How to Whittle a Stick — A Beginner’s Guide + Best Wood for Whittling

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Believe it or not, not every type of wood is a good match for your whittling endeavors. When you’re into crafting delicate wooden creations with intricate designs and fine cuts, the choice of wood matters a lot. 

Some woods are just too tough, too soft, or too prone to breaking under the pressure. Before you find yourself wrestling with the wrong kind of timber, let me share a handy guide on how to carve the perfect stick. 

What Wood Types Make A Good Whittling Stick?

While there’s no strict rule on choosing what piece of wood you can use in stick whittling, some lumber species offer more workability, durability, and availability than others. If you’re a beginner, choose softwood because you can shape it quickly using a carving knife.

Meanwhile, making your own walking stick with hardwood materials can offer more durability. Whittling wood can make weak lumber break easily, especially if you’re wielding a sharp knife to execute the carving process.

whittling stick

The actual wood types that can make a good whittling stick are basswood, willow, and balsa wood. These options may be soft and lightweight, but their durability makes them perfect carving materials.

Your stick-whittling ideas can also come to life with solid lumber pieces like freshly-downed wood from silver birch and apple wood. These species have distinct grain patterns that can make your walking stick or wooden knives into one-of-a-kind workpieces.

Although maple and oak trees produce harder timbers, they can manufacture durable walking sticks if you use a sharp knife and precise cutting methods.

How to Select Good Wood For Your Whittling Stick

Crafting your own walking stick can be as simple as picking the right branch from a tree I’ve talked about earlier or snagging pre-cut wooden boards from your nearby hardware shop. It’s all about starting with the right materials.

carving a stick

But regardless if you’re using store-bought or fresh wood pieces, you must ensure that your walking stick isn’t made from materials that are too soft or hard to cut. 

As said earlier, hardwoods can cause the wood carving process extra challenging, while some softwood types can fall apart quickly. 

If you don’t want to struggle with your whittling knife during the wood carving process, you must find a material with the perfect balance of softness and hardness. 

Unlike store-bought materials, fresh wood and fallen branches from trees aren’t always straight or even. So before using it for wood carving, you must ensure the material is symmetrical for better results. 

Furthermore, it is essential to note that the ideal wood for whittling should have minimal knots. It is worth mentioning that a stick without knots has a reduced risk of breaking or splitting when it comes into contact with a whittling knife.

Materials with cracks and other obvious defects can also make the carving process tricky. 

stick should have not a knots

Besides avoiding lumber with too many knots [1], you’ll want to choose a piece of wood with an even and straight grain, like silver birch. It allows the pocket knives to run through the wood’s fiber cleanly and smoothly, unlike materials with irregular grains. 

Another stick-whittling tip to consider when choosing a material is to consider the project’s size. The best wood for whittling should be large enough for easy shape carving but not too massive that it becomes overwhelming to handle. 

Lastly, you better buy dry wood selections for more convenience. If not, fallen tree branches are also good alternatives. You may not know, but fresh or green wood carries more moisture than seasoned materials. 

They are likely to crack and warp during drying or when you cut them with a knife blade. Because of this, it’s best to keep the stick dry before undergoing this procedure.

Whittling a Stick: Step-by-Step Guide

Part of mastering how to whittle a stick is to be familiar with the step-by-step process. So rather than lodging your pocket knife without knowing the proper wood carving procedures, here’s how I do it.

procedure on whittling stick

Tools Required

Step #1: Prepare Your Stick

After you select the piece of wood you desire for this stick-whittling project, straightaway rough cutting isn’t what you should do. First, you must cut the branch or wood larger than the stick you intend to carve.

Although you can use small whittling knives for a thinner branch, you’ll need an axe to cut thick materials with inner and outer bark.

It would be best to keep the knife sharp to slice through its green bark. After cutting, you should maintain a single axe or knife direction to eliminate twigs and knots hindering your way.

Keeping these defects on the wood will reduce the material’s stability after the whittling procedure.

Prepare your stick

Step #2: Remove The Outer And Green Bark

If you’re using a freshly cut branch, you’ll encounter three bark types that you must remove using a carving or pocket knife in the latter parts of this guide. The one you’ll spot immediately is the green bark because, well, it’s green!

Meanwhile, the wood’s inner bark is trickier to spot, mainly because of its orange tone. The same logic applies to the outer bark, as this substance comes in brown.

Before anything else, you must wield your pocket knife to remove the wood’s outer bark. The tool’s sharp edges should go in a single direction to avoid harming your fingers. You should also wear gloves to prevent any accidents.

Next, peel the green inner bark layers away from the wood. If you spot a knot on the inner bark, make thin cuts back and forth on both sides of the material to achieve a smooth surface.

Please don’t remove the orange inner bark layer yet because it’s a step you’ll execute after drying the wood. 


removing the outer and green bark

Step #3: Finish the Whittling Process

You must continue carving the excess wood until the green & outer barks are nowhere in sight. The whittling process will become easier as you reach the middle of the stick. If you ask me, this part is more manageable to whittle than the material’s top and edges.

Don’t worry about smoothing the wood surface because that process will come in the upcoming steps. For now, only the orange bark should remain on the material.

Step #4: Dry And Decay the Stick

Among the three bark layers, those inner orange ones can be a bit tricky to identify. To make things easier, here’s a tip: bring that stick indoors and allow it to sit and naturally dry overnight. This will set off a reaction involving the Chlorophyta component in the material. 

It’s a handy trick to unveil those elusive inner layers. After the wood dries completely, the inner bark forms a yellow-orange hue. Thanks to this attribute, you can identify and remove it easily for the next step.

drying and decaying stick

Step #5: Remove the Inner Bark and Smoothen Your Stick

Next, grab the drywall spackle and scrape the orange bark from the wood piece. If you’re not keen on handling knives, you can use sanding paper as an alternative.

Don’t forget to have a garbage can on standby to catch all the inner bark peels you remove. This procedure will produce wood particles, so you shouldn’t skip wearing a mask and eye protection.

Step #6: Round-Shape the Edges

Once the wood surface becomes smooth and knot-free, it’s time to make the stick’s edges rounder by lightly scrubbing them with fine-grit sandpaper. It would be best to make the wood tips more diagonal and round instead of making them sharp.

Step #7: Do Woodburning or Decorate the Stick (If Desired)

Now that you know how to whittle a stick, the next step is decorating the material through wood burning. Although it’s not required, adding pyrography designs to your workpieces gives them a unique value. You can achieve it by using wood burners and soldering irons.

Step #8: Staining The Wood

If you want to highlight the wood’s natural color, staining its surface is the most effective method. However, you must clean the wood thoroughly because the product may not adhere well if residues from decorative burning remain on its surface.

Furniture Clinic Wood Stain

Besides giving the wood a more polished aesthetic, you can use gel stains because they’re not absorbent enough to penetrate deeply into the material. Considering this attribute, you wouldn’t need to worry about yellowing.

When applying stains, two thin coats should be enough to cover the wood. Adding more can lead to unsightly blotching. You should also wait at least two to three hours before applying another coat for a better and even result.

Step #9: Applying Wood Finish

After the stain fully cures, you can apply any protective sealer to the wood’s surface to help it withstand external elements. You can spread the finishing solution with a paintbrush or spray can.

Once the wood dries with a wood finish, it’ll form a protective film to stop moisture buildup and prevent potential damage from harsh weather conditions.

Step #10: Clean Your Carving Tool

If you want your carving tools to last longer, you must clean them after every usage. Letting dirt and dust particles stay on their surfaces can lead to rusting and other external damage. 

clean your carving stick

3 Easy Whittling Projects to Try

1. Carving a Spear

If you have a thick wood branch and are playing around with the idea of a whittling project, carving a spear is an excellent fit for you. Here’s how you can do it:

2. Carving a Walking Stick

The most common whittling project is the walking stick. As long as you have the essential carving tools, making it won’t be a problem. Here are a few notes you need to consider:

A Good Diameter and Height For a Walking Stick

Since removing inner and outer barks can make the wood thin, it’s recommended getting materials as thick as ¾-inch to 1-inch. As for the length, take ones that are slightly taller than your height to leave enough room for shaping and sanding.

walking stick

Protect The Bottom Of Your Walking Stick

Your walking stick will have high exposure to different surfaces, so it’s worth protecting it with epoxy or other excellent finishing products. It should help prevent the material’s tip from tearing and wearing.

Alternatively, you can put a rubber tip on the walking stick’s edge to create an additional layer of protection.

3. Making a Simple Owl Bookmark

If you’re already comfortable with woodworking basics, it’s time to step up your game and take on a more exciting project. How about crafting a charming owl bookmark? It’s a delightful challenge that will let you put your newfound skills to the test.

Here are the steps you can follow:

Common Whittling Tools

Most whittling projects customized for kid activities include a vegetable peeler as a safer method of removing the wood’s bark. However, a regular or folding knife is recommended if you’re creating more complex workpieces.

common whittling tools

You should also have sanding papers available because you’ll need these materials to make the rough edges smooth.

Pocket vs. Carving Knife

If you’re a newbie, there’s a high chance you don’t have a specialized carving knife. Because of this, a pocket-size knife is an excellent alternative. Some experienced woodworkers also prefer this option due to its portability.

However, a carving knife designed for whittling wood can finish the task faster and more accurately than other alternatives. It can also execute more complicated carvings and cleaner cuts.

What To Use To Carve On Wood With A Dremel

You have several accessory options if you want to execute wood carving. First, you can choose between 4.8 mm and 7.8 mm high-speed cutters. You can also consider an engraving blade with a size of 2.4 mm or a Tungsten carbide ball tip of 3.2 mm.

Although it’s a formidable alternative for whittling projects, remember that this powerful tool can produce loud noises during operations.

dremel wood carving

3 Types Of Whittling Cuts

Rough Cutting

For woodworkers with little to no experience in woodworking, the best and easiest whittling method to execute is rough cutting. You only need to stabilize the wood and carve it into the desired shape in a sweeping direction.

You can prevent the blade from getting stuck by executing thin slices during the carving procedure.

Pull Stroke or Pare Cut

If you’re making complex curves, the technique you should master is the pull stroke. You must follow safety precautions because this cut goes in the operator’s direction.

The tool’s blade should point in your direction as you use your thumb to assist the cut. You must hold the material firmly with your left hand to avoid inaccuracies and accidents.

Push Cut

Beginners will also find the push stroke easier, mainly because its direction detracts from the operator.

basic cutting

As the push stroke technique faces away from the user, you must utilize your left thumb to lead the blade in the right direction. Keep pushing with average force until you cut the stick accurately.

Safety Measures To Consider

Do it Slowly

Considering that you need to execute thin slices on these materials, you must pace yourself slowly for accurate results. Restraining speed will also minimize the chances of accidents in the long run.

Use Sharp Knives

Another safety tip that will likely save you from injuries is using sharp knives. Besides making the carving process easier, ditching dull blades can give the user more control over the tool.

Wear Hand Gloves

basic steps on whittling

Although these projects usually don’t require power tools, you must wear hand gloves to protect yourself from accidents during the cutting operations. You should also have a first-aid kit on standby for emergency purposes.

See These Articles Too


What is the contrast between whittling and wood carving?

Typically, woodworkers use these terms interchangeably. However, wood carving is more known as a technique that involves chisels, mallets, and even electric-powered tools. Meanwhile, whittling is the art of using knives to achieve specific shapes, patterns, and designs.

What wood types are the hardest to carve?

It can be extra challenging to carve solid lumber pieces from tree species like snakewood, Brazilian walnuts, African pearwood, and many more.


Now that you’ve got the hang of carving a stick the right way, it’s time to unleash your creativity and turn this newfound skill into something truly unique. 

It might take a bit of practice to become a pro, but rest assured, I can vouch for the fact that it’ll not only boost your creative prowess but also sharpen your eye for detail. 

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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