How to whittle wood

Written by sarah freeman | 13/05/2017
How to whittle wood
Select a wood with an interesting grain pattern for your whittling project. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

For thousands of years, man has used sharp objects to chip away at wood and create shapes and tools. Today, the art of whittling is still practised, turning pieces of wood into figures and designs using nothing more than a sharp knife. Anyone can whittle with a steady hand and some patience. With a little practice, you can whittle anything from hiking sticks to functional utensils to ornate figurines.

Prepare the tools for your whittling project. Find a knife with a short handle, which will give you better control on the project. Use a sharpening stone or strop to prepare the blade for whittling. Ensure that it's sharp enough to easily cut through the wood; however don't over-sharpen the steel, which could crack it.

Sketch a design of the figure you want to whittle. Think of a shape that matches your whittling skill level. Beginners should design a figure that doesn't incorporate too many details. Start with a simple utensil shape, such as a spoon or a skewer.

Choose a wood piece for the project. Hard woods are more difficult to cut but can hold more detail, while soft woods are easier to whittle but can't support ornate designs. Beginners should use soft woods such as pine. Choose a piece larger than the design you plan to whittle, because you will be cutting away pieces of the material.

Hold the knife in your hand using a relaxed grip. Put the handle in the palm of your hand and secure the tool with your thumb. The blade should face outward, away from your body. Hold the wood piece in your opposite hand.

Shave away wood using general block sections of the shape. For example, if you're making a spoon, make a block section for the head of the utensil and taper the wood to roughly outline its handle. Move the knife in short cuts, removing small strips of the wood. Always cut away from your body.

Whittle the details into your shape. Define the figure by shaving the wood with your knife. Remove small slivers of the material with each stroke until you have the desired shape.


Wear a leather or cutting glove over the hand in which you're holding the wood for added protection.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear a leather or cutting glove over the hand in which you're holding the wood for added protection.

Things you need

  • Whittling knife
  • Sharpening stone or strop
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Wood

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