How To Whittle a Stick (3 easy tutorials)

Whittling a stick is one of the easiest ways to get started with wood carving. Whittling is the art of using a knife to carve anything out of wood in different shapes. It might look easy, but it requires practice, patience, and safety.

To whittle a stick, you need a good sharp knife(preferably one which is specifically for whittling), and any wood where you can practice your craft. You can practice whittling a stick because it is relatively easier as compared to carving more difficult and different shapes with wood. So let’s get started.

How to whittle out of a stick

To get started first you will need a good piece of wood to do your whittling. A few things to keep in mind when you are choosing the wood to practice your whittling:

  • – Make sure the wood is not dried, choose fresh wood for your carving. Fresh wood is much easier to cut so it’s better for whittling.
  • – Any good fallen branches near a tree will do, never cut branches off a living tree.
  • – Choose a branch with little to no knots and which is smooth for making the carving process easier and fun. Knots on a branch are harder to cut around so make sure you get a branch with fewer knots.
  • – Silver birch, willow, sycamore, alder, and lime wood are great choices for a beginner to carve as they are easier to carve than other wood types.

Once you have chosen your wood for whittling you should make sure you have the right knife for whittling. A sharp carving knife or a pocket knife are quite popular for whittling as they are readily available. Let’s discuss whittling techniques that you can use to make carving easier for you.

Before starting your whittling do make sure to follow these safety measures especially if you are a beginner to whittling. The knife can easily cause injury if you are not aware of the risks.

  • 1.Wear gloves or thumb pads: Wear gloves to decrease the chances of injury. If you get dedicated whittling gloves such as Kevlar Gloves it will save you fingers from being cut
  • 2.Take it slow: While whittling, make sure to work slowly and make thin cuts. This will ensure that your cuts are precise while also decreasing the chance of accidental cuts.
  • 3.Knife direction: Keep the knife away from your lap by holding the wood being carved to the side or past your knees. using the knife, cut away from your body to decrease chances of injury.
  • 4.Keep your knife sharp: A sharp knife will make the whittling process fun and easy. A sharp knife will also allow cuts with more control.
  • 5.First Aid: Keep a first aid kit with you just in case.

Below are the different types of strokes used in whittling. Do try all of them to see which one you like, and to find which is the most suitable for the type of carving you are currently doing.

Rough cutting:

This method is used by amateur carvers with no experience with whittling and also by more experienced whittlers to carve an outline of the wood carving at the start before shifting to more precise cutting methods. You just start whittling away at the wood in the shape you want.

While holding the wood firmly, you should run the knife over the wood in a sweeping motion. In order to avoid the wood splitting or the knife getting stuck, make sure to make thin cuts that will allow you to make better wood carvings.

The push stroke:

This stroke is the most recommended stroke for beginners to whittling and wood carving. The knife cuts away from your body and your hand to effectively control the cut while also keeping you safe from potential injury.

With the knife facing away from you use the left thumb to push the blade while steering the direction of the knife with your right hand and fingers. By pushing through with your thumb you can make precise cuts with the right amount of force.

The pull stroke/pare cut:

This cut is mostly recommended for making detailed cuts and is the most used stroke in whittling. This cut is done towards you so it is best to follow all the safety measures and wear gloves or a thumb pad before cutting.

For this cut, you should point the blade towards you while bracing your thumb to bring the knife towards you while making the required cut. Make sure to hold the wood firmly in your left hand while you operate the knife and brace with your right thumb.

For a more visual and comprehensive guide to different carving techniques, visit our article 7 cuts to master in wood carving.


Carving knife vs Pocket knife

For beginners to wood carving, a pocket knife is a great first choice for whittling. Even more, experienced woodcarvers prefer the pocket knife due to its portability. A dedicated whittling knife or carving knife though is very much essential for those who take carving seriously, it is much easier to carve and segnificantly improves the final outcome.

The carving knife not only makes the process easier but also allows for more precise clean cuts to make more complicated carvings. However, for those who prefer the pocket knife, they are able to make quite detailed projects so the pocket knife can do the job if needed.

Using a carving knife or a pocket knife is dependent on the preference of the user. But remember to always keep your knife sharp no matter which one you want to use. Keeping your knife sharp and taking the process slowly will help make the carving easier and more fun.

3 Simple Projects To Whittle Out Of a Stick

Now that you have been introduced to the art of whittling it’s time to start on a project. We will highlight few easy projects to start for beginners. We will explore how to make a spear, how to make a walking stick, and an owl bookmark. Let’s get started.

How To Carve a Spear

When making a spear you should look for a branch or stick which is at least your height. Although if it is a bit taller than you, then it’s ideal(this will give it more reach). The pole or stick you use should be at least 1-inch thick minimum(a thinner branch will break easily and cannot function as a spear).

Once you have your stick, start to carve out the tip of the stick in the shape of a spear. Using your knife do small cuts on the tip, while also making sure the cuts are even. This will make the spear tip turn out level. Make sure to point the knife away from yourself and cut. The process does take some time and is physically taxing, so keep that in mind.

Once you are done with fashioning the tip of the spear, congratulations you are almost finished. Plane out the rest of the stick to give it a cleaner look. This is done by whittling away the bark of the wood.

A bonus tip to make your spear more useable, is to use fire to harden it. This can be done by greasing up the tip of the spear with vaseline, or any greasy substance you have. Now expose the tip of the spear to the fire until it darkens. This process dries out the wood and makes it harder.

Watch the video below for a visual look at the whole process:

How To Carve a Walking Stick

Another basic carving project that is easily done by beginners is to whittle a walking stick. This is very easy to do as you just need a stick with the right length and thickness, and you are ready to make your own walking stick.

Find a stick that is at least half your height and is thick enough to support the extra weight. Also, make sure to get a stick with little to no knots so your carving work is easier. You can choose to cut your own branch if you cannot find a perfect piece to work with (use a large knife or a machete to cut the branch).

Using your knife whittle away the outer bark by making small shallow cuts. Do your best to make even cuts to peel away the bark. Also, work on removing the green bark which is below the outer bark. Use the same cutting technique to ensure the cuts are even and clean.

Once you have stripped the wood of its outer bark and green bark, you should allow it to dry by keeping it indoors in a dry place for one day. This will make the inner bark turn orange which will make your job easier. Remove the orange bark to give your stick a finished look.

Now if you want to have a professional feel to the stick then make sure to round the edges of the wood. This will finish the look of the walking stick and prevent it from breaking off at the edges. Your basic walking stick is now finished.

If you wish, you can add a few design elements to make it more visually appealing. Take a look at this article to get more ideas for a walking stick.

How To Make a Simple Owl Bookmark

If you are looking for a more complex project, you may attempt something out of the ordinary.

For a tutorial on how to make an owl bookmark from a stick, watch the video below:

Key takeaways from the video:

  • – Pick a knot-free stick, with the thickness of your thumb(about 1 inch), and the length of 4 inches
  • -You need a carving knife and another stick to split the stick in the middle
  • – After splitting, smooth out the top of the wood using your knife
  • – Make two small, shallow cuts on the top of the stick like an X
  • – Make two V-shaped cuts opposite to each other on the top of the stick
  • – After you are done with the details on the head, smooth out the rest of the stick so it will fit inside a book easily.

The video highlights a few good ways you can make small detailed cuts to make any required shape for your wood carving. Use what you learn to make more small detailed projects of your own.

Harvesting The Right Wood To Carve

So you have decided to take up wood carving as a hobby and now want to keep different types and sizes of wood to practice your carving? We will help you in giving few guidelines on choosing the right type of wood, based on your carving requirements.

You can choose to do wood carving on either greenwood or dry wood. Greenwood is freshly downed wood from a tree (hence it has more moisture) while dry wood has less moisture content and has been dried at least a few weeks after being cut. For more info click here to read our article

For carving it is best to pick wood that is less grainy, this will make the whittling process easier. For detailed carving projects, hardwood is best as it holds detail the best. However, hardwood is very difficult to work with as it is not easy to carve due to its hardness.

If you are just starting out, it is best to practice on greenwood in order to master the different strokes using a carving knife or a pocket knife. Once you are comfortable with carving, then you should move to try different wood types to see which one you like more.

For detailed pieces which require small, precise cuts you can focus on hardwood but be prepared for the tiring work in carving with hardwood. Most woodcarvers prefer basswood for carving and it is stated by the majority of carvers as the best wood for carving.

To harvest different wood for your projects you can gather fallen branches of different trees or of course buy wood off amazon such as the very easy to carve basswood block. Focus on keeping wood with fewer knots, and being less grainy. You can then dry the greenwood by keeping it in storage. Small pieces can even be microwaved to make the drying process faster.

Final thoughts

Now that you have been introduced to whittling you should remember these important guidelines: keep your knife sharp, make small cuts, take it slow, cut away from your body and always clean your knife after carving (the residue from greenwood is not good for knives).

Know the pros and cons of using greenwood or dry wood for your projects, and always remember to enjoy the process. The limits are only set by your imagination and action. So which project will you start with first?

If you want to try more beginner level wood carving projects then we have a list of 10 Wood Carving Projects that you can try. We also have tutorials that will help you if you got stuck at some point of your journey.

As mentioned before don’t get discouraged if your progress is slow and instead focus on enjoying the process.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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