Whittling for beginners: Tools, Tips, and Techniques


Now that you’ve chosen to dive into the world of whittling, you need to make sure you have all the tools, tips, and carving techniques you need to get started.

This guide will go over what you need in order to succeed at whittling, as well as how to use your tools properly and safely so that you can begin this craft with confidence. Whittling for beginners is easier than it looks!

In this post, we do not cover the topic of wood for carving, if you’re a newbie to woods check out this resource. Without further ado, let’s talk whittling for absolute beginners!

Whittling for beginners

What You’ll Need to Get Started: There are a few essential tools that you’ll need if you want to learn how to whittle wood. While you can start off with some simple beginner-friendly kits, it’s a good idea to make sure that your own safety is at hand as well.

Whittling is not an expensive hobby to get into, you only need a knife, safety equipment, Sharpening stones, and wood. Only that and you’re good to go! But before we dive in, what are some tips that will yield satisfaction and enjoyment in all levels of skill?

see the Fastest way to learn to whittle

Choosing your first whittling knife

whittling knife for beginners

When looking for tools always remember you want something comfortable in your hand. Something that with time will just feel like an extension of your arm. The most important part to look at is blade length (tip to handle).

And when speaking about blade length keep in mind that a shorter blade will be more agile than a longer one as it requires less effort to move around on a piece of wood.

Overly long blades also make it harder to execute some cuts correctly because they are harder to control with precision. But that should not discourage you from owning one of the long ones.

Down the line, as you grow in skill you will come to appreciate the big blades when working on big projects. But as a beginner, you may not need that for now. A good choice I can recommend off the top of my head is Beaver craft. This is something that will get you started immediately without costing you an arm or leg. Flexcut is also a good beginner option that costs slightly higher.

All in all the thing to remember is tools tend to have a learning curve the more you use your tool the more efficient you get at controlling it. I have learned to be close to my tools by forging a relationship which has helped me understand to use the tools more efficiently and effortlessly. So to get good at whittling will require frequent use of your new knife.

Check out the top recommended whittling kits for beginners

What’s the best wood for whittling

The whittling main material is wood it is therefore good to know not only what wood gives the best outcome but is also what wood is easy to whittle. A rookie mistake would be to pick wood that is difficult to whittle. The experience becomes frustrating and you may feel like giving up.


Most woods can be whittled, however, some are obviously preferred to others. Mahogany (Luan), for instance, will generally be stringy, and redwood and a few cedars are prone to splits.

The majority of the Timber found at local lumberyards is fine for building projects however leaves too much to be desired with regard to whittling. Balsa for instance is a big no.

For someone just starting whittling, I would recommend Basswood, an American cousin to European linden. Other wood that is also carving and whittling friendly include white pine and sugar pine.

All these are cross-grained a quality in wood that allows fine whittling of detail work. These woods do not have beautiful patterns found in harder woods so if you’re going to paint your piece then basswood and the pines are a good choice.

As you continue to learn you can experiment with the harder woods like walnut, apple, cherry plum, and oak all top contenders for natural finish owing to their unique and interesting patterns.

Basic whittling cuts and techniques

When we are whittling it’s important to remember that we use the muscle power of our fingers and hands but not that of our arms. The stroke we use while sharpening a pencil is of little use in whittling. The act engages a lot of arm muscle which furnishes very little control. We have outlined a few basic techniques of whittling.

The paring cut

The paring cut is a very common cut in whittling. This cut has good control. To do a paring cut you need to imagine peeling an apple or potato with a knife. the thumb braced in the wood while the knife is pulled toward the thumb. the motion is generated from the closing motion of the fingers. The cuts are quite accurate and make for close detail.

The thumb-push cut

A push cut is probably one of the most basic techniques used in whittling. To do a push cut, simply place your knife’s blade against your wood and apply firm pressure. After that, you can use your wood to guide your hand as you slowly draw it down.

What makes a push cut so easy and ideal for novices is that they won’t need to worry about cutting too deep or making mistakes. The downside is that pull cuts are usually faster than their push-cut counterparts.

The rocking cut

Mostly used in chip carving but it does find its way into whittling at times. Rocking cut as the name suggests seeing the knife rocking to penetrate the wood more. This cut is useful when we want to cut across the grain.

stop cut

The stop cut is another common cut in whittling. Here the knife cuts across the grain to make a stop other cuts from one side of the vertical cut. Sometimes whittlers will use this cut as a safety measure as it stops cuts from crossing over.

Safety when whittling

cut resistant whittling gloves

Safety comes first! When we talk safety in whittling what comes to mind is protective gear like cut-resistant gloves and thumb guards. While this is true there’s more to safety than these two.

check out our recommendation of the best cut resistant gloves for woodcarving

Your blades need to be sharp, blunt knives are not good for whittling and are quite dangerous because they demand great force to cut through the wood.

In whittling the sharp edge of the blade is usually the risk factor when we think of safety. You should always be mindful of this edge to avoid accidents. Using the correct techniques while whittling is also very essential in ensuring the blade doesn’t inflict injuries.

When looking for gloves remember not all are safe for whittling. Make sure they are cut-resistant to ensure they protect you from painful cuts.

The same goes for thumb guards. Safety on whittling gloves comes at a compromise where the higher the level of cut resistance the lower the dexterity of the glove.

Whittling Tips for beginners

green vs dry wood: What’s better?

Is it better to whittle wet or dry wood? It depends. Most people prefer to work with green (wet) wood as it’s easier to shape (cutting wet wood has a similar effect to cutting warm butter).

However, wet wood is prone to warping while it dries so if you plan on using your project in less than six months, you might want to go with dry wood.

Alternatively, if you’re going to paint your project or want a consistent color/finish across all sides of your piece then dry is probably better.

How to get better at whittling

Whittling is a hobby that involves carving a piece of wood using hand tools to create art. The reason whittling works so well as a hobby is because it’s incredibly easy to get started with. A few simple tips will have you crafting away in no time! How to get better at whittling?

Mastering any skill requires practice, but some practices are more effective than others. Below are a few tips to help improve your whittling skills. If you follow these tips, I promise they’ll pay off big time!

The first step to getting better at whittling is realizing how important mindset is. Thinking positively about what you want (and don’t want) out of your practice sessions can make all the difference in how well you’re able to master a new skill set, whether that be learning how to carve or learning calculus.

These same techniques can be applied not only while practicing a new craft but also when learning anything new, including computer programming or managing staff and inventory.

Whittling by Doug Stump from whittling club

Books are also very important for a person that want to improve their skills. There are many books available here is our best recommendation for whittling books for beginners. One of our favorite authors is Chris Pye you can buy his books from his website.

The next step to getting better at whittling is to find an ideal work area. The great thing about whittling is that you can do it just about anywhere there’s a flat surface. But your carving will go more smoothly if you have a little extra space around you—at least enough room to work with your hands in front of you.

If possible, put up an open folding chair so you don’t have to sit on a hard surface; padded seats reduce strain on your back while helping you maintain a comfortable sitting position. Another good tip when figuring out how to get better at whittling is that lighting can make or break your session.

Finally, power tools are worth checking out. For purists maybe this is not for you but if you don’t have anything against woodcarving power tools then they can give you an early edge jus be careful and read all manufacturer instructions.

Wondering if you can earn from whittling? check out what we think here

Whittling for beginners: What to whittle

To begin your whittling experience, you can start with some easy projects. Picking something easy to carve will help build your confidence and make sure that your first attempt is a success. Here we will go over five beginner-friendly whittling projects. These projects are great for all skill levels as well so don’t worry if you have no previous whittling experience.

It is important to practice carving many different types of wood as well when learning new techniques so these projects should serve as both a perfect entryway into whittling and allow you to gain more experience working with different types of wood.

Whittling a Spoon in 5 steps


Carving a spoon by hand is an enjoyable art. While many think of it as a hobby, there are those who do it professionally.

No matter your level of expertise or reasons for whittling, learning to carve a spoon can make you feel like a true artisan! If you’re ready to get started with whittling wood, follow these simple steps. Remember that each wooden spoon will be unique, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t reach perfection on your first try; keep practicing!

Step 1:

Start with a block of wood. While you can practice on any kind of wood, there are a few that are better to start with because they’re easy to carve. As stated earlier woods such as basswood make good choices; this softwood won’t splinter when you begin carving into them.
Step 2:

Draw your design on paper. Think about what you want your spoon to look like. Keep in mind that most spoons have a shoulder somewhere between three and four inches from where it starts to curve; plan accordingly! Once you’ve drawn out your design cut it out and tape it over your block of wood.
Step 3:

Decide how to hold your wood. When you begin carving your spoon, you’ll want to have a good grip on it so that you don’t accidentally cut it into your hand. Start by placing your thumb in front of where you want to carve out a bowl; rotate your fingers around until they’re holding onto both sides of the spoon. This will make carving easier since you can see what you’re doing. It might seem counterintuitive to hold a slippery wooden block with just three fingers, but once you get used to it, it becomes second nature!
Step 4:

Start carving. Since you already know where you want to make your bowl, it’s time to get started. Take a knife (the size depends on what kind of spoon you’re making) and place it on your block of wood above where you want to carve. Push down lightly until you have an indent in your spoon; then rotate your blade 90 degrees. You’ll keep doing this around your spoon until you reach the opposite side from which you started. Be careful not to cut too deep! If things aren’t going as planned, try using sandpaper or a file to smooth out any rough edges before you start carving again.
Step 5:

Continue to carve. Keep going around your spoon until you’ve formed an even groove. work out the edges and bottom of the spoon. Now that the scoop is all worked out it’s time to work out the neck handle section. this is perhaps the easiest part using a paring cut and push cut to rough out all the excess wood till the spoon takes shape. Once you’re happy with how your spoon looks, wash it off so that any little pieces of wood don’t fall into your soup! Congratulations! You have successfully carved a wooden spoon!

Concluding on whittling for beginners

Whittling is a craft that can be easy to learn. It is considered by many to be an art form. There are hundreds of different items you can create using just a single knife. Learning how to whittle from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated.

With practice and patience, it will become easier over time and before you know it, you will be carving your own sculptures out of wood! We hope this guide on whittling for beginners was of help. Keep whittling.

This guide on whittling for beginners did not cover the basics of sharpening. Sharpening skills are vital for all woodworkers from carpenters to whittlers. We have prepared a good guide that will give you the basic fundamentals of sharpening your carving tool. Read it here The fundamentals of sharpening a whittling knife

Hadwin Fisher

I'm basically a "Hobby Whittler." Everything I make is for Personal use, gifts for others, or other Items for charity auctions or other "Causes" i.e. "Local Hospital" Etc. Some health issues are interfering with me doing any large-scale projects in my workshop at this Present Time. That said I can't stay idle, whittling, and writing about whittling with my Friend ken Read keeps me sane and happy!

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all you need to know before starting whittling