Bob Reitmeyer, Whittler @

Bob Reitmeyer, Supplier of Wood Crafts to Scouts

Tips for Carvers

Whittling Tips

diagram of hands whittling -- click for larger image
Illustrated steps for carving.
Click for larger image.

To make a good kerchief slide, there are a few fundamentals one should follow:

  • Use a knife with a 1.5" blade. The blade should be razor sharp so that it will cut across the grain as well as with the grain (growth lines).
  • Basswood, Sugar Pine, or White Pine are the best woods for carving.
  • Slides should not be too heavy or large. Four inches square is about maximum, and there should be no projecting points.
  • Use masking tape to make a thumb pad for the thumb of the knife-holding hand. Practice carving to your padded thumb. Be careful how you hold the wood with the other hand.
  • THINK CAREFULLY about the knife cuts before you make them. Take small cuts.
  • Use sand paper to smooth over the rough edges and remove any ink.
  • Use acrylic water-based paints for your colors. Finish with a clear coat of varnish, lacquer or polyurethane to seal and protect your carving.

The Four Basic Cuts of Woodcarving

Most carved pieces, with the exception of the more advanced pieces which require gouge cuts, can be completed with these four basic carving cuts.

Basic Cut 1: Thumb (Paring) Cut

Basic Cut 1This cut is similar to the paring cut used to peel vegetables and will be used for most of your carving. This method of carving toward yourself is frowned upon in some circles because of safety concerns. However, the thumb pad protects you from the blade.

Basic Cut 2: Push-Away (Levering) Cut

Basic Cut 2There are times when you need to carve an area that a thumb cut can't reach. This cut, which is made by pushing the blade away from you will accomplish that goal.

Basic Cut 3: V-Cut, Using the Knife Point

Basic Cut 3When carving, you may need to make special cuts to show hair, fur, or distinct lines to distinguish particular features on the finished carving. This v-shaped cut is based on the thumb cut and push-away cuts.

See more information below!

Basic Cut 4: Stop Cut, Using the Knife Point

Basic Cut 4A stop cut is very similar to a v-cut. One side of the cut is straight; the other slopes in.

See more information below!

How to Hold a Knife for a "V" Cut or "Stop" Cut

These wood cuts are commonly used for "carving in relief," part of the Woodcarving Merit Badge requirement #7. Note that mose, but not all, cuts are to your padded thumb. For best results, use a knife with a short, straight edged blade that is very sharp.

How to hold a knife for V or Stop cuts

How to Make a Thumb Pad for Your Knife-Holding Hand

Using a thumb pad is cheaper than band-aids and stitches!

  • LEAST EXPENSIVE: Use masking tape, preferable 1-inch wide.
    1. Wrap sticky side out around the thumb of the knife holding hand. Cover down to just below the knuckle and over the top, completely covering the thumb.
    2. Wrap the sticky side in and cover the thumb with about 6 or 7 layers of tape.
  • BETTER WAY: Use duct tape the same way and cover the thumb with 5 layers of tape.
  • BEST SOLUTION: Buy a pair of inexpensive leather work gloves with the cloth back. Cut the fingers off and wrap duct tape around and over the top of the thumb with about 4 layers of tape.

CAUTION!!! Little leather thumb pads with an elastic back, available in some stores and catalogs, are not very thick or long-lasting when you use a very sharp knife!


  • When the blade starts coming through the pad, don't throw out your thumb pad -- just add more tape.
  • When the pad gets too big from added tape, then throw it away and make a new one.
  • Remember, most of your carving is the thumb (paring) cut, so always protect the thumb of the knife-holding hand by using a thumb pad!
  • Leather thumb pads also provide excellent protection for the knife-holding hand.
  • Kevlar gloves can be used, but are suggested for the wood-holding hand only. They will protect against a slicing-type cut, but can be compromised by a stabbing-type cut.