Lessons on Whittling Wood for Beginners

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What Is Whittling?

Whittling is the skill of carving shapes out of raw wood with a knife.  Typically performed with a light, small-bladed knife, this past-time has been practiced throughout history to create tools, art or just a great way to relax. Soft wood, such as basswood or balsa, is preferred for whittling as hardwood is more difficult to shape and requires more specialized blades.

Below are some basic whittling instructions and two small projects for beginners.

General Whittling Instructions

1. With the point of the knife draw and cut in a good sitting position; but whittle, use the sandpaper, bore, etc., in an easy, correct standing position.

3. Keep lead pencils sharp. Adjust the point of pencil to the same length as the point of the compass. In drawing arcs and circles hold compasses at the top between thumb and forefinger and keep needle point as nearly perpendicular to the surface as possible.

2. Always hold the rule on the edge in measuring, marking, and testing for dimensions, and place it straight on material when drawing lines. 4. In squaring lines and testing, hold beam of the try square close to the true face. Whittled surfaces which are less than one-quarter of an inch should not be tested by the try square.

5. Use the eyes to test straightness, squareness, and symmetry of work before applying any other testing instruments.

6. Grasp the knife with the right hand, if right-handed, with the thumb bound over the fingers as in clenched fist.

7. Hold the wood at the end nearest you.

8. Best forearm against body and cut from you and downward.

9. Do not cut from the very end, but start first beyond the hand, and turn the wood to finish.

10. Try to use the whole length of the blade by drawing it through the wood as you cut. Do not scrape.

11. If you have a broad face to cut, take oil the edges first.

12. Never cut clear across an end or the fibres, but always from the sides toward the middle.

13. Do not use sandpaper before the model is as well finished as possible with the knife. Remove pencil marks with an eraser.

14. Stretch sandpaper over a block with the fingers when sandpapering flat surfaces. Remember that the purpose of using sandpaper is merely to make the object clean and smooth and not to reduce dimensions.


Wood Material  - Bassword 3/16 inch.


Wood sawed off 7¼ and split to 1½ inches.

1. Draw a straight line near and parallel to one split edge and whittle to it.

2. Mark width at each end, connect points by a line, and whittle to it .

3. Construct point according to drawing and whittle.

4. Measure length. Square line across and whittle from corners toward centre.

5. Sandpaper with Mock, narrow laces first, then broad faces.


Wood Material - Whitewood. 3/16 inch.


Wood sawed off and split 6¼ x 1¾ inches.

1. See 1 and 2 in Model No. 1 for the plant label.

2. Square line across near one end and whittle to it.

3. Measure length and draw line and whittle.

4. See 4 in Model No. 1 for the plant label..

5. See 5 in Model No. 1 for the plant label.

6. Mark out on the back of sandpaper a piece the proper size and cut with a knife kept for the purpose.

7. Apply a thin coat of liquid glue to back of sandpaper and press it firmly upon the wood.

This excerpt is taken from "A Guide to Elementary Sloyd and Whittling" , and  contains over 50 whittling projects with detailed illustrations and work directions. Please visit our shop at AET Publishing to view our selection of books.

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