"Carving a Santa Ornament" #3: Finishing up & Painting

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 11-02-2011 05:43 PM 9971 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Beard and Hat Part 3 of "Carving a Santa Ornament" series no next part

Today we’ll finish this little guy up. As I’ve carved ornaments, I’ve gotten faster at doing them and I can complete one in an hour or two, depending on how complex it is. I have started saving them up and painting 4-5 at a time, so that I don’t waste as much paint, and that seems to help also.

So after we get him all carved, I spend a little bit of time going back over the whole piece and cleaning up the cuts a bit. I try to get all the little fuzzy pieces in the crevices and any little chips or raggedness removed. I go a further step and lightly sand most of my pieces, just to get some roundness and softness to the beard and face, not trying to remove all the knife marks. Some carvers like the look of all the marks and that is fine….. I just like a slightly more finished look.

Now that I have the underlying shapes of the beard and mustache established, I’ll use some gouges to add some texture. You can texture the beard in a lot of ways, with strictly knife cuts, v-tools, and gouges, even stones and burs in a Dremel. I sometimes use all of those, but in smaller carvings, attempting to put in every single hair can really over-power the carving because it ends up not really being to scale. On this one, I ‘ll use about a 3/8” #11 or #9 gouge for the hair and a smaller 2mm #11 for the hat.

I just carve very shallow elongated S shapes from the cheeks down to the bottom of the beard. Try to avoid straight lines or simple arcs. You will probably be able to cut one side by going down and will then have to turn it upside down and make the cuts in the other direction on the other side…..this is because of changes in grain direction! You’ll find you need to do this quite a bit to avoid chipping out. I just do a few simple gouge cuts on the mustache also, to indicate the sweep of the hair. When I got my first little v-gouge (that was actually sharp), I went crazy with it and made all these little grooves all over my beards! I still use them some to add minimal extra details, but I primarily use #11s and other gouges to create more realistic looks. On bigger pieces, I start with bigger gouges to establish waves and then work my way down through successively smaller gouges to add textures and shapes. You may notice that most of my chisels have a thumbnail grind, which allows me to carve up and underneath things like the mustache and the hat. I use the small #11 to take little divots from different angles out of the band of the hat and the ball, to create the look of fur or wool. I like to go over these areas with a bristle sander after I carve them, to really soften out the edges and give it a soft furry look.

The next step is optional, depending on whether you have a wood burning pen or not. I use a Colwood Detailer and pen with a small skew tip to lightly burn around areas that I want to highlight and areas that will be painted different colors. I use the pen like a hot knife, in that it makes delicate fine cuts as much as it lightly browns the wood. I am not going for a deep, charred black, just a slight brown shadow. This also helps prevent different colors of paint from bleeding into each other later on. You can use a burning pen to add very realistic details to animal and bird carvings, such as fur, hair, feather, and scales. You can achieve a similar look by washing burnt umber paint into the crevices and cuts, but it is not required.

You can see how I highlighted a few things like the splits on the bottom of the mustache. These can be painted in after you have completed the rest, if you don’t have a burner.

Now we can get to the painting. I use watered down acrylic paints and a method that gives a washed out antique look. I have already inserted the eye hook in the top of the ornament to give me a little extra place to hold it or to hang it while it drys. You may have noticed that I haven’t carved or burnt any teeth in? Burning the lines is too much contrast, so I cut them in, after I paint. I dip the ornament in water, getting it completely damp, which helps blend the paint and also gives an idea what it will look like when a finish is applied (a finish will usually darken the wood to some degree). Dipping it in water also has the added bonus of magically healing many unintentional cuts or slices you might have accidentally made! If you made a slicing cut to show the teeth, the cuts will all disappear when you get the wood wet and paint them! You can see the two brushes that I use and I only need white, red, and a little yellow to paint this guy. I use a piece of glass as a pallette, to make mixing and cleanup easy. I mix a little bit of white, red, and yellow to get a watery pink look and apply it to the face and lips.

You can add a slight touch of red to the cheeks and tip of the nose, for the frost-bitten look, and blend it in with plain water on the brush. Carefully clean your brush and use a fresh spot of white paint for the hair and trim on the hat. You don’t want any pink in it! Apply as much as you like to get the desired whiteness, but you don’t want it so thick that it obscures the wood… will show more white and more of a contrast when you put the final finish on. Lock your elbows into your sides and steady your brush by placing your pinky finger to the carving as a steady rest. And finally, clean the brush again and paint the red on the hat. Keep the paint a little thicker near the white portions of the hat and it will help prevent it from bleeding over.

Now it needs to dry. If you get to impatient, you can hurry it up a bit with a hair dryer! It will have a chalky, flat appearance when it is dry. When it is dry, use your knife and cut in the lines for the teeth in the mouth. Try not to make them too uniform.

I use Minwax Satin Polyrethane to finish most of my carvings. You want to get the smallest can, because you want the fresh, thin stuff, not the stuff that has sat around and yellowed and thickened up. The new stuff will soak easily into the wood, which is what we want. Get several plain paper towels and have them handy. Brush the polyurethane on, getting all the cracks and crevices. Then immediately start wiping it off with the paper towels, getting all the little corners and places where it might have puddled. You will notice that the colors now pop and you have a flat matte finish that shows off the wood and the details of the carving. You don’t want a heavy coating that might make it look too plastic. This finish will protect the piece and the colors for carving that will be a treasured gift for someone!

So here he is! Have fun doing some of your own and if you mess up, cut you off another piece and try it again! It takes a little practice, but if you’re having fun you already know the most important thing about carving!

Thanks to all for looking and I’ll try to get some other brief tutorials up soon.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

8 comments so far

View helluvawreck's profile


31764 posts in 2924 days

#1 posted 11-02-2011 06:55 PM

He looks great, Mike. It is a fine tutorial and I’m not the greatest at this type of carving but I’ll give it a try.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Frizz's profile


10 posts in 2830 days

#2 posted 11-02-2011 07:05 PM

Good job Mike!

View MrWizard's profile


145 posts in 2861 days

#3 posted 11-02-2011 08:21 PM

Thanks for doing such a fine job on the carving and the class. I cant wait to get started! I look forward to other character ideas for the holidays.

View MShort's profile


1791 posts in 3475 days

#4 posted 11-03-2011 12:40 AM

Thanks for the tutorial. I will have to give it a try.

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View flintbone's profile


202 posts in 3214 days

#5 posted 11-04-2011 01:07 PM

Good job Mike. I shared on our club’s facebook page.
Keep up the good work.

-- If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. - Albert Einstein

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2861 days

#6 posted 11-04-2011 11:30 PM

Ho Ho is comin to town. very nice

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Aaron McCain's profile

Aaron McCain

125 posts in 2896 days

#7 posted 11-23-2011 01:18 AM

Thanks for posting this tutorial. I gave it a go and now have six santas complete that I will be giving as family gifts. I’ll post them as a project later tonight. You broke each step down very well so it was fun to follow along.

View mpounders's profile


877 posts in 2952 days

#8 posted 11-23-2011 07:19 AM

You made my day, Aaron! I glad you had fun and I can’t wait to see yours posted.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

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