Whittling and how to use knives correctly to avoid nasty accidents

May 7, 2020

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 just 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 (see on Amazon) includes two blades and a saw.  The smaller blade is often best for whittling.

If you get your kids trained enough they could even create you some wooden tent pegs to replace the metal ones they lost 😉

Seriously though, there are correct ways to hold a knife, and 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 onto 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
A guide to whittling, including what knives are best and step-by-step project guide.
Whittling Twigs And Branches
More projects to whittle away the time 😉
Complete Starter Guide to Whittling
The starter guide says: just need a knife, a twig, and this book.
Whittling Handbook
Introduction to Whittling including advice on knives.
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 such as 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 is aimed at taking your new-found skills into refined craftsmanship – ideal if you need more inspiration after reading the first book.

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 take 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.

Simple Whittling Projects

Here are some basic projects to get you started…

Creating your own tent peg

Creating your own tent peg or stake for a guideline is very simple and useful.

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

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

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Gav Grayston
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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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  1. Victorinox make a special kids Swiss army knife with a rounded tip to the main blade. Has a saw and some other tools on too. Comes with a lanyard chain too. Available from Amazon, we bought our son it a few years ago and it’s one of his prized possessions now.
    They also made a dedicated Duke of Edinburgh award knife which is for the older kids.

  2. Thank you very much. That’s a big help!

  3. Hi there. My son will be 5 in January. Do you think he could start to learn knife skills? Thinking of Christmas gifts for him!! Thank you.

    • Victorinox make a special kids Swiss army knife with a rounded tip to the main blade. It has a saw and some other tools on too. Comes with a lanyard chain too. Available from Amazon. We bought our son it a few years ago and it’s now one of his prized possessions.

    • Hi Teresa,

      You know your child best, but that might be a bit young.  How is he with scissors? For example, can he accurately cut out shapes yet? That gives you an idea of his hand-eye coordination and how well he can control his hands. Not a perfect match for using a knife, but a rough guide that could avoid accidents. 

      When ours were very young, we kept hold of their penknives, and they were used with strict supervision. I even held the youngest one’s hand with the knife in to ‘help’ them. 

      I hope that helps.

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