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How to Whittle

Whittling is one of the longest and cherished pastimes known to man and especially Americans. During the late 1700s and up until the mid-1900s, Americans have been known to always be whittling. Some might say that is has fallen out of fashion, but to the contrary, there are tons of people who know how to whittle. So let’s look at what whittling entails, how to do it, and what the skills of whittling can be employed to do.

First, here’s a brief introduction to what whittling is.

What is Whittling?

Whittling is the art of carving pieces of wood with a carving knife or pocketknife. Generally, whittling is done on a small scale, such as carving little sculptures of animals, making a tool, or some other object. Unlike other types of wood carving (, whittling creates a sculpture or object. A distinguishing feature of whittling is that knife strokes, or cuts, are visible and add a rustic, rugged feel to the object being made.

Now that you have an understanding of what whittling is, let’s look at the basic cuts whittlers use:

What are the Basic Cuts?

There are a few basic cuts that any whittler, professional or amateur, can use to create just about anything:

  • Straightaway Rough Cutting: This cut is when you push the blade away from yourself. It is generally used at the beginning of whittling projects to fashion the general shape of the object. Execute thin, long cuts and avoid pushing to deep or the wood could split.
  • The Pull Stroke (Pare Cut): The Pare Cut is the most used cut in whittling. To perform this cut, grasp the wood with your left hand and the knife in your right hand. Brace the wood with your right thumb and pull the knife towards you, making a thin cut. Be cautious of where you place your thumb to not injure yourself as the blade comes toward you. The knife should be held firmly, allowing great control. This cut is mainly used for detailing the object.
  • Push Stroke (Thumb Pushing Cut): Sometimes, the wood will not allow for the pare cut. When this is the case, using the push stroke should do the trick. Again, hold the wood in your left hand with the knife in your right. Set the blade firmly against the wood and place both thumbs over the back of the blade. Push with your left thumb and use your right to guide the knife. This cut also affords solid control and can be used to make detailed cuts.

With a knowledge of the basic cuts, you too can now whittle small objects. However, knowing how to work with the wood is vital to whittling success.

Carving with the Grain

Carving with the grain of the wood makes whittling much easier, avoiding lots of potential frustrations. First, you will need to decipher the direction of the grain. If it is not obvious, make a shallow push cut going in either direction and see which one provided the least resistance. The least resistant cut will be with the grain.

IMPORTANT: Cutting against the grain will make whittling difficult, eventually tearing and splitting the wood. Not only is it difficult and impractical, it is also dangerous. With the extra resistance, whittlers will use more force, which can cause a slip and injury. The same principle goes for dull blades. Always keep your knives razor sharp in order to reduce the risk of injuring yourself.

How Can I Utilize Whittling Skills Outdoors or While I’m Camping?

Whittling is not only an engaging pastime, it is also an important skill when outdoors. There are several useful items that can be made through whittling when spending time out in the wilderness. Here are a couple of items:

  1. Tent Stake: Whittling is especially helpful if you need a tent stake. Tent stakes are easy projects and essential when needing to pitch a tent for the night.
  2. Fishing Spear: Forgot the fishing gear? Not a problem for whittlers. Finding a long piece of sturdy wood and taking the time to fashion a nice point out of one of its ends will yield a perfect spear to catch fish.
  3. Whistle: Whether you need to signal someone for help or are just itching to impress your friends, whistles are prime products of whittling. A short, yet slender piece of wood and a sharp knife can make some amazing sounds.

Whatever you may want to use whittling for, it is a fun and easy skill to come by. Practicing over the years will allow you to become an expert whittler and can lead to projects on a grand scale.


My name is Nathan and I have been wood carving for over 8 years. I own and operate a wood carving website ( that provides useful and valuable information to those looking to learn the craft or find a solution to their problems. To see all-inclusive introduction guides to wood carving visit for more information.

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For timeless whittling knives, check out the large selection of Great Eastern Cutlery pocket knives.