A Guide to Wood Carving Knives and Wood Carving Tools

What’s the difference between wood carving and whittling?

Whittling is a word you may have heard but never been too sure what it means. It sounds a bit like a cross between whistling and chatting. For those of you who do know what whittling is, the next question would be to ask what the difference is between whittling and wood carving.

Where wood carving involves chisels, gouges, and even power tools, whittling requires only one tool, a sharp knife, and nothing else, though sandpaper is perfectly acceptable for smoothing off the sharp edges of a finished piece. It is fair to say that that whittling is actually a form of wood carving.

A whittling knife usually has a small blade, though the blade itself can be of the folding, or fixed variety. Some whittlers like the rigidity of a fixed blade, while other whittlers like a folding blade as it makes it easier to keep the knife in a pocket, enabling them to whittle whenever the mood or situation dictates.

An example of a fixed-blade whittling knife is the Beaver Craft C15 Detail Wood Carving Knife with Ash Handle. Aside from the beautiful grain on the wooden handle, you will also notice how small the actual blade is. This is intentional as whittling tends to involve greater detail than wood carving. At this point it should also be noted that ‘whittlers’ tend to work only with softwoods, such as pine, boxwood, basswood and balsa, while wood carvers often lean more towards hardwoods such as mahogany and oak.

Wood carving knives
The term ‘knife’ is used broadly in the world of wood carving, as the word also covers chisels and gouges. The actual blade of a wood carving knife, as opposed to a chisel or gouge, tends to be much larger than that of a whittling knife as aside from the level of detail being less intricate, many wood carvers like to use hardwoods, which are difficult to carve with a very small blade.

The range of wood carving knives is also extensive, owing to the wonder of wood as a multi-purpose material. While some wood carving can be seen as being purely decorative, other carving, such as carving a wooden spoon can be seen as wholly practical. Of course, you can combine the two to create a decorative wooden spoon. As for the wood carving knife you would need for a spoon, well the Beaver Craft SK2 Long Spoon Hook Wood Carving Knife with a long handle is ideal, and as you will see from the image, the term ‘spoon hook’ is wholly appropriate.

Wood carving, as a hobby, is incredibly popular, though for the younger generation there is a lot of competition coming from the digital revolution, where a PlayStation or Xbox seems to hold greater appeal. For some, wood carving seems an almost prehistoric hobby or pastime, yet it is one of those fundamental skills that takes us back to our roots. It is a skill that early man learned, well before the discovery of metal and the creation of metal blades. Flint, which could be easily split to provide a sharp edge was the most common tool for used for wood carving, and we can date such tools as far back as 2.4 million years, to the Stone Age. 

There are also two core attractions that mean wood carving will always have a consistent number of proponents. First, wood is a wonderfully tactile material to work with, while second, and perhaps the most important element, there is always a tremendous sense of achievement when you create something yourself – carving a figurine from a basic lump of wood is incredibly rewarding, no matter how simple it may be.

Why are there so many wood carving knives? 
When you start out with a lump of wood, it is a long way off what the final product will look like. To begin with, you will want to take off large chunks of wood as you create a rough and rudimentary shape. Then, as you work your way closer to finished product, you will begin to use smaller and more precise wood carving tools. As an example, you may begin to hew at a lump of wood with a two-inch chisel, but at the end you will find yourself using a chisel with a quarter-inch blade.

Similarly, if you are working with a hardwood, there are times when ‘hand power’ will be insufficient, so you will want to use a mallet – usually a wooden one – with either a chisel or a gouging blade, to make inroads into your project. 
If you wonder just how many blades you need for wood carving, the simple answer is as many as it takes, as no two projects are the same. You may only need three to carve out a bowl, but twenty to create an intricate sculpture.

If you want any advice about wood carving knives, please feel free to give us a call here at Cyclaire Knives and Tools and we will be more than happy to help.


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