Tips & tricks for carving your most lifelike St. Nick

By Dylan Goodson

Iam fascinated by the way the legend of Santa Claus has evolved, turning a third-century monk into a shopping-mall icon. After some research on carving a realistic Santa, I created this original interpretation of St. Nick based on the classic Coca-Cola-style Santa as he delivers gifts.

Materials & Tools


  • Basswood, 4″ (10.2cm) thick: Santa,
    5″ x 12″ (12.7cm x 30.5cm); base
    5″ x 1 1/4″ (12.7cm x 3.2cm)
  • Basswood, 2″ (5.1cm) square: arm and
    bag add-on, 4″ (10.2cm) long
  • Wood glue
  • Wood screws, #8: 2 each,
    1 3/4″ (4.4cm) long
  • Paints, such as Liquitex: ivory black,
    burnt umber, deep violet, vermilion,
    sap green, titanium white, ultramarine
    blue, cadmium yellow; such

Wood Carving Illustrated Issue 81 Winter 2017

The 20th anniversary issue of the world’s best how-to magazine for woodcarvers is packed with carving patterns, how-to tips, and step-by-step projects for all skill levels. We offer plenty of carving ideas for Christmas gifts and decorations, plus many great projects unrelated to Christmas that will make terrific gifts.


  • Carving knife (hook knife)
  • Skew chisel: 5/16″ (8mm)
  • Left and right spoon-bent skew
    chisels: 1/16″ (2mm) (optional)
  • #3 gouge: 3/4″ (19mm)
  • #5 gouges: 1/8″ (3mm),
    5/16″ (8mm), 9/16″ (14mm)
  • #7 gouge: 5/32″ (4mm)
  • #9 gouge: 1/2″ (13mm)
  • #11 gouges (veiners): 1/8″ (3mm),
    5/16″ (8mm)
  • V-tools, 60°: 1/16″ (2mm), 12mm
  • Paintbrushes
  • Drill with screwdriver bit
  • Clamps

The author used these products for the project. Substitute your choice of brands, tools, and materials as desired.

Carving a realistic Santa - Side View

I am fascinated by the way the legend of Santa Claus has evolved, turning a third-century monk into a shopping-mall icon.

~ Dylan Goodson


Carve a Realistic Santa Mustache

Making a Happy Mustache

While many people give Santa an upturned mustache to make him look happy, I prefer to give him a down-turned mustache. When you smile, the corners of your mouth lift up and stretch out. This straightens and tightens the upper lip, which straightens the upper edge of the mustache where it grows out of the upper lip. Once the mustache reaches the area between the corner of the mouth and the smile line, it should turn down. If it turns down before it reaches the corners of the mouth, it will make for a sad or mad look.

Carving a Realistic Santa Book Titles

Handcarved Christmas (Best of WCI)

Handcarved Christmas (Best of WCI)

Giving a hand carved Christmas ornament or gift is as much fun as it is to make one. Includes projects for caricature ornaments, whittled pencils, a folk art tree topper whittled pencils, and more

Carving Wooden Santas, Elves & Gnomes

Carving Wooden Santas, Elves & Gnomes

Woodcarving Illustrated Books presents its latest how-to guide for carving the jolly man in red and his crew of friends – elves, gnomes, reindeer and much more! With more than 20 delightful patterns from accomplished carver Ross Oar, you’ll craft the adventurous Luge-Riding and Sky-Diving Santa’s, a Cowboy Santa, the classic Sledding Santa, European-inspired Olde World Santa and more.

Add Realism to Santa’s Bag

To add interest to Santa’s bag, carve wrinkles and folds into the bag that give the impression that the boxes and toys are pressing against the inside of the bag as if they are about to burst out. To figure out how to carve these wrinkles, fill a bag with boxes and toys and have someone photograph you posing with it.

Carving a Realistic Santa
Carve a Realistic Santa Toy Sack

Carving Fur Trim

Choose a type of fur trim for the clothing (rabbit fur, wool, etc.). I use a rotary tool with a small, inverted, cone-shaped ceramic bit to carve short fur texture, such as rabbit fur. For sheep’s wool, I use a small veiner. For fine fur textures, use a wood burner.

Painting White Areas

For white fur, leave the trim natural wood and dry-brush white on the high points. To paint a pure white beard, brush yellow into the deep areas and then dry-brush white across the beard. I chose to shadow some areas with gray to add interest. If you shadow the entire beard with gray, then it’ll be a salt-and-pepper beard rather than white.

Developing the Design

Ihave two methods for designing new carvings. For my Sea Captain (Summer 2017, Issue 79), I needed to work out the pose, clothing, and details, so I sculpted a clay model. But for this Santa, I took a shortcut. I didn’t have the time to invest in a clay model, and I am familiar enough with Santa’s clothing that I didn’t need to work out the specifics of the design before carving it.

Carve a Realistic Santa Design

Instead, I used the Pose Tool 3D app (made by on my smartphone to create a pattern for my Santa. The app is meant to help you draw human figures with correct anatomy from different angles in complex poses. I posed the 3-D figure in the app; took screenshots of the front, back, and sides; transferred those images to my computer; and printed them. Then, I simply drew the clothing on top of the pictures of the figure. With my front- and side-view patterns created, I transferred the outline of the patterns to the wood and cut it out with the band saw. It’s a quick and easy process that works well when I don’t need the more detailed clay model.

Other Santa Carving & Holiday Titles

Carving a Realistic Santa Book Cover

Santa Showcase

24 of the best and most loved Santa patterns from the pages of Woodcarving Illustrated. Includes four step-by-step projects, finishing tips, and more.

Carving Santas from Around the World

Carving Santas from Around the World

Learn to carve 15 festive Santa’s from around the world with this step-by-step guide. Great for beginners, this book begins with an overview of carving tools, materials, safety, transferring patterns, and basic cuts. Then, you’ll follow the author as she guides you through 3 projects featuring step-by-step carving and painting instructions. Patterns and photographs for 12 additional projects are included for free-standing and shelf-sitting Santas.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Alabama, Dylan Goodson is a recent transplant to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he lives with his woodcarving wife, Barb. When not snowed in, he travels the country teaching carving seminars and participating in carving shows and competitions. His website is