I'm not sure if my mom and dad actually knew that us girls had our own jackknifes. I can't even remember where we got them. I can only assume that we inherited these "dangerous" weapons from a male cousin, and suspect it was the same cousin that once whittled an arrow so sleek and fast that like lightening, it shot across the town sand pit and struck me smack in the corner of my eye. I inexplicably survived, but his homemade bow did not. He smashed it over his knee mere minutes after the misguided missile hit it's unintended target. Inevitably, the same would have resulted after we six scared cousins (one with a sharpened stick extending off their face) trekked their way back to the house and had a close encounter with my father's anger.
What's funny though... I never ever remember any of us whittling anything else besides arrows. No whistles, no animal shapes, not even one small carving fit to be displayed on a shelf. The satisfaction and gratification of taking a hand picked rough stick and transforming it into a smooth piece of natures art was good enough for us. I imagine we could have outfitted every student at Hogwarts with a mystical wand. The true skill mastered however, was the art of conversation. Brilliant insights, teasing banter, and boastful achievements flowed effortlessly between us...and we laughed. Its as if the sticks were performing magic of their own.
When you whittle, your guard is let down. At first, your concentration is on that which is in front of you, but your hands quickly master the repetitive dance across the stick...and then your mind relaxes... and then the words of wisdom start to spill forth from your mouth. OK, often not wisdom. And more often than not, you'll talk about stuff that you won't want to remember past the next day (especially if there's adult beverages around). Another great thing about whittling...when you have a knife in one hand, and a stick in the other, there's no room for a cell phone. Unless your whittling yourself a selfie stick. We can definitely make an exception for that. So, let's cover a few basic tips for beginners:
1. Get a pocket knife. You aren't aiming to create a masterpiece yet, so a basic multi-blade pocket knife is all you need. Keep the blades sharp and you'll be just fine. You can find a "How to sharpen a knife" video here. There's no need to spend a lot of money on this...Keep an eye out at local tag sales.
2. Find a branch/twig. You want soft wood, like pine. Later, you can try Balsa or Basswood. Start simple, make an arrow or a drumstick. Once you've mastered that, select thicker branches and carve a utensil set, or at least a knife to impress your friends.
3. Whittle. Start with the basic sweeping straight rough cut to give your piece a general shape. Keep with the grain. Then progress to the pull and push strokes to detail the piece. These cuts give you the best control over the knife. Other types of cuts may come into play and you can learn how to master four basic cuts in this video.
Its that simple. And, something I wish I would've remembered when my kids stopped being happy to see me volunteering at their school each day, and became secretive and moody prepubescent teens. Instead of primordial groans with a fair mix of "none of your business" comments mixed in, I could have saved myself a whole lot of time and effort...and more then a few gray hairs and sleepless nights contemplating the meaning of motherhood. My now adult kids (and I use that term lightly because I absolutely believe being legal voting and legal drinking age means nothing) are lucky I didn't have the thought of whittling up a big ol' paddle stick! Hindsight is 20/20...and for some inexplicable reason, I can chuckle at those memories. Or is it that I suspect some day soon enough, they will have offspring of their own? I'm torn between stockpiling jackknives/twigs or letting them learn parenting on their own... "cue evil laugh".
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