types of cuts in whittling

Types of Cuts in Whittling

As a beginner in whittling, it is essential to understand the types of whittling cuts involved in creating a wood carving. There are various basic whittling cuts, and mastering them is key to SAFELY creating high-quality whittling and carving projects.

The four basic types of whittling cuts are the Pull Cut, Push Cut, V-cut, and Stop Cut. Master these four whittling cuts and you will be well on your way to creating fun and detailed wood carvings. Learning these cuts is relatively easy, but mastering these cuts takes patience, practice and time – so don’t feel like you have to rush!

Read through the cuts below, then after that we also discuss some essential tools for whittling and also some good wood to begin with on your whittling journey!

Basic Knife Whittling Cuts

Pull Cut (or Paring Cut)

This type of cut is similar to the paring cut that is used when peeling vegetables, you will use this cut for most of your projects. The safety concern of his cut is that the knife blade is drawn towards the thumb on your knife-holding hand. The best way to protect yourself from this is to use thumb guards to protect yourself from an accidental cut.

whittling cuts - paring cut pull cut

To perform the Pull Cut:

  1. Wrap all your fingers around the knife handle.
  2. Sink the blade into the wood about an inch above your thumb.
  3. Place your thumb on the end of the wood piece.
  4. Holding the knife carefully and with great control, pull it towards you. Do not try cutting the wood too deep because it will require too much force – resulting in removing too much wood or even worse, injuring yourself.
  5. Finish the cut against your thumb pad.

Push Cut

This cut is made by pushing the blade away from you when whittling and is often used when your hands and knife blade cannot reach an area for the pull cut. When using this cut, you cut the wood material away from you with a straight motion.

The push cut is often used to remove rough excess wood from your work piece. It is one of the simpler whittling cuts to use and master. Like the pull cut, be sure to make shallow cuts and remove thin shavings to avoid ruining your project or causing injury when too much force is required.

whittling cuts - push cut

To perform the Push Cut

  1. Wrap all your four fingers around the handle of the knife.
  2. Position the thumb of your knife-hand on the top of the handle, just below the back of the blade.
  3. Locate the thumb of your holding-hand on the back of the blade to guide your cut.
  4. Apply steady pressure to the back of the blade to push the knife into the wood.
  5. Push the knife all the way through the complete cut carefully and with full control.


When you want to carve a special feature like hair, texture or facial expressions on your project, the type of cut that will be suitable for you is the V-cut. This cut is based on both the pull and push cuts.

The V-cut involves making your whittling cuts at approximately an angle of 45-degrees and making another 45-degree cut directly below the first cut. These two cuts will create a v-shaped wedge of wood that will be removed to leave a small, distinct, valley in the wood piece.

whittling cuts - v-cut

To perform the V-Cut

  1. Using a Pull cut, place only the tip of the blade in the wood at about a 45-degree angle.
  2. Angle the knife so you make a cut slightly to the right of where you want the V to be.
  3. Turn the wood piece 180-degrees in your holding-hand and make a similar cut on the other side of the first cut.
  4. When you are done, a V-shape wood sliver will pop out of the cut, leaving behind a small v-shaped depression in the work piece.

Stop Cuts

A Stop cut has similar features to a V-cut, where you integrate two other basic whittling cuts. A stop cut is usually made across the wood grain to limit the amount of material being removed by either a push or pull cut.

You can change the order of cuts, but typically I like to perform the stop cut motion across the grain first, then apply the push cut or pull cut with the grain. I’ll then clean up the point of intersection between the two cuts last.

whittling cuts - stop cut

To perform the Stop Cut

  1. Make the first cut perpendicular to the wood grain, this will prevent the 2nd cut from removing too much wood.
  2. Turn the wood piece and angle the second cut with the wood grain to meet the first cut.
  3. After meeting the two cuts together, a wedge-shaped sliver will pop out.

Tools for Whittling

When it comes to whittling, having the right tools is essential. In this section, I will cover the basic tools necessary for whittling, as well as some optional (but recommended) protective gear.

Pocket Knives

A pocket knife is an essential tool for any whittler. It should have a high carbon steel blade that is either locked or folds. This type of blade is durable and holds an edge well, making it ideal for whittling. A pocket knife with a blade size of 1-1 1/2 inches is perfect for most whittling projects. Opinel No. 7 Carbon Steel Folding Knife is a great option for whittling at an affordable price – check out the link to see it on Amazon (these are affiliate links where we may earn a small commission if you purchase).

Carving Knives

While a pocket knife can get the job done, a carving knife is specifically designed for whittling. It has a shorter, narrower blade than a pocket knife, which allows for more precise cuts. A good whittling knife will have a sharp blade that is easy to control. The BeaverCraft Carving Knife is a high quality knife to have for a number of whittling cuts and techniques.

Knife Sets

If you’re serious about whittling, a knife set is a good investment. A set will usually include a variety of different blades, allowing you to tackle a wider range of projects. Knife sets are also a great way to get started with whittling, as they typically include all the necessary tools in one package. The Flexcut Knife Set is a GREAT option for beginners.

Protective Gear

Whittling can be dangerous, especially for beginners. Cut-resistant gloves and thumb guards can help protect your hands from accidental cuts. A carving glove is also a good investment, as it provides extra grip and protection while you work. Remember to always use caution and take breaks when you need them.

Having the right tools and protective gear is essential for successful and safe whittling. A pocket knife, carving knife, or knife set are all good options depending on your skill level and project needs. Don’t forget to invest in protective gear like cut-resistant gloves and thumb guards to keep yourself safe while you work.

Choosing the Right Wood for Whittling

When it comes to whittling, choosing the right type of wood is crucial. Not all woods are created equal, and some are better suited for whittling than others. We have several informative articles about types of whittling wood; soft woods for whittling, best wood for spoon carving, best wood for carving figures, easy woods for whittling, etc. Here’s a brief run-down of some easy to find and beginner-friendly woods:

Balsa Wood

Balsa wood is a popular choice for whittling because it is lightweight and super easy to carve. It is also relatively inexpensive and can be found at most craft stores. However, it is not the most durable wood, and it can be prone to breaking or cracking if not handled carefully. 

Basswood Blocks

Basswood blocks are another popular choice for whittling. They are soft and easy to carve, making them ideal for beginners. Basswood has a straight grain, which makes it easy to work with and less likely to splinter. It is also readily available at most craft stores or online at places like Amazon (basswood blocks for carving).

White Pine

White pine is a popular choice for whittling because it is soft and easy to carve. It has a straight grain, which makes it less likely to splinter. However, it is not the most durable wood and can be prone to cracking or splitting if not handled carefully. 

Fresh Pine Twig

Fresh pine twigs are a great option for whittling because they are readily available and free. They are soft and easy to carve, making them ideal for beginners. However, they are not the most durable wood and can be prone to breaking or cracking if not handled carefully. You’ll have to deal with some sap, but it’s worth the inconvenience for free project wood!

What’s Next?

Learning the four basic whittling cuts is relatively easy, but mastering them while also being efficient and careful takes time. Trust me, with some patience and plenty of practice you’ll find these cuts to be both easy and satisfying as you dive into the great hobby of wood carving….or whittling. Which is it? There IS a difference…find out what that difference is in our popular article Whittling vs Carving – What’s the Difference?

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