Yes, I do whittle. When I was a boy, I did normal kid stuff like walking sticks, wood knives, whistles, etc. As an adult, I just re-kindled my interst about 2 months ago. The very limited knowledge I have gained recently is as follows.
The best woods to use for whittling are cedar, soft white or sugar pine, and basswood. I found a large size assortment of basswood at a local hobby shop. I purchased a block of basswood approximately 4"x4"x15" for $9. I have rip sawed it into many pieces for various projects. That $9 block will last me a long long time. I found the basswood is very nice to work with, but I can not compare to the other types of wood.
A couple months ago when I got started, I decided to used a simple folding jack knife similar to what I had as a boy. A local store had their Uncle Henry 897 Stockman 3-blade jack knifes on sale ($20 reduced to $10). I bought one and have used it as my exclusive knife for the above projects. I use the sheepsfoot blade for scoring/heavier work, and the clip point for finer work. This knife is certainly not optimum for the job at hand. It it probably smartest to use a lock back or some type of Xacto carving knife set, but I went for traditional simplicity.
I have carved 5 ornamental "ball in cage" projects. They are about 3/4" square by 3" long. The the carving time varied from 13 hours (first one ever) to 8 hours on the fifth one. I usually carve for about 1-2 hours at a sitting.
I am just completing a candle stick holder "ball in cage" project. I probably have 30
to 40 hours wrapped up in this one. This one probably has 10+ hours that I would not normally have, but my wife wanted it stained. So I put in extra effort to smooth the piece prior to staining.
I am going to try a wooden chain next.
I have listed two books below. I was able to find the "Hobo and Tramp Art Carving" book listed below at a local library. It gave me some nice history, great pictures/ideas, but was light on instruction.
"Hobo and Tramp Art Carving"
by Patrick E. Spielman
128 pages in color
Sterling Publishing Co, Inc: $16.95 + $3 S&H
Barnes & Noble: $13.56
"Old Time Whittling"
by Keith Randich
60 pages , 54 pictures/drawings , 5.5"x8 1/2"
211 Wood Smoke Lane
Greece, NY 14612-2255
??? Rochester, NY 14612-2255
Phone: (716) 588-6442
Best Regards, Todd