In the olden days , this article would have been “Get a knife and some wood”. The End
Thankfully we live in more wordier and more expansive times. Always connected, constantly absorbing information, always with some screen giving us the visual stimulus, firing our neurons off, triggering our emotions, confusing us with a multitude of buying signals, whether we want it or not. Everything assessed and gauged for health and safety, with all relevant hazard warnings…
Don’t you wish for a few moments of a simpler life?
We do, and that’s why this site exists also. Luckily for you, we’re sharing our desire for a simple life. And it starts here:
The Modern Person’s Whittling Beginners Kit – Checklist
These days we have a couple more items to consider:
- READ THIS ARTICLE!
- Get your equipment
- Time to chill
- Sharpening Stone
- Safety Gloves
- Switch off technological distractions
- Feel more human as you do it!
That’s it! The End…
Oh you want some details? OK, done deal.
So you want to have some time to relax and get creative, and fill your life with some measure of mindfulness…excellent start.
Here’s what you’ll need:
A Suitable Knife.
A pen knife has been a common first whittling blade for many people, especially those with good outdoors experience or being part of the scout movement. For this article, we’ll stick to purpose made equipment just for whittling.
We recommend that you get something like this. This is a fixed blade knife, which gives it the stability and solidity to be used extensively. It has a curved blade with a pointed tip. Having a curved blade like this allows you to make a number of different types of cuts. You can obviously perform straight cuts as you would with a box-cutter/Stanley knife, as well as sweeping cuts and have a lot more finesse to the designs that you can carve.
Given how long you will potentially be holding the knife when carving , it’s important to have it ergonomically designed and weighted to help you manipulate it as you need to. That’s another reason why this would be the perfect beginners knife for a beginner whittler.
This is an obvious requirement any beginner in wood carving:
A sharp knife is safer – This may fly in the face of logic but let us explain. When you are using a sharpened knife, it goes where you want it to without you having to force its movement; You can be more accurate with your cuts and get the detail you need. When the blade is dull, you need to exert more pressure, which is when the problems arise, it could slip, break your carving piece or fly out of your hand even. None of those outcomes are cool!
The good news is that sharpening your knife is easy. There are time honoured methods such as using a leather strop, but this is the modern guide, so we’ll plump for purpose made whetstones of varying grits.
N.b.: A word on “Grits”, not the ones you eat for breakfast in the South. Grits refer to the abrasiveness on offer. The lower the grit number, the rougher its texture. So you would use lower grits when you want to repair or reshape old blade and higher grits when you want to refine and fully sharpen a blade.
We use this whetstone ourselves as it is designed to both sharpen the knife on the 1000 grit side and then the “finishing” side of 6000 is used to refine the knife edge. The perfect stone as it covers all needs for those with a new blade. The base it comes with to keep it steady is a real life saver!
Now you have a sharp knife… time to ensure you keep your hands safe…
FACT: Cut-resistant gloves have single-handedly reduced the sale of band aids to the woodworking community globally. (Not a real fact, but probably true).
These marvels have saved us from so many nicks and cuts and will provide you with peace of mind as a beginner whittler. We even used it in our beginners whittling video where we show you all the basic cuts you need to know to get started!
These obvious come in pairs but if you prefer to have a skin contact somewhere, we recommend one glove on the hand holding the piece that you are carving. The bare hand on the knife handle maintains some kinetic control and gives you a “feel” for what the knife is doing.
If you go for the one glove approach, it is advisable as a beginner to wear a thumb protector/thimble for when you do cuts towards you like the paring cut (pull cut). For your thumb, the more adept you get at controlling the knife, you can simply wrap some plasticised tape around it.
It hinders the blade from fully piercing, aids the grip on the wood, and also protects the wood from accumulating the oil from your fingers from extended contact.
Here is an Amazon link to what we use here, and it comes in different sizes too, so you’ll always have what you need right now.
Whittling Wood Types
Best beginner woods would be Basswood, Balsa and Pine (and maybe Butternut).
We started by picking up a branch whilst a small knife was handy nearby and there began a lifetime of an endlessly satisfying hobby. So by all means pick up a branch and twig from your garden and start taking the bark off to see what wood reveals itself to you.
To get into the more creative side of whittling and wood carving, get pre-prepared wood, and we always go for Basswood. It’s the best to work with as a beginner, being very soft and light. Perhaps the most suitable wood species for hand carving, and our favourite! Basswood also, sands, glues and finishes well. When I introduced my son to whittling, I got a pack of small blocks of basswood, and he proceeded to carve different patterns and figures from each one.
The softness of the wood means that you don’t have to focus on the cutting as much but the creative idea you have in your head becoming a reality. For someone new to this, you want to get them to see the fruits of the labours. And right there, that moment of realisation will have brought a new wood lover to this hobby.
You’re ready to rock!
You got your gear, you got time, and you got a creativity itching to come out. The act of focussing on wood will give you lovely moments of mindfulness. That’s why it is addictive, and enjoyable to a extent you didnt realise before now.
Welcome to the club! 😉