March 25, 2021

What is the difference between wood carving and whittling

Are you wondering about wood carving terminology, perhaps because you want to start? Like any other craft, it helps a great deal to know the terms used and what they mean. This enables you to improve efficiency regardless of the craft at hand. In this article, we take a look at the difference between wood carving and whittling. The terms tend to be used interchangeably. 

Whittling is the art of making shapes out of wood using a whittling knife. It’s a hand carving craft that is often used for more miniature carving. Since you use a single instrument for whittling, you will have a more general shape and rougher edges. Slicing through the wood is oddly therapeutic. 

On the other hand, wood carving involves using more heavy-duty tools and detailing tools such as gouges, chisels, or lathes. Wood carving is for much bigger projects and can include whittling amongst other styles, such as chip, letter, and relief, among others. It is more of an umbrella term. 

The other difference between whittling and carving is the type of wood that is used. Whittling requires softer wood because it is done by hand, but wood carving is not the case. 

What should I use for whittling?

There are two things that you will need to whittle. The first is the wood, and the second is a good knife. Let’s look at these.

The wood:

When whittling, especially as a beginner, there are a couple of things that you will need to take into consideration. The wood that you use is important—your choice matters. You need to get wood that is soft enough to carve and also easy to handle. Softwoods include wood like pine, white walnut, basswood, and balsa. However, the availability of wood may be influenced by your location. If a tree is native to a particular area and virtually non-existent elsewhere, this could drive the price up in areas not readily available. 

Also, make sure that there aren’t too many knots in the wood. Knots will stop you dead in your tracks. More experienced whittlers will work these knots into the design, but this isn’t the easiest thing to do if you start. Also, look for wood with a straight grain, and you will find it easier to slice through. 

Be sure to see our post on the best wood for carving.

The knife:

You must get a knife that is up to the task. Part of this is making sure that it is sharp enough to slice through the wood. This will help you whittle in a more relaxed manner and get the desired result. Keeping your knife sharp is also a matter of safety. When the blade is blunt, it may cause you to exert excess pressure that is not necessary. Also, a blunt knife can cause you to have aching hands. 

 The great thing about whittling is that you don’t necessarily need a special knife. Many people use a standard pocket knife, and something small enough to fit in your hand allows you to push the knife with little force easily. 

Even though it is not entirely necessary, you can still get specialty knives made for easier whittling. The handle on a specialty whittling knife is made to fit in your hand comfortably so that you can manipulate how you slice. Specialty knives differ from pocket knives in that the blades are fixed and do not fold into the knife. 

How to keep safe when carving or whittling

Sharpen the knife

A dull blade is not just irritating, and it is also dangerous. Make sure to keep the blade on your machine or knife well-sharpened so that you slice through the wood effortlessly. The problem with a dull blade is that it will easily slide off the wood you attempt to slice and come towards your hand. Your skin is softer than the wood, so a blade that couldn’t cut through the wood will easily cut you. 

Take it slow

Safety is a key aspect of woodworking because you will be using a blade or a sharp edge to shape the wood, and it is important to make sure the blade is sharp enough. That being said, you will need to take it slowly. 

Wear whittling gloves

To make sure that you protect your fingers. For extra protection, you can also use whittling gloves, which will help keep your fingers out of the way. This is a great tip, especially when you are still starting and unsure what to expect or handle the wood. With time, you will adjust, and the same applies when you are carving. 

The alternative to wearing gloves would be to use a thumb pad. This is especially effective if you slice towards yourself and use your thumb to anchor the wood as you whittle. This pad is worn in the hand that holds the knife and exerts pressure and force. 

If you don’t have a thumb pad or gloves handy, you can use duct tape. Wrap it around your fingers to protect them as you slice through the wood. 

One last thing

While whittling and wood carving are so similar, and they are also different. They differ in the project’s size, the tools being used, and the level of expertise required. You will need to know your way around wood carving machinery such as lathes, unlike whittling, which beginners can often do, and people without much experience. 

Whittling can be described as a type of wood carving. They are both forms of woodworking. The one you choose depends on the type of result you want at the end of the day. Make sure to follow safety precautions before you begin, especially if you are not yet too experienced. We hope this guide helps you in your woodworking journey. Happy Carving! You may also like our post about Things to whittle out of a stick.

David D. Hughes
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