Basic Knives for Beginning Whittlers
Whittling with pocket knives
Before I got my first whittling knife I used my pocket knife, which, so long as it was sharp, did a great job. Throughout whittling history, whittlers used pockets knifes and some still choose them over specialized whittling knives. For me, the main benefit is that they are so portable. I always have my pocket knife on me during outdoor trips, so it’s nice to know that if the opportunity or need arises for some impromptu creativity, I’m covered. I also like that you can switch between the different blade sizes, depending on your need. Although I have several good pocket knives my favorite is my two-blade Oar Carver, which is larger than most pocket knives, but the larger handle fits nicely in my hand.
Using your pocket knife is a great way to try out whittling without investing in a ‘proper’ whittling knife. If you’re just beginning whittling then having a blade that has the ability to lock is something to consider. A non-locking blade can be unstable and tricky to work with, and the potential for lost fingers is also higher than with a locking knife.
Whittling knives for beginners
Knives that are designed specifically for whittling tend to be non-folding knives, which makes them a little less convenient for on the go wood carving. However, their fixed blade makes them more sturdy and their handles sit much more comfortably in the hand than pocket knives. That said, there are also some really excellent folding knives that are ideal for whittling, and some pocket knives that are specifically designed as whittling knives.
There are a ton of specialist whittling knife options out there and many whittlers have multiple knives for different jobs. Here are some of the best whittling knife brands (in no particular order) that are ideal for beginner whittlers:
- Flexcut – A good quality knife at a reasonable price with a blade that holds an edge well. The blades are made from quality steel and come carving sharp right out of the box. For me however, I find the sharply curved handles too uncomfortable for my liking. Flexcut knives are widely available from all woodcarving suppliers.
2. OCCT – An excellent quality knife at a competitive price. High quality steel blades that hold an edge well with periodic stropping. The walnut handles are straight, nothing fancy, but are comfortable to hold. OCCT knives come carving sharp right out of the box. I own several of these knives in two different sizes and really like them. OCCT knives are readily available from most woodcarving suppliers.
3. Helvie – A top of the line quality knife (my knife of choice) at reasonable prices with excellent steel blades that hold and edge with periodic stropping. You can get a Helvie knife in about a dozen different standard handle styles. Helvies also come carving sharp right out of the package. They are only available direct from Helvie Knives and not through any distributors. They are extremely popular and very hard to get.
4. Drake – A very high quality knife made with blades of excellent quality steel and top notch wood handles. Drake knives come factory sharp, although I found their selection of knifes to be somewhat limited. They are moderately priced, but I have only seen these knives available from Drake Knives and a handful of distributors.
5. BeaverCraft – Made in Ukraine, these knives are relatively inexpensive but are of very good quality. I tested their Sloyd style knife and although I don’t carve with that type of knife I found that it cut well and stayed sharp. BeaverCraft is a new and growing company from the Ukraine and is gradually expanding their line of tools and accessories and now have a fairly diverse line of carving knives available. At the present time I believe you can only get BeaverCraft knives directly from BeaverCraft Tools as well as on Amazon, although I think you will start to see them carried by some woodcarving suppliers soon.
There are many other excellent knife makers out there so you might want to ask around and do some research, but the ones I’ve listed above are all knives I have personal knowledge with and can speak from experience for them.
Cut Off Those Corners!
Before you finish a carving, turn the piece around and carefully examine it. Ask yourself: “Is it too square looking? Are there a lot of sharp corners?” Unless you’re doing a flat plane carving you don’t want to leave a lot of big corners on your piece. In other words, knife facets are fine but you don’t want the overall carving to look too boxy or like it has flat sides. There are no flat areas or sharp corners on figures in real life (just look around), so your figures and caricatures should not be square, have flat spots or sharp angles either.
Take a photo! I often find that taking a photo of my carving before it’s finished will uncover flaws that I hadn’t noticed with my naked eye. I guess that’s why they say “A picture tells a thousand words.”
Don’t be too anxious to finish your carving. Take the time to do it right. Your work will look much better in the end.
Questions & Comments
Here is a copy of an Instagram message I received from my good friend, Richard Cahill with some very nice and much appreciated compliments:
Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments, Richard! It’s feedback like that that encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m glad you’re enjoying Wood Chip Chatter and your newly discovered hobby of wood carving. Keep up the good work you’re doing and I hope we will see some of your carvings here in Wood Chip Chatter.
Next I got a very good question from new subscriber, Jim Carlson about honing compound. Jim writes:
“I add honing compound to my strop every time I use it. Does the strop ever need to be cleaned to remove this accumulated abrasive?”
Thanks for writing, Jim. Adding honing compound every time you use it is adding way too much compound and is only overloading your strop unnecessarily. You should only need to add compound every once in a while (when you feel like your strop is not longer sharpening your knife), and yes, old built up compound should be scraped off periodically. Use the back of a knife or an old credit card to scrape the compound off the strop. I hope this helps.
“Photo Shop” is the section of Wood Chip Chatter where carvers can send in photos of their wood carvings for display. It’s your chance to show off your work…sort of a show and tell. The photos will only be displayed and no comments or critiques will be made. For critiques on your carvings send them in to the “Carver’s Corner.” Send your photos to email@example.com.
My good friend, Rick Keiper has been busy carving homes for Gnomes and has sent in some photos of his work:
“Good morning Bob,
Love your work and what you do for the art of woodcarving. I enjoy reading your Wood Chip Chatter newsletter every time it comes out. I recently carved a couple of gnome home trees that I think are great for spring. My wife loves them. I attached some pictures! Hope you enjoy!
RK Wood Carving”
Thank you for your kind remarks, Rick! Those are terrific little trees you carved! What a cool idea and very cute. I can see why your wife loves them.
My good friend, Bob Tomlinson from Madison, Wisconsin sent in a photo of a rather large project he completed a few months ago for a friend. Bob Writes:
“here is a project I completed back in September for sn Ohio State fan who lives near me here in Wisconsin.
Thanks for the photo, Bob! Always appreciated. I read your note and then was surprised when I saw the photo at how large your carving/project is. You did quite an impressive job. It looks just like the real “Brutus.”
Here is a pattern I found and modified many years ago and have gotten a lot of mileage out of.
Coming Workshops & Seminars
Teacher: Dave Stetson
Dates: February 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19.
Times: Sat, Sun – 9:30 – 11:30 Pacific time / 10:30 – 12:30 Mountain time / 11:30 – 1:30 Central time / 12:30 – 2:30 Eastern time.
12 Hours (6 sessions – 2 hours each day)
Cost: $125 payable thru check or Zelle, or $130 via PayPal.
Pattern for cutout will be provided or 9” tall roughout I’ve designed can be purchased from Dwayne Gosnell Roughouts.
To attend the workshop, a passcode and login code will be provided for Zoom, a free app downloadable to your computer, tablet or phone. All sessions will be recorded for student playback.
Woodcarving Old Faithful Horse
Teacher: Janet Cordell
Dates: April 24, 28 May 1, 5, 8, 12
Times: 2-4 p.m. Pacific Time, 3-5 p.m. Mountain Time, 4-6 p.m. Central Time 5-7 p.m. Eastern Time
12 hours (6 sessions – 2 hours each day)
Location: Online (Via Zoom)
Contact Janet Cordell at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Classes With Chris Hammack
Teacher: Chris Hammack
Chris Hammack is offering a new series of online classes to help students learn and sharpen their woodcarving skills. Individual and Group Classes are available through his web site chrishammackart.com/groupclass
Teacher: Dwayne Gosnell
Dates: Two – 2 hour classes each month on Wednesdays
Location: Online (Via Zoom)
To sign up contact Dwayne Gosnell via email email@example.com
News & Announcements
The International Association of Woodcarvers has upcoming Zoom meetings on the following Saturdays at 3PM EST with special guest presenters. Check them out…
2/4 – Richard Houlden
2/11 – Alec LaCasse
2/25 – Dan Gallagher
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WOODCARVERS
COME JOIN US!!!
Lancaster County Woodcarvers Zoom Meetings
(Informal meeting – Open to all)
Tuesday, February 14 at 7PM EST
Tuesday, March 14 at 7PM EST
Tuesday, April 11 at 7PM EST
Tuesday, May 9 at 7PM EST
There are no meetings in June, July and August.
Come join the fun…and you might even learn something
The Jersey Hills Wood Carvers (JHWC) club is a small but growing group of wood carvers sharing their time, knowledge and joy of woodcarving. The JHWC generally meets from 7:00 PM EST to 9:00 PM EST on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Thursday of each month (when school is in session) at the Jefferson Township High School wood shop classroom.
Membership is “FREE” and open to anyone interested in woodcarving regardless of their ability.
JHWC’s Upcoming Meetings and Events
Mar. 2nd, 16th, 30th
Apr. 6th, 20th
May 4th, 18th
June 1st, 15th
For more information contact:
Al Santucci firstname.lastname@example.org President
Bill Brunner email@example.com newsletter/website editor
We are always looking your contributions to Wood Chip Chatter. Your questions and comments help to keep this blog active and going! Effective discussions are one of the best ways to learn about the topics that interest you. Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question. Plus we would all love to learn about the unique tips, techniques and products YOU use in your woodcarving process.
We can also use more photo contributions to the “Carver’s Corner” and “Photo Shop”. My “Carver’s Corner” is a great way to get constructive critiques on your carvings so you can learn where to improve on your next ones, and I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share in my “Photo Shop” section. Photos of your carvings liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.
Send your questions, comments and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will all be greatly appreciated.
Does your club have a show coming up this year? Email me your brochure or send me your information so I can advertise it in Wood Chip Chatter.
Keep a sharp edge, and keep on carvin’!
4 thoughts on “Basic Knives for Beginning Whittlers”
Thanks for your latest blog; always find them to be a nice mix of show schedules & events, patterns, and carving tips. Nice to review your feature on knives. I think everyone gravitates to vendor tables to see what’s new; never can have enough knives ! I started carving with OCCT and own many that hold an edge and keep on going. Recently added a Helvie, which sure looks nice and came sharp and ready to carve.
Jim Babcock Columbus, Indiana
Thanks for your comment, Jim. I too started with OCCT knives and own several of them. I will be sure to add your comment to the Reader’s Comments section next month! Regards, Bob K.
Thanks for the article. Some thoughts and updates.
div>I have also been an OCCT person, I have seven of their knives
Thanks for writing, Michael. OCCT knives are excellent knives. I haven’t tried their gouges but I imagine they’re pretty good too.