Whittling Basics

Whittling is pretty much as ancient as humans, and has provided a means for expression both artistic and functional. Whether it is for meditative reasons or that you are just looking kill some time, whittling is one of the cheapest and most accessible hobbies one can find. All you need is wood, a knife, and a little bit of inspiration on what to make.

In this episode of D-I-Why Not? presented by Leatherman, our friend James shows us some of the basics in starting your first whittling project.

Introduction to Whittling:

  1. Acquire your wood – A local woodworker, furniture builder, or cabinetmaker is a great resource for this. They have contacts to solid wood sources, or, if you’re lucky, will share some of their scrap pieces. 
  2. Study the grain of the wood – All wood has grain that runs a certain direction; the grain is the flow of the wood. 
  3. When you begin to whittle, always cut with the grain or across the grain of the wood. NEVER cut against the grain, or you will risk splintering your wood.
  4. Study your piece of wood and try to find your desired shape within that piece.
  5. Draw the outline of your design on the wood with a pencil or marker, to give yourself a goal.
  6. Before you get started, familiarize yourself with these four basic whittling strokes:
    • Traditional Push Cut- Lops off large chunks of wood at a time
    • Stabilizing Thumb Push Cut- Gives you more control and precision for smaller cuts
    • Channel Cut or ‘V’ Cut- Stroke on one side and back again, either sloped or sloped straight
    • Paring Cut-Used for very fine detailing. Somewhat risky. Bloody fingers may ensue. Use extreme caution.
  1. You are now ready to get your knife dirty! Rough out your design, by quickly but carefully removing excess chunks of wood. The Traditional Push Cut is best for this step.
  2. Find somewhere comfortable (you’re gonna be here awhile) and whittle away! Utilize the different strokes when needed in your project. If it feels right, go with it. If it’s hard, consider another stroke.
  3. Keep working until your design pops out of the wood.
  4. Now you’re ready to sand. Use four different grits of sandpaper, from 60 on up to 200. Be sure to keep a bandana nearby, to clean shavings off wood between sanding.
  5. Coat your finished wood with Mineral Oil to preserve and shine up your project. Make sure the oil is food grade and use a few coats.
  6. Enjoy your homemade piece! Bask in the sensation of making your own beautiful wood creations!

Tips as You Whittle:

  1. Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast
  2. The Best Second Chance is a Good First Chance
  3. Patience Now Saves Headaches Later
  4. Give your Project some Space when it Drives You Nuts: Breaks are Necessary
  5. Safety First!!


Camera Rachel Goldfarb
Edit James Campbell
Music "You Don't Know My Mind" by Smokey Hormel