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From the Logan Democrat of Logan, WV, comes this story dated November 16, 1916 about whittling:


Where are the whittlers of yesteryear–the jackknife experts who laboriously fashioned curious keepsakes out of soft wood, or who idly whittled sticks of toothpick dimensions as they sat and debated the problems of the nation in front of village stores? The old time Yankee was often ill at ease unless he had his knife in his hand with a block of wood on which to exercise it. He could not focus his mind on heavy questions–like the elections at the next town meeting–unless he was watching a shaving curl gracefully in the wake of his carefully sharpened knife blade.

Those who had abundant leisure often devoted themselves to elaborate carvings. Sailors were especially gifted in this way–deep sea sailors who occupied themselves on long voyages with miniature ships and other models. And while the back country Yankee was an inveterate whittler, he rarely tried to compete in artistic results with his sea faring brother of the coast.

But whittle, both as a habit and as an art, appears to have practically disappeared. The jackknife is no longer in evidence as it once was either in country towns or along the water front. The pace of life has quickened or else other interests have driven it out. And even the small boy, though he still cherishes his knife, does not number the expert use of it for carving among his ambitions.

In those days every boy who amounted to anything–one who was not a regular mollycoddle–possessed a jackknife, and knew how to use it. He demonstrated this not only by whittling out a hull, which, when supplied with masts and rigging, stood evenly on her keel, but which, when fitted with a suit of calls, rode safely every squall and boisterous sea and showed a clean pair of heels to the other little ships as they slipped across the duck pond.

This was not all the small boy with the handy pocketknife learned to make from inspecting what the sailors brought home. There were the wonderful chains, some square linked, others with double square links with wooden balls running freely within the length of the links, these having been carved out of the middle of the square of which each section of the chain was made.

It was a pretty proud boy who could show one of these chains with three or four links, the last one having a padlock swinging from it, for it gave him a certain high standing with the “fellers” not obtainable for any other reasons.

“I can recollect all the boys began chain carving with a piece of soft pine say an inch and one-half square. And when they had mastered the art they shifted to a hard pine stick, the successful manipulation of which showed the gift the boy had, for often it meant big blisters on the hands, so hard was the cutting.

“I have not seen a boy whittling on one of these chains or anything else in years. I think about the last whittling I saw them doing was in connection with peach stones, out of which they were making little baskets to be hung on the watch chain, and rings for the finger.

“There is another reason why the boy is not whittling as he formerly did. He had to make his kites, fashioning the backbone and making the bow with his knife. His mother furnished the paste by mixing flour and water. He covered the kite with a newspaper which had to be at least a month old before it was allowed to be taken from the closet–people held on to their newspapers in those days. Now he buys a gaudy kite for a few cents, or he don’t fly kites at all, which is more than likely, seeing that there is the attractive lure of the ball game and the ‘movies’.”