For a skilled carver, wood carving provides a myriad of creative opportunities, ranging right from the full-sized carvings to chip-carved plaques. For these outcomes, it is essential to have a wood carving knife, which is an important tool found in any carver’s collection. This guide will help you find the best wood carving or whittling knives for you. We have also included a few reviews of our favorite whittling knives for your reference.
A wood carving knife is useful for different purposes, such as general carving, whittling, letter carving and detailing, and chip carving. Such carving knives are available in a variety of blade shapes, each one made for a specific purpose. So, while selecting the right wood carving knife, there are many factors to consider, such as the blade type and the carving work. Let’s explore them in detail. However, before that, let’s start on our favorite picks.
Wood Carving versus Whittling: Same or Different?
Many woodcarvers tend to use whittling and wood carving interchangeably. So, are both the terms the same? Let’s find out!
Wood carving includes creating structures and designs in three dimensions, which can be either functional or symbolic. You need a set of dedicated tools along with a workbench, at least, if not a workshop.
Wood carving is also a hobby apart from art, which embraces making anything from a tall totem to a key chain. Any carver shall agree that carving is more about the creativity, vision, skill, and love for the woodwork.
On the other hand, whittling involves shaping a piece of wood by removing tiny slices. In other terms, it includes slowly reducing the piece to a new shape. Well, this does not mean that whittling is not as artistic as carving, although a few definitions convey it as non-artistic. Usually, whittling is just an American term for wood carving. There is no significant difference between the two.
Still, if you wish to differentiate, whittling is more the domain of pocket knives and can serve more complex carving jobs. Further, it is becoming more popular today due to the anxious lifestyle forcing people to work with their hands on stress-free, creative tasks. For example, whittling is preferred for making some holiday gifts with hand!
2020’s 6 Best Wood Carving Knives Reviews
Here are our six top rated wood carving knives. You can see their features if you scroll down.
- BeaverCraft Wood Carving Hook Knife SK1 – Best spoon carving knife
- Morakniv Wood Carving 164 Hook Knife – Best hook knife for relief carving
Flexcut Chip Carving Knife – Best chip carving knife
Morakniv Carving Junior 73/164 Knife – Best wood carving knife for kids
- Flexcut Pocket Jack for Carving – Best all in one carving knife
- Sarge Knives SK-10N Vision Maker Carving Knife – Comes with both detail and chip blades
BeaverCraft Wood Carving Hook Knife SK1 – Best spoon carving knife
The knife is a very popular spoon carving hook knife from Beavercraft. It’s ideal for carving a wood spoon, green woodworking, carving concave shapes like a cup, bowl, or kuksa. Its blade is made of high-carbon steel and comes razor sharp out of the box. It’s suitable for cutting both hardwoods like oak or walnut and softwoods. The spoon knife handle is made of oak and processed with natural linseed oil. It comes with an ergonomic design for comfortable wood carving.
Morakniv Wood Carving 164 Hook Knife – Best hook knife for relief carving
It is a specialized wood carving hook knife for detailed wood as well as spoon carving. The Mora wood carving knife comes with a single-edged blade made up of carbon steel that boasts a hardness level of 59-60 on a Rockwell (RC) scale. This blend makes it handy for all push cuts with the left hand as well as all pull cuts with the right hand. The full tang ensures superior strength and sturdiness. The handle is made up of oiled birch wood handle, which is comfortable to hold and delivers greater control than other wooden handles. Its performance is matchless! The overall weight is 2.1 ounces (59 grams), and the length is 6.3 inches. The blade is 2 inches long, and its thickness is 0.1 inches. There is no sheath, and the knife is made in Sweden. >>Read more about this knife here
Flexcut Chip Carving Knife – Best chip carving knife
It is the most affordable knife in this list, with a flexible but razor-sharp blade that gives more control over different cuts. The blade is made up of high carbon spring steel. It is alone enough to follow the carving’s contour, which removes the need for using the traditional tools for completing a single profile. This steel also adds to great edge retention as the shaft is hardened like a spring, and the tip is toughened to RC 59-61. The ash handle boasts an ergonomic design for boosting the ease of use as well as comfort. The overall weight is 2.1 ounces. >>Read more about this knife here
Morakniv Carving Junior 73/164 Knife – Best wood carving knife for kids
This Swedish carving knife is a small knife made for beginners and kids. It features a thin carbon steel blade, oiled birch wood handle, and a single-finger protection guard. The overall weight is 0.13 pounds. While the length of the blade is 3 inches, that of the handle is 4.25 inches. With a truly sharp blade, this knife is meant specifically for detailed wood carving. This tool comes with a plastic sheath in black. >>Read more about this knife here
Flexcut Pocket Jack for Carving – Best all in one carving knife
Flexcut carving knife is a pocket knife featuring a multi-tool design and the highest price tag in this list. It is a smaller version of the original Carving Jack. Four blades tend to fulfill the diverse needs of woodcarvers and woodworkers alike. These blades are 1-5/8-inch long detail knife, 1-7/8-inch long straight gouge, 1-inch long V scorp, and 1- 1/16-inch long scorp. With a weight of just 3 ounces and a closed length of 4.25 inches, it hardly gives a feel of its presence when kept in a pocket. Yes! It’s that lightweight!. >>Read more about this knife here
Sarge Knives SK-10N Vision Maker Carving Knife – Comes with both detail and chip blades
It is another affordable pocket multi-tool knife suitable for wood carving. It comes with two carbon stainless steel blades, namely, the primary and secondary ones, each measuring 1.25 inches in length when opened. One is a chip blade, and the other is a detail blade. When the blades are closed, the overall length is 3.5 inches. The top-grade stainless steel retains the sharpness of edge even after using it for several years. The handle is ergonomic and ensures both control and comfort while holding and using it. The overall weight of this knife is just 0.3 ounces, which means it hardly gives a feel of its presence when kept inside a pocket. >>Read more about this knife here
Anatomy of a Wood Carving or a Whittling Knife
While selecting a top quality wood carving knife, you are likely to come across many terms that define or depict the different parts of the knife. So, it is wise to know these terms in advance. Doing so can help in comprehending some specific information about the handles and blades.
A carving tool is composed of two main parts, namely, the handle and the blade. These two parts tend to embrace other aspects.
- Sweep: Is the curved or straight shape starting from the blade’s cutting edge. From the sweep, the blade is either beveled on both sides or one side. The former is associated with a straight sweep, while the latter is due to the curved sweep. If the bevel is on the curve’s outside, the gouge is out-cannel, or else it is in-cannel.
- Grind: Is the shape of the blade’s cross-section, which determines the extent of sharpness and the level of excellent performance.
- Neck: This is the place where the blade is at its narrowest point after tapering to reach nearer to the handle.
- Bolster: This is formed when the blade flashes out from the neck towards the handle. It is a part that joins the blade and the handle. The bolster also protects the hand by balancing the knife.
- Tang: Is an invisible rod in the blade, which extends into the handle from the bolster. It provides additional support to the blade inside the handle.
- Scales: Refer to the material forming the handle on either side of the tang.
- Rivets: Are included to defend the scales.
- Butt: Is the handle end.
- Tip: Is the blade’s upper portion and includes the point.
- Point: This is the tip where the edge and the spine intersect.
- Spine: Is the blade’s blunt edge residing opposite to the edge and tip.
- Ferrule: Supports the handle near the bolster where the tang penetrates inside it. A ferrule is made up of brass or steel.
Know Your Carving Style and Wood for Carving
Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash
Well, when it comes to selecting the right carving knife, it all comes down to what you intend to carve and how you wish to do so. Because these two factors tend to vary from one person to another, you will find different types of carving knives made for handling distinct wood carving styles. So, let’s explore the wood carving styles, each different yielding outcomes yet being equally fulfilling.
It’s what most people start with for mastering the art of carving. It is also known as knife carving. In this technique, a carver carves the desired shapes and objects by using a single knife or a variety of knives to get the specific details.
Best Whittling Knives
Usually, a folding knife with a locking blade or a fixed blade knife is suitable for this type of carving style. Those with a lock are safer to use, as for most, it is the first time to cut wood with a knife. There are many blade shapes available to accomplish different whittling tasks. However, if you were, to begin with, a single knife, a short blade (cutting blade) with a drop point and a flat cutting edge is the way to go.
(Table will not look good in mobile devices, apologies)
|Old Timer 24OT Splinter Carvin' Traditional Pocket Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Top||Flexcut Whittlin' Jack, with 1-1/2 inch Detail Knife and 2 inch Roughing Knife||See it on Amazon|
|BeaverCraft Wood Carving Sloyd Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Morakniv Wood Carving 120 Knife||See it on Amazon|
: It’s a kind of relief cutting in which the symmetrical and small pieces are discarded or chipped out of wood. Its outcomes are stunningly rewarding due to the charming and complex patterns.
Best Knives for Chip Carving
These knives may differ a bit from those meant for making figurines. However, the chipping blades are useful in a myriad of assignments. Most chipping knives have a draw-type blade, which indicates that you should draw the blade in the user’s direction. Some chipping knives are like small chisels. Nevertheless, all chipping knives aim to remove small bits at dramatic angles. For chipping, the essential tools required are a stab knife and a primary carving knife.
We recommend the BeaverCraft S15 wood carving knife set for chip carving. It consists of a detail knife, a cutting knife, a roughing knife, and comes with a leather polishing compound and tools troll to store all of them.
If you’re not looking for an entire kit, here is a table of our favorite chip carving knives.
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|Flexcut KN115 Carving Knives, Chip Carving Set of 3||See it on Amazon|
|PFEIL"Swiss Made" Chip Carving Set (Knives B & I)||See it on Amazon|
|Top||BeaverCraft Wood Chip Carving Detail Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Set of Wayne Barton Chip Carving Knives||See it on Amazon|
It is a technique for drawing images in wood and also carving things out of wood like a spoon.
Best Knives for Relief Carving
Although smaller pieces are still attainable with a carving knife, chisels and gouges are used for several other relief carving tasks. A chisel is usually a flat blade having a different angle for cutting wood. A gouge is just like a chisel but has a V or a U shape. The degree of the V’s curve is referred to as the sweep. Each shape offers specific types of cuts. Gouges are essential for shredding off long lumber marks.
We recommend the BeaverCraft S14 whittling knife set for relief carving. It consists of a spoon knife, a whittling knife, and a long bent gouge.
If you’re not looking for an entire kit, here is a table of our favorite relief carving knives.
(Table will not look good in mobile devices, apologies)
|Sarge Knives SK-10N Vision Maker Carving Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Top||Flexcut Right-Handed Scorp||See it on Amazon|
|Flexcut Palm V-Tool||See it on Amazon|
|GJH One Wood Carving Tools Hand Chisel Set||See it on Amazon|
|Narex 6 Piece Set||See it on Amazon|
|Kirschen 3141008 Carving chisel||See it on Amazon|
Now that you know the carving style to use, it is time to know the wood that you will be cutting.
Type of Wood for Carving
While you can use any lumber for carving as a hobby or as a profession, it makes sense to know the best wood for your carving project. For this, it is essential to consider a few relevant factors such as wood details and demand of wood type by different carving projects. Broadly, you choose from two types of woods, namely, softwoods and hardwoods.
Making up for the maximum share in the world’s production of timber, some of the notable softwood species are conifers, fir, and pine. Softwood is the most suitable wood for beginners, as it is easier to carve than a hardwood. However, a few seasoned experts choose hardwoods. Well, this preference is based on the type of project that is undertaken. Below are some of the most recommended softwoods to consider:
- Basswood: Has a density ranging from 0.3 to 0.6 and appears pale cream to light brown with every grain straight and fine enough to carve easily. It is the most recommended wood for whittling or hand carving. It also glues and finishes well with detailed work due to which it is excellent for whittling, painting sculptures, and toy making projects. See our favorite basswood item below.
- Butternut: Has a density of .38 and appears golden brown with a unique pattern and a medium-fine straight grain. It is suitable for making furniture and performing fine detailing and high relief carving.
- Soft Pine: Has a density of .42 and appears with a yellow tint on a resinous surface and visible grain. It is readily available and affordable for the starters willing to perform an outdoor project. Soft pine resists rotting, although it is brittle at times due to occasional knots.
Recommended Tools for Softwoods: Hand-held tools, as softness results in less resistance as well as less force for carving: a chip carving knife, a set of chisels, a set of gauges (u, v, bent, and spoon), and a mallet
Recommended Carving Projects: Whittling, fine detailing, low and high relief carving, small sculpture/figure carving, and turning
As the name indicates, hardwoods are denser or harder than softwoods, although there are some exceptions. Exceptionally, some softwoods are denser than some hardwoods, and some hardwoods are softer than most softwoods. The difference is usually due to a more complex structure and, consequently, a much slower growth. Visually, the presence of pores helps in distinguishing between hardwoods and softwoods. Below are the recommended hardwoods for carving:
- African Mahogany Has a density of 0.53 and appears with a red tone that slowly darkens. It has even and straight grain. This light and robust wood embrace the finest detailing and cuts or trims well. It is used in carving, turning, and furniture making.
- Walnut: Has a density ranging from 0.65 to 0.7 and appears deep reddish-brown, changing slowly to creamy white. This durable hardwood has a straight, medium, and coarse grain. It is ideal for relief carving, turning, and furniture making.
- Oak: Has a density of 0.74 and red. It is commonly used lumber in furniture and floors.
Recommended Tools for Hardwoods:
Hand carving tools that demand power tools and mallets: A chip carving knife, a set of chisels, a set of gauges (u, v, bent, and spoon), and a mallet
Power tools: Rotary tool for attachments used for polishing, trimming, cutting, and carving; belt sander, drill press, and chainsaw
Recommended Carving Projects: Furniture making, low relief carving, and turning
Of all the woods discussed here, pine is preferable for wood carving. This is because of its relative cheapness, versatile applicability, and excellent strength. However, you can choose any of these woods as per the project is undertaken.
Factors to Consider while Selecting the Best Whittling Knife
For getting to the right whittling or wood carving knife, it is essential to know its basic and relevant aspects in detail. Doing so helps in setting the right path to it when you know the wood carving style and project type. These aspects are nothing but the primary factors to consider once you know the kind of blade to choose from.
Well, the blade can be either fixed or folding. The blade type is the main factor that distinguishes one carving knife from the other. For knowing which is the right blade type, you need to know the pros and cons.
Folding: It is more portable and much smaller than a fixed one. In most states, it is illegal to roam with a long, fixed blade in public even if it is sheathed, but it is easy, legal, and more comfortable to roam with a folding knife if it fulfills the local laws. The folding size is half of the fixed blade size due to which it easily fits into a pocket.
So, the pros are the convenience of being discreet, pocket fitting, versatile to perform most tasks and legally allowed to carry.
On the flip side, the folding point is a weak spot, as it is a break in the metal, which a fixed counterpart does not have. In case the bevel gets much pressure, it makes the folding or locking mechanism vulnerable to damage, specifically if it is smaller (common in most folding blades). It is also difficult to clean these knives regularly, mainly if you use them daily. If left unclean, the debris is likely to jam the locking mechanism to make it insecure.
So, the cons are weakening tendency, tough to clean and maintain, and risk of lock malfunctioning.
Fixed: Has its benefits over a folding one, even if it seems to be more alarming to the public and illegal to carry if the length is more than the allowed one. A fixed blade is quite strong, as one solid piece is more difficult to break that a piece of two joined pieces. Further, it is longer than a folding blade. Well, the longer, the better is a wood carving knife. This is because such a length is likely to accomplish more, particularly in making flat and long edges. Moreover, it is also easier to clean as well as maintain this kind of knife.
So, the pros are more usability for larger carving tasks, easier to clean, and least chances of breakage. On the flip side, such a knife is less portable and could be illegal to carry or use in public (check local laws first). Further, you should always use a sheath to carry it no matter where you go.
Lastly, even your preference plays a role in selecting the fixed or folding blade. Most people prefer a locking blade, as it is less likely to slip inadvertently and close while working, to avoid cutting the fingers. However, even the locking knives can slide. This encourages many users to choose a fixed blade knife and remain alert.
Overall Knife Size
It is essential to consider this factor as it affects the level of ease when it comes to controlling the knife. If you are a beginner or a carver with small hands, a medium-sized knife is a better option. This is because such a size delivers more control than other sizes while cutting.
Such a knife also has a smaller handle and a shorter blade than a full-sized one. A smaller tool is easy to control and is preferable for linoleum and very fine carving.
Indicated by a number, the sweep of a carving knife conveys the degree of the curve its edge has. The number is higher in the case of gouges (2 to 11) and least for straight chisels (1). As a rule of thumb, the higher the number, the more is the curve, which is beneficial for cutting deeper grooves and channels. A lower number is for having a smooth, mild curve.
Well, this factor is much a matter of personal preference. Most people prefer a carving knife with as much flat blade as possible. This blade should also have a strong spine and least thickness as possible
Instead, it must be narrow from top to bottom for facilitating proper cutting in the concave spots. Anything over 15mm is obstructive, which is the reason why most general-purpose knives fail when it comes to wood carving.
A long thin blade with not much belly is ideal for most cuts. The belly refers to an edge’s rounded part toward the point, which is seen in a general-purpose knife. This is ideal for woodcarving. Beginners prefer a short blade for safety purposes, but this also restricts the cuts. For example, a longer blade makes it easier to cut long slices for making large flat planes.
So, the best option is to choose a thinner and a longer blade. It is wise to strike a balance between the length and thickness for retaining the desired strength. This is because an irrationally thick blade gets in the way of a few cuts, while a too shorter one is unable to perform some cuts.
Beginners usually do not bother for the bevel, as it is the factor that intermediate and advanced users consider. You should also consider the grind type, as some of these are just perfect for carving wood.
For example, for wood carving, the Scandi or Scandinavian grind is considered ideal. It ensures ease of sharpening as well as control while cutting. However, this grind is more common in folding wood carving pocket knives.
The primary grinds are convex (hollow), flat, and scandi, of which the hollow one is suitable for carving wood. However, the Scandi grind is recommended the most, as it is the edge is effectively a triangle tapering to a perfect point.
Avoid buying a general-purpose knife with a secondary bevel, as it does not facilitate controlled woodcarving. Usually, a flat primary bevel is sufficient for wood carving.
If you choose a fixed blade, ensure that there is no hilt or blade guard. These utilities get in the way of some cuts and are not required for carving. They are only needed to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade when implementing a stabbing type cut (not done in woodcarving).
Blade Steel Type
Well, there is fierce competition between stainless and carbon steel. The latter is stronger than the former and is often the choice for survival knives and machetes. However, a carbon steel blade rusts more quickly due to high carbon content. However, carbon steel construction allows the user to cut harder woods more quickly.
On the other hand, stainless steel is less likely to rust. Rusting is avoidable if you clean it regularly. It is also a cheap material.
Well, this factor indicates how sharp the blade is. If edge retention is excellent, the sharpness is also good and that the knife is ready for carving. For wood carving, sharpness is one of the most important factors to consider. The edge should be as sharp as possible. Sharpness equates to safety, as a dull blade is likely to glide, especially when you do not want it to react in that manner.
To know whether a knife has excellent edge retention, take an ordinary paper, and scrape its side against the blade. This should cut the paper. If the cut is clean and smooth, it indicates the right retention level. On the other hand, if the result is uneven or the slicing is not well, it means that the blade needs honing or sharpening.
The tang determines the extent to which the blade drags into the handle. It can be either full or partial.
A full tang blade is an ideal aspect of a knife. It boasts a narrowed end with two handle pieces put together around its tang. Such a blade never becomes loose or come out of the handle.
A partial tang blade only extends to some degree into the handle. The construction differs in the sense that instead of being put together, it is glued. This has a drawback of slipping out of the blade due to high tension and pressure on the handle.
So, go for a full tang knife.
The method used to make a carving knife affects three factors, namely, the price, durability, and weight. A carving knife is created by implementing one of the two common methods, namely, forging and stamping.
A forged carving knife is made using a heated steel bar, which is then hammered into the desired shape. Such a knife has a thick blade with a bolster between the blade and the handle. It provides superb balance, easy slicing due to a heavier weight, and more durability than a stamped one due to the least risk of bending with time. However, it is costlier for its better performance.
On the other hand, a stamped knife is made by implementing the hydraulic press process. Here, a sheet of steel is molded into the blade shape with the help of a machine. Then, many processes are implemented for refining and sharpening the blade. While such a blade is more affordable, it is thinner and less balanced than a forged counterpart.
While the ability to cut is the most vital aspect of a knife to consider, it is unwise to ignore the handle. This is because a handle affects the balance of a blade and the weight of a knife. It also determines the ease of use and a knife’s durability. For experiencing these benefits, it is essential to choose the right handle material.
- Wood has a bold visual appeal and ensures ease of use as well as a comfortable hold. On the flip side, its porous surface makes it tough to clean due to which it tends to lock different bacteria. Further, to prevent drying and cracking, a wooden handle needs more maintenance. Hardwoods with slow growth and straight grain are ideal for handles, which include beech and ash. They are dense and less likely to split because of the intrinsic knots.
- Plastic is easy to clean, durable, and affordable. Some of the most common variations include resin and nylon.
- Stainless Steel is the most durable and easiest to clean material for a handle. It also contributes to the weight of boosting the blade’s balance and making it easier to use. However, steel is less comfortable than plastic or wood when it comes to holding. Further, it is likely to slip when wet.
Note: You can even choose an everyday Carry (EDC) knife, which is the most popular and common type of knife. It features a locking mechanism and a medium-sized blade. The size is small enough to fit inside a pocket filled with other comfortable stuff. There is nothing wrong with carving with an EDC knife. However, they are general-purpose knives. It is wise to look for more specialized knives for wood carving.
Japanese Wood Carving Knives
It would be unwise if do not mention about Japanese wood carving knives. Knowns as “Kogatanas” in Japan, these knives are completely different from their western counterparts.
These knives have the cutting steel forge-welded to one ore two layers of soft and tough iron. The chances of snapping of hard and brittle steel are less, because it is embedded in a softer iron. These can be used either naked or with a covering of bamboo or leather, as is the Japanese tradition. To sharpen Japanese wood carving knives, we recommend Japanese Waterstones like the Norton-Saint Gobain Abrasives 89507.
There are mainly three different types of Japanese wood carving knives. Yokote Knife, Kiridashi Knife, and Kasaya Knife.
This kogatana is made of two layers of steel, comes with and without a handle. The knife is used for shaping, whittling, carving, and even grafting in the garden in Japan.
See this Yokote Kogatana listed on Amazon.
A Kiridashi knife is an all-purpose utility knife used chiefly for bamboo crafting and woodworking. It is forged using stainless steel of exceptional quality as well as traditional procedures. We have an entire article written on Kiridashi knives here. Please read if you’re interested in learning more about these knives.
See a Kiridashi knife listed on Amazon.
These are thin wood carving knives made of two layers of steel, traditionally used for wood carving. It is also sold as Jinmes for the grafting of Bonsai.
Check this Kasaya knife from Ashi available on Amazon UK out.
With all this information, we hope we made it easier to find you the best knife for whittling or wood carving. Just do a thorough search to identify a quality tool. While many of the above factors are associated with personal preference, being a bit objective by considering the type of project and wood to be carved helps in selecting a more effective carving tool!