Wood Whittling – A Treasured Past Time and a Perfect Project for Kids

Adventurous kids tend to also be talented, artistic kids, who enjoy creating things and working with their hands.  That’s why wood whittling is not only a pleasant past time for many, but it has spanned generations.  It’s the type of activity that grandpas have taught their grandkids while spending a quiet evening on the front porch.  JM Cremps is big into families, tradition, and creativity, and that’s why we are happy to be a resource for whittling basics, wood carving sets, whittling kits, and whittling projects.

Wood Whittling - Whittling Projects for Kids is a fun hobby.
Wood Whittling is a past time enjoyed by many generations, and it is the perfect project for kids.

If you are new to wood whittling, there are a few basic principles that will make sure you start with good technique and safe practices.

STEP 1 – Gather Your Wood Whittling Tools and Supplies:

Knife – A good quality, sharp knife is essential to wood whittling.  A pocket knife works well, but to make learning easier and your carving more precise, we recommend the Beginner Palm & Knife Set.  This kit contains the most popular and useful tools and knives every whittler needs.  They are high quality and priced reasonably.  This whittling kit contains a cutting knife, detail knife, v-tool, and gouge.  Remember, the key to proper whittling is a sharp knife, so when the time comes, it is a good idea to ask an adult to help you learn proper sharpening techniques.

Thumb Guard – A good carving thumb guard is an important safety measure all beginning whittlers should use.  It is made of cut-resistant leather and will prevent most accidental cuts while you are learning.  Plus, it will help mom and dad to relax since they know you will be protected.  Thumb guards are inexpensive and can be found at many craft stores.  JM Cremps carries a good carving thumb guard designed especially for kids, and it comes in three sizes.

 Wood – While you can use any type of wood, there are woods that are easier to work with and whittle better than others – especially for a beginner.  Soft woods like basswood are easy, have small grain, and are easy to find.  (Don’t attempt to whittle hardwoods until you are very experienced.)  You can buy convenient wood whittling block sets designed specifically for whittling projects, and JM Cremps carries many of them.  These sets are inexpensive and are already cut to size for your whittling projects.  Some even come with several whittling ideas and patterns to make your first few projects fun and easy.  For example, the Basswood Forest Animals Starter Blocks Set Whittling Kit lets you create several fun animal creations, while the standard Basswood Wood Carving Blocks Set Whittling Kit contains a good assortment of basswood just waiting for you to be as creative as possible.

STEP 2 – Getting Ready to Carve

Before you begin carving your wood, you must first determine the grain (the growth patterns in the wood). When you are carving in the same direction as the grain, you are carving with the grain. When you are carving opposite the direction of the grain, you are carving against the grain.  This is important, so if you don’t understand “grain” ask an adult to clarify it for you.

It is important to hold your wood block and whittling knife properly.  If you are right-handed, your left hand will hold the piece of wood and your right hand will hold the knife. Put your LEFT thumb on the back of the blade and the blade against the wood at slight angle to the block. Your LEFT thumb will push the blade forward and your right hand will guide the blade along the wood.  Never push the blade forward with your right hand because you will not be able to control the blade.

Remember to keep all of your fingers out of the path of the blade!

STEP 3 – Carve!

Now you are ready to begin carving!  Once you have your knife and wood block in the right position, begin by pushing the blade with your left finger and guiding the blade in a scooping motion.  Don’t push too hard.  The knife has to dig into the surface only a little bit and then angle back up to come out of the wood.  If you do this right, you will have created a wood shaving that isn’t too thick.  Most shavings that are done correctly will curl.  You can check to see if your shavings curl to know that you are doing it correctly.  If you whittle away thin shavings, you will be able to be more precise and smooth.  If you go too deep, your knife might get stuck.  If this happens, back it out and try again, but this time don’t go as deep.

Take your time and have fun.  Before you know it, you’ll have your own creations that you can give as gifts or even sell to make some money.  Expert whittler and the author of many books on whittling, Chris Lubkemann, put himself through college by whittling and selling his creations!  Chris is the author of the book, Big Book of Whittle Fun, which contains 31 whittling projects, basic and advanced instructions, helpful pictures, and it even teaches you how to sharpen your knife.

Here is a perfect Beginners Whittling Project to get you started and to provide perfect practice for your technique.   It is also a perfect way to strengthen your hand and to learn about the grain of the wood.  (To see a more advanced woodworking project, check out our detailed instructions on How to Build a Tool Box.)

The Wooden Egg

    1. Choose a block of wood that has the grain running through the length of the block.
Whittling Projects - The Wooden Egg
The Wooden Egg is a perfect whittling project for someone new to wood whittling.
  • Lay the block on a table with the long side down.
  • On the side that is facing up, divide the block into thirds running across the grain.  Mark each third with a small pencil dot.
  • Draw a dark line (with a pencil) across the block on the bottom one-third mark and the top one-third mark.
  • Repeat that for all four sides.
  • Now you should have a line that goes all the way around the block one-third of the way up the blocks surface on each end.
  • Choose one end to be the “fat” end of your egg.  The line on that end is your starting line and will always be the thickest part of your egg.
  • On the fat end, slice off the corners of your egg by starting your cuts on your pencil line and finishing at the end of the block.  Keep turning the block as you go until the bottom end is rounded and the corners are gone.
  • Flip the block, and do the same on the other end, but this time you will need to cut more off of each corner since this the narrow end or the top of your egg.
  • Continue working and rounding by slicing then rotating your egg until all four corners are gone and the egg begins to take shape.
  • After you have the basic ends shaped, you can work on connecting them through the middle of the egg.  Remember to slice WITH the grain.
  • As your egg nears completion, go back to the ends and make finer cuts to smooth the surface.
  • If you would like you can sand your egg, spray it, paint it, or carve your name in it.  Be creative!

Are you a homeschooling family?  If so, wood working and wood whittling are great hands-on activities to add to your homeschool curriculum.  This traditional activity encourages creativity and will give your students a sense of pride and accomplishment when they have finished their project.

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22 thoughts on “Wood Whittling – A Treasured Past Time and a Perfect Project for Kids

  1. I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but: an EGG?
    Yes, I’m sure it’s brilliantly helpful as a teaching project, but when you’re done, you’ve got … a wooden egg. Which you can … put … some where…
    I’m heading to cub scout camp tomorrow — I’d like to teach the little nuts to whittle something they’ll CARE about. (And don’t get me started ’bout neckerchief slides — that may’ve sold in 1956, but so did Spin & Marty. A whistle is maybe baseline — and it better get better from there… these kids have Xbox. A knife is pretty cool, but you need to get attention from there as to what the project is… and an egg is NOT (oh, forgive me for saying this) going to cut it.

    1. The egg is a great place to start, especially for the younger kids. Because the egg is so simple, younger kids can complete the project quickly and easily, giving them a boost of confidence and a feeling of accomplishment. Of course there are so many other options when it comes to wood whittling that older or more experienced kids can try. For example, on this blog is a more advanced woodworking project, “How to Build a Tool Box”. Also, our JM Cremps website has several complete woodworking projects, whittling kits, and instruction books that have many creative project ideas, some of which are quite advanced.

    2. Actually, I think an egg could be a really cool tactile thing. Just like kids will pick up a smooth, round rock just because they enjoy the feel of it, a nicely whittled egg could be a very cool thing to hold. I should think they would also be impressed that they turned a boring, square blank block of wood into something smooth and round that looks like something familiar.

      Of course if you’re looking for cub scout projects the day before you need them, good luck to you! Video games aren’t designed in a day, either.

  2. My almost-9-year-old son wants to learn how to whittle with a practical goal in mind: he wants to make a wooden sword. Do any of your whittling books have instructions for whittling a sword? Would you recommend a progression of learning projects for him that could culminate in a simple sword from a tree branch? Many thanks an advance.

    1. Each child is different, so picking an exact age is difficult. As a rule of thumb, it is best to start a child whittling when they can comfortably grasp and use both the wood and the knife in their hands. Small hands may have a hard time controlling the whittling knife and may be too small to properly hold the wood block. A good test is to give a child a bar of soap and butter knife. This is also a great way to teach them knife handling skills and to test their ability to handle the knife and block. When you feel that they are able to handle the soap and knife well, then they may be ready to move onto a real block of wood and whittling knife.

  3. gratification should come from lessons learned and hard work.Let’s not turn everything into instant gratification. The younger generation already has too much of that!

  4. The link for “Beginner Palm and Knife set” does not seem to lead to that specific product. Do you not sell that product? Which product is best for beginners? You have several to choose. I don’t know anything about whittling but my son is showing interest and I need to get him started with something. Which product item is best for beginners?
    Thanks!

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