"Carving a Santa Ornament" #1: Starting out

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 11-01-2011 06:06 PM 30503 reads 18 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of "Carving a Santa Ornament" series Part 2: Beard and Hat »

Several people made some nice comments about some ornaments I posted and there seemed to be a little interest in a mini-tutorial on how to carve them. Santas are pretty easy to carve, since everyone has some familiarity with the subject and Santa is easy to recognize with just a few key features. This style is particularly easy to make since the eyes are covered. A carver named Don Worley may have invented this style, called “no-see-ums”, but I just make them up without following a particular pattern or anything.

The main two requirements are a piece of wood and something sharp! This is a piece of basswood 3/4”x3/4” by about 3 1/4” long. The knife I’m using is a fixed blade utility knife. Why? Well, it’s cheap, it’s razor sharp, and you just replace the blade to make it sharp again! Actually I strop it like any other knife and seldom swap blades. But it is comfortable in the hand and the thin flexible blade is great for carving. Use only the kind with the fixed blade… no retractable, lock-back, or snap-off blades! Feel free to substitute your own weapon of choice. I also highly recommend that you use a carving glove and a thumb protector, since you’ll be holding this tiny piece of wood in your hand and hacking away at it with a razor sharp blade. This particular glove is made of kevlar ($10) and has little rubber dots, the better to grip the wood. Note that this primarily provides protection from slashing cuts and that most sharp pointy things will stab between the mesh! So it is not wise to make cuts that involve pushing sharp pointy things toward the glove. Try to think about where the blade will be moving when you make cuts and don’t force things! You can purchase thumb guards or you can make one by cutting fingers off old leather gloves and wrapping them with safety tape (Bantex $2 per roll). The tape protects the thumb guard (and your thumb) from being cut to pieces. Duct tape or electrical tape could be used, but is a little more difficult to replace.

So now you need to draw a little Santa face on your wood. Use one of the corners as the center-line for the nose and the face. Carving on the corner like this helps you get the nose to easily stand out from the face. Try to maintain the symmetry on the nose, cheeks, and beard…sometimes it helps to turn it upside down and get a different perspective. Draw the band of the hat on all four sides of the block. I exaggerate the size of the nose to give it a bit of character and I turn the corners of the mustache up and draw in a big cheesy smile…Santa always looks better when he’s happy.

Start by making a stop cut straight in, under the nose, under the brim of the hat and on top of the hat. Then remove a wedge up to the stop cut as shown. Make as many cuts ass needed; it doesn’t have to be done with only one cut and smaller cuts can be safer. I start shaping the ball of the nose by cutting off the point that I drew, but still letting it overlap the top of the mustache. Be careful cutting the wedge underneath the nose….it is easy to pop the tip of the nose off if you get too aggressive. The grain should be running up and down the piece and it will be very short on the tip of the nose, so a sharp knife and small cuts are important.

Now we should flatten the front of the hat band by carefully carving out that section. The forehead is basically flat, so the band covering it is somewhat flat. Removing it also gives us some room to maneuver the knife in cutting around the nose. So re-draw the lines for the nose that we carved away.

Now we will be defining the nose and part of the cheeks. On each side of the cheek, at the top of the nose, you will see two little triangle shaped areas. I make a chip cut that will be deepest at the top, beside the nose and then tapers out to the top of the wing of the nose and to underneath the hat band. This forms the curve of the cheek bone/eye socket, that curves around inside the nose. Try to make the depth even on each side of the nose. This almost gives a hint of the eyes being right under the brim of the hat.

Now I make a short stop cut, angling downward a bit, to define the top of the wing of the nose. Remove a small triangle back toward the nose and the wings now stand out better. Carefully round over the bridge of the nose and the tops of the wings.

Outline the wings of the nose, angling the tip of the blade out slightly. Then cut back to that line to remove the chip. Round over the wings and the ball of the nose. Remove a small arc under the wings almost to the bottom of the ball of the nose, to indicate nostrils. You might draw these in first to make sure you have them placed correctly and evenly. Outline the mustache with a straight in stop cut and then remove a slight wedge along the top to indicate the bottom of the cheek and the top of the mustache. We are just outlining the bottom at this point, since we are about to remove a lot of wood under there.

Now we are going to remove that corner sticking out under the nose. We will eventually be carving off all of the corners, so that it doesn’t look like it was carved out of a square block of wood! You want it to be slightly rounded, to indicate the mouth mound. In realistic carvings, this mound does protrude out from the cheeks and is not in the same plane, but we are mainly concerned here that it doesn’t stick out as much as the nose, even with a mustache. Re-draw the mustache lines or make shallow cuts to outline it and help you remember where it is.

Make some deeper cuts around the bottom of the mustache and then cut up to them and relieve the background to make the mustache stand out. Then round over the edges of the mustache top and bottom to make it appear thick and flowing back towards the face. Remove more of the mouth mound underneath the mustache….the upper lip will be over-hanging the lower lip and teeth. Outline the mouth with shallow knife cuts or re-draw it as needed.

Shape and round over the bottom lip. I then cut the teeth in from that. Carefully make sure the teeth go straight up and down and don’t bulge in the middle. I also cut them a little flat on the sides, giving them more of a horseshoe shape, rather than a semi-circle. I’ll do the actual details on the teeth later.

So here we are. Next we’ll be roughing out the hat and beard and then finish up with the details. Thanks for looking and I hope this is not too confusing. I’ll try to do better!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

5 comments so far

View MrWizard's profile


145 posts in 2832 days

#1 posted 11-01-2011 09:27 PM

I am just catching this project. This will be a great way to kick off the season. Since I’m new to carving by hand this is perfect.

View helluvawreck's profile


31407 posts in 2894 days

#2 posted 11-01-2011 10:21 PM

Mike, this looks like a wonderful tutorial blog and you are presenting it quite nicely.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View GaryD's profile


623 posts in 3397 days

#3 posted 11-02-2011 04:13 AM

Mike, thanks a HUGE smount for posting this. Always wanted to try and now I will. Thanks again.

-- Gary, Little River,SC I've Learned that the Lord didn't do it all in one day and neither can I

View Rustic's profile


3253 posts in 3624 days

#4 posted 11-02-2011 05:27 AM

i am going to follow this one

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View marter1229's profile


437 posts in 3538 days

#5 posted 11-02-2011 10:31 PM

I love this project.

-- It's all fun, Terry******N. Idaho

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