If you are looking for a hobby that is fun and portable with little investment – think whittling! Using nothing but a knife and a piece of wood, you can create a project in a matter of minutes, giving instant gratification to even a beginner.
Whittling differs from carving in that no chisels, gouges or power tools are used.
Carver and author Tom Hindes was a guest at the Fox Chapel Publishing booth at Woodcraft’s National Sales Conference and Vendor Trade Show, held in Columbus, Ohio, in May. Tom’s book, 20-Minute Whittling Projects, is published by Fox Chapel and available at Woodcraft.
Tom discovered woodcarving after retirement from his career teaching industrial arts and technical training development. Wanting to work on something small and light, he began carving Noah’s arks, complete with the pairs of animals, and was immediately hooked on carving. Over time, he began focusing on whittling, “carving with one knife” as he classifies it. “Whittling is easy, fast and fun. It’s also portable – you can take it wherever you go,” Tom said. “While some people pull out their cell phones when they’re waiting in a waiting room, I work on my latest project!”
Children are naturally drawn to Tom’s work because they like small things and don’t require much detail to figure out what the whittled piece is. “The most interesting place I ever carved was at a funeral home!” Tom laughed. Focusing on what Tom was doing occupied some rambunctious children, much to the relief of their parents during an otherwise trying time.
SUPPLIES FOR GETTING STARTED
KNIFE - To get started in whittling, Tom recommends an easily transportable knife, like a folding pocketknife, with a locking carbon steel blade. Knives with high-carbon steel blades are more expensive than traditional stainless steel knives, but they are easier to sharpen – an important factor in a knife that you will use repeatedly.
Also, Tom says a sheepsfoot blade shape is better suited for whittling than a drop-point blade. The tip of the knife should be closely aligned with the main cutting edge, which makes it easier for cutting small details. “Keep a second pocketknife for everyday use, like opening cardboard boxes, to avoid dulling the sharp pocketknife you use for whittling,” Tom advises.
If you end of doing a lot of whittling, you may want to invest in some specialized carving knives.
The Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack is a nice size knife for your pocket and features two high-carbon steel blades in one – a detail knife and a roughing knife.
STROP - A strop maintains the cutting edge of your knife. “I strop my blade before and after every whittling session,” Tom shared. “Sometimes I even strop it during the whittling session.” The WoodRiver® Bench Strop and the Flexcut Knife Strop are two great examples for carvers and whittlers. Add lapping compound to the textured leather surface to keep your blades sharp and ready to go.
WoodRiver Whittling Kit
Safety Glove - Comes in 5 sizes
Basswood Carving Blocks
GLOVE – A carving glove is another good investment to protect the hand as it holds the wood. Woodcraft offers several sizes of safety gloves for carving, from extra extra small (3″ – 4ʺ) up to large (9ʺ -11ʺ). Made from a patented combination of Kevlar, Spectra and stainless steel, these gloves are unsurpassed for cut resistance, durability, softness and wearability.
PENCILS – Keep some pencils handy to sketch and draw detail lines onto the wood. “This is also great if you are on the go and you don’t happen to have a pattern – you can just sketch one,” Tom said.
WOOD – According to Tom, the main requirement in selecting wood for whittling is that the wood must be able to hold detail – in other words, have a tight wood grain and be knot-free. Basswood is generally the wood of choice for most whittlers, especially for beginning whittlers.
The WoodRiver® Whittling Kit is a nice alternative to purchasing items individually – it comes with a 2-blade carving knife, two thumb guards and Little Book of Whittling. This kit is a great resource for beginners or advanced whittlers looking for a simple way to relax.
Once you have your supplies, you are ready to transfer your pattern of choice to the blank and start making chips!
For more information and Tom’s whittling tutorials, check out his book 20-Minute Whittling Projects, where you’ll learn to carve an array of charming wizards, gnomes, gargoyles, dogs, horses and more. He also covers safety, basic cuts, sharpening and finishing.