Wood Whittling 101

879,408

1,075

92

Intro: Wood Whittling 101

This instructable covers basic wood whittling technique. You will learn a little bit about tools, wood, technique, and safety. Hopefully it will be enough to get you interested in learning!

Wood carving is not something you pick up over night; it requires a lot of patience and practice. What you will find, however, is that as you practice you will develop intuition that will allow you to tackle increasingly difficult problems on your own. It's an enjoyable and relaxing activity that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning a new skill.

Step 1: Tools

Let's start with tools;

Knife
You're going to need a knife. While you could conceivably use any kind of sharp knife, I highly recommend investing in something nice... I use the chip carving knife pictured here. High quality tools are going to be hand-made with tempered steel that will cut better and last longer than the low quality stuff. There are chip carving knives with different shapes that will make difficult cuts a little easier, although they aren't necessary for the beginner.

Sharpening Supplies

You'll be putting your knife/knives through a lot of stress and thus you will need to sharpen them. You can buy sharpening stones or you can use a combination of 600+ grit sandpaper and water or oil. Any piece of leather will work as a strop. I won't get into sharpening in this instructable, however there are plenty of resources out there for you to learn.

Step 2: Wood

So once you have your tools, you'll need something to carve. There are tons of different kinds of wood and they all carve differently. My recommendation (and the wood that I learned how to carve with) is basswood. It's cheap and you should be able to find it locally. The grain is small and the wood is soft.

However, it isn't crucial that you even know what kind of wood you have, so don't worry. Use what you have– that's part of the fun of carving wood.

Make sure the wood is dry; you'll have more control over it. Carving with wet wood adds a level of unpredictability, since as it dries it tends to warp and crack.

Step 3: Grain

Understanding grain is essential to wood carving... This is where your intuition will develop over time. While I will not go into the science behind the structure of wood, I will say that it grows in regular patterns that appear as grain. The orientation of the grain is going to determine how easily you can carve the wood. If you've ever had a splinter, you know what grain is and how its orientation matters.

You will want to start with straight-grain wood (which is exactly what it sounds like), where the grain runs in one direction. You can use the ends to determine what direction the grain runs in. The pictures below show you what to look for. Note that the grain can go down slightly... this will be important.

Basic vocabulary is as follows: when you are carving in the same direction as the grain, you are carving with the grain. If you are carving opposite the direction of the grain, you are carving against the grain. If you are carving perpendicular to the grain, you are carving across the grain.

Which way to carve:
You always want to carve with the grain or across the grain. The grain can also run up and down slightly, so make sure you are carving with the grain in the down direction. The next step contains pictures of carvings in each direction for your reference.

Step 4: Safety / Holding the Knife

Before we start, let's go over holding the knife correctly:
The picture below will show you how to hold the knife. When right-handed, my left hand is holding the piece of wood and my right hand is holding the knife. My left thumb is on the back of the blade and will be providing the cutting force. Never push the blade forward with your right hand; you will not be able to move the blade with precision.

Notice that my fingers are out of the path of the blade.

Don't be silly:
Never push hard on the blade. If it gets stuck (because you carved too deep into the wood or the grain orientation changed), stop and backtrack. If you try to force the blade, it could slip and cut your finger.

There's no need to go fast... Speed doesn't help you carve better. Take your time, at least until you feel comfortable carving.

Pay attention:

The sound and the feel of your cuts are important. You can hear the difference between carving with, against, and across the grain. This will be useful in developing intuition about the direction you are cutting in.

Step 5: Technique

So let's figure out what actually happens when you carve:

You'll be making a scooping motion. First, the knife has to dig into the surface of the wood a little bit. The knife must then be pushed through the wood; it's all about the angle! As you push through the wood, angle the knife up ever-so-slightly and you will have shaved off a bit of wood. With many types of wood, the shavings will curl; this is an indication that you are going in the right direction.

You should remove the wood in very thin layers; if you go too deep, you'll end up tearing out on the way back up.

The pictures below will show you what it looks like when you go with the grain, against the grain, and across the grain.

Also, your shavings are fairly informative. Check out the difference between shavings going against the grain and shavings going with the grain.

Step 6: Practice

A good way to learn knife control is to try keeping the knife at a fixed angle; see how long of a shaving you can make in one cut.

The more you carve, the more you will understand the grain. It's somewhat difficult to explain in a paragraph with a few pictures, but it will make sense as you experience it first-hand.

Start with gently curving objects that allow you some room to make mistakes. As you get better, add details regardless of the orientation of the grain; there is always a way to make the right cut.

Most important of all, have a good time! (and don't hurt yourself)

Share

    Recommendations

    • Tiny Home Contest

      Tiny Home Contest
    • Fix It! Contest

      Fix It! Contest
    • Metalworking Contest

      Metalworking Contest

    92 Discussions

    0
    None
    mooner77

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Could you possibly use a x acto knife. And what tpe com wood would be the easiest Tony work for beginers. Thanx for any answrs d:

    4 replies
    0
    None
    BertH1mooner77

    Reply 7 months ago

    I started carving a 11 years old (i'm now 73) I started with Xacto & I still use it. My favorite Blade is the #11. As for Snapping a Blade, I never have & don't know anyone else that has, I do break points off carving chains & such. If you really want to care but don't how or what I recommend Wood Carving Illustrated Mag.

    Troll's 001.JPG
    0
    None
    TimothyJ999mooner77

    Reply 2 years ago

    You can certainly use Xacto knives, but you have to be very careful not to exert much sideways pressure or they will snap. They are very sharp but quite brittle. I would suggest using Xacto blades only for very soft woods like bass, balsa, and poplar; maybe white pine and mahogany.

    Also the handles aren't very comfortable. If you look at a good detail knife like a Flexcut or Helvie, you'll see a lot more "meat" in the handles, which allows for more control. Xacto knives are a good way to get started for not much money, but after a while you'll probably want to upgrade.

    0
    None
    ElizabethGreeneTimothyJ999

    Reply 2 years ago

    You're right about the handles. I buy the cheap X-acto knives, cut them down, and epoxy them into wooden handles. Much better.

    0
    None
    nancyjohnsmooner77

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Cedar is a good soft wood and you can find it at a hardware store.

    Also it smells good :)

    0
    None
    emmakeo.

    1 year ago

    I need to carve something long and cylindrical but I don't know what technique to use.

    1 reply
    0
    None
    IreneL35emmakeo.

    Reply 7 months ago

    1.hola, te recomiendo usar el cepillo para madera, con el podras desbastar lo suficiente para dar forma a tu trabajo.

    0
    None
    s7ylin

    2 years ago

    Whittling utilizes several cuts like thumb brace(pairing) cut, Rough (push) cut, V-notching (V-cut), and thumb-push cut to achieve a shape or sculpture.

    http://www.bestwoodcarvingtools.com/wood-carvers-b...

    That's pretty important information to leave out of your technique step. Failing to have the proper grip style for a cut can result in an accident.

    0
    None
    ChickenGnocchi

    2 years ago

    How long did it take you to make tthat dinosaur?

    0
    None
    Salea

    2 years ago

    A Kevlar glove is a great safety item.

    0
    None
    TYtheParacordGUY

    6 years ago on Step 5

    Im having a harder time understanding the "Grain". Im new and would like to try whittling as a new Hobby. I have many because i like to keep occupied and to try things new. Do you have any more tips for a beginner? -Tyler

    2 replies
    0
    None
    TimothyJ999TYtheParacordGUY

    Reply 2 years ago

    Wood grain is one of those things that's hard to explain but is pretty obvious in practice. Find a piece of straight-grained wood, and try carving it with a sharp knife from all angles; in about 10 minutes you'll have grain figured out. Some directions will be difficult and the wood will want to split instead of cut; other directions you'll get an easy, smooth cut. You'll soon learn how to avoid the first and achieve the second.

    Grain, you see the lines in the wood. Always try to carve with the grain. When you must cut across it, go slow and make little cuts. As for what direction the tree grew, it makes a difference when you carve. If your knife or chisel starts to bite into the wood deeper than you want, turn the piece of wood 180 degrees and try it from that side. I've saved
    many carvings from this tip.

    0
    None
    ronnietucker

    2 years ago

    Are there any other types of wood you guys can recommend? I'm in the UK and having trouble finding basswood/lime. :(

    3 replies
    0
    None
    spark masterronnietucker

    Reply 2 years ago

    Look for a Linden tree, or whatever else the Brits call it. Here it is Tilias Americanus and is a linden tree, or basswood , there it is more likely known as a lime tree. Once you see one in bloom you never forget it. Some people pick the flowers and dry them for sleeping draft, (draugh?) , Spanish name Tilo. If you go to an herbalist/spice store and ask to see it you will not forget it. You can also carve sycamore or English the plain tree, It drops wood all by itself. I learned to carve linked chain on it as it is free all over NYC. There are thousands of them, all donating carvable wood on a yearly basis.

    0
    None
    spark masterronnietucker

    Reply 2 years ago

    Look for a Linden tree, or whatever else the Brits call it. Here it is Tilias Americanus and is a linden tree, or basswood , there it is more likely known as a lime tree. Once you see one in bloom you never forget it. Some people pick the flowers and dry them for sleeping draft, (draugh?) , Spanish name Tilo. If you go to an herbalist/spice store and ask to see it you will not forget it. You can also carve sycamore or English the plain tree, It drops wood all by itself. I learned to carve linked chain on it as it is free all over NYC. There are thousands of them, all donating carvable wood on a yearly basis.

    0
    None
    HappyToBeAliveronnietucker

    Reply 2 years ago

    serious? lime trees? in UK........COME ON........

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia

    0
    None
    MaxwellS2

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hey great article. Lots of information. If anyone is looking for more info on the topic you can check out this website dedicated to whittling http://www.whittlewise.com/

    0
    None
    Bodygard1117

    8 years ago on Step 6

    that is cool i don't have the patients for wood but it looks like you do good job

    1 reply
    0
    None
    SwanRonsonBodygard1117

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 6

    It doesn't make sense that you would have patients for wood. Unless you were a doctor for trees or something of that sort. Have a good day, be well.