Sunday, December 20, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #2- Reindeer & Christmas Critter's (part 3)

As you can see the annual Christmas critter's project has continued into it's last week and the last classes for this project was on Friday. Outside the woodshop the snow blizzard moving up the east coast from the Gulf of Mexico had already dumped 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground outside the woodshop but since I have a 4-wheel drive Tacoma I stayed until the very last minute of the very last class because those kids would have been sorely disappointed if I'd left them with unfinished deer.

When you can look outside the woodshop windows and see snow falling in blizzard proportions it creates an ultimate Christmas time atmosphere. When the atmosphere is so conducive to the human spirit such as when the snow is falling, I'd swear that creativity in working with the hands is increased ten-fold. Maybe I'm wrong but perhaps I'm right because Friday's class sure did seem above average in spirit and creativity.

Although it's not exactly a "Christmas" deer the picture at the top/left shows the creation of Robert's bull. Robert was steadfast on the idea of putting together a bull so I allowed him complete creative freedom and we both ended up being thrilled with the end result of three classes. After he painted his bull black, added the eyes, and a red cape Robert thought that he was done but that is when I challenged him to extend it even further. With some thought I sketched him out some bull horns on a small piece of pine then after cutting and some carving Robert had the defining symbol of a bull. That addition inspired him to add some yellow pipe cleaners for even more accent, then it was completed with a tail made from a brown pipe cleaner with some twisted inner bark of a poplar tree hot glued on for the tail. I thought that his bull turned out just great and I know that he can't wait to show it off to his family in a few days. He even named him "Paco"!

Hands were busy today and it's also great to see the adults get involved with the kids crafting too as Chief Rachael is so adamantly focused on in the picture to the right. When the kids are having trouble focusing on the task at hand our counselors are usually quick to notice the need and their attention is focused on working directly with the kids to help ensure success. However when the group is running well it is a joy to have the counselors working on their projects too and that also can go a long way in building group cohesion.
Sometimes the kids just get completely crazy ("crazy" in a good way) when their creative juices get the best of them. The Mother Goose bird to the left is one such example of how hilarious this project can be for a group of youngsters. A small piece of red maple was used for this critter and the two lower legs were first roughed out on the bandsaw, then shaped up more with a pocket knife. At this point the legs could be mounted and glued into 1/4" holes drilled into the wooden stand.  Jack had a great time doing this bird but it wasn't too complicated since he desperately wanted some extra time for finishing up a nice kitchen cutting board that he's been working on for a month prior to the Christmas classes. I agreed to grant him this extra time but first I expected him to come up with a nice Christmas critter so we made a deal. Jack is one of my most ardent woodcarving students and most of his projects must have some kind of carving involved and this bird was no exception as he continued to fashion the head and beak. Jack completed his Christmas bird with a set of over sized googly eyes that looked more like sunglasses than eyes thus adding to the humor factor, then a spread of white tail feathers completed the project. Nice work Jack!

 As you can see from the picture to the right I have made several Christmas critters that I always display on the work table each year to give my students an idea of what they can do with just 7 or 8 simple sticks from a tree limb. Actually the Christmas moose that you see came from the mind of Seth, a student from last years class. Seth was determined to make "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Moose" so I helped him come up with a way to cut out the awkward shaped antlers with some fancy bandsaw maneuvering into a piece of 2 X 4. At the time I made a template for cutting out the moose antlers so that the kids can now easily understand how to go about fashioning their own. Another version of the Christmas bird in the picture to the far right is similar to Jack's bird however a nest was made for this one with two white fuzz balls added to imitate eggs. As you can see we have taken deer making to a whole new level that has certainly proven to intrigue the minds of both students and adults.


  1. Your reindeer look like a good grandchild project, but I'm wondering - what age do you think it is ok to let a kid do simple woodcarving - i.e. sharpening a pencil or making reindeer legs fit? (assuming direct looking over the shoulder supervision). I know I was doing it before the age of six, but I was also splitting wood with an ax and filling coleman lanterns.

  2. Like you I too was using a pocket knife by age six but I also had good parental supervision during those early years. In Scouts we usually try to train the kids for using a pocket knife by about age 9 to 10 but we start them with carving Ivory soap with plastic and wood Popsicle sticks in an effort to teach safety and technique. I would have to say that the correct age to start a boy or girl carving would have to be a judgment call on behalf of the parent.

    As for the reindeer the kids in my classes are between 11 and 16 and most of them can easily manage making this project. Some of the smaller kids need help so I have to give them extra attention. For really young kids I would suggest prepping their sticks so that only a very little carving is needed to make the legs and neck tenons fit... that is, cut your sticks close in size to the holes you drill. Once again this is a judgment call on whether you think that your grand kids have the maturity, experience, and competence to use the necessary tools to complete this project but I believe there's potential for kids younger than 11 to have a great time with the proper supervision. Thanks for your interest!