Long-time whittlers and carvers are always on the lookout for new, innovative knives and tools. Experienced whittlers know there’s no such thing as a “best” knife, but this craft is all about the tools. The market is flooded with kits, but it’s best to avoid these simply because even the highest quality sets will often include one or two tools you’ll never use. Buy the best you can afford but buy just what you need.
Best Qualities in Whittling Knives
High-quality whittling tools, well maintained and properly used, can last a lifetime. When choosing a whittling knife, experienced whittlers agree that the blade is the most important part of the tool.
Look for a thin, sharp blade with a smooth, flat cutting surface. Many whittlers prefer folding knives because they’re easy to carry and can be used for other purposes but keeping a few fixed-blade knives solely for whittling works just as well. The fixed blades on some whittling knives increase the strength and sturdiness of the tools. Some craftsmen prefer to use both types of knives.
Carbon steel construction means the knife is very strong and capable of cutting and shaping harder woods than most whittling knives are designed to handle.
Price is always a consideration, but as with any product, expensive doesn’t always mean best. When it comes to whittling knives and other tools, there are well-known and respected manufacturers that produce a range of knives for novices to experts.
- Case Seahorse Whittler: This once-retired triple-bladed whittling knife was brought back into production due to its fine qualities and pressure from expert whittlers. The largest blade tapers to a small point that can be used for rough cutting and some detailing. The drop-point and sheepsfoot blades both enable you to easily add more intricate details. Don’t let the $85 price tag scare you – this fine knife is worth it.
- Woodcraft Two-Blade Folding Carving Knife: This $21 non-locking knife features two stainless blades and a strong handle. The detail blade is perfect for working in small areas and the chip carving blade will hold a nice, sharp edge. The size of this knife makes it perfect for smaller projects.
- Morakniv Wood Carving 120 Knife: This short (2.4 inch) fixed blade knife features a laminated steel blade and a comfortable birchwood handle designed to provide great control. This is a no-nonsense knife with a small, very sharp blade that’s made for detailed work. This knife costs $24.
Safety and Maintenance Tools
Whether you’re a newbie or an old-timer, keeping your blades sharp and your fingers where they belong are the most important considerations. Here are a few suggestions for keeping both in top condition.
- Cut-resistant glove: This is a good investment for whittling novices or those moving on to non-locking knives. In addition to protecting the hand holding the wood, the gloves made of a Kevlar/Spectra combination are surprisingly durable and comfortable.
- Thumb guard: If you’d rather not go the full glove route, a relatively inexpensive thumb guard is a comfortable, less bulky way to protect you. During the whittling process, the chance of getting cut is not an ‘if’ – it’s more of a ‘when’.
- Sharpening stone: Keeping your knives as sharp as possible makes whittling easier. Dull knives can easily slip and cause far more damage to wood (and fingers) than a finely-honed blade.
- Strop: This helps maintain that fine edge on your blade. Getting in the habit of stropping the knife after every whittling session is a great way to extend the life and blades on your knives.
Choosing whittling tools should be based on a combination of research, preference and features. Knives are the center of the whittling universe, so choosing these tools carefully is vital. Whittling is a wonderful skill which opens a whole new world of creativity to those willing to put in the time and effort to really embrace the craft.