Woodcarving is a pasttime that often transcends generations, and has been synonymous with patient, laid-back rural living for centuries. Rather than get sucked into a rerun of Law & Order, it’s a lot more fun to find a comfy chair on the porch (or even to make use of the steps), and create something with your hands. Finding the best whittling knife to while away the time will make this all that much more pleasant.
Of course, for whittling knives (which may simply be called woodcarving knives), there are scores of folding- or fixed-bladed knives that would suffice, but many don’t technically fit this knife category — maybe they’re too big, made of the wrong steel, or generally are better suited to cutting tomatoes and dicing onions than they are to carving a block of wood.
Depending on what you’re planning on crafting, there are certainly some options for the wood you use — birch, poplar, silver maple, and black walnut are among those I use. Definitely pay attention to whether you want a hardwood or a softer and more porous wood for your project. After all, if you’re carving out a new ladle to use in the kitchen, you don’t want a wood that’s going to soak up a lot of moisture.
Blade steel is also going to be a factor, with most blades focusing on hardness (less frequent sharpening, but more brittle and susceptible to chipping) or toughness (needing to be sharpened more routinely, a bit softer, but never going to have major cracks or chips). Blade HQ has a great guide on the steels, from premium steels down to budget one, all of which often have an unusual naming convention for those who aren’t familiar with knives. Lots of knives today that you can buy for $20 or less are going to be 420 steel, which is a basic discount steel that will require frequent sharpening. That said, steel isn’t the be-all, end-all of a blade — a steel is only as good as its heat treatment, and you’re going to want something that fits comfortably in your hand. And, in many instances, a 420 is perfectly fine.
The first blade in our list is what I’d consider the best whittling knife for your money — it’s the one I’ve used for years, and it’s really stood the test of time. But dig around and see what knives stand out to you. It’s important to land on the right woodcarving blade to have fun at your task:
Morakniv 106 Woodcarving Knife
Moras are some of the most amazingly affordable yet functional blades on the market. That extends well outside of whittling knives, too. For about $17, Morakniv makes great bushcrafting knives that are tried and true in the industry, and their reach extends into other realms, too. And the 106 Woodcarving Knife is a blade I’ve used time and time again on little projects. I love how the smooth birch handle feels in my hands, and the geometry means that it never slips. And the blade is sharp — very sharp right out of the box! It has a 3.22-inch laminated carbon steel blade, is full tang, and is 0.1 inches thick. Overall, the knife measures almost 7.5 inches and weight 2.15 ounces. And, as a perk, it comes with a polymer sheath with belt attachment.
For carving spoons, I use another Mora blade: the Woodcarving Hook Knife 164. It’s another durable and well-used tool, but with a hooked blade to help with making big scooping gouges.
Old Timer 24OT Splinter
There’s a lot to love here for a low price. The sawcut handle, measuring 6 inches, fits nicely into a larger hand, and the high carbon steel blade is small and efficient. But the perks of this whittling knife are in some of the other tools it has, including a straight gouge, hook blade, v-scorp, gouge scorp, and chisel — all of which deliver the extra amenities to help your task along. And it all comes together to help with some detail work. The knife weighs just a little over 5 ounces.
BeaverCraft Sloyd Knife
This BeaverCraft knife (which comes with a great sheath) is designed specifically for woodcarving, and the shape of the blade has worked perfectly for hollowing out areas and adding details to a craft. The high-carbon steel blade is 3.15 inches long, the handle is oak, and the whole knife is about 8 inches. The knife weighs 3.2 ounces. The ergonomic design means that you can whittle for a long time without fatiguing.
This is the kind of knife if you want to start your hand at the art of whittling — or to hone the woodcarving skills that you already have. It is crafted of high carbon steel, and the tools include a detail blade, straight gouge, hook blade, V-scorp, gouge scorp blade, and chisel. The hardwood handles look good, and it feels good in hand. Just be sure to keep an eye on the sharpness of this blade. A dull blade is a dangerous blade.
Forester Swiss Army Knife
It’s hard not to love a classic, and the Swiss Army Knives made by Victorinox fit the bill! I’ve had a lot of Swiss Army Knives over the years, and this one has been my favorite. The main blade is just the right size, and it has just enough auxiliary tools to help me get some small woodcraft tasks completed. It measures in at 4.4. inches long, and weighs 4.5 ounces. The Swiss-made stainless steel construction offers a slim profile, and it’s ergonomically shaped for my hand (but if you’re looking for something that’ll stay put even better, Victorinox makes an extra-grippy version, too, for only a couple of bucks more.)