How to whittle: a kids’ guide to wood craft

Whittled own on a pile of straw
An owl is a great first whittling project! You can use felt tips or paint to decorate. (Photo: Judith Parry/WTML)

Whittling, or wood carving, is fun and creative. It's a great way to introduce kids to safe knife skills. And with the right know-how and grown-up supervision, there’s no need for it to be risky. We’ve put together some tips and simple projects to get you started.

What's the best wood for whittling?

Silver birch, willow, sycamore, alder and lime are fairly soft and easy to carve. Use our autumn leaf ID, twig ID, or leaf swatch book to help you identify these trees in the woods. If you want to ensure a steady supply, why not buy a tree from our shop and plant it?

How to choose twigs or branches for whittling

You need young, fresh wood that’s not dried out. Don’t pick twigs and small branches off the tree – you’ll find plenty of bits on the ground that have broken off during blowy weather. Choose a smooth piece of wood without too many knots.

Whittling tools

A vegetable peeler is a good tool to start with and is useful for simple jobs like stripping off bark. Choose a good quality peeler as they’re not really designed for wood and cheap ones tend to break.

A folding penknife – a lockable one is a good idea as it won’t accidentally close on small fingers. But, you need to remember it’s illegal to carry a lock knife in public without good reason. This means you can carry it to and from the woods if you’re going to use it there, but not stop off at the shops on the way home with the knife in your pocket!

Sandpaper is also useful for smoothing rough edges.

Boy using a potato peeler whittling a stick
Potato peelers are a great way to safely whittle. You can use a penknife when you're more comfortable. (Photo: Judith Butler/WTML)

How to whittle safely

  • Practise using your peeler and knife on vegetables or a dry bar of soap before you get started on wood.
  • Use a push stroke. This means cutting away from your body, or the hand holding the piece of wood.
  • Be patient and slice off a tiny bit at a time. If you press too hard, you may lose control of the knife or it could get stuck.
  • Never hold the wood in your lap as the knife will be too close to the large blood vessels in your thighs. Hold it past your knees or to the side, or sit at a table.
  • Don’t walk around holding the knife.
  • Have a first aid kit handy just in case.
Girl using a potato peeler to whittle a stick
Use downward motions to remove the bark from your branch. (Photo: Judith Butler/WTML)

Easy whittling projects

Now you’re all set, why not give these a try?

  • Whittle a simple marshmallow toasting fork for your next campfire.
  • Make a magic wand or wizard staff.
  • Whittle a simple flower. Take a small, straight twig and peel off the bark. Then peel back thin strips of wood from the tip of the stick and open them out to look like petals. You could do a couple further down the stem to make leaves.
A whittled magic wand
A magic wand is a great whittling project for beginners. (Photo: Danielle Wesley/WTML)

Once you've mastered the basics, you can try more advanced projects like animal figures.

The Little Book of Whittling by Chris Lubkemann has lots more ideas to help you develop your skills. You could then progress to Carve or the Whittling Handbook, both available from the Woodland Trust shop.

We’d really love to see some pictures of your carved creations. Share your family's snaps on social media using #NatureDetectives.

What have you whittled?

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