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The Agreeable Art Of Whittling

Updated on December 10, 2015

The agreeable art of whittling is as old as humankind. As far back as when the caveman used a sharp stone to fashion tools, whittling wood has had a place in society. Though a pastime and hobby to some, whittlers have created impressive works of art and found the meditative connection between man and his environment. Whittling away the hours is word-play for an ancient and agreeable art.

What Is Whittling? - Whittling is the act of slowly shaving off unnecessary layers of wood with a sharp knife. Whittlers discover form beneath the layers, paring away until the the initial object is reshaped into a creative work of art.

The History Of Whittling - Though no one can pinpoint for sure the origins of whittling, it is certain that as long as man had a sharp object in hand, he would put it to some use. The Bible makes reference to "craven images" and Jesus was a carpenter. In the United States, whittling was popular in the middle of the 19th century.The Civil War brought men together from different territories and states and most carried a simple pocket knife. While soldiers were relaxing around the campfire, it was common for some to whittle. They would teach each other form and technique, fashioning often whimsical items like animals, puzzles and faces. After the war, whittling skills were taught to children for amusement. Work was scarce, and these same returning soldiers were forced to travel to find it. The term "hobo" was invented and many of them would trade their whittlings for food and other things. Much of this became known as "Tramp Art." As society became more modern and entertainment choices more varied, boys no longer carried pocket knives and whittling activity slowed down.

Tools Of The Trade - The beauty of whittling is that it requires very little to do. First you need a base material to work with which is usually wood. Many whittling enthusiasts like to start with a green branch because the young wood is still supple and not prone to splintering. Other choices of wood are balsa and basswood because they are soft yet strong. Pine wood is ample and often used. You will need a knife, of course, and purists still prefer the pocket knife for its portability and convenience. There are also other types of whittling knives available. What is important is that the blade is kept sharp so a sharpening stone may be necessary. More sophisticated whittlers have access to wood chisels, files and rasps.

Whittling Today - Whittling today falls in the category of "folk art". It brings to mind images of the common man and the lowly pocket knife making it quaint and folksy. But it also has become more sophisticated and artist in the wood carving genre are talented and well-respected. There are several publications, festivals and competitions devoted to the art. And the artists themselves whittle away the hours to create beauty and whimsy for all to enjoy. Here are links to some of these artists.

Check out my Hub on The Lost Art Of Tatting too -


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      When I was young, model airplanes were quite popular hobbies. One typ of models required that the modeler whittle or carve the fuselage area of the airplane to fit the other parts. My brother was quite good at it but I could never get the two side to come out alike. Up votes and shared.

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      Multiman 6 years ago

      i enjoyed your article a lot!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      WillStarr - What a treasure that piece must be. I like the idea that some of the old art forms are making a comeback. Thanks for sharing.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      My dad was a whittler. He once whittled a square cage with a solid top and bottom and four corner bars. It had a loose, round ball inside that was formed by removing most of the center core. It must have taken hours. I still have it, and it's around 60 years old.

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      Whittling Knife 7 years ago

      Great Article. I have always enjoyed whittling sever since I got my whittling chip in the Cub Scouts. When i was a kid my dad tought me how to make a whistle out of a polar twig. Don't get much time now. Like you said, rush, rush. By the way I was up in Asheville over the weekend. Great city. Wish I was in a position to move up there.


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      jojo 7 years ago

      see some pictures Millau Bridge Model By Scout Boys

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      "Quill" 7 years ago

      Love the article as the Woodcarving I now do started with whittling. Great Hub...a new fan looking forward to reading on..

      Many Blessings

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      It does look like a stress reliever.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      How relaxing

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thank you all for reading. Wesleycox, I think whittling, like other pursuits, is meditative. But in this rush, rush world, the simple things disappear. I hope you get back to it again at least once in awhile.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 7 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      As a young boy growing up in the country I loved to walk around with my pocketknife in my pocket and search out the perfect piece of pine. Once I found it I would sit and whittle until the days end. I usually made toothpicks because I'd go too deep in a cut. Then the nintendo NES came out and I all but quit whittling. I still dabble a little today. Thanks for the reminder.

    • drcrischasse profile image

      drcrischasse 7 years ago from NH/Foxboro

      I need to learn

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 7 years ago

      What a great talent!