Whittling is an old Yankee pastime that requires nothing but a pocket knife and a piece of wood. The casual whittler who has produced only shavings or monograms on tree trunks has little conception of the variety of objects that can be carved with this simple tool. As skill increases, you may decide to take up more elaborate forms of wood-carving, using a variety of chisels and gouges to supplement the knife. But no matter how far you carry the technique, you will find carving one of the most enjoyable and satisfactory of the crafts.


Almost any well seasoned wood can be carved or whittled, but certain varieties are easier to handle because of their even texture and resistance to splitting. Bass and poplar are both soft, rather spongy woods which are extremely easy to cut and hence good for the beginner in the United States. White pine, particularly the variety known as California sugar pine, is the most widely available wood suitable for carving. It is soft, has little grain and works well. Other domestic varieties which are recommended for either their texture or their color are aromatic red cedar, black walnut, willow, maple, and oak. Fruit woods such as apple, cherry, or pear are also satisfactory. Mahogany, ebony, teak, and lignum vitae are the imported woods most widely used. Mahogany carves easily, but the other three, while beautiful in color, are extremely hard.

How To Carve

All whittling is done with a few standard knife cuts. The commonest is the full hand grip (fig. 48). It removes waste wood quickly, but is hard to control. Extending the thumb along the back of the blade gives less power, but better guidance (fig. 49). The knife may also be drawn toward you with a full hand grip or with the thumb braced on the work (fig. 50). For deep, straight cuts, reverse the full hand grip (fig. 51). In outlining or making stop cuts, the blade is guided by the forefinger (fig. 52).

How To Carve

Figure 48.

The stop cut is the most important technical trick in carving. It is a deep, vertical incision either with or across the grain and following the outline of an area of wood that is to be removed. As you whittle toward a stop cut, the wood splits away sharply along the line of the cut giving a clean edge precisely where you want it. Without the stop cut, there is danger that the wood will splinter beyond the point intended.

Better Guidance

Figure 49.

Thumb Braced On The Work

Figure 50.

How To Carve 50

Figure 51.

How To Carve 51

Figure 52.

While quite complicated carving can be done with the knife alone, you will find that by using a chisel and one or more of the wood carving tools illustrated your work will be easier and faster (fig. 53). The shape of the blade suggests the special purpose for which each is designed. In carving with these tools, the blade is generally guided by the left hand, while the right hand pushes it through the wood (fig. 54). The tool may also be held in the left hand and the handle tapped with a wooden mallet.

How To Carve 52How To Carve 53

Figure 53.

Reverse The Full Hand Grip

Figure 54.

Bark Whittling

Canes, paper knives, spoons, and similar objects can be easily whittled from saplings or branches and decorated by bark whittling. This consists of cutting away portions of the bark, exposing the wood beneath in a geometrical design (fig. 55).

Bark Whittling

Figure 55.

Any tree with a smooth bark can be used. It is best to let the branch dry for a few days before starting to whittle. Wood that has grown in unusual shapes can often be used to create animals or grotesque heads. The features, such as eyes, mouth, wings, etc., are outlined by bark whittling (fig. 56).

Outlined By Bark Whittling

Figure 56.

Whittling Tricks

An exercise which will test your skill as a whittler is the chain carved from a single piece of wood (fig. 57). The same principle is used in producing a variety of other truck effects such as the ball-in-a-cage, the interlaced hearts, etc. (fig. 58). While these objects have little practical value, they are excellent practice and there is a certain fascination in watching them take form.

Whittling Tricks

Figure 57.

Interlaced Hearts

Figure 58.

The chain is whittled from a piece of white pine or bass wood about 11/2 inches square and 11 inches long. Divide each side into three equal parts by drawing parallel lines and cross hatch the outer sections (fig. 59). Cut away the cross-hatched areas until you have a long stick of wood in the shape of a cross. Measuring from one end, mark off the divisions for the links 2 inches apart on the vertical bars of the cross; do the same on the horizontal bars, but start 1 inch from the end so that the marks will be staggered between those of the first set (fig. 60). Draw in the curves of the links between these two sets of marks and whittle their outside contours (fig. 61).

Now shade with a pencil the inner part of each link to be cut out. This is the most difficult operation and requires great care. Use stop cuts wherever possible so that you will not split out part of the rings. Use a very sharp knife and bear down on it lightly. When all rings are freed, the chain is finished although you may wish to whittle the links thinner.

Outer Sections

Figure 59.


Figure 60.

Part Of The Rings

Figure 62.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is the simplest method of decorating a flat wooden surface. It can be applied to boxes, chests, trays, bookends, etc. It is advisable to start with one of the softer woods such as pine, gum-wood, or poplar. A great variety of geometrical designs can be produced by this method. The basic form in chip carving is the triangle with either straight or curved sides. These may be cut out with an ordinary knife, but a skew knife or skew chisel will be found helpful (fig. 62). The same illustration shows the method of removing the chips. First, straight or slightly slanting cuts about 1/8 inch deep are made along two sides of the triangle. The skew chisel is then inserted on the third side and pushed down at an oblique angle, removing the chip cleanly with a single cut. On longer triangles, several cuts may be necessary. A few of the main-designs which can be created by chip carving are shown in the illustration (fig. 63). On the long, curved triangles, it is easiest to make the preliminary stop cuts along the short base of the triangle and one of its sides. The chip is then removed by cutting along the other long side.

Chip Carving

Figure 62.