Whittling -- a craft dating back thousands of years -- is the most primitive form of woodworking. Whittling, in its strictest sense, is distinguishable from woodcarving by the tools involved. While the latter may employ chisels, gouges, and other carpentry tools, purists limit their whittling tools to an assortment of knives. Whittling entails the repetitive paring of small shavings of wood from a blank until a finished form is produced. Your project can be anything from a simple, unadorned letter opener to a walking stick with an intricate, decorative handle.
Easy Whittling Projects
The rule of thumb for new whittlers is to not be too ambitious. Making basic utensils and tools with simple shapes -- such as spoons, forks, letter openers, and back-scratchers -- is an excellent starting point. For beginner projects such as these, softwoods such as pine and redwood are recommended, as they are easier to cut. Bowls, handled cups, and other vessels are other good starting pieces, though these need to be leakproof and therefore require tougher wood. A light, thick-handled, and small-bladed tool such as a chip carving knife works best for all whittling purposes, regardless of complexity. Beginners are also strongly advised to wear mesh gloves for hand protection in case of slips.
Intermediate Whittling Projects
Once a whittler has mastered the basic whittling techniques of cutting, scraping, channelling, and scraping, he can venture onto more complicated projects. Intermediate-difficulty whittling ideas include birds and other animals, as well as toys and puzzles -- such as whistles, chain links, alphabet blocks, baby rattles, and the popular ball-in-a-cage. Hardwoods such as balsa and maple are generally used for any project with movable pieces. A more experienced whittler can have a wider range of wood choices depending on the level of detail he wants to achieve. Popular woods for intermediate to advanced whittling projects include basswood, cedar, butternut, hazel, birch, walnut, apple, poplar, mahogany, and cottonwood.
Advanced Whittling Projects
There are no limits to what an advanced whittler can make. Anything from wooden dolls to working musical instruments and complex decorative pieces may be formed from a single block of wood. Trinkets, walking sticks, umbrella and tool handles, vessels, and utensils with intricate patterns are other ideas for the experienced craftsman.
Where to Get Whittling Ideas
Great places for a whittler to explore when he is strapped for ideas include toy and trinket shops, furniture stores, art galleries, and even his own home and backyard. Etsy, a website catering to handicrafts, is another goldmine for whittling ideas and contains page upon page of unique carved and whittled products -- bookmarks, brooches, combs and hair accessories, salt shakers and pepper mills, custom name plates, goblets, keepsake boxes, chess pieces, bangles, clocks and coat hangers. The possibilities are virtually endless for a creative whittler.