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The Agreeable Art Of Whittling

Updated on December 11, 2017

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.


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