Whittling is similar to wood carving in that they both form wood into a new, creative shape. However, wood carving uses chisels and gouges, and might rely on power tools to carve the wood, while whittlers perform their craft solely with a piece of wood and a knife. The simplicity of this hobby allows just about anyone to start whittling with little to no experience. Just pick up a relatively inexpensive whittling knife and a piece of wood and get started.
A new whittling knife is always an exciting addition for new and experienced craftsmen alike. You get to try out the cut of a new blade and the grip of the handle. Ideally, the best whittling knife will sit comfortably in your hand and have a curve to the blade to enhance your whittling ability. Though some whittling knives are designed for a special purpose, like a scorp for concave whittling of a wooden spoon, most knives have a generalized shape that handles a variety of whittling ventures.
Product efficacy and overall quality join comfort as key shopping considerations. The products below are recommended to help you find the best whittling knife to enjoy your hobby.
- BEST OVERALL: BeaverCraft Sloyd Knife C4s 3.14” High Carbon Steel
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Morakniv Wood Carving 120 Knife Laminated Steel
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: BeaverCraft Wood Carving Detail Knife for Beginners
- BEST FOR INTERMEDIATES: FLEXCUT Whittlin’ Jack 1-½ Inch Detail Knife
- BEST FOR PROS: BeaverCraft Deluxe S15X Wood Carving Whittling Knives
- BEST SET: Elemental Tools 9 Pc Wood Carving Tools Set
- BEST MULTI-BLADE: Old Timer 240T Splinter Carvin’ Folding Knife
- BEST POCKET-SIZE: Opinel Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Whittling Knife
Before choosing a whittling knife, take a few minutes to think about the most important shopping considerations to keep in mind. From the wood you want to work with and features of the knife to safety considerations, some of these factors will vary depending on skill level.
The type of wood you plan to use can influence the whittling knife you select. Beginners might want to start on a stick or piece of wood they find instead of spending money on precut wood. In this case, a basic whittling knife with no specialty purpose is best to get started.
Once you get the hang of working with a simple stick, you can move on to more advanced whittling knives, such as a hook knife, and different types of wood. Intermediate and experienced whittlers will get more value from investing in precut pieces of wood. You can choose from a range of softwoods or hardwoods, though basswood and aspen wood are often used for whittling because of their minimal grain and relatively soft structure.
The blade of a knife is generally considered the most important feature, but the handle greatly affects the balance, weight, and durability of the knife. It is also the part of the knife most responsible for comfort and can contribute to hand fatigue. Whittling knife handles often are made of wood, plastic, or stainless steel.
- Wood is the most commonly used material, which looks classically attractive and provides a smooth, comfortable grip. On the other hand, wood is a porous material that can absorb excess moisture, causing swelling and splitting if the whittler does not care for and store the knife properly. Hardwood handles are less likely to split but still require maintenance and applying of appropriate oils.
- Plastic is inexpensive, easy to clean, and durable. Though it doesn’t look as nice as wood, you won’t have to worry about splitting or swelling. However, plastic-handled whittling knives can be harder to find.
- Stainless steel is the most durable and easiest to clean of the three choices. Both plastic and wood are more comfortable to hold and manipulate for long periods of time, making stainless steel a poor option for beginner whittlers with inexperienced hand muscles that will likely fatigue quickly with this unyielding handle material.
Whittling knife blades are mostly stainless steel and carbon steel, though some blades are made out of laminated steel.
- Stainless steel blades are a rust-resistant alternative to carbon steel. While stainless steel does not keep an edge as long as carbon steel or laminated steel, it costs less and doesn’t require as much maintenance.
- Carbon steel blades are the most common type of whittling knife blade. They keep a sharp edge with minimal sharpening, which is ideal for working with hardwoods. However, the blades require consistent maintenance and proper storage to ensure that they do not become rusted, frail, and essentially useless.
- Laminated steel blades are made by layering different types of steel during the forging process. This gives them a sharper, longer-lasting edge than stainless steel blades and more rust and corrosion resistance than carbon steel blades.
The shape of the blade is an important factor to consider. Some blades, like hook blades, are designed for a specific function, but the right blade shape is typically more a matter of personal preference.
If you are a beginner, you likely want to start with a long, thin blade that doesn’t have much of a belly. The belly is the rounded portion toward the end of the blade. Although many beginners prefer a shorter blade for better control and safety, this also can restrict your ability to make certain cuts. If you aren’t sure, it is best to have both a knife with a shorter blade and a knife with a longer blade so that you don’t limit your whittling.
Whittlers should generally avoid any knife blades more than 15mm thick. A blade this thick is obstructive to your cuts and can prevent you from achieving the results you want out of your whittling project.
Some whittling knives have one or more blades that can fold into the handle when not in use. This keeps them safe from impact damage to the blade and makes the entire knife more compact and portable. However, there is a chance that a foldable knife without a blade-locking feature can open up, causing injury if it is in your pocket, or exposing the blade to damage if it opens in your tool box.
If you’re going to get a whittling knife with a foldable blade, it’s a good idea to get one with blade locking. Not all foldable whittling knives will have this option, but safety is a worthy investment.
Single vs. Multi-Blade
Whittling knives can come in a single blade or multi-blade format, and the latter has to be a foldable knife.
- Single-blade whittling knives are easier to use and often come with a durable handle and sturdy construction that lets you get the most out of the blade. Keep in mind that if you want a fixed-blade whittling knife you will need a single-blade knife, because only these blades offer you the choice between a fixed blade or a foldable blade. However, you will have to get a second knife if you want a different blade shape or length.
- Multi-blade whittling knives tend to be less durable and comfortable than single-blade knives because the handle must be large enough to house two or more blades without damaging the cutting edges. The more blades or tools a knife has, the less effective the individual blade tends to be, because it is more likely to attach further from the center of the handle, where it would normally have the most control and cutting power. The obvious benefit with a multi-blade knife is that you get multiple blade types in a single tool. This can be highly effective, without much drawback if the knife has only two or three blades.
Our Top Picks
Finding the best whittling knife for your experience level depends on quality, price, and personal preference. These recommendations can help you find the best whittling knife for your projects.
The BeaverCraft Sloyd Knife C4s 3.14-inch High Carbon Steel Whittling Knife is a single-blade knife that can work for many whittling applications due to its thin, 3.14-inch blade with a shallow belly and long cutting edge. The knife has a 4.85-inch handle made of solid oakwood, treated with natural linseed oil to protect the wood from moisture, rot, and decay. The handle is soft and comfortable in your hand and it has an ergonomic design intended for long periods of use.
The high carbon steel blade is more susceptible to rust, so it needs to be cleaned, dried, and properly stored after every use, but you will have no problem working with just about any type of wood with a high carbon steel blade. The blade comes pre-sharpened so you don’t have to worry about grabbing your sharpening stone or leather strop before you can start whittling. Once you are done, pack it away in the included leather sheath until you want it again.
First-time whittlers or woodworkers on a budget might hesitate to invest much money in a new whittling knife, but the Morakniv Wood Carving 120 Knife is an affordable option, providing you with a single laminated steel whittling knife with a 2.4-inch blade. The laminated steel has a high carbon steel core to help the blade hold its edge, but softer alloy steel surrounds the core to reduce the weight of the knife and to increase rust and corrosion resistance.
The handle on the Morakniv is 4.09 inches long and made of oiled birchwood that sits comfortably in your hand. The soft wood is gentle to the touch but provides a durable grip for precise whittling. This knife comes with a black plastic holder to protect the blade when not in use. The laminated steel blade doesn’t require the same level of maintenance as a carbon steel blade, but the manufacturer recommends washing and drying the blade by hand after every use to ensure the longevity of the knife.
Those just getting into whittling and looking to pick up one of their first whittling knives should consider the BeaverCraft Beginner Whittling Knife. This unique single-blade knife is designed with first-time whittlers in mind. The handle comes in high-quality, ergonomically cut ashwood and measures 4.53-inches long, providing a soft, comfortable grip to reduce hand fatigue.
The high carbon steel blade is short, at just 1.37 inches, giving new whittlers the control they need to help make precise cuts while remaining safety conscious. The blade is thin and flexible, allowing you to whittle precision details into the wood, though the length of the blade is not ideal for broad, flat cuts. This knife comes pre-sharpened so that you can begin whittling as soon as you find a suitable piece of wood.
The FLEXCUT Whittlin’ Jack 1-1/2-inch Detail Whittling Knife is ideal for woodworkers who are experienced enough to use a multi-blade knife. You get a 1.5-inch detail knife blade and a 2-inch roughing knife blade in one affordable product instead of spending money on a full set of professional knives you might not be ready to use. The blades are made of hard carbon steel and come pre-sharpened so that you can get to work as soon as the knife arrives.
The knife is only 4-inches long when the blades fold down into the handle, so it can fit easily in your pocket or bag. The handle has an ergonomic shape for long-lasting comfort during use and it is made of silver aluminum with a wood inlay and brass tacks. While this knife is a nice option for an intermediate or expert woodworker, it isn’t recommended for beginners because the blades do not have a locking mechanism to keep them in place.
Professional woodworkers and expert hobbyist whittlers can find plenty of features in the BeaverCraft Deluxe S15X Wood Carving Whittling Knives. The set includes three whittling knives, polishing compound, a leather sharpening strop, and a genuine leather pouch to organize tools and add a bit of leather luxury. The blades are made with high carbon steel and come pre-sharpened so that you can begin whittling as soon as they arrive.
With this set, you get a chip carving knife, a fine whittling knife, and a roughing knife so that you are more likely to jump into a whittling project with the tools you need to see it through. Each knife comes with an ergonomically designed black walnut handle so that you can spend hours whittling away with these knives without worrying about hand fatigue.
The Elemental Tools 9-Piece Wood Carving Tools Set offers a combination of tools for whittlers at various levels. The set includes three whittling knives, cut-resistant gloves, a polishing compound, a leather sharpening strop, and a beechwood spoon blank that you can use as soon as you open the set. The beechwood blank is a medium hardness wood, great for beginners who might cut overzealously into softer woods.
The set comes in a bamboo storage box, which helps to protect the high carbon steel blades of the hook knife, sloyd knife, and detail knife from rust and corrosion. The knives all come with black walnut handles that are soft to the touch while containing a robust and durable material. Black walnut is naturally resistant to moisture and decay, so there won’t be concerns about your handles swelling or cracking. This flexible set is useful for an array of woodworking projects.
The Old Timer 240T Splinter Carvin’ 6 Folding Knife is a good choice for whittlers who would prefer to own a single tool for an array of whittling projects. The handle measures 4.5-inches long and is made of a composition of materials including brass pins, plastic, steel, and nickel silver bolsters. The longest blade of this knife measures 1.5 inches and each blade or tool included in the knife is made of high carbon steel.
This whittling knife set includes a nail pull tool, designed for removing nails from wood or other materials. You also get five cutting blades, including a straight gouge, hook blade, V-scorp, gouge scorp, and a chisel, offering a smart selection of whittling and woodcarving tools in one convenient knife. Be aware that the blades do not have a locking mechanism, so take extra care when using this knife.
Those who prefer casual whittling with a pocket-sized knife might look to the Opinel Carbon Steel Folding Pocket Knife. It is an ideal size for carrying in a pocket, at just 4.31 inches long with the blade closed. The hard carbon steel blade measures 3.28 inches and can cut through either hardwoods or softwoods, though this knife isn’t recommended for fine whittling. The blade is flat, with a gentle curve toward the end, so you can easily work with either the edge or the belly of the blade.
This folding knife comes with a stainless steel blade locking mechanism that can keep the blade in place when the knife is open or closed, so that you don’t have to worry about the blade slipping free. The handle of the knife is made from durable beechwood that feels soft in your hand and has a curved tang at its end to give you a more secure grip.
FAQs About Whittling Knives
Tackle your next whittling project with as much information as possible with these answers to common whittling knife questions.
Q. How do you whittle wood?
All you really need to do to whittle wood is pick up a whittling knife and a piece of wood. The wood can be a high-quality block from your local hardware store or it can be as basic as a piece of a tree branch. Take the knife and begin whittling away pieces of wood until you can form something relatively similar to your vision.
Whittling is an inexpensive hobby to get started in, and you don’t need any experience. However, you should wear gloves, go slow, and protect your hands at all times to prevent cutting up your fingers, and especially the pad of your thumb, which often takes the brunt of slips and nicks during whittling.
Q. How do you sharpen your whittling knife blade?
There are many different ways to sharpen a whittling knife, but the most common method employs a sharpening stone. Lay the blade of the knife flat on the stone, then angle it just slightly while pushing the knife away from you, as though you were trying to cut a piece off of the sharpening stone. Alternately, you can lay the blade flat on the stone with a slight angle, then sharpen the knife by applying pressure to the blade and moving the knife in a small circular motion against the stone.
Q. Can you use a pocket knife for whittling?
You can absolutely use a pocket knife for whittling. Some pocket knives even have multiple blades that you can use to create a variety of cuts on your whittling project.
Q. What is the difference between wood carving and whittling?
Wood carving is much more involved than whittling. You use chisels and gouges and might use mallets or power tools to carve the wood. Whittling is done completely with a whittling knife.