If there is one craft that is a "natural" for campers, it is this one which has to do with wood and a jackknife or other tools. Nearly every camper has a knife (or wishes he had one), and learning to use it safely and well is one of the basic skills in campcraft. So it is a natural step to using a knife for whittling. Coupled with this is the fact that wood is the one material that is found almost universally; good conservation practices dictate wise use of wood found on the campsite, but it is generally found in sufficient supply to make this the most practical craft material found in the out-of-doors. A beginning appreciation of the twigs and sticks one can pick up in the woods and the careful cutting and use of green sticks for cooking or construction will grow into real appreciation of wood carving, and a "feeling" for wood. When a camper grows to the point of smoothing a piece of well-finished wood "because it looks and feels so good," he will have progressed far along this particular craft trail.

Any knife will do some kind of job in getting that first marshmallow stick, but soon the camper realizes that he needs to know how to get his knife in good condition, how to keep it that way, and how to handle it with skill. These first steps will include the counselor's teaching of safety for himself and his fellow campers, and consideration for the forest's trees and bushes. Any book on campcraft or woods lore will give these steps. This chapter is designed to help the counselor lead his campers beyond the steps of camp-craft to the satisfaction of the pocket craft of whittling, or to the more advanced steps of woodcarving and carpentry. It is one more of the oldest arts, and the same articles and expressions that were used by primitive men and by pioneers make this another good handcraft for the camp program.

Materials To Use

Materials for wood projects will vary from pieces of wood picked up in the open to bits of scrap lumber, from slabs cut from logs to selected pieces of fine-grained wood for woodcarving. The woods available in the camp locality will govern the material for beginning steps; wood for advanced projects may need to be purchased from craft supply houses or cabinet makers. Counselors who do some exploring before the camp season begins will find various woods available in the forest, in nearby orchards and groves, or from sawmills, carpenters, and cabinetmakers. Scrap wood is usually plentiful and available for the asking. Carpenters and cabinetmakers should be asked for advice and help on local woods, or on scrap wood that may be available. Fruit trees need to be pruned and thinned, and seasoned wood from most fruit trees is good for pins, buckles, and so forth. When land is being cleared near the camp, there may be a fine supply of logs for many projects.

Wood, in general, is divided into softwoods and hardwoods. The definitions for these vary with foresters and lumbermen, and in different parts of the country. For beginners, a firm, fine-grained wood without knots or pitch is the best; northern white pine and red cedar are favorites with whittlers. Red cedar may be found locally or may be purchased in fence posts, or in planks, or scraps from boards for cedar-lined chests and closets may be available. Redwood is another wood of good color; this may be purchased in almost any locality, though it is found in the natural state only in the West. No list is complete for every section of the country, but the following are woods that are found in a wide area, and that are good for whittling: white pine, bass wood, red cedar, cherry, apple, white ash, redwood, sycamore, and red (soft) maple. Oak and hard maple are good for advanced carvers.

Wood for whittling should be "seasoned." Dead wood picked up in the open will be good for whittling if it is good for firewood. Green wood should dry for at least a year. Gather it one summer for the next year.

Terms Used In Woodworking And Carving

Rough wood-wood as picked up in the open: twigs, sticks, logs, etc. (a)

Slabs are boards with bark still on the wood.

Green wood-wood that still has sap in it, not dried; it is easy to carve, but may split or "check" when dry.

Seasoned wood-wood that has dried, either naturally in the open, or in kilns. Seasoned wood is necessary for whittling and woodcarving.

Lumber-boards of varying sizes, sawed from logs (b). "Dressed" or "finished" lumber has been smoothed and sanded, ready to use. Timber is another term generally used in the same way as lumber.

Woodworking And Carving

Softwood-wood that is "soft," light in weight

Hardwood-wood that is firm, dense, heavier in weight than softwood

Grain-the fibers which form the substance of wood: "with the grain" -along the length of the piece (c); "against the grain"-across the width of the piece (d) Knot-a hard spot at the point where a branch grew from the trunk or limb; valued in whittling, to make interesting contrast of color and texture (e). A burl is a protuberance on a tree where some injury has taken place, and the bark has grown over the knot or spot (f). Valued for bowls and noggins. Heartwood (g)-the central part of tree trunk; usually darker and denser than outer part of sapwood (h). The heartwood section is used for whittling and carving. Low relief-background cut down, leaving design at level of wood. Parts of the design may be flattened or rounded (i).

High relief-background cut deeper than above, with more of the depth of the design exposed (j) Intaglio-carving into the wood, leaving the background raised (k) In the round-sculpture; free standing forms, with wood cut away on all sides, leaving object (Z)



Techniques In Using A Knife

A camper will usually begin whittling with the jackknife that is part of his camping equipment. If this knife has a small blade, he will have an easy time starting whittling projects, but if it has only the large utilitarian blade found in the common Scout knife, he will have difficulty going beyond the first steps. As he progresses, he will feel the need of a knife with smaller blades for fine work. The first steps, however, will come with his own tool, so the counselor will need to start there to help him to get the knife in good condition, to learn to use it, and to know what he can expect to accomplish with it.

To Sharpen A Knife

Since sharpening the blade is so important to whittling, the steps are given here. Even a new knife needs this attention before it can be used successfully. Standard equipment in a camp living group should include several sharpening stones, oil, and steel wool for cleaning blades. Many sharpening stones have two coarsenesses of material; at least one such stone should be available for use on knives that have somehow developed nicks in the blades. Eventually each whittler will want his own pocket stone to carry with him; as he learns to use a good sharp knife, he will find constant use for his own stone.

To Sharpen A Knife

Fig. X-4-d,e,f.

There are innumerable theories on the way to sharpen tools. In general, one method rotates the blade on the stone, the other uses a back-and-forth motion. For beginners, the rotating method seems safer, but as the camper progresses in skill, he will find his own most satisfactory way.


1. Lay stone on flat surface, or hold between thumb and forefinger (be sure they are below surface of stone). Lay knife on surface. (Fig. X-2 a).

2. Rotate knife, with back edge flat, making stroke toward back edge. Turn and reverse motion (2 b). Repeat many times. Or, draw knife across stone, along edge, then turn and repeat on other side (2 c).

3. Clean rust, dirt, or pitch off blade (not edge) with piece of steel wool or oiled rag (2 d).

4. Finish on piece of leather (strop) fastened to block for fine edge (2 e).

5. If there is a nick, use coarse stone first, raising back edge of knife, and wearing entire edge of blade away until nick disappears (2 f).

6. Try it out on a piece of wood to see if it is sharp. Keep working at it-and repeat often (2 g).

7. Oil hinges with machine oil for easy opening and closing (2h).

To Handle A Knife

Skill in using a knife comes only with practice, but a few hints on how to start will give a camper confidence. All beginners need supervision at this stage. The group should not be too large, so that the counselor can keep an eye on each knife-wielder. Pieces of pine (box ends or kindling without knots) should be provided on which each camper may practice cuts and strokes. Steps

1. Grasp knife firmly in hand, thumb curled around handle (Fig. X-4a).

2. Cut away from hand holding stick (4 b).

3. Be sure nothing is in the path of the knife, if it should slip (4 c).

4. To make a cut, brace wood and knife with thumbs, and cut in a V, taking out a chip. Cut small bits (4 d).

5. To round, cut with the grain, turning stick as you go (4e).

6. To round end, cut at angle, turning stick (4 f).

To Handle A Knife


7. To decorate, mark lightly with pencil; make a "stopper" cut, and then cut away small bits until design is accomplished (4 g).

8. Hold thumb behind hinge joint-don't push blade with thumb (4 h).

Techniques In Finishing Wood With Sandpaper

Get the article as smooth as possible with knife or other tools. Then use medium sandpaper (#1). If the piece is straight, as a peg, wrap small piece of sandpaper around the stick, and rub up and down the length of the stick, sanding whole peg at once (Fig. X-5 a). If piece is smaller, or flat, rub flat piece of sandpaper up and down with the grain. Avoid using circular motion, as the marks of the sandpaper will show, requiring more sanding (Fig. X-5 b). For designs, use small folded bits of sandpaper to reach small crevices (Fig. X-5 c).

Techniques In Finishing WoodTo Sand Rounded Ends

To sand rounded ends, hold sandpaper in palm of hand, and rub ends in the paper (Fig. X-5 d).

Finish with very fine sandpaper. Do not use knife after sandpaper has been used, as fine particles of sand will be imbedded in wood, and these will dull the knife blade.

With Oil, Wax, etc

When the piece is well sanded, paste wax may be rubbed into the wood with cloth or fingers. Let wax dry, then polish with soft cloth. The wax will bring out some color in the wood. Repeat several times for hard finish.

Wax shoe polish will give a stain and a polish. Let dry, and add plain wax for good polish.

Wood may be stained with linseed oil or wood stains, to bring out the grain of the wood or to add color. Rub well into wood, let it dry, and then wax and polish.