I recently picked up whittling and have watched several videos on how to do it properly. There's one cut, I can't quite recall the name of, where you slant the knife and cut down on two opposing sides and cut out a "v" shape of sorts. I had a couple spots on my piece where this cut would be useful, but when I tried to do it, I couldn't.

I'm wondering, is there a certain way you have to go with the grain? I'm pretty sure I was. Was the wood too hard? Was I too weak to press into the wood? Exactly what happened was I held the wood in my left and right hands and with my right mostly attempted to press into the wood at a curved angle. In all the videos the knife goes down and makes the cut. But it was like tryingt to cut steel with a butter knife.

I understand this is an extradorinaly difficult question to be asking, but I'm honestly curious to know if there's any reason someone could give me as to why I couldn't make the cut? Could there have been a problem with the knife angle? Blade sharpness? Grain? Did I miss something?

  • 1
    This is probably a sharpness issue. Because so many cuts in whittling (as in most carving) have to go cross-grain your knife should be very sharp indeed — at least sharp enough to shave hair off your forearm. Are you stropping or using fine stones for honing your edge?
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 7:07
  • 1
    You might pick up some information from this intro article on chip carving (not what you are doing, but lots of V shaped cuts) hosted at a certain tool vendor I'm not associated with. In particular, aside from how sharp you might not be, you may be trying to take too much at once - a large V starts with a smaller V and gets bigger. leevalley.com/en/shopping/TechInfo.aspx?p=42090 Also: while I know it's traditional in whittling, you have to be REALLY careful when hand-holding wood you are cutting, lest you end up leaking...
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 1:38

1 Answer 1


This is solely a sharpness issue, as Graphus suggested. While grain-direction and wood density are factors, sharpness is an order of magnitude more important.

To understand this for yourself, take a pine scrap and use a new x-acto blade (in its handle) to make a few cuts. Then try your own tools and note the difference. It is possible to do all of your whittling with inexpensive x-acto kits (of multiple shaped blades) and simply replace the blades.

With a sharp blade, the long 'v' cuts will be clean (leaving the next challenges for you: maintaining control of depth of cut and control of the path you wish to cut.) A few other nice features of 'sharp': less concern for grain direction, and less force needed for a given action, so you can cut slower with more control, if you like.

Part of the challenge to learn to carve is learning to sharpen and learning to detect when sharpening is needed.

It is possible to buy tools already sharpened Lee Valley's Sayers' Carving Tool Selection or Lee Valley's Flexcut® Carving Knives if you can afford that path. While the honing on those tools will only last so long, your knowledge of 'sharp' vs. 'not sharp' should last quite a bit longer!

  • An added bonus of a sharp knife: Should you happen to slip and cut yourself, a sharp knife will leave a clean cut that is easier to close up and heals much better than the ragged cut left by a dull knife. Please don't slip and cut yourself!!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 14:01

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