Carving a Toothpick Holder

Santa and Wife

Traditional Patterns
Traditional patterns


Cardboard pattern


Carving An Old World Toothpick Holder

I’ve been fascinated by carved toothpick holders, especially the old European ones. Near the end of World War I a company called ANRI began producing and marketing hand carved products, both decorative and utilitarian. Toothpick holders are some of the more useful ones. They were mostly whimsical representations of women, men and gnomes. The carving style was very simple and some of the features were just added with paint. My intent was to retain the symplicity of the originals by limiting the number of tools used. I copied some of the original patterns before I tried my own designs. I discovered I was carving more details as I designed more patterns. This means you can attempt this project from a wide range of carving experience. I will focus on the aspects unique to toothpick holders such as the open mouth, the internal cavity and the limited area for the facial features.


* 3/4″ (19mm) hardwood dowel or hand carved dowel from basswood

* Basswood, 1 5/8″ (41mm) X 1 5/8″ (41mm) X 2 1/2″ (64mm)

* Minwax clear satin polyurethane liquid

* Acrylic paints, such as Jo Sonja in assorted colors of your choice

* Finishing wax, such as WATCO dark and light


* Forstner bit, 3/4″ (19mm) and a drill press

* Carving knife with 1 3/4″ (44mm) blade

* #9 Gouge, 3/8″ (9mm)

* #11 Gouge, 1/8″ (3mm)

* Micro Gouge 3/16″ (5mm)

* V-tool, 60 degrees, 1/8 (3mm)



I usually design just a side view. I always make a cardboard template of my design. Make sure the toothpick hole is located toward the front of the profile but not so close that you may punch through when carving the details. Trace the profile onto a block of basswood and mark the center of the hole on the bottom. Locate the hole in the center, left to right, on the block.

Drill the hole before cutting the profile. The depth for the hole in this project is

1 3/4″ (44mm).

Use a bandsaw to cut the profile. Most profiles are simple enough to shape with a knife if you don’t have a bandsaw. In that case, trace the cardboard template on the opposite side to keep the profile aligned. I always draw a center line and add lines for details on the front and back before carving.

Begin carving by removing wood from both sides of the nose.

Continue shaping with a knife.

Work on both sides to keep the features symmetrical.

Taper the ears toward the face so the ear appears to stop under the beard.

Remove a wedge of wood between the back of the ear and the hat.


Carve the shoes and complete the other features of the body.



Shape the outside of the lower lip with the knife.

Shape the inside of the lower lip using the end of the knife blade. This is a good time to remove the surface left by the bandsaw.





Mark a line parallel to the shape of the upper lip. Leave enough space for an optional row of teeth. The roof of the mouth is recessed using a #9, 9mm (3/8″) palm tool.


The same tool is used to taper the top of the hole to complete the transition to the roof of the mouth. Work from the bottom of the hole. Work around the inside of the hole to taper it toward the lower lip.

Taper the sides of the nose into a modified tent shape. Because the nose aligns with the grain, this action resembles sharpening a pencil with a knife.
You now have more room to use a #11, 3mm gouge to form the area between the eyes. This cut will remove wood from the nose. Avoid cutting the hat.
This is the completed cut of the area between the eyes.
Use a #11, 5mm gouge to make a recessed area for a painted eye. Cut from the side of the head tapering upward toward, and stopping at, the bridge of the nose.
Use the #9, 9mm gouge to improve the tent-shape of the nose. This will add form to the wings of the nose.
Use a 5mm micro gouge the form the wing of the nose. This action is a stop cut.
Use the same tool for the removal cut. Wood is also removed from the upper lip with this action.
Shape the nostril with the same micro tool. Make a stop cut from the tip of the nose toward the lip.
Use the tip of the knife to complete the cut. Add shape to the nose with a knife if necessary.
Add several cuts to the beard to suggest hair. Use a small V-tool such as a 60 degree, 1/8″. Now would be a good time to separate the hat from the face using a knife. Note the shadow in the picture.
I cut a short cylinder from a 3/4″ dowel for the plug. I determine the length by testing the amount of toothpick exposed. I mark the dowel and cut it with a bandsaw. Any wood glue can be used to permanently hold the plug. Examine the complete project and remove any remaining surfaces left by the bandsaw.

Scrub the carving with dish soap and warm water using a denture brush. Thin the paint with water to a stain consistency and apply with a brush to the damp wood. Light colors, such as white and pink should not be thinned as much, if any.

Paint the eyes when the flesh is dry. Use a round brush to apply a white oval shape for each eye. Keep the eyes simple by painting a black dot in the center of the dry white oval. Add a reflection to the eye with a tiny white dot to the side of the dry black dot. Position the white dot in the same spot in each eye.

Teeth are optional. If I add them, I just paint white dots inside the upper lip. A V-tool can be used to add separation to the teeth before painting.

Wait at least 8 hours for the wood and paint to dry. Brush on a liberal amount of polyurethane allowing it to soak in and to fill the valleys. Wait 10 minutes and use paper towels to remove any poly remaining on the surface. Use a clean natural brush to remove what the towel couldn’t reach in the corners. Allow the sealer 8 hours to dry.

For this project I mixed 30% dark and 70% light WATCO finishing wax. Apply the wax with a brush ensuring all surfaces and corners are covered and filled. I wait about 20 minutes before wiping the excess off with a clean cloth. This time do NOT remove the excess from the corners. This technique will darken the paint giving the project an aged look. Set the project aside overnight to dry completely. If it’s still sticky, buff with a cloth.

———————————- Please Note ———————————-

Dispose of the cloths properly. WATCO wax contains boiled linseed oil so cloths and paper towels soaked with the wax can spontaneously combust.




CCA Competition 2018

I thought I would share my winning entry for the Caricature Carvers of America (CCA) competition this year. The competition is closed to the public and all entries must be dropped off or mailed in. The details can be found at the link above. The link can also be used to view the winners from previous years and will show this year’s winners in the near future.

My entry was carved from a basswood roughout designed by Roger Stegall of Mayflower, Arkansas. I worked independently following my own idea of what could be found within the wood without adding and pieces.


Carving from a pattern


In March of 2015, ten students collaborated with Chris Hammack (CCA) to develop their own pattern for a figure to be carved from a 4X4X8 inch piece of basswood. Everyone had a very unique project. I was not one of those students but I was really attracted to the project developed by Chris and Willie Thornton. I asked Willie if I could make a copy of his pattern and brought it home to work on it. I refined it a little but kept the same concept. It was a challenge but I enjoyed working on it. Here are pictures of the progress.

Baby in Chair IMG_7387 IMG_7388 IMG_7390 IMG_7391IMG_7393IMG_7392

IMG_7421 IMG_7422 IMG_7423 IMG_7424 IMG_7425 IMG_7426 IMG_7427 IMG_7428

This project has been recognized by the CCA with a Merit Award during the March 2017 Roundup Class. This award also encourages the recipient to enter the project in the annual CCA competition in August. Here’s the Merit Award and ribbon.


Here is the third place ribbon from the CCA Competition. The category was “Group Mixed” because of the ladybug and baby.



Clock Peddler Project, Part 1

This post is the first in a series of three that will take you through the steps I took to produce a carving of an old-time clock peddler. (Part 2, Part 3) My cousin is a clock collector. He also repairs and re-conditions clocks. When I visited him and his wife in May of this year, he showed a cast figure to me. It appeared to be a copy of an original woodcarving. He asked if I would be interested in reproducing it in wood. As you will see the figure was very interesting and well done. Thinking since it was carved from wood originally, I said yes. He offered a rough slab of basswood that was at least 20 years old. I did some quick measuring and decided it would work.

During the carving I became more and more skeptical of the original method used to make my model. I am now convinced it was never carved from wood but fashioned from clay and cleverly made to look like wood. The fine details, such as the threads in the stockings, the flowers decorating the back-board holding the clocks and the fine details in the clocks, including the roman numerals could not have been added by carving into wood. The original artist is not identified but I would welcome any information dealing with the origin of this model. I did my best to reproduce the figure and used artistic license to deal with some details that required magical powers I do not possess.

This post will cover the preparation of the wood, including surfacing, trimming  and adding scrap pieces to accommodate the pattern. It will also show making the pattern, applying the pattern and cutting the blank on the band saw.
The second post will show many photos taken during the carving progression.  The third and final post will show the completed carving, both without and with the stain.

Clock Peddler Project, Part 2

This is the second of three posts showing a carving I made of an old-time clock peddler. (Part 1, Part 3) Here you will see many photos taken of the project as it evolved into a finished carving. I also show a picture of my tools and my carving bench. the project is mounted on a carving arm and held in place with a carving screw. My carving tools are designed for use with a mallet but only the very early stages required the mallet to remove larger amounts of wood. The remainder of the cuts were done by simply pushing the tools. You will also see a measuring device used to transfer dimensions from the model to the project. The first picture shows my mallet, a carving screw, two dividers, a carving arm and a plastic scale.

Clock Peddler Project, Part 3

This is the last of a three-part series of posts to document my project to carve a clock peddler in basswood. (Part 1, Part 2) These are pictures of the completed carving. you may notice the finished base is smaller than the project as it’s seen attached to the carving arm. When I applied the pattern to the wood I allowed extra stock on the base to accommodate the carving screw. After removing the screw, I trimmed the base. I’m including shots before the stain was applied because the shadows on the raw wood give a different perception to the details. The stain I used is from Germany and was developed for basswood carvings. The color is Pearwood. It is a water based stain that contains wax and ammonia in addition to the pigment. It’s applied with a brush and buffed with a special brush and cloth. The carving is 13 3/4 inches (34.9 cm) tall, 5 1/4 inches (13.3 cm) wide and 4 3/4 inches (12 cm) deep.

CCA Class 2018

On August 24th, 25th and 26th of 2018 I attended my 10th Caricature Carvers of America class in Converse, Indiana. This annual event is hosted by the local club, the Eastern Woodlands Carving Club and is held in the building owned by the club. The students are divided into three groups of 13. Each group spends one day with each of the three instructors. The venue is ideal for the event and lunch is provided by the EWCC members. This year’s instructors were Dennis Thornton, Ron Dowdy and Jim Hiser, all CCA members of course. All of the projects were from basswood roughouts designed by the instructor. I was able to complete my projects and paint them after returning home.

This is Jim Hiser’s Santa.

This is Ron Dowdy’s Firefighter.

Here is Dennis Thornton’s Traveling Turtle.

Caricature Class with Tom Richmond

On June 9th, 10th and 11th of 2017 I participated in the Tom Richmond Caricature Workshop held in the Pittsburgh area. I was the odd duck in the workshop because of my background, or lack of one, in drawing. For the last 40 years I have been a woodcarving hobbyist. I have no formal training in drawing or sketching but really like the art of caricature and the humor it provides. The other students ranged from seasoned live caricature pros to professional cartoonists/comic book artists and animators.

I met Tom several years ago in Pittsburgh and watched him in action. I knew he had a lot to offer so when I saw on his blog,, that he would be hosting a workshop 8 miles from my house, it seemed like a sign to make the leap. When I contacted Tom to tell him of my interest and experience, he assured me I would benefit from the class and would not spoil it for the other students. Although I must have been a challenge for Tom, his encouragement and individual direction gave me confidence to improve as the workshop proceeded.

As Tom hoped in his opening remarks, I am now seeing faces in a new way.  It remains to be seen if I can apply the vast amount of this new insight to my carvings. I’m excited to make this happen.

I’m also glad I had the opportunity to see the many aspects of Tom’s profession. I appreciate the skill and effort required to produce the art we see every day in political satire, advertising, graphic novels and comics.

Tom’s vast knowledge, skill, humor and willingness to share make him an invaluable asset to the industry. I would encourage caricature carvers, who are ready to expand their skills, to make an effort to attend Tom’s workshop. I still have many hours ahead to perfect the techniques from the class but I know it’s possible. I felt a lot of pressure during the drawing exercises, but that is what it takes if you’re serious about learning.

Click here to get a better sense of Tom’s workshop content and availability.

Here are the participants in the Pittsburgh workshop.

Here are some shots taken during an inking demonstration.


The students are checking their photos, not checking email.


Tom explained the process to produce the artwork for a MAD Magazine feature.

Tom used a laptop and drawing pad to project his drawings while he described his techniques.

Carving Foam

Last month I met an artist from a nearby Ohio town. When he learned I was a woodcarver, he asked if I had ever tried carving high-density urethane. I’ve carved the rubber centers in golf balls, the core of softballs and Potatowood but never urethane. I learned that this HDU is used for sign making and is designed to be durable enough for outdoor use. My new friend, a sign maker, uses power routers, Dremels, pneumatic tools and saws to shape the material on a larger scale than I work, but I was interested in trying to use regular woodcarving tools. I was told the material is very expensive so my friend keeps his larger scraps, just like me with my wood scraps except I seem to keep everything. He generously gave several pieces to me for experimental purposes. The scraps are 2 inches thick but can be laminated to increase that dimension.

I have two densities now. One is called Signfoam and at 15 pounds per cubic foot, it’s easier to use of the two. It’s white with a smoother surface when carved. The second type, from Jasper Products, is darker with a grainier rougher carved surface. At 18 pounds per cubic foot, it doesn’t appear to be as dense. I can’t explain the logical contradiction except that it is a different compound.

I prefer the 15 PCF foam but, in both densities, a slicing cut is required. I used a carving knife for most of the work. A gouge will work but only if it’s rotated to make a slicing cut. A V-tool is not very effective because it’s usual cutting method tends to crush the material and a slicing action is difficult. I had to resort to using a knife for making hair.

Here is a link to a vendor if you want to learn more.

The first two examples are from the Signfoam.

This is an example from the Jasper Products foam. You should be able to see the rougher texture.

I still have some of both left so I may do some more experimenting. It is interesting but I’ll stick to Basswood for now.