In Techniques

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An Introduction to Whittling

Part 2: Push and Peel Knife ManeuversPart 3: Parting and Pulling TechniquesPart 4: Rounding the TreePart 5: Sculpting the BranchesPart 6: Attach to The Base

I’ve been passionate about whittling and teaching wood carving for quite a few years now. Whittling, one of the most basic and ancient arts, allows you to create beautiful figurines, animals, and usable objects with nothing more than a knife and a comfortable seat, be it a chair or a stump of a tree. Liberating us from the need for vises, clamps, or a bench, whittling is perfect for young children or beginner woodworkers. Moreover, the rhythmic and therapeutic nature of whittling makes it an incredibly enjoyable pastime. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend giving it a go.

In this blog entry and those that follow, I’ll guide you through the process of whittling, ensuring a fun and rewarding experience.

For beginners, I’ve chosen the project of carving a conifer tree. This tree encompasses all the basic geometries found in more advanced projects, making it ideal for skill acquisition.

A bluff of basswood conifers planted in a scrap piece of Sapele wood. All you need to craft these trees is a whittling/carving knife.

Here’s a bluff of sassafras trees. Dowels serve as the trunks connecting the trees to the bluff. The simplest to make are oval, pointed, and round trees.

A sole conifer planted into a Sapele base.

Before we delve into the whittling process, let’s talk about safety. In the upcoming entries, you’ll see me wearing gloves and a thumb protector, essential safety gear for preventing injuries. While I occasionally work bare-handed for clarity, to better demonstrate specific knife/finger/hand choreography for the four common whittling cuts, I advise you to always wear two gloves or at least one on your non-dominant hand and a thumb protector on your dominant hand while practicing on your piece of wood. It will safeguard your hands from any accidental cuts. You can easily find suitable cut-resistant gloves online, like the ones used to protect hands during food preparation. Personally, I prefer all-fabric gloves without any partially-covered flexible plastic material.

I possess several thumb protectors, including leather protectors, which are excellent. You can also wrap your thumb with Self Adhesive Bandage Wrap or, even cap it with a Tory rubber fingertip that I show in many images. This last, durable option has served me admirably over the years.

Now, let’s talk about the tools I use for whittling. My current choice for crafting the tree is the Mora (Morakniv) Carving knife #120. However, you can also use other suitable knives like the Mora #122 or the short-blade whittling knives from Flexcut, the KN12, or the KN14. Additionally, the Two Cheries Knife (Style 63) and the Czech-made Narex are excellent options.

These are some of my whittling knives.

These 2-⅜” Swedish Mora carving knives are my favorites. From right to left: an old #120 embossed with the name Erik Frost, a new #120, and a new straight blade #122.

These are my smaller carving knives. From right to left: The American-made Flexcut, the German Two-Cherries, the high Diobsud Forge, and the Narex.

As for the wood, I prefer working with basswood as my primary whittling material. It’s relatively inexpensive, soft, and predictable in its grain, without any meandering tendencies. Basswood is also readily available; you can order it online or find it at high-end lumberyards. Spanish Cedar and Sassafras are also good options.

In the next blog entry, I’ll introduce you to the basic cuts that every whittler needs to know. So, get your tools ready, find a cozy spot, and let’s embark on this delightful journey of whittling together. Happy carving!

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