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 1/4″ (32mm). The hole may not reach the mouth opening, but working from the inside of the mouth and up thru the bottom of the hole you will expose the top of the hole. Follow the instructions below to develop the mouth/hole opening.

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.



Clock Peddler Project, Part 1

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

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

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.

Knives designed by Mertz

Don Mertz, a member of the Caricature Carvers of America, has a history of collaboration with the Helvie Knife company. Over the years they have produced a successful line of custom knives that suit Don’s whittlecarving style. Don’s work can be viewed at I own several of those knives but since the blade style was different from the one I use, I’ve delayed giving his a try. The other day I decided to see what I could or could not do. The pictures show the project I chose and the knives I used. They are in Don’s Signature series as numbers 2, 4 and 6. There are many more knife choices on the Helvie site. I did not succumb to the urge to grab my usual knife and a gouge or two because this was a whittlecarving challenge.

I thought a reasonable challenge would be a project offered by Dave Stetson, also a CCA member. It was in the Summer issue 2015 of Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. Dave’s advice is to make no cuts that would leave flat surfaces or sharp shadows. In other words, a soft smooth appearance. I, like Dave, would normally use gouges to achieve that look. My results were not exactly like Dave’s, but then I have trouble matching his results using the tools he recommends. I’m still reasonably happy with my result. I’m not ready to toss my straight edge knives but I know I have more options if the circumstances need the Mertz touch.

I used a block of Basswood one and a half inches square (38mm) by 3 inches long (76mm). I used Howard’s Feed n’ Wax as a finish on the raw wood.




Carved Thread Spools

Most of the work on the Wizard was done with a carving knife. Some early roughing out was done with a gouge. I want to thank Don Mertz for his carvings that were the inspiration for this Wizard.

This is supposed to be a hobbit. Most of the work was done with a knife. This guy was also inspired by the carvings of Don Mertz.


These guys preceded the Hobbit and Wizard. I figured if I could do these guys, I could do more detail.




I use a product called Howard’s Feed n’ Wax to protect the carving. It’s in liquid form and is applied directly to the wood with a small plastic paintbrush like you might find in a child’s paint box. I let the wax dry several hours and wipe the excess off with a cloth. I use a clean brush to remove wax deposits in deep spots not removed by the cloth.

Creating a Blank for Dim Bulb Carving

Creating a Blank for Dim Bulb Carving

A friend of mine, Rod Beamish from Indiana, showed a bunch of really cute carved ornaments to me a few years ago. I’ve carved a couple dozen of them myself since then and thought I would pass along some tips to encourage others to try carving “Dim Bulbs”.

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The following description will not be carving instructions as much as tips and shortcuts for those who already know how to carve a corner face. Most corner faces are done for practice or demonstration. When finished, you just have a face on the corner of a scrap of wood. This project will allow you to practice and have something “useful” when you’re done. I’m going to describe the process to prepare the wood and offer some tips to shape the wood before actually carving a face.

I used Rod’s blank to create my own cardboard pattern. The pattern is for 4 ornaments. That’s done to allow more wood to grasp while working on each small ornament. You could increase the number of ornaments on the blank but at some point you’ll cause a problem for yourself. If you have ever carved a walking stick or cane, you know how unwieldy a long stick can be.  Click here to link to a PDF for Dim Bulb Pattern.

Cardboard pattern Cardboard pattern

Take special care when making this pattern so each ornament is the same width and the edges fall in straight line. This will help when it’s time to draw a center line. Trace the pattern onto two adjacent sides of a piece of wood. Allow about a quarter of an inch of scrap wood on both sides of the pattern. Make sure the pattern is centered on both sides of the wood.

Pattern on one side Pattern on one side
Pattern on adjacent sides

Use a band saw or scroll saw to cut the pattern on one side of the wood. Make one cut on each side of the pattern so you have three pieces of wood after this step.

First side after cutting First side after cutting

Some people will leave a small section of the line uncut on each side of the blank. That way the scrap will remain attached to the blank for cutting the adjacent side. I prefer to use a one-inch piece of double-sided carpet tape to hold each scrap piece onto the blank while I cut the adjacent side.

 After first cut on adjacent side
 After first cut on adjacent side

Making the cuts on the adjacent side will produce the completed blank. If you used the “incomplete cut” method on the first side, return to the that side and carefully finish removing the scrap pieces. If you use the tape method, pull the scrap from the original side and remove any tape still sticking to the blank. You will have a blank with 4 corners.

 Blank with all scrap pieces

Now is the time to mark a center line on all four sides of the blank. I have a useful tool made by Dave Rushlo. It holds a pencil and is adjustable. It’s great for drawing a center line on blocks of wood or anything where you need a line drawn parallel to a flat surface.

Blank with center line Blank with center line

The center line defines the widest point of each ornament so as you round three of the four corners to form the back, you’ll leave the line and follow the directions below. The center lines, to the left and right of the fourth corner, define the boundaries for the face. The center line also helps when transforming the square area at the top of each ornament into a cylinder in preparation for the “threads”.

A line should also be drawn between each ornament. This serves as a reminder to reserve enough wood for the “threaded” cylinder as you form the bottom of the ornament above it.

 Line at top of each ornament. Bottom of ornament drawn for visual aid

You can start with any of the ornaments but I recommend shaping the backs and tops of all of them before carving the faces.  I choose a corner of the blank that I think has the strongest grain for the noses or a corner free from blemishes. I like to remove some wood from each of the three corners I intend to round over. That way I don’t remove a nose by mistake.

Another tip I can offer is when rounding a corner, remove the center third of the area between it’s left and right center lines.  Note the red lines in the photo. Then remove the ridges (the red lines) formed by those cuts trying to use the “thirds” method again.

 Using the “thirds” method to help with symmetry.

This should create a balanced and more rounded area. You’ll still need to make many more smaller cuts to smooth the rounded quarter before repeating the process on the other corners.

 Back corner rounded.
 Top view of back corner rounded.

You’ll have to carefully cut off the center lines on the back of each ornament to remove the original saw cuts and make the adjacent quarters blend. Remember, the center lines are located on the widest dimension of the ornament so the more wood you remove at that line, the thinner your ornament will become.

 Front view of top ornament after rounding back three corners.
 Front view after rounding back three corners.

The area for the “threads” should just be roughed out. Remember there is a small bit of wood in the center of the top of each ornament. It represents the contact point between the ornament and the circuit in a real light socket.

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IMG_0922 Faces and cylinders carved
IMG_0923 Adding “contact” point to top of cylinder
IMG_0924 Lines drawn for “threads”

Add the “threads” after the ornaments have been separated. To do this, I draw a lite pencil line for guidance.  I like to start at the top of the cylinder above the center of the face. It would be great to finish the thread-cut right below the starting point but that doesn’t always happen. The threads would never work for real but the suggestion of real threads is more convincing if you see the beginning and the end of them as you view the face.  On the back my threads are almost horizontal. I use a 3mm # 11 or  #9 to cut the threads. I have a Dockyard brand tool that size.


Cutting the Cutting the “threads”

After painting, use a small awl or large needle to make a pilot hole in the center of the contact point.


Add a small screw eye to allow hanging.


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Click here to view more Dim Bulbs in my Flicker account.

I hope this provides enough detail to get your creative juices flowing. Happy carving.