What is a Wood Carving Knife?

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  • Written By: Mitch Morgan
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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There are virtually endless shapes, sculptures, and functional items to create when carving wood. For the novice and veteran woodcarver alike, a wood carving knife is an essential tool for the hobby. Used to round, smooth, and trim different woods, wood carving knives are typically considered a cornerstone of woodworking tools for their practical use. Though the shape of these tools may vary, a typical wood carving knife will usually have a large handle for adequate gripping, and a short, thin blade to allow for better control. Small wood sculptures may require only a single wood carving knife, while larger ones might require the use of several knives, along with some more specialized carving tools.

While the basic wood carving knife may allow one to perform simple woodcarving techniques on many varieties of wood, the “grain” of wood to be cut or carved and the desired level of detail will often determine which type of wood carving knife, or knives is most suitable for the job. While harder woods may be more difficult to carve than softer ones, they are generally more resistant to fractures. A few common woods used for carving include Tupelo, Basswood, walnut, mahogany, and chestnut. While each possesses different characteristics and appearances, all of these woods are generally thought be reliable mediums for many wood carving projects. Before beginning any carving venture, one might consider what other tools might be required for the job.


The many methods of wood carving usher in an array of other wood carving tools, besides the simple wood carving knife, for accomplishing different cuts and designs. If beginning from a solid piece of wood, one may require a gouge to cut away large portions or to shape softer, more workable, woods. When attempting to carve harder woods, a mallet and chisel may be needed to shape the wood. For more intricate or decorative wood carvings, there exists an abundance of other specialized tools to perform specific detailing or cuts.

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, the art of wood carving and the art of whittling are in fact two separate hobbies. Wood carving requires the use of the various tools mentioned, and is generally more involved. Whittling is usually done with a single knife that may or may not be designed for wood cutting. Some whittlers might use an ordinary pocket knife to achieve similarly detailed sculptures or carvings normally created with the use of specialty wood carving knives. This practice should be avoided for more intensive wood carving, however, as pocket knives often do not provide the adequate protection of the large-handle, small-blade wood carving knife.


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