonstration of how to use a ceramic sharpening “stone” such as this one also on Amazon:
Since you are working with a blade, safety needs to be considered. Keep the following in mind for safe whittling:
Keep your knife sharp!
You are much more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one. For this reason it’s imperative you keep your knife sharp.
Sharpening a carving knife is no real different than sharpening any blade. The easiest way to sharpen a carving knife is with a ceramic sharpening stone. You want to keep the blade tilted at a 10-20 degree angle and move the knife back and forth across the stone keeping your wrist locked and bending only the elbow to help maintain the angle and trajectory. Here is a video demonstrating the technique:
Wear a Glove!
On your hand which isn’t holding the knife. Leather hide work gloves may feel a bit cumbersome at first but at least it’s something you probably already have lying around the house. You can purchase specific gloves for carving which will protect your hands and are designed to be more comfortable.
Don’t Rush It!
Whittling is not known to be fast paced hobby. Rather relax, take it slow a bit at a time. Don’t get frustrated and you’re far less likely to ruin your piece, cut yourself or both!
Cut With The Grain
Carving with the grain is not only easier due to the decreased resistance from the wood but also avoids tearing, chipping and unsightly visual artefacts. The grain is identified by the dark streaks running through the wood. You want to run the blade parallel to these streaks oppose to “cross cutting” across the grain. Once you have identified the direction of the grain you will need to determine which direction is with the grain and against. The easiest way to do this is simply to perform a light shallow pushing cut (away from your body) in both directions and identifying which direction provided least resistance. This will be “with the grain” and the direction you should try to make most of your cuts in,. particularly longer cuts.
Trace Out Your Design
It typically helps to trace out your design on the piece lightly in pencil before beginning to whittle away. This will help keep you oriented as the piece begins to change and take form. Also try to work in stages, where the first stage is just getting the very basic shape, the next stage will refine closer to your final vision and continue taking light cuts off the wood until you have achieved the final shape.
I’ve embedded a great Youtube tutorial I found going over the basics of whittling with a carving knife. The total time is less than 25 minutes and it will offer you a great introduction to this craft.
Share Your Progress!
Now that you’ve been told the basics there’s no excuse to get started. All you need is a carving knife and a block of your chosen wood. I recommend starting with a simple project without too elaborate shapes. An egg is easier than a sphere or perhaps a wooden knife are all great beginner projects.