Zen Whittling

There are few simpler activities that are as rewarding as whittling.


I don’t mean carving.  Carving is an artistic endeavor to create something appreciated by both the carver and observer.  It is purposeful.  I’ve seen carved birds that I swear would take flight as I approached them.  People carve spoons both as a functional tool and as an object of art.


Shaving Wood
It’s just cutting to enjoy the wood and the edge


As a whittler, the best comment you will receive is, “That’s a nice pile of shavings.” 


But we whittle for ourselves.  The feel of a sharp knife shaving long graceful cuts in wood is superb.  As the wood is removed, grain and color reveals themselves, often to the complete surprise of the whittler.  It’s a sweet sensation to discover the simple joy of exposing wood that is so fleeting it vanishes with the next cut.  I once cut into a pocket of amber colored wood that cut perfectly from any angle or direction and just as suddenly it was gone, now shavings at my feet.


Little goals present themselves to the whittler and we can challenge ourselves to achieve them.  How long of a single shaving can you cut?  How smooth of a surface can you achieve?  Can you erase that little nub where there was once a second branch?  Can you cut four square sides simply because you would like to?


It is a very Zen experience.  There is no Yoda commanding ‘do or do not.’  There is just perfect harmony of being.


You can use any knife
Whittling basics: Wood, Knife….


The tools are very simple.  A shady spot is selected.  You need a knife, preferably sharp, but any knife will do.  Then you need a piece of wood.  A stick will do.  Size matters only to ease of handling the stick and how long you want to whittle.  There’s no rule requiring you to finish this activity with a single stick or that you can’t save the stick for another. 


Approach the task with a stick in one hand and blade in the other.  Decide where the edge will first bite into the wood.  Perhaps the blade and wood fight each other.  Simply select a new beginning.  Perhaps the one or the other feels wrong to you.  Make a change and a new beginning.  Tomorrow they may seem right to you.


As you stop to admire your pile of shavings you will discover all thoughts of bills, the boss, your sick aunt Fanny, which pre-school gives the twins the best shot at Harvard, and any of the other problems that plague you were momentarily forgotten.  Do not be surprised if you discover you have a new perspective on all of these as well as the noise society throws at us.


It is the best way to kill a half an hour or more and it doesn’t require a battery.