Spread holiday cheer with this basic design.
By: Kathleen Schuck
Originally published in Wood Carving Illustrated
- Basswood, 2" thick: 3" x 6"
- Graphite Paper
- Mild cleanser (optional)
- Terrycloth towel
- Acrylic Paints: black, dark red, light red, peach, white
- Band saw
- Carving knife
- #3 gouge: 1/2"
- V-tool: 1/4"
- Paint brushes
- Paint palette
This simple Santa can be whittled in a day. It is a great project to become familiar with the position of facial features and is ideal for beginner carvers.
The project was inspired by a 74-year-old woman in one of my classes. She wanted to jump right into carving Santas. I was not sure she had the hand strength to complete the normal class Santa in the time allotted. Not wanting to disappoint my new student, I set out to design a simple Santa. My student was successful, and I have since carved several to test different color schemes for more elaborate Santas.
Most of my Santas are carved from a 2" by 3" by 6" piece of basswood— it’s a comfortable size to handle. Start by making a photocopy of the pattern (download here). Trace the outside design onto the blank with graphite paper. Cut out the perimeter with a band saw, and replace the pattern over the blank to trace in the details.
Consider a pencil your #1 tool and mark the depth you want various parts of the Santa to be. Use an X to mark areas where you want to remove wood.
Step 1: Remove the band saw marks
Use a carving knife to remove the sharp corners from the sides and back of the Santa. Round the sides. Use a 1/2" (13mm) #3 gouge for areas that are wider than your knife. Carve the back and front so the hood of the cloak comes to a peak in the middle of the 2" (5.1cm) thickness.
Step 2: Rough out the cloak
Make stop cuts along the pattern lines
of the cloak, arms, and hands with a 1/4" (6mm) V-tool. Use a knife to further define the stop cuts above and below the arms. Shave up to the stop cut at the bottom of the cloak and below the hands with a 1/2" (13mm) #3 gouge so it looks like the cloak is over Santa’s robe.
Step 3: Remove wood from both sides of the face
Make a stop cut around the beard with a knife. Cut the wood away from the stop cuts on both sides of the face. Round the arms into the stop cuts above and below the arms. Remove wood from around the
cowl to separate it from the cloak. Make a stop cut around the cowl just above the forehead and remove enough wood so it looks as if the head goes into and under the cowl.
Step 4: Make stop cuts around the facial details
Make a deep stop cut at the eye line above the nose. Make stop cuts along the cheek lines bordering the nose and top of the mustache. Taper the edges of the cheeks up to the stop cut. Angle the knife and cut the chip free at the top of the nose. Make a stop cut along the bottom of the mustache and taper the beard up to the mustache.
Step 5: Remove sharp corners
Make a stop cut around the tip of the nose. Round and shape the entire mustache to give it a smooth, flowing shape. Round and taper the forehead and cowl down into the cape. The cowl should be separated from, but flow toward, the cloak. Separate the hands by removing a wedge of wood from between them.
Step 6: Shape the eyes
Hold the knife at an angle and slide the tip into the eye socket alongside the nose with the blade pointing toward the outside of the face. Flick your wrist to bring the blade upward to cut a triangular chip from the nose to the stop cut at the eye line. Use the same technique to carve the other eye.
Step 7: Round the cheeks and nose
Round the nose down into the eye sockets with a knife. Round and shape the tip of the nose. Use the knife to round the cheeks down to the stop cuts on the outside of the face where the face meets the cloak. Use a
V-tool to add hair lines for the beard and mustache.
Step 8: Clean the carving
Brush the carving with an old, clean toothbrush. If there are fingerprints, pencil marks, or dirt marks from oily hands, spray the carving with mild cleanser and brush the soiled areas with the toothbrush. Rinse the carving in lukewarm water. Pat the carving with a terrycloth towel and start
painting before the carving dries. This prevents the grain from raising too much.
Painting & Finishing
Step 9: Paint the Santa
Add a few drops of peach-colored paint
to the palette well and fill the well with water. Stir it, and then paint the hands and face. Use white for the beard and inner robe,
thinned light red for the cape, and thinned dark red for the cowl. Put a dot of black paint in each chip-carved eye and add a tiny
white dot at 11 o’clock or 7 o’clock. Add the white eyebrows.
Step 10: Stamp the inner robe
Cut a design into a soft, new pencil eraser. Spread a bit of paint on the flat center of the palette, dip the eraser into the paint, and press the eraser onto the inner robe.
I usually get two or three prints from each dip.
A 'Whittle' Tips
Making Stop Cuts
Do not undercut the facial features when making stop cuts. Aim the point of the knife toward the outside of the beard so you don’t undercut it. When outlining the bridge of the nose, point
the knife tip down toward the tip of the nose.
Under and Over
Achieving depth and dimension is important in any carving. Think of what goes over (or outside) and under (or inside) on the carving. The mustache is under the nose and over the beard, so remove wood accordingly. Santa’s hands are over his cloak and go into his sleeves. Even subtle layers or depths add to the proportions of a carving.
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About The Author
Kathleen Schuck began carving in 1950. She owned and operated a carving store for eighteen years. Since retiring in 2004, she has continued to teach at Boise Community Education, Arrowhead RV Park, and her own studio in Idaho. The International Wildfowl Carvers Association twice gave Kathleen a grant to teach children to carve, and she is an accredited Boy Scout Carving Merit Badge counselor.