Whittling For Kids – Children’s Ultimate Guide To Wood Carving

If your child is interested in wood carving from an early age, or you want to teach wood carving to kids, this is exactly what we will be discussing it today’s article. Wood carving can be the perfect hobby for your kids- it’s easy to learn, fun to do, and you can get the necessary materials from nature.

The best part is that it provides you and your kid(s) a fun activity to do together. The possibilities are endless- you can make toys together, make a Jenga tower by carving the blocks, make wooden dolls, and more. There are a wide variety of woodcarving activities for children that can be fun and productive.

Teaching woodcarving to your children can help them develop a lot of innate skills which include creativity, concentration, and dexterity. Of course, you’ll need them how to use carving tools properly, but that’s a given considering their age. This guide will be your ultimate reference point to teaching whittling wood to your children and take you through all the important aspects of teaching them the art.

Getting Started/First Lesson

First of all, we’ll focus on the tools, tips, overall mindset, and general guidelines that you need to know to get your kids started on learning wood-carving. We’ll be dividing them into different subsections below to make things easier for you to understand.

General Guidelines to Follow when Teaching Kids Wood Carving

Let’s begin with the general guidelines you should follow to teach your kids wood carving:

·         Most children develop sufficient motor skills to learn wood carving at the age of 10. But if you still feel uncomfortable then you can start teaching your kid(s) when they’re 12.

·         Make a do’s and don’t list for your kids to follow during every wood carving session. Make sure to review this list with them at the beginning of every session.

·         Start teaching wood carving to your children using hard vegetables. Potatoes and pumpkins are the perfect candidates for this purpose.

·         For the best safety precaution, you can buy protective mesh gloves for your kids which can help protect their fingers and palms from nicks and cuts.

·         Keeping your tools sharp is actually safer for children when wood carving. Blunt edges of tools can often accumulate rust which can lead to infections if it cuts through the skin.

·         One of the basic techniques you should teach your child at the very beginning of wood carving is the push stroke.

·         Always keep a first aid kit handy just in case there are any accidents.

Things to Keep In Mind

·         Always plan your project beforehand. This will help hold the pacing of the projects and make sure that the step-by-step process is easy to understand for your kid(s). Break up the project into easily understandable chunks for your kid(s) since they will lose interest easily if things are too complicated to understand. Make sure to include breaks in the lessons.

·         Make sure to have a wood carving warm-up routine for your kids before starting on the main project. This will help them get into the flow of the project which decreases the chances of them getting frustrated or making small mistakes.

·         Make sure to be extra supportive and understanding when your kid(s) make any mistakes during a wood carving session. If they forgot any safety measures, don’t scold them. Explain to them what their mistake could lead to and continue on with the project.

·         Teach your kid(s) to properly store their wood carving tools after every wood carving session in the toolbox or tool bag (if you’re on a camping trip). This will prevent accidents from happening whether you’re indoors or outdoors.

·         Keep your tools sharp and tuned at all times.    

Sourcing Wood for Children’s Wood Carving Projects

Unlike a grown-up hobbyist, sourcing timber for children’s wood carving projects isn’t very difficult since the quality requirements aren’t as stringent. You can easily source timber for small wood carving projects whether you’re living in an urban or rural area. In urban areas, parks and suburbs are easy places to collect fallen twigs and branches which are good enough for small wood carving projects.

If you live in a rural area, a short stroll through the woods or forest and easily net you a lot of fresh and dried twigs and branches that are better than the ones found in parks and such. However, not all kinds of branches of twigs will do, some are more suitable for wood carving more than others. As a rule of thumb children should practice wood carving on softwood instead of hardwood.

Below are some of the easiest to source softwood you can get in North America and Europe that are ideal for children’s wood carving projects:


A staple in woodland across both North America and Europe, maple grows in both soft and hardwood variants. The timber has a warm brown hue that lends itself well to making wooden toys and simple utensils. Some of the biggest advantages of using maple in wood carving are that it is inexpensive and easy to source unless it don’t grow in a particular region due to climate. The most common variant of softwood maple species is red maple.


Often considered as the best softwood for wood carving in general and the most beginner-friendly by woodcarvers all across the world, basswood is a staple in the woods and forests of Europe. While not the softest wood out there, basswood lends its high reputation to its ease of carving which makes it ideal for children as well. Basswood is also durable and flexible making it ideal for children’s wood carving.  


Pine is a common staple in the woods and forests and Europe. Its abundance and inexpensiveness lend to its high popularity as well as its appearance. Pine is also highly resistant to shrinking and swelling which makes it easy to work on even during rainy and winter seasons.

If you are actually going to carve pine check out our article all about carving pinewood.


While not as commonly available as the above-mentioned options, nevertheless cedar is a high-quality timber that can be used for children’s projects if you can source them naturally.

Cedarwood is comparatively expensive to the other wood recommendations made in this list, so you should only purchase it if you and your kid(s) are working on a special project. There are a lot of different types of cedar too, yellow cedar is definitely the best one to carve with the kids mostly because of the amazing it creates when you carve it.


Although balsa is a hardwood, it is ironically the softest wood in the world. balsa is very easy to work on and comes with a lot of advantages. Its unique texture, softness, and malleability all combine together to make for the perfect wood carving experience. However, these advantages come at a steep price and you’ll find basswood to be quite expensive. But if you can afford it, you should pick it for a special project or two.  

Whittling Techniques For Kids

The safest way for children to learn woodcarving is through whittling. Power tools are not safe for children to use and you can’t use them effectively outdoors. Now that all the general guidelines and tool requirements have been covered, it’s time to focus on how to teach your kids the art of carving wood with knives and other basic tools.

Knife Carving

Mastering the art of knife carving or whittling is paramount for your children to learn advanced wood-carving skills as they grow up and improve in the activity. The first whittling tool techniques that your kid(s) need to learn is carving with a knife. The core principle of knife carving is to hold and use the tool in such a way that uses the entirety of the knife’s cutting edge.

When it comes to knife carving, there are two primary techniques in use- the pivot cut and the paring cut. When it comes to teaching your kid(s) how to hold the knife in a safe manner, the pivot cut which involves whittling away from the carving surface is the safer option as the cutting edge doesn’t face downwards in this technique. The paring cut in involves whittling towards the centre of carving surface which puts the thumb of the hand holding the carving surface at risk.

Make sure to teach your kids how to hold the knife properly for carving. The thumb of the hand holding the knife should be placed along the blunt side of the blade with the rest of the fingers firmly gripping the handle. The thumb of the hand holding the carving surface should also be placed on the blunt side of the blade so that both thumbs form a ridge using the blunt side of the blade as support.

When your kid(s) has learned the proper form, instruct them to use the thumb of their knife hand as a pivot and push down the blade along the carving surface. The general motion should resemble peeling an apple or potato- this is where practicing with vegetables. Keeping both hands closed together around the blade allows the wielder greater control over the hand motions.

Gouge and Vtools

The most important function of gouges and Vtools is to remove the excess wood from the carving surface and provide depth and texture. The techniques for using both gouges and Vtools are the same. The two universally used techniques of using gouges and Vtools are the forehand grip and the backhand grip.

To effectively use the gouge, you need to teach your kid(s) how to hold the tools properly. For the backhand grip, the thumb of the hand holding the tool will be placed at tip of the handle while the curved part of the blade will be placed across the palm with the rest of the fingers wrapped around the blade of the gouge or Vtool. The tip of the blade should be pointing toward the wrist if held properly.   

For teaching your kids the front hand grip, teach them to hold the tool like a pen around the curved tip of the blade like a spoon. In both grips the positioning of the tool is dependant on how the blade is held, not the handle. The best way to practice these two tools is on blank block of soft wood. Don’t forget to teach the importance of how much pressure to apply when using these tools depending on the wood.

Chisels and Mallets

In larger woodworking projects chisels and mallets provide a degree of flexibility not offered by gouges and V-tools as those are more suitable for carving on smaller surfaces. On larger carving surfaces chisels and mallets provide an easier carving experience. Using chisels and mallets is similar to nails and hammers, except the chisels are not going to be pinned to the carving surface. Getting used to chisels and mallets basically boils down to practice and getting a feel for it.

The best way to the training interesting is use the pieces produced in the training process for a larger project to make something special for your kid. Help them understand the amount of effort and force required to give deep or light depth to the wood carving project. With enough practice, your kids will get the hang of it.

That covers the important tools and the techniques that your kids need to learn to master wood carving and safely use them. Now that the techniques have been covered the next section will cover some fun and easy whittling project for kids.        

Fun and Easy Whittling Projects For Kids

In this part of the guide, we’ll recommend some fun and interesting whittling project for kid(s) which you can do with your children or let them do on their own if you feel like they’ve advanced to the necessary skill. The projects will start from simple to more complex ones that will use the whittling tools and techniques covered so far in this guide

1.       Halloween Pumpkins

The first project recommendation for your children, especially if they’re still in the learning phase is Halloween pumpkins. Pumpkins provide hardness that is similar to wood but requires an understanding of force and pressure so as to not break it.

Carving Halloween pumpkins is quite easy. First, cut the top of the pumpkin and scoop out the pumpkin flesh. Then outline the face of the pumpkin with a marker or sharpie. You can encourage your kid(s) to draw the outline. Once the outline has been drawn they can use knives and gouges to create the eyes and signature zig-zag smile of Halloween pumpkins.

2.       Wooden Spoons

Once your kids have mastered carving on vegetables, let them start off with making a simple wooden spoon. This will test their basic skills with a carving knife as well as gouges. Make a spoon doesn’t require much effort except outlining it with a marker and start working on it with a carving knife.

3.       Toy Figures

Toy figures, gnomes, and dolls are quite easy to make from branches or chunks of wood that can be found lying across parks, woods, and forests. There are no hard and fast rules as to what size and shapes the dolls might be, but the general idea is to have around humanoid wooden balls connected with an elongated wooden surface to give a humanoid appearance.

The details don’t have to be exact since the main idea of this whittling project is to ensure that your kids learn to whittle different shapes across the same carving surface. The facial details of the doll can be done with both markers or carving knives, though the details carved by knives tend to last much longer.

4.       Toy Cars 

Toy cars are a lot more complicated than toy dolls since they require more moving parts of different shapes and sizes to make the final product. Unlike toy dolls and toy animals, the individual parts of the car such as the tires, chassis, and body have to make separately then combined together with glue.

Toy cars are definitely not easy to make but are a simplified stepping stone to making more complex wood carving projects such as animatronic dolls, animals, or musical boxes. Make sure your kid(s) understand the different elements of the project and how they come together.

5.       Toy Animals

If your kid has successfully made a toy doll then you should let them try carving toy animals next to test and improve their whittling skills. Toy animals can be made in many ways- showpieces, dolls, and animatronic figures.

The easiest way for children to make dolls is first to draw the outline on a block of wood. You should lend a helping hand in this stage of the project as the design outline will play a big role in the final product.

Benefits Of Wood Carving For Children

If you think wood carving might be too difficult of a hobby for children, think again. Here are some of the major benefits of wood carving among children if started from an early age:

–          Improves their muscle memory

–          Improves their fine motor skills.

–          Improves their creativity.

–          Improves their ability to concentrate on complex topics and projects

Recommended products

Before closing off the guide, here are two product recommendations that will help both you and your kids with your joint whittling projects:

The first product recommendation is the amazing outdoor wood carving book for children Forest Craft by Richard Irvine that details a host of outdoor wood carving projects that can be done by children with little to no supervision with easy-to-understand instruction.

Many knife brands focus on making specialized carving knives for children with great results. By our estimate, Morakniv wood carving knives deliver high-quality sharp knives with ergonomic designs. The Morakniv Wood Carving Knife for Juniors can be the perfect birthday gift for your kid if you plan to kindle their interest in outdoor wood carving.

All the Tools Your Kids Will Need to Learn Wood Carving

Teaching wood carving to kids doesn’t necessarily mean introducing them to proper wood carving tools right off the bat. As mentioned above, the best way to introduce kids to wood carving is through vegetables. Keeping in line with this training method, you should start off their whittling lessons with the following tools:

Vegetable peeler 

The closest kitchen tool that resembles a carving knife is a vegetable peeler. As an added bonus, peelers are quite safe to handle even for children. Since the vegetable peeler will be used for carving, It’s best to buy one that is of high quality as the cheaper ones of low quality tend to break easily when used against hard surfaces extensively.

But do note that this is for the beginning phase only. Once your kid(s) get comfortable with carving with a peeler, they will eventually have to learn to handle a knife for proper wood carving.     

Folding Penknife/Carving Knife 

For a safer wood carving experience for your kids, you should opt for a folding penknife with a safety-lock to replace the standard carving knife. A Swiss army knife can be an even better tool and can be used to add subtle touches if necessary. Just make sure you teach your kids to use the knife for wood carving purposes only, not carry it around all the time.

When choosing the right knife, the main factor to consider is the grip of the knife. If your kid(s) has a good grip of the knife and wield it comfortably, you should get that model provided the blade quality is good. If not, check other models until you find the right one.

Gouges and Vtools

While they may look scary, a gouge is basically a chisel rolled up to resemble a curved cutting edge. Gouges come in different sizes and can be taught easily to children by carving hard vegetables or fruits like pumpkins and watermelons. Gouges are a very important part of wood carving projects in general, so make sure your kid)s) master it before trying out projects like toys, spoons, etc.  

Vtools are similar to gouges but instead of the blades having a curved shape, they have a V-shaped dent at the edge of the blade. They play an important part in teaching your kids advanced techniques such as grooving as well as adding finer details and textures to any kind of wood carving project. Like gouges, V-tools also come in different sizes. 


Sandpaper is a go-to tool in any wood carving projects, even small ones. Keep some surplus sandpaper at home and you should be set for months at a time.

Final Thoughts

If guided properly, wood carving can be a fantastic hobby for children which can blossom their skills and creativity in the years to come. If you follow the guidelines and teaching techniques discussed in this guide, then you shouldn’t have too much difficulty in introducing and engaging your children in the fascinating world of whittling and wood carving. 

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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