For most of us, whittling was the gateway knife activity. Our pocket knife was the gateway knife. And our first pocket knife was a gift. So if you are shopping for a gift, what is the best whittling knife?
What brings me to this topic is a question I received from the mother of a 10 year old girl. She wants to know what kind of whittling knife to get her daughter as a Christmas present. In a nutshell, there are multi-use pocket knives that are good for whittling, and there are specialized whittling/carving knives. I will offer suggestions on both, but I imagine that in this case the mother is looking for a general use pocket knife that is good for whittling.
When I started researching which whittling knives are best for kids, I had a bias I wasn’t aware of. In my mind, a whittling knife was a certain kind of pocket knife. I thought the only question I would be answering was essentially Which Pocket Knife is the Best Whittling Knife for Children? But to my surprise, the experts disagree with me. I reached out to some whittling experts, and they recommended fixed blade knives for the beginning whittler.
Wood carving expert Robin Edward Trudel was nice enough to offer his advice on whittling knives for kids. Mr. Trudel is the author of “Carving for Kids: An Introduction to Woodcarving” and “Easy Carving Projects for Kids”, and as such is a perfect authority on the subject. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target are currently sold out of Carving for Kids (on December 10, 2012), but Walmart has it in stock on their website. Easy Carving Projects for kids is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Walmart.
Here is what Robin Trudel had to say about beginning whittling knives for children:
As I outline in both of my books, I recommend that most children of that age primarily work with rasps and products like those produced by Microplane to alleviate most of the concerns with safety.
If there is a precocious child with a supervising adult dedicated to supervising the child 100% of the time they have a tool in their hand then blades like the hand craft blade by Murphy Knife Co. are recommended.
As far as design, the blade should be about an inch long with a straight edge sharpened without any sort of bevel to about 10 degrees for working basswood and pine.
The handle should fit comfortably in the hand so that when the hand is closed around it, the fingertips should firmly touch the palm. The handle should not have a glossy finish that would become slippery should the palm become sweaty.
Lastly the child should certainly wear a kevlar fishing glove on the other hand to reduce the severity of the consequences of an accident.
He went on to say:
I also recommend that you explicitly caution against giving a child a dull knife for “safety” reasons. An improperly sharpened blade will guarantee an injury. The child will use increased force and a serious injury is inevitable.
Additionally, a sharp blade leaves a clean cut which will heal cleaner, should it come to that.
Here are links to a Microplane Shaping Intro Set $19.95 (http://usa.microplane.com/microplaneshapingraspintroset.aspx) of rasps, and Murphy – Carving and Whittling Knives – Whittling Knife $9.45 (http://www.rmurphyknives.com/store/carving-knives.html#) . These are very affordable options. And here is a link to Robin Edward Trudel’s website Pine Tree Studios (http://pinetreestudios.livejournal.com/) .
Before I continue with knife recommendations, let me re-emphasize one point that Robin Trudel made above – Keep knives sharp! Even for kids. Here is an excerpt from “Whittling and Woodcarving” by E.J. Tangerman, 1936:
“Above all, keep blades sharp. Otherwise you will be constantly troubled with poor cutting, scuffed-up cuts instead of smooth ones, splitting instead of cutting. I honestly think more good whittling has been ruined by dull blades than by lack of skill.
Some parents feel that dull blades are safer on a child’s knife. Quite the opposite is true, providing the child is old enough to have a knife at all, because a dull blade forces excessive pressure behind it, thus causing slipping, splitting, snapping shut, and their attendant hurts. A good clean cut can be handled with a dose of iodine, a bit of a bandage, and forgetfulness. My four-year-old’s favorite expression is “I didn’t cut myself berry badly” – and it was mine too at his age. I remember once I did a very complete job of paring an index finger but didn’t tell a soul about it for fear I’d have the knife taken away for a while. I had a boat to finish first.”
Sharp knives are safer. Hopefully, nobody will forget this point now.
Knife experts from BladeForums.com were also nice enough to make recommendations on fixed blade knives. CWL recommended the Mora HighQ and the Mora Craftline Punch, each of which is under $20 on Amazon.
Big Chris from BigChrisCustomKnives.com said this:
Check out littleshavers.com. They are all about carving and whittling. I found that a 1.5″ blade was best for me to learn on and then moved to the larger carving knives.
Carving knives at LittleShavers.com with 1 ½” blades run from about $20 to $30.
Pocket Knives as Whittling Knives
Now on to pocket knives for the beginning whittler. The pocket knife configuration that is the classic whittling knife is the Stockman. The Stockman Pocket Knife is not a brand, but a common pocket knife configuration. It is a 3 bladed pocket knife, the blades being a clip-point blade, a sheepsfoot blade, and a pen or spey blade. I have a Buck 373 Trio, which is a stockman with a spey blade.
The blades on this Buck Stockman are, from left to right, a clippoint, spey, and sheepsfoot. This Buck is a perfectly nice whittling knife and would probably be a good size for a 10 year old girl since it is a bit small for me. I picked it up at the local hardware store, and it was under $20.
The mother of this girl was told to look for a lock blade because they are safer. That is true, lockblades are safer because they cannot accidentally close on a finger. This Buck knife is not a lock blade, and in fact lock blades are pretty rare amongst multi blade folding knives. Most lock blade knives are single blade knives. And when we use the term “blade” in this context it refers to anything that folds out of a pocket knife. My Kamp King pocket knife, a cheap old Scout knife which I wrote about in a previous blog, has 1 knife blade, a bottle opener, a can opener, and an awl, and is considered a 4 blade knife. Blade locks take up room and make a knife fatter. Adding locks for more than one blade would make a pocket knife very big around, and so it is not common. W.R. Case has around 90 lock blade knives on their site, and all of them have a single blade. If you are looking for a lock blade whittling knife, then go for a single blade, probably a clip-point.
Buck knives are made in China. I prefer to buy American made knives, but the major national chain hardward store I went to didn’t have any American made Stockman knives. If Made in the USA is not negotiable, then Case Knives might be a good choice. The Case Cutlery Small Stockman Pocket Knife with Amber Bone handle scales is about $42 with shipping from Amazon. Case Stockman knives come in small, medium, and large to fit any hand, and are pretty widely available, so you might pick it up at a local store.
I also found a couple more options in the category of folding whittling knives. These are pocket knives, and are specifically for carving and whittling. Woodcraft.com sells a Two Blade Folding Carving Knife for about $21. It is a two bladed knife. It looks nice and it has received good ratings on the Woodcraft site. I could not find where it is made.
Woodcraft.com also sells several knives by Flexcut which are pocket knives made specifically for whittling and carving. They are American made, and according to Big Chris of BigChrisCustomKnives.com, they are very high quality. They are not cheap, running from about $50 to $150.
Knife Safety for Kids
Hopefully the above list will provide a whittling knife option for everyone. The one thing I would like to go back to is knife safety. We know sharp knives are safer to use than dull knives. We know that fixed blade and lock blade knives are safer than folding pocket knives. But when we are whittling and carving, we can go one step further and wear safety equipment. With my 7 year old son, the rule of the house is that whenever he is using any tool he needs to put on his safety glasses or goggles. He has at least 3 sets so that any friends who are helping him can wear a pair also. It is overkill to have him put on safety glasses when he is using a screw driver, but it eliminates the need for him to think. At 7 years old, I don’t want him trying to reason through whether or not a tool or situation is dangerous because kids are not experienced enough to know. It is automatic so there is no getting it wrong.
When a child is starting to use knives and starting to carve or whittle, the biggest danger is that they are going to cut themselves. Knives are specifically made to cut things, and kids are all thumbs when they are starting out. But luckily there are whittling specific thumb guards!
As I wrote above, Robin Edward Trudel, carving expert and author of “Carving for Kids” and “Easy Carving Projects for Kids” recommends that kids wear a kevlar fishing glove on the hand not holding the knife – so on the left hand for a right handed child. This will protect hand holding the wood. For the hand holding the knife, a glove can be worn on that hand too. Or, a thumbguard can be worn on the knife holding thumb.
The thumb guards come in 3 sizes and cost about $5. The Kevlar safety glove costs about $25. Both are available at Woodcraft.com.
Just a note on price – Amazon has just about everything at the lowest price possible. I did not search for the lowest prices on the above items. If you look for Flexcut knives, Kevlar safety gloves, or thumb guards on Amazon you will probably find lower prices than those listed above. For this article II was looking for the item, not the price.
I hope you have a great Holiday Season, and I hope Santa brings every girl and boy a great new whittling knife this year!