How to whittle (or carve).

I wrote this when I was, like, 15. Tagged as Life Skills.

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Whittling is a wholesome activity that can be enjoyed by most anyone. It should actually be called carving (though I call it ‘whittling’ because I reckon carving is done with a chisel) and it requires only two things:
  1. A knife.
  2. Some wood.

All on a knife-edge

You should use a sharp knife.

The kind of knife you use doesn’t matter much. What’s important is that it’s crazy-sharp and is comfortable to hold. It’s usually better to use a knife with a fat handle so that your knife-hand doesn’t get tired too quickly. If you’re in Australia you should consider buying a $1.80 Kiwi Brand kitchen knife from your local asian or dollar store. It comes razor-sharp and can be used straight away. You can also use a handyman’s knife or an art scalpel. These are great because they have blades which can be replaced when they start to blunt so that you don’t have to learn how to sharpen things. The knife pictured above is a Kiwi Brand knife that has been cordwrapped for comfort and grip.

Wood is a stiff proposition

Softwood is superior in workability.

The kind of wood you use will most likely be a compromise. Hardwoods are tougher to work, but can hold more complicated shapes and patterns. Softwood is very easy to cut, but the wrong bits might break off if your knife slips. I was trying to hash the surface of my bit of wood before and the pattern chipped off when I dropped it. Here’s a good note to keep in mind:

  • For items that won’t have much detail (e.g. rough figurines) use softwood.
  • For items with lots of detail (e.g. Xtreme figurines, love trinkets) use hardwood.

Also note that if you want to whittle some crockery or cutlery, you should use hardwood, and only hardwood from a tree that doesn’t seep much resin when it’s cut. The pores on softwood are open, meaning little bits of food and liquid can get stuck inside it, making your eating utensil more appetising to bacteria than it is to you. I’ve also read that utensils whittled from resinous woods leave an aftertaste. But feel free to go for it if you’re not using it for eating. Or if you’re whittling it for someone you dislike.

Anyways, you have a knife. Now you need some wood.

Procure some wood

Be sure it’s okay to cut the tree a little.

This tree should make a fine victim. Make sure that it’s okay to cut a sizeable chunk out of it, and that the bit you’re going to cut off is quite fat. You’ll see why later. Just go nuts on that tree’s ass with a pruning saw or an axe.

Of course if you’re a greenie, you could just pick up some fallen branches, but you’ll most probably get tough bits of hardwood.

Take off the bark and outer growth

Get rid of the outer bits.

On some trees like the one I took this wood from, there will be a moist, green outer section and a hard white inner core. You'll want the inner core, so use your knife to cut away the green bits. This is why I told you to cut a fat limb: quite a lot of the limb's width is made up of the green bit, and its removal will significantly shrink the limb’s berth. Once you have all that green crap off you should wash the branch to get rid of any resin or slipperyness that's left.

Now you’re ready to learn some whittling techniques.