There seems to be a great divide in the woodworking world over the difference between carving and whittling, which tends to mean one answer is just as good as another. Some suggest that carving is more of a European woodworking technique and whittling is closer an American hobby involving wood. Serious woodcarvers would most likely bristle at being called whittlers, since many whittlers simply use a knife to shave off wood from a stick, not create timeless works of art.
One difference between carving and whittling may be the woodworking tools used by practitioners. Some sources suggest that whittling only involves knife work, which means the woodworker uses just a knife to remove material from the finished project. Simply creating a point on a stick would be considered whittling in certain woodworking circles.
On the other hand, carving may involve using a number of woodworking tools to remove excess material, such as gouges, files and specialized knives. Carvers learn different woodworking techniques in order to derive the most benefit from a variety of tools. While carvers often perform the same knife work as whittlers, some consider the use of additional tools as a major difference between carving and whittling.
Some suggest there is no real difference between carving and whittling except for the woodworker's personal preference. An American woodworker may refer to himself or herself as a whittler for no other reason than that's the traditional name of the profession. A German woodworker may refer to himself or herself as a carver for the same traditional reason. There are any number of subcategories in woodworking, so a craftsman call himself or herself a "chip carver" or a "decorative woodcarver" according to his or her personal woodworking interests.
There are those who consider whittling to be more of a hobby and carving to be more of a profession. The iconic image of older men sitting outside a general store and whittling shavings from sticks tends to put whittling in a separate category than the image of Old World carvers skillfully creating intricate details on an expensive piece of wood furniture. Whether or not this distinction between carving and whittling is absolutely fair remains a matter of dispute, but wood carving tends to be viewed as a more advanced craft than wood whittling.