How to whittle

A craft that requires only time, patience, and a sharp knife

Whittling is a skill best learned by doing, but here are some tips to get you started. Choose a small-bladed knife that feels comfortable in your hand; keep it razor sharp (see Knives). Practice with softwood, such as white pine, before you try to whittle oak, walnut, or any other hardwood.

Block out the work with a soft pencil before you begin removing wood. Sketch outlines on all sides of the wood, including the top and bottom, then carve away the waste. After you have the rough contours of the piece, gradually add the details. To keep from splitting the wood, always cut with the grain; move the blade from the thickest portion of the piece toward the thinnest. To make a sharp edge or to limit the length of a cut, use a stop cut: press the blade vertically into the wood across the grain. then whittle toward the cut.

Avoid making deep cuts; shave waste wood away gradually, pushing the blade away from you whenever possible. For the utmost control, use your thumb on the back of the blade as a pivot point. If you must draw the blade toward yourself, grip the knife with four fingers and, using your thumb as a brace, cut by closing your hand as if making a fist.