March 25, 2021

What is the difference between wood carving and whittling

Whittling vs Carving

You may be concerned about the terminology of woodcarving because you want to start with it. Knowing the terms used and what they mean is helpful as with any other craft. This will help you improve your efficiency, no matter what craft. This article will look at the difference between woodcarving and carving. The terms are often used interchangeably.

Whittling is the art of making shapes out of wood with a whittling knife. It is a craft often used for miniature carvings. Because you use a single instrument for whittling, you get a more general shape and rougher edges. Slicing through the wood is therapeutic in a strange way.

Wood carving, on the other hand, uses heavier tools and detailed tools such as gouges, chisels, or lathes. Wood carving is intended for much larger projects and can include whittling, amongst other styles such as carvings, letters, and reliefs. It is more of an umbrella term.

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

What should I use for whittling?

There are two things that you will need to whittle. The first is 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 essential—your choice matters. You need to get soft enough wood to carve and easy to handle. Softwoods include wood like pine, white walnut, basswood, and balsa. However, the availability of timber may be influenced by your location. If a tree is native to a particular area and virtually non-existent elsewhere, this could increase the price in areas not readily available. 

Also, ensure 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; you will find it easier to slice through. 

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

The knife

It would help if you got a knife that is up to the task. Part of this is ensuring 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 dull 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 easily push the knife with little force. 

Even though it is unnecessary, 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 to manipulate how you slice. Specialty knives differ from pocket knives because 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 use a blade or a sharp edge to shape the wood, and it is essential to ensure the blade is sharp enough. That being said, you will need to take it slowly. 

Wear whittling gloves

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

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

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

One last thing

While whittling and woodcarving are very similar, they are also different. They differ in the size of the project, the tools used, and the level of expertise required. Unlike carving, which beginners and people can do without much experience, you need to know how to use wood carving machines like lathes.

Whittling can be described as a type of wood carving. They are both forms of woodworking. The one you choose depends on the 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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