As the buzz over the technology revolution is settling down and becoming less of a novelty, the past couple of years have seen a resurgence of vintage, or traditional pastimes. The world keeps spinning faster, and everyone’s eyes seem to be opening to the need for relaxation. Gone are the days of the glorification of “busy”. They are being replaced with the art of slow living.
One of the most popular vintage pastimes that’s resurfaced seems to be whittling. What do you think of when you picture whittling? Perhaps what pops up in your head is an old man in a rocking chair on a front porch, carving a piece of wood, with an ice-cold beverage nearby. His grandson sits in a chair next to him whittling his own stick of wood, keeping up a steady stream of chatter. As the sun sinks lower in the sky, their wood pieces start to come to life. The scene is idyllic, peaceful, and relaxing.
The history of whittling really begins in early Americana. With only the use of a pocket knife and good, soft wood; crafty folks could whittle just about anything. A couple of main things that have changed with the pastime since then is the quality of the knives and the selection of specialty blade shapes available. The craft has become easier and more enjoyable than ever before.
What are you waiting for? Throw away your worries for a moment so you can sit back and relax while creating something beautiful. Spend some quality time with someone you love. Connect with the past while living fully in the present. There’s a reason this pastime is coming back, and I think if you give it a try you just might become an advocate of the art of slow living.
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.
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
Choose a block of wood that has the grain running through the length of the block.
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.