Casual whittling is typically performed with a light, small-bladed knife, usually a pocket knife.
Specialized whittling knives, with fixed single blades, are preferred for sculpting artistic work. They have thick handles which are easier to grip for long periods and have better leverage, allowing more precise control and pressure.
Occasionally the terms "whittling" and "carving" are used interchangeably, but they are different arts. Carving employs the use of chisels, gouges, with or without a mallet, while whittling involves only the use of a knife.:10 Carving frequently involves powered equipment such as lathes.
In industrialized areas of the world, whittling is mainly a hobby and not an occupational activity as it was before powered wood working equipment enabled modern production.
While any type of wood can be used for whittling, there are woods which are easier to work with and whittle better than others. Soft woods with a small grain, such as basswood, are easier to whittle and are relatively inexpensive. Hardwoods are more difficult to whittle.