What makes a whittling knife?

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Jul 23, 2012
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Hey all,

I'm wondering what makes a whittling knife and what features to look for to learn to recognize them. For instance, I'm seeing people refer to some folders as being "whittlers" or not. As for me, there is much to learn. Feel free to post photos of examples and please, weigh in with your experience and opinions. I'm all ears!

And thanks for your support and patience.
 

Bigfattyt

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Usually, in my limited experience, a whittler will have a bigger main blade on one end, then two small blades on the opposite end.

I don't own anything meeting that description. I am sure there is also a more detailed description.
 
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It needs to be comfortable in the hand so squared handles usually do not work that well. Relatively thin blades slice through the wood more easily than thick ones. Usually one large blade and one or two smaller ones. You will probably want a pen blade as one of the small ones. Make sure the knife is not too small too hold comfortably or your hand will get tired from trying to hang on to it. Too large is also difficult to work with. Exactly what size depends on your hands. A medium Stockman is a reasonable knife to start with. A SAK Tinker is also a good first choice. My favorite is the Boker Congress Carver.
 
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A whittler, as opposed to a whittling knife, will have one main blade on one end and two secondary blades on the other end. It will have two springs, one for each of the secondaries, with the main blade riding on both. The springs can be tapered, parallel or split, with the last being called a split back whittler. Most whittlers have the secondary blades ground very thin, which makes them good knives for woodcarving or whittling.

Some examples, starting with a Queen split back whittler.

DSCF1017.jpg


Hen and Rooster tapered spring whittler.

DSCF0210.jpg


Case Seahorse whittler with parallel springs.

DSCF0199.jpg
 
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A whittler, as opposed to a whittling knife, will have one main blade on one end and two secondary blades on the other end. It will have two springs, one for each of the secondaries, with the main blade riding on both. The springs can be tapered, parallel or split, with the last being called a split back whittler. Most whittlers have the secondary blades ground very thin, which makes them good knives for woodcarving or whittling.

Two Dog Man,

That's your answer, concise and with good pictures.

A "whittler" is a traditional pattern, jut like a "congress", "stockman", "trapper" (my favorite after the whittler) and many others. The pattern name describes the blade configuration; how many blades and their position. On a whittler, the double end springs on the primary blade (many times a clip point, but can also be a wharncliff, a spear point blade or others) is the characteristic that makes them easily recognizable. You can also find half-whittlers, which have only to blades, the large primary and the smaller and thinner secondary.

A "whittling" knife is a knife that is comfortable for whittling, and should have some physical characteristic that make it so, as popedandy points out. Any knife pattern that fits YOUR needs, based on those characteristics, can be a whittling knife. This is very personal, so a good whittling knife for you might not be so for someone else.

You may find "whittlers" that may not be comfortable for YOU to use as "whittling" knives, because of size, type of scales or general shape of the knife.

I hope you enjoy your exploration of both whittlers and whittling knives.

EDIT NOTE: To all who may read this - My use of the word "pattern" (assigned to "whittler" knives) in this post and in some following posts can be considered incorrect. Please follow this thread to the end of the 2nd page and you may learn a lot, like I hope I did.
 
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While I was composing my post yablanowitz posted some more great pictures, from what seems to be a very good selection of whittlers. You can see the variety of blades and scale shapes. Great post.
 
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Thanks for that. It's clear that I didn't realize there was a difference! What I was really interested in is what you folks have already shared ... how do I I.D. a "whittler". Couldn't be more pleased with the help. You guys are terrific. Thanks again.
 
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I should also add that a clip point blade with less curve on the edge (straighter cutting surface) and a slightly higher point (or tip) can be called a whittler blade.
 
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Happy to help. Here's a bonus picture of a small assortment of whittlers.

DSCF0098.jpg

Two Dog Man, I realize you already got the information you wanted, that is, how to identify a whittler, but as long as I am on a roll I may as well apply what I was saying to Yablanowitz's fine set of knives. They are all beauties and I'd be proud to carry any of them, but I would not necessarily want to use them all for whittling. Here are my reasons:

Top left, the Case Seahorse: I had one and gave it away. It was comfortable to use and the two small blades are a great combination and perfect for whittling, but the main blade is quite thick at the spine. Some folks like that, but it was the reason I got rid of the knife.

Top right: Potentially a good candidate. The main blade looks to be ground relatively thin and I like the coping/pen blade combination for the secondary blades. The handle looks big enough and the edges look to be a bit rounded.

Second row: Both knives are on the small end of what I prefer to use (I'm assuming they are 3.5" closed), but are big enough. The handles on that pattern are comfortable. I would not buy them for whittling because the cutting edges on both secondary blades are essentially the same.

Bottom left: Same comments as for the knives on the second row.

Bottom right: Looks like it meets all my criteria. Main blade looks to be full flat ground, which I forgot to mention is my preference. Mostly I prefer to avoid a saber grind. The secondary blades are a great combination - the pen with the slightly curved cutting edge and the wharncliffe with the straight cutting edge. You can tell the edges of the handle are rounded and the size is big enough that it would fit my hand just fine (I'm assuming it is around 3.5" closed)

A couple of comments on blade selection: If you are going to be doing spoons or anything else with a dished surface, a nice spey blade with a nice, big, rounded tip can be pretty handy. That's assuming you are going to use a pocketknive to do all the whittling. The pen blade is my most commonly used blade. The main blade gets used when I am looking to take off a lot of wasted wood, but doesn't get used much once the pattern is roughed out. I use the coping or wharncliffe the most when I am marking a straight line, then cutting to it from one direction. You can make those cuts with a pen blade, but the straight edge coming to a sharp point makes it a lot easier.

That is what has worked out for me, but I know other folks have different preferences and I respect their opinions.
 
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Two Dog Man, I realize you already got the information you wanted, that is, how to identify a whittler, but as long as I am on a roll I may as well apply what I was saying to Yablanowitz's fine set of knives. They are all beauties and I'd be proud to carry any of them, but I would not necessarily want to use them all for whittling. Here are my reasons:
---------------
That is what has worked out for me, but I know other folks have different preferences and I respect their opinions.

I had to comment on popedandy's excellent follow-up post, because it is a perfect illustration of the subjective and very personal nature of a whittling knife, as opposed to a whittler pattern knife.

The whittler knives in yablanowitz's very good selection would not all be comfortable for someone else to use as whittling knives. Also, popedandy's explanation of how a whittling knife is used probably illustrates why you can have a good whittling knife that is not a whittler pattern knife.

I think the posts from popedandy and yablanowitz have each provided a complete short course on whittler pattern and whittling knives. Great thread!
 
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For me, a true whittling knife isn't a folder at all, but a fixed blade knife with a large, comfortable handle and a small, easily-maneuverable blade. If I'm just messing around, then sure, a pocket knife will do (and in that case, it's whatever I have in my pocket; I don't have a Whittler pattern). Otherwise, I'll go to my dedicated carving knife. Mine looks like this one:
murphy.jpg
 
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For me, a true whittling knife isn't a folder at all, but a fixed blade knife with a large, comfortable handle and a small, easily-maneuverable blade. If I'm just messing around, then sure, a pocket knife will do (and in that case, it's whatever I have in my pocket; I don't have a Whittler pattern). Otherwise, I'll go to my dedicated carving knife. Mine looks like this one:
murphy.jpg

I feel the same way. They are more comfortable and they seem to cut better. I also have a couple of bent/crooked knives for doing spoons and bowls. I use the fixed blade knives mostly when I'm at home and whittle more with the pocket knives when I am out and about, or when the mood just happens to strike me.
 

kamagong

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For me, a true whittling knife isn't a folder at all, but a fixed blade knife with a large, comfortable handle and a small, easily-maneuverable blade. If I'm just messing around, then sure, a pocket knife will do (and in that case, it's whatever I have in my pocket; I don't have a Whittler pattern). Otherwise, I'll go to my dedicated carving knife. Mine looks like this one:
murphy.jpg

Hard to find fault with that suggestion, I have a sloyd knife on order even as I type this. But IMO whittling is a laid-back affair, done with the knife you have in your pocket. It's the type of activity you're engaged in if you are sitting on your porch or around a campfire. On the other hand, when things are more serious (e.g., you are in your workshop) you use more efficient, more comfortable fixed blade knives so you can work faster and longer.

- Christian
 
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Hard to find fault with that suggestion, I have a sloyd knife on order even as I type this. But IMO whittling is a laid-back affair, done with the knife you have in your pocket. It's the type of activity you're engaged in if you are sitting on your porch or around a campfire. On the other hand, when things are more serious (e.g., you are in your workshop) you use more efficient, more comfortable fixed blade knives so you can work faster and longer.

- Christian

I also consider whittling to be a leisure and casual, maybe more spontaneous activity than carving, which I consider planned work, generally with a specific purpose or end product in mind. Of course, we're dealing with semantics here.

Bottom line is that any serious carving will generally require a fixed blade knife, either in the style of the carver diplayed in pukkoman's post, the more common and sometimes cheaper style with round handle, or other styles. I totally agree on the point made by him and also agreed by popedandy. And I think anyone who has taken a blade to wood (or any other material than can be shaped with a blade) with the purpose of creating something out of it will agree as well. I'm not a good or even a frequent carver, but I have a blade like the one shown by pukkoman, and two sets of carving knives with the round handles for when I need to do anything planned or serious, where the expected result is important. I find I have better blade control with them. If I was more skilled I might be able to carve with a folder that felt comfortable; whittler or not.

I have quite a few whittlers, but I've only used four, maybe five, of them for any "whittling". The rest I rotate as general purpose carry knives, because I like the "pattern". And after following Nixelplix's link to Bernard Levin's forum, maybe I should not use the word "pattern" for the whittler, and substitute "style".

So, thanks to Two Dog Man for starting this thread, and to all who have posted their contributions and expanded my knowledge on a "style" I prefer among traditional folders.

Finally to Modoc Ed,
Please excuse my ignorance, but could you point out what is LV4 so I can access a copy, and check it out as you suggest?
 
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Good heavens, the thanks is mine. I learned so much by asking a simple question, proving once again ... you just can't beat the camaraderie and kinship of knife lovers. I'm pleased to be part of the fold, even as a newbie.
 
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