Whittling, or wood carving, is fun and creative. It's a great way to introduce kids to safe knife skills. And with the right know-how and grown-up supervision, there's no need for it to be risky. We've put together some tips and simple projects to get you started.

What's the best wood for whittling?

Silver birch, willow, sycamore, alder and lime are fairly soft and easy to carve. Use our Tree ID app to help you identify them in the woods.

How to choose twigs or branches for whittling

You need young, fresh wood that’s not dried out. Don’t pick twigs and branches off the tree – you’ll find plenty that’s fallen to the ground. Try and choose a smooth piece of wood without too many knots.

Whittling tools

vegetable peeler is a good tool for children to start with and is useful for simple jobs like stripping off bark. Choose a good quality peeler as they're not really designed for wood and cheaper ones tens to break.

folding penknife - a lockable one is best as it won't accidentally close on small fingers. But you need to remember it's illegal to carry a lock knife in public without good reason. This means you can carry it to and from the woods if you're going to use it there, but not stop off at the shops on your way home with the knife in your pocket.

Sandpaper is also useful for smoothing rough edges.

How to whittle safely

  • Always make sure an adult is supervising any wood carving activity.
  • Practice using your peeler and knife on vegetables or a dry bar of soap before you get started on wood.
  • Use a push stroke. This means cutting away from your body, or the hand holding the piece of wood.
  • Be patient and slice off a tiny bit at a time. If you press too hard, you may lose control of the knife or get it stuck.
  • Never hold the wood in your lap as the knife will be to close to the large blood vessels in your thighs. Hold it past your knees or to the side, or sit at a table.
  • Don't walk around holding the knife.
  • Have a first aid kit handy just in case.

Easy whittling projects

Now you're all set, why not give these a try?

  • Whittle a simple marshmallow toasting fork for your next campfire.
  • Make a magic wand or wizard staff; you could decorate it with ribbon, string and paint.
  • Whittle a simple flower. Take a small, straight twig and peel off the bark. Then peel back thin strips of wood from the tip of the stick and open them out to look like petals. You could do a couple further down to look like leaves.

Once you've mastered the basics, you could try more advanced projects like spoons, animal figures or walking sticks.

Family walking along a fallen tree in a summer woodland

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