Holiday Project: Wee Folk Carvings

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Holiday Carvings

Carve a set of wee folk just in time for Christmas! 

This fun carving project is inspired by famed artist and caricature carver Harley Refsal. Harley’s talents have earned him many awards and accolades, including the St. Olav’s Medal from H.M. Harald V, King of Norway, in recognition of his role in reinvigorating and popularizing Scandinavian figure carving in North America and Norway. He was named the 2012 Woodcarver of the Year by Woodcarving Illustrated magazine.

Several years ago Woodcraft’s VP Distribution and Purchasing Jerry VanCamp took one of Harley’s classes and has been a fan ever since. During the weekend of the class, Jerry was intrigued by a little figure that Harley had carved. Harley told him the small carving was done as part of a challenge to carve a figure small enough to fit into a 35mm film canister. They were carved in Scandinavian flat-plane style, which features large flat planes and is not sanded smooth. Toolmarks are left in the carvings to show the carver’s cutting strokes.

For you young’uns who don’t know what a 35mm film canister looks like, they were designed to store rolls of camera film before the age of digital photography and cell phones with cameras, and measure about 1-3/4″ high and 1-3/16″ around. Film canisters are also great for storing supplies, spare change, small parts, guitar picks, stamps, travel sewing kit and small geocaching items, to name just a few of their many uses. If you don’t have any lying around, film canisters can be readily purchased online.

For Jerry’s Christmas project, he carved four figures using this same challenge – each must fit inside a film canister. Follow these steps below to see how he created these fun little carvings – Santa, Mrs. Santa, Rudolph and a Christmas tree.

Holiday Carvings

Step 1

Jerry chose basswood for his figures, which most carvers prefer due to its softer density than hardwood thus making it easier on the hand when carving. It is a clean wood that is usually free from dark streaks or blemishes that are often found in harder species.

From a piece of 2x3x6 basswood that he found in a Basswood Grab Box, Jerry cut the blocks with a bandsaw close to the size he needed to fit into the canisters.

Holiday Carvings

Step 2

Next he rough carved the blocks into round cylinders shaped to fit inside. The wood grain runs from top to bottom.
Holiday Carvings

Step 3

For the roughing and carving processes, Jerry used regular and detail carving knives designed by Rick Bütz, well-known woodcarver and author. These knives are made to be easier to hold, more efficient in cutting and safer to use. A special forward notch in the cherry wood handle safely puts the carver’s hand closer to the blade.

Jerry also used a thumb guard to protect from cuts while carving. Safety should always be a priority, no matter the skill level.

Holiday Carvings

Once all four figures were rounded, Jerry carved each one freehand in the Scandinavian style Harley uses. The small size of each carving limits the detail that can be added.

Holiday Carvings

This close-up shows the large flat planes and cut marks associated with this carving method.

Holiday Carvings

Step 4

After carving the four figures, Jerry painted each one using Black Dog Salvage Furniture Paint. This paint dries quickly and is easily mixable. For the light colors, he used the paint full strength. For the darker colors such as the green of the tree or the red, he thinned the paint with a little water. The thin paint lets the flat planes show through.
Holiday Carvings

Step 5

Once the paint was dry, the final step was to wipe each figure with a light coat of Boiled Linseed Oil, which gave them a bit of an antiqued look, as well as protecting them from wear.

And here they are!

Harley’s book Whittling Little Folk is a great source of inspiration and instruction, featuring patterns and how-tos for carving over 20 whittled characters.

To find the tools mentioned in this blog or to look into taking a carving class, stop by your local Woodcraft store, go online here for your nearest location or shop online at

We hope you’ll be inspired! 

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