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Wood Whittling

Whittling wood is the art of changing the shape of a piece of wood using a wedged edge tool such as a knife. The word 'whittle' leaves people with the image of an old man sitting on the front porch with a pocket knife and a stick.

Although this image is correct, the process can be broken down and learned by others and also, more than just a pocket knife can be used. Whittling, I feel was essential in the development of human civilization because it allowed early man to develop tools and weapons.

Without the skill to create these basic essentials we may never have gotten out of the cave.

This page has been created to teach the art of whittling. I will introduce the basics including required tools, maintenance of tools, safety tips, selecting material and the process step by step to change a piece of wood into an object. I will also include a more advanced project.

The first thing I will talk about is tools. Whittling can be done with a simple pocket knife. I would suggest using a knife with a small handle to allow the greatest control.

It is also important to choose a knife with two or three different shaped blades, this allows the flexibility to accomplish different cuts.

Other tools which may assist you in your creations include a saw, vice, chisel and a pencil. If you wish to attempt larger projects, then an axe, awl or chainsaw may also be considered.

When involved in smaller projects, a saw quickly removes larger pieces of material. A vice is used to secure the piece and is an important device since it enables you to keep your hands free from the project.

Some may argue that using a chisel isn't whittling. I disagree with this argument since a chisel is still a knife; its handle is simply in a different place. Aboriginal people in Eastern Canada used beaver's teeth to create North America's first chisel.

I would argue with anyone that these chisels were used to whittle objects used in day to day lives. The chisel allows the whittler to achieve his or her work quickly and safely.

A pencil can be used before any cuts are made. This enables the whittler to consider different ideas and helps develop an overall picture of what the piece will look like when completed.

Maintenance of your tools is also a very important aspect of whittling. To start, tools should always be stored in a dry environment in such a way that all sharp edges are protected. The metal can also be protected during use by applying a thin layer of oil to all non-cutting parts.

In my experience, I've found that the salt in sweat from my hands caused the steal to pit and rust. Too solve this problem I used gun blue to treat the steal and then applied a thin coat of oil.

Sharpening is also important to the maintenance of tools and the safety of the person using them. The level of your sharpened edge is very important. If it's too sharp the steal will become brittle and crack easily. If it's too blunt then the tool is dull.

I find that an angle of 30 degrees from the cutting edge to the feathered edge on the blade allows for the best cut. Once the cutting edge is established, I also buff the cutting edge. This removes any burrs on the steal and also allows the tool to cut more easily through the wood.

Safety is extremely important when using sharp tools. The tools make no distinction between wood or flesh. Therefore the first safety rule is to keep your finger and other body parts away from any edges.

The vice, especially for beginners will greatly increased your safety, since there is no need to hold the piece. If you must hold the wood by hand, there are ways to insure your safety. I have developed techniques to lock my wrist, ensuring the blade cannot reach any part of my body.

You can also tuck your elbows into your side to reduce the amount of movement of the blade. The safest way is still to make sure you are not pointing a knife at yourself.

The type of material you use will depend on your objectives. Soft wood, such as pine, carve very easily but lack the ability to hold detail. Hardwoods such as maple are very difficult to carve but can hold detail.

I have used birch hardwood to carve such things as life size mermaids, detailed down to their finger nails. Here's an example:

Although for the beginner, I would suggest something more straight forward in pine or some other soft wood.

Wood Whittling Projects

Project #1 - How To Whittle An Axe

The first project I will demonstrate is an axe in a round junk (piece) of wood. Once you have selected your wood use, have a pencil to draw a side profile.

After placing the piece in a vice, cut as close as possible to the line with a saw. Then finish cutting to the line with a chisel or knife. Once this is completed draw a top view on the piece and repeat the process with the saw and blades.

After cutting to the lines on both views, round out the edge to finish the shape of the axe and block of wood.

You can follow the pictures provided to help understand the process.

Project # 2 - How To Whittle A Letter Opener (Small Kinfe)

The second project I will demonstrate is a letter opener, basically a wooden knife. Begin by selecting your material. I will be using a piece of birch.

Draw your first view and bring it down to the lines. It may be necessary to free hand some of this piece, no vice, therefore keep in mind safety.

Draw your second view and repeat the process of bringing it to the lines. When rounding the edges, use a line in the centre of either side of the blade to guide the level of the blade. This is good practice for carving a straight line.

Once you have achieved these projects you may want to attempt something more difficult. Staffs or walking sticks are some of my most interesting projects.

Their function determines the type of wood I use although I found that maple gave me the best results. I would select a small maple tree then cut them green and clean away the bark, cut them into required lengths to be drawed.

The top of the staff would be carved from wood or a piece of moose antler is carved and attached to the staff after it is carved. The staff itself would be carved with a series of relief carvings.

First the relief carving and the top of the staff are penciled in. They are all rougfted out at the same time. The fine detail is done on the relief carving first and then the top is completed. The staffs are often painted with natural dies and coated with a finish.

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