Your initial investment can be quite small.
An inexpensive bench knife or a home made knife. A decent pocket knife. Home made strop and some stropping compound.
My personal favorite pocket knife, but not really inexpensive anymore. Single blade lock back
Smaller size Basswood. I get freebies/scraps from other wood carvers.
Paper for a pattern and transfer paper to transfer the pattern to the wood. Transfer paper used to called carbon paper. Transfer paper can be found in most office supply stores, but don't ask for carbon paper (younger folks won't have any idea what you're asking for).
I would suggest, at least a thumb guard for the hand holding the knife. A carving glove for the hand holding the wood is also most advised.
The main item left is a scroll saw. This item will be necessary if you plan to whittle animals or other items that require irregular cutting. I would bet that if you don't have a scroll saw, one of your friends or neighbors do.
Time to get started! But what is a "small" whittling? This is kind of relative. What is small to one person may be large to another. When I say small, I mean the finished piece is no larger than 2" by 3" in size (plus or minus a smidgen).
Here's what I mean! Here's dish pan of small flat plane whittled animals.
For this post we will focus on whittling small animals. Kinda like the previous post, but with more detail.
The animals that I whittle are in profile. I like the profile because you get more of the complete animal. I also think that the animal profile is much easier to cut out.
There are several ways to acquire illustrations of animals to make patterns from:
A. Search for animal illustrations of the computer.
B. Coloring books, or animal books.
You can make a copy of a selected animal from either of the two sources. A word of caution!
Unless the animal illustration is copy right free, you may not wish to copy the illustration. This is especially true if you plan to sell the finished piece. However, there is usually no problem when you use an illustration as the pattern when whittling for you own enjoyment. Lets face it, a profile of a chicken would be kinda hard to defend as a copy right protected illustration.....Enough of this!
Once you acquire a sized profile illustration of the animal on a piece of paper you are ready to transfer it onto the wood to be cut.
TIP If have any thoughts of doing more than one whittled piece from the illustration, select a piece of wood a wee bit thicker than you need for your first blank. Cut the animal out of the thicker wood and use the saw to "slice" off a pattern. This thinner pattern will be easy to trace for additional blanks.
NOTE: The key to safe and successful whittling is knife control. I like to move the wood into the knife blade whenever possible, especially in making STOP CUTS; instead of moving the knife blade into the wood.
I also think that the most knife control is when you use the THUMB ASSISTED PUSH CUT and the THUMB ASSISTED PULL CUT.
Thumb Assisted Push Cut, Your thumb acts as a fulcrum and / or to push.
Thumb assisted pull cut. Your thumb acts as a STOP or a controlling BRAKE to prevent the knife blade from going too deep or too far.
NOTE: Your knife cuts will also be easier to make when you use a slight SLICING of the blade.
NOTE: You may be more comfortable if you leave a "HANDLE" on the smaller blanks. The handle can be cut off after whittling is completed.
Whittling steps. There's no set sequence. Experience will tell you what works best for you.
STEP 1--------Make stop cuts separating legs from body, head from body, and comb from the head. Narrow the comb, the head. and the legs as shown.
STEP 2--------Begin the Flat Plane whittling. Remove flat slices of wood on the edges that are "flat" not curved. Start with the head and the body.
NOTE: In traditional carving/whittling you would use the knife to ROUND over the blanks edge, in flat plane you do not want to ROUND over the edge. In flat plane you use the knife to create larger flat surfaces on the edge of the piece.
------Here's a side view so you can better see the flat planes on the head and the body.
STEP 3----Continue around the top of the body and tail feathers, to use the knife to taper the tail feathers to their "points"; then remove slices on the edges where the flat cuts are to create the flat planes. Go to the head and make the knife cuts at the edges to create the flat planes there..Taper the front of the had and beak....
STEP 4---Finish the piece (paint or leave natural or stain).
And now for the biggest advantage to whittling small!
Whittling small takes very little time.
It's getting to the season to take walks in the park.
Its getting to the season to sit in the park and whittle.
I like to fill my pockets with small animal blanks, my pocket knife, and set and whittle. Sometimes I sit in the park. Other times at the marina docks. Some times at the mall when my wife is shopping.
One thing for certain is that kids will stop and watch, and ask a million questions. I find it very satisfying to have a little whittled animal to give them. Maybe when they are older they'll remember and give whittling a try..