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Whittling and how to use knives correctly to avoid nasty accidents

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Nov 2011; updated Apr 2023.

Whittling is a bit of a traditional camping activity. You can also use it to help teach your kids the safe way to use knives.

So you've bought one of the many great penknives available, and you want to show your kids something useful?

Time to teach yourself and your kids whittling the craft of wood carving.  OK, so wood carving may be a bit of a stretch.  How about 'making stuff from twigs with your knife'?

Teaching Kids Whittling

Whittling will introduce your children to knife skills, including how to sharpen knives... but expect a few cuts along the way.

Ideally, your kids would have a short fixed, blade knife or a locking folding knife, as folding pocket knives can close unexpectedly on fingers if people are not paying attention... but the UK knife law being what it is, a penknife may be the only option (see our article on penknives for details on knives and the law, and also some specially designed penknives for kids).

Pen Knives and Multi Tools

You may want to start your kids off by simply getting them to strip the bark off twigs to toast items over the fire.   Another starting option is to strip some bark and get them to carve their name.

Where a pen knife does have advantages over fixed knives is with their other accessories - using the saw for cutting twigs or a file for finishing off rough edges, for example.  The Victorinox Camper knife includes two blades and a saw.  The smaller blade is often best for whittling.

Your kids could even create some wooden tent pegs to replace the metal ones they lost 😉

There are correct ways to hold a knife, some common sense in where the knife will travel (especially if it slips), where fingers are, and sensible ways of securing wood.

There are some great techniques in the videos below.  Master them yourselves, then pass on some common sense and the correct knife techniques to your kids.

Whittling Books

Whittling Beginners Book

There are a couple of books available from Chris Lubkemann written for using your penknife on camp: Little Book of Whittling: Passing Time on the Trail, on the Porch, and Under the Stars and Whittling Twigs & Branches - 2nd Edition: Unique Birds, Flowers, Trees and More from Easy-to-Find Wood.

Little book of whittling

Little book of whittling - A guide to whittling, including what knives are best and a step-by-step project guide.

Whittling Twigs And Branches

Whittling Twigs And Branches - More projects to whittle away the time 😉

Complete Starter Guide to Whittling

Complete Starter Guide to Whittling - The starter guide says: just need a knife, a twig, and this book.

Whittling Handbook

Whittling Handbook - Introduction to Whittling, including advice on knives.

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Book of Whittling

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Book of Whittling - Instructions and projects for whittling with a Swiss Army Knife.

The first book provides advice for beginners, from choosing a knife, sharpening (and reshaping the blade), and selecting the correct wood. He then provides step-by-step guides for making practical things such as a back scratcher or decorative items like flowers.

The picture above shows the first book, the 'Little Book of Whittling'.  As you can see, it has photos illustrating each step.

The second book is a more recent edition but aims to take your new-found skills into refined craftsmanship - ideal if you need more inspiration after reading the first book.

Do not cut down branches at the campsite

When at a campsite, do not cut down the plants and trees. If you do, you are causing damage to someone's property.

Instead, look for twigs that have fallen naturally from the trees, or bring the wood with you.

Make sure your children know that they shouldn't be chopping off plants.

Whittling Videos

There are lots of videos on YouTube. Here are a few useful ones to begin with.

Creating a tent peg

Creating a tent peg is simple and helpful.

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More knife techniques - plus Creating a Feather Stick for your fire

This video contains knife techniques and finishes creating a feather stick to help light your campfire.

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