Have you ever had one of those
days (or weeks) when everything
went wrong and you
wondered why you decided to take
up woodworking in the first place?
It’s supposed to be fun, right?
Well, sometimes it helps to get
back to basics. After all, the only
things you really need to be a woodworker
are: 1. wood; 2. something
sharp. Whittling is just that. It’s relaxing
and enjoyable. You can do it
anywhere, anytime. A young person
or beginning woodworker would
enjoy this project just as much as an
Historically, peg racks like this one were hidden.
They were fastened to the back walls of wardrobes in
the days before wire coat hangers were invented. But
this one’s too nice to hide!
You can adjust the length of your peg rack to fit any
wall, and you can mount as many or as few pegs as you
like. Plan on making a few extra ones. They don’t all
have to look alike, either. As your technique improves,
the pegs will become more consistent.
Butternut is a good choice of wood. It’s pretty and
cuts easily. White pine and basswood work just as
well, but need to be painted. Walnut and cherry are
harder to cut, but stronger and more durable.
The only tool you need for whittling is a knife.
Choose one that’s comfortable. I prefer a big handle.
Make sure the knife is sharp—you’ll be able to make
controlled cuts that are clean and smooth. A dull knife
won’t cut it.
Practice on an extra blank. Think of peeling a
potato. Hold the piece of wood in your free hand,
position the thumb of your whittling hand against the
end of it, and draw the knife blade through the wood
towards your thumb. Make deliberate, shallow cuts.
Apply just enough pressure to let the knife do its job.
Don’t make too deep a cut and don’t force the knife.
You’ll be able to tell which way the grain runs by
how the knife cuts. Cutting with the grain is smooth
and easy. So is cutting across the grain, as long as you
cut from the outer edges toward the center. However,
cutting against the grain is likely to result in slips
and tear-out. When this happens, just turn the piece
around so you can cut with the grain. Whittling is
so easy that with just a little practice it will become
You can get knives, gloves and thumb guards from:
Woodcraft, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153.
The Old Texas Woodcarvers Shop, texaswoodcarvers.com, 281-356-1311.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June 1999, issue #73.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Transfer the peg’s profile onto
both sides of a blank. Orient the grain
so it runs roughly parallel to the bottom
of the blank.
2. Extend the shoulder lines of the peg’s head and tail across
the top of the blank, then cut squarely along them to establish
the shoulders. Remove the waste above the tenon.
3. Round the back end of the tenon blank with short, paring
cuts until it just starts to fit a 1/2" hole drilled in a scrap piece
of butternut. Apply a little pressure and spin it to slightly crush
the fibers of the unfinished part of the tenon. Remove the peg
and pare the rest of the tenon to this mark. Test and pare as
necessary for a snug fit.
4. Create the convex curve of the head by making shallow,
flat cuts across the end grain. Work down from the
top and up from the bottom towards the middle. That knife
is sharp! I prefer a long-blade knife, but a shorter blade
is safer. Always wear a woodcarver’s glove and a leather
thumb guard (see Sources, below) to protect yourself.
5. Cradle the blank in one hand and use a potato-peeling
motion. Draw the knife through the wood to the stop cut at
the shoulder. This is where a sharp, stiff blade is at its best.
Work down by alternately chamfering the outer edges, then
removing the center ridge until you reach the pattern lines. Finish
the peg by chamfering all outer edges.
6. Chamfer the edges of a 2-3/4" wide backboard. Make it
as long as you want. Drill 1/2" holes located 1-5/8" from the top and spaced at least
5" apart. Drill holes between the outer two pegs on each
end for attaching to a wall.
7. Apply glue around the insides of the holes with a wooden
stick, then twist the pegs into place.