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Carving Christmas ornaments.

This issue of COUNTRYSIDE will reach you in plenty of time for you to do some carving of gifts for friends and loved ones for Christmas. I always set aside some nice carvings for friends and relatives. Each of our children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers receive a carving for Christmas, and sometimes at other times, too. I do something different for them each year.

Our church has an annual fund raiser each November for the World Hunger Appeal called "Harvest of Hands." I set aside a good number of carvings for that sale. They are sold within minutes of the sale's opening. I also give some small carvings to workers at the post office, the medical and dental clinics, and others that I like to remember for their kindnesses during the year. It seems that everyone enjoys receiving them. Your friends and relatives will enjoy your hand-made gift a lot more than some cheap trinket made in the Orient.

Tree ornaments are easy to carve, require very few tools, and can utilize small pieces of wood that may otherwise go to waste. I generally use wood that is one-quarter inch thick. Basswood is ideal, but other soft woods will work equally well. A good sharp carving knife, a small 1/8" "V" tool for details, and a 1/2" or 5/8" #3 flat gouge for smoothing are all the tools you will need. If you have others, use them as you see the need. The basic shape can be sawed out on a band saw or scroll saw. If you don't have either, you can use a coping saw, and if necessary, you can even get by without a saw. (I am including a pattern that will not require any sawing.)

You will also need some paint and a small brush or two. Most carvers use Ceramacoat, Folk Art, American or similar brands of water-based acrylic craft paint. These are available at Hobby House, Michael's, Wal-Mart, and other stores that sell arts and craft supplies. Thin wood suitable for ornaments is also available in these stores. I purchase nearly all of my wood from John Krantz Wood Sales (16748 Stanford St., Forest Lake, MN 55025; 651-464-5632.) He has any size basswood that you would ever require and his prices are reasonable. His quality is A-1.

The first ornament I will instruct you on is Snowman made from a piece of basswood about 3/4" square (or slightly larger), and about 4-1/2" to 5" long. If you do not have a square piece of wood available, you can use a small tree branch that is about 3/4" or slightly larger in diameter. Try to find a branch that has another small branch where you want the nose to be, saving you the trouble of inserting a nose.

Illustration I shows the approximate division of the sections. Mark these with a pencil. These are the three "snow balls" that make up the Snowman figure. The fourth (top) section will be the hat or cap. Follow the dotted lines on 2 to carve away some wood to make the sections round, but leave your knife marks showing. Round all three of these lower sections to resemble snowballs. 3 shows the beginning of carving the top hat, or whatever style hat or cap you wish to make.

If you use the corner of the square wood for the face, you can carve a carrot nose out of it. If you goof up, like I sometimes do, simply drill a 1/8" hole and insert a small piece of wood for the nose. The finished shape should look something like 4 and 5.

Paint the snow portions white or off-white, and the top hat black, or whatever color you like best. Paint the eyes, lips and buttons with a dab of black paint, using the blunt tip of a toothpick in place of a brush. The carrot nose should be orange. If you don't have some orange paint, make some by mixing a drop of red with a drop of yellow. You can paint on a scarf in multi-colors, or you can use a bit of brightly colored ribbon or felt. Insert a small screw eye on top and a bit of bright string or ribbon for hanging. I usually rub a coat of paste wax on the entire carving after the paint is dry. This gives it a finished look.

The second ornament that I am suggesting is a Santa face. This is a bit more of a challenge to carve. If you wish, you can make the beard a bit longer and pointed. You can also change his cap to be taller and more pointed. The same tools mentioned above should suffice for this job. The eyebrows, the nose and cheeks should stick out a bit, meaning you will remove the wood around them (relief carving). The same goes for the white fur trim on the cap, and the white ball of fur on top. Give it a three-dimensional look. Add a few wrinkles where the top of the cap tips over. Create a hollow for the eyes. I usually do not carve the eyes; I paint them on. Use care and get rid of all the "fuzzies" when removing wood around the nose. You will use the 1/8" "V" tool for texturing the hair, beard and eyebrows. I use the #3 gouge to texture the back side of the carving to give it a "carved" look. Use the #3 gouge to remove all the saw marks. Use a very thin tipped felt marker to sign and date your work.

There are three basic colors in this ornament: red, white (or off-white) and flesh color. I take a dab of red and thin it with water for blush on the cheeks and tip of the nose. A dab of thinned red adds color to the lips. I use Tomato Spice and/or Opaque Red for the cap (but any other red will do), Medium Flesh for the face, and Off-White for the beard, eyebrows, and fur trim.

I always thin my paint with water. They are too thick and harsh looking coming straight from the bottle. I find that adding a drop of liquid dish washing soap to the thinning water helps spread the paint evenly. Rinse your brushes frequently. Once acrylic paints dry it is almost impossible to get the dried paint out of the brush. Why ruin a good brush?

The third pattern is one I have carved a lot of. It can be done from a piece of basswood or pine about 1" square and about 5" long. Saw out the side profile as suggested by the pattern. The colors are the same as for the Santa face above. I call this my "Icicle Santa." I carve the beard in a spiral pattern on some of these. You need to draw two spiral lines down from the face area, one from each side. Drawing just one spiral line doesn't work right. It took me a while to figure that out.

There are many other ornament patterns that you can carve. Teddy bears, Christmas trees, Christmas stockings, gingerbread men, stars, bells, jack o'lanterns, etc. A good place to look for patterns and drawings is in a child's coloring book. The drawings may be too large, so take them to a copy machine and reduce them to the desired size.

E-mail me if you have problems--I will try to help you as best I can. Wishing you a Blessed and Merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year.



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Title Annotation:The wood carver
Author:Gillund, Mel
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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