Essential Whittling Tools

There are many different ways to turn wood into useful and beautiful objects.  This includes using saws, power tools, and other devices that will turn wood into everything from beams and planks to bowls and shoes.  Whittling, however, is a special way of working with wood that uses mainly knives and chisels to create 3D objects.  Learning to whittle is a useful skill for preppers and and anyone looking for an inexpensive hobby that can be adapted for a number of purposes.  

 

Some Reasons to Master Whittling

 

As a prepper, you may not think that whittling will have much use beyond making toys, decorative, or  small household objects.  Just remember that once society collapses, plastic and resin for making these kinds of items may not be available.  Chances  are, you also know how quickly these kinds of items can wear out.  Fortunately, if you know how to whittle, you can make these items for yourself and others.

Consider a situation where you feel like you have more forks and spoons than you know what to do with. Even if you didn’t have enough of these utensils, you can just go to the dollar store and pick up another batch that will last for a few years.  Now let’s say a hurricane comes, knocks down your home, and destroys everything in it.  To make matters worse, your bug out gear isn’t quite complete and you didn’t include any eating utensils; or you left the bug out bag at home and now can’t get to it.  Let’s also say, at the same time, an EMP blast wipes out power across the country.  Not only will you have a short term crisis on your hands, but something much worse will evolve because there is no place for goods and supplies to come in from.


Under these circumstances, let’s also say you are a minimalist kind of prepper, but did think far enough ahead to keep a good quality knife in your pocket.  As long as you have that knife and some wood, you can make eating utensils and many other things from wood or other materials.  Without a question, once many of the things you take for granted are no longer available, you will find many uses for whittling.

 

Here are some other ways that whittling may come in handy in the post crisis world:

 

  • you can make custom items for people that do not know how to whittle.  This can be the foundation of a profitable barter or cash based business now as well as in the future.
  • You will be able to make prototypes of knives and other devices that may require more complicated materials or more effort to build.  
  • If you expand your abilities to include working with other materials, you will boost your ability to make useful items from all kinds of scavenged items.  

 

Choosing Good Blades for Whittling

 

It is fair to say that just about any knife can be used for whittling as long as it is sharp.  The size of the blade and its shape will depend largely on the size of the area you need to remove and the kinds of details and textures that form part of the sculpture.  If you choose a pocket knife, there are some main blade designs you should try to get in a single knife:

 

  • curved cutting edge – ideal for making curved shapes. A curved cutting edge offers excellent depth control and still let’s you take away a good bit of wood.
  • Straight cutting edge – this is the most common blade type. I usually prefer a pocket knife that has  a shorter, thinner blade for some detail work, and then a longer straight cutting edge for bulk wood removal.
  • Tapered blade – useful for detail as well as getting into tight areas.  
  • Sharp, curved tip – can be used for cutting deep curves or hollows into the wood.
  • Bent blade – used for hollowing areas out.

 

Non-Folding Knives

 

If you would prefer a knife that does not fold up, I would recommend working with X-acto blades. You can purchase a kit with an assortment of blade shapes.  Just remember, though, X-acto blades can become dull very quickly, so it is best to work with them on softer wood.  That being said, if you need to do something unusually intricate, the longer handle on an X-acto knife can give you a lot of advantages.  In addition,if you don’t feel comfortable with sharpening blades, you will find that X-acto blades are a good bit cheaper than buying whole new knife, and you can dispose of the blades when they become dull.  

 

When it comes to X-acto Handles and Blades, I recommend the #1 and #2 sized handles.  Use the #1, or Precision Knife handle for textures and finishing touches.  You can also use it for lighter weight woods, but it tends to be too light for whittling something like cedar or even pine from start to finish.  The #2, or Medium Weight handle gives you almost all the same (but larger) blade options as the #1, but it is heavy enough to work with denser wood types.  

 

Here the Blades I Recommend Based on Experience:

 

  • Fine Point Blade with #2 Handle – this blade gives good control for roughing out the design shape.  It will also allow you to take off some bulk if you use the tip to cut into the wood and then make wider strips.  The tip also makes it possible to do deeper undercuts as well cut behind a piece of wood that is supposed to have a hollow behind it.  You can use this blade to make movable chain designs, movable joints, and other intricate designs.  It should be noted I don’t recommend the Fine Point Blade with the #1 handle as it is too light for anything other than finishing touches and texture work in areas where there are no knots or heavy grains in the wood.
  • General Purpose/ Curved Carving Blade with #1 and #2 Handles – if there is one X-acto blade I favor for whittling – this is it.  You can use the flat area for bulk removal, or as you would a whittling blade with a sharp straight edge.  At the same time, you will still have a nice curved edge for curved surfaces and beginning hollows.  It is also very good for making smooth shaves and removing deep cuts from other blades.  This blade is also the most comfortable when it comes to shifting from one hand to the other. If you are ambidextrous with knives, this will more than likely be your favorite blade.
  • Chisel Blade with  #2 Handles – this blade is good for softening edges and rounding out squared areas.  It will take away less wood than the General Purpose Blade.  If you are new to carving and feeling for the depth needed for each cut, this blade will reduce the risk of cutting too deeply.
  • Whittling Blade (optional) – If you want to move quickly to whittling with a pocket knife, this blade is a good trainer.  It has a flat edge that can be used for most of your needs.  That being said, I still prefer the curved blade because it gives me a lot more flexibility in a single blade.

 

Knife Sharpening Tools

 

Unless you are planning to spend a small fortune on knives, you will need to know how to sharpen them.  To begin, you will need a whetstone that has a rough side and a smooth one.  Even though both sides may look and feel smooth, the rough side will take more metal off the blade, while the smooth side will make it as sharp as possible. If you start off with a fairly cheap knife, then you can also use a cheaper whetstone.  That being said, if you advance to more expensive knives, it will be worth your while to buy a better quality stone.

 

When using a whetstone, you will have to hold the blade consistently at an optimal angle for the blade, and also apply steady pressure as you move the blade across the stone. While this isn’t especially difficult, you may also want to purchase a blade guide so that you always get the proper angle. Sadly, many people have warped perfectly good blades because they were not able to keep a steady angle while moving the blade across the whetstone.

 

Many people interested in prepping tend to believe that we will all have to go back to older, less technological ways of taking care of daily needs. While you may think that purifying water, gathering food, hunting, and perimeter defense take priority, there are other skills that are also important.  Whittling is a vital skill that can help you fill in the gaps that may be left when it comes to trying to make everything you need from natural materials.  No matter whether you need to make a special fish trap or want to carve new spoons or a bowl, whittling can give you a chance to make all of these things and enjoy doing so at the same time.

 

*A Scott Hughes Freedom Prepper Original!

 

**Feature picture from Lee Valley.