How to prep wood for whittling

How to prepare wood for whittling

Whittling wood is often a hobby that some end up turning into a profession. It will take skill and precision, and also knowledge of how to handle both the wood and tools. Whilst this may not happen overnight, you have to start somewhere and the best place is at the beginning. And that’s what this guide is about. 

If you’re just starting, you want to start with something smaller and less significant. So for instance, your first project cannot be a large piece of furniture that needs great detail. You can start with a piece of wood, and work your way up from there. 

See our Whittling for Beginners Guide

What type of wood should I use?

The wood type may seem insignificant when you are just starting, but it is vital in how you learn to whittle. Get a piece of wood that you do not need to be careful with. The wood should be soft so that you can slice through it effortlessly.. Look for softwood, you will be able to handle it better. 

Some also choose to use pine whilst others use cedar. The different types of wood may also depend on where you are located, as this can influence the price. The wood that you want to avoid is hard and unmanageable. 

Basswood is used because it is soft and easy to work with. As such, it has been a favored wood for whittling and carving. it also doesn’t have too much grain and as such, it is easier to work with. It can be bought in different blocks. Choose the size that you think you can handle. 

Another type of wood that you can use is pine. It is easy to slice into and this is mostly because it is soft. Also, it is easier to handle than some woods. The downside with pine is that you may need to keep cleaning the knife because it has sap, which can be a sticky business. 

Balsa is also often used for whittling. It’s great for beginners because not only is it soft and easy to work with, it is also affordable, so you can ruin it with as much practice as you like. 

What will you need?

The tools that you will use are paramount in helping you get the result that you need. We’ve taken a look at the wood that you will need, but that’s not all that you will need. You will also need a good whittling knife. Make sure that you can get a good grip on the knife, and also that it is comfortable to hold. Ergonomic handles work well. 

A pocket knife

The great thing is that you won’t need so much of a specialty knife. A pocket knife can do the trick. Just make sure that the blades are sharp and secure. Always practice knife safety whenever you use knives. The advantage of pocket knives is that they can be portable and don’t need a lot of storage space. 

A specialty knife

You could opt for a specialty knife. The main difference being the blade length and that it is fixed. Pocket knives have blades that fold in. You can get good results from knives made by different manufacturers such as flexcut. The advantage of using a specialty knife with a fixed blade is that you don’t have to worry about whether or not the blade will buckle. 

Do I need to sharpen my whittling knife?

It is vital to keep your whittling knife sharp. This will give you smooth gliding strokes across the wood. If you use a dull knife you will realize that cutting through the wood becomes harder. You will have to use more force, and this can be dangerous. You may end up cutting yourself. It may also cause your hands to ache after some time. Fatigue isn’t good when you are using knives. 

A sharp knife will make whittling easier and more enjoyable, but most importantly, safer. A sure sign that your knife is getting dull, is when you feel the wood getting harder to slice through. To avoid this you can sharpen your knife using a sharpening stone amongst other options. 

How to prepare the wood for whittling.

Once you have lined up the wood that you need to use, and chosen your tools, you can start working. Make sure you are wearing protective gear, especially for your hands. Whittling gloves will help a great deal.  You will be holding the knife in your whittling hand and the wood in the other. it helps to protect them both, especially if you’re a beginner and not sure what to expect. 

Take a good look at the piece of wood that you will be working with, and see which direction the grain is going in. Whilst it may not be very easy when you first start, you will find that it gets easier with more practice and time. Take your time, and make sure you know the wood before you put a knife to it. it will make your whittling life easier and also safer, and avoid you getting a cracked result. 

Then place the wood on the surface you will be working with, making sure that you will be slicing the wood along the grain. If you go against the grain, there’s a possibility of splitting the wood. Ensuring that the wood grain goes in the right direction is half the battle. You can then start looking at what technique to use. 

There are different techniques to use, and the one that you land on largely depends on what is more comfortable for you and what works. Although some techniques are basic such as rough cutting. This is the first cut that you would make on a piece of wood, where you outline the basic shape of what you want to end up with. From here you can then choose to pull towards you or away from you. 

The technique that you use may also be determined by the type of shape you want to end up with. Some will only allow push cuts whilst others will call for a pull cut.  

David D. Hughes
May 3, 2021
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