Carve a Christmas Stocking
Hang this stocking on the mantel alongside others awaiting presents on Christmas Eve. The mouse is a little touch of humor that charms children and allows the piece to stand alone. Substitute a candy cane or small toy in place of the mouse. Choose a thick winter sock with textures rather than patterns for your model. Patterns distract from the fundamental forms and shapes. Don’t try to carve every detail. Hang the sock from a corner and look closely at the hills and valleys. Pull the opening at the sock’s cuff out a bit to allow room for the mouse. Try to read the main folds and valleys by half-closing your eyes and making a drawing with notes. Gather reference photos to carve a realistic- looking mouse. If you decide to carve an alternative object, position the object in the sock for reference. I use white basswood and add blocks of selective coloring with milk paints. You could choose walnut or Brazilian mahogany and leave the carving natural.
Trace your design onto the blank. Arrange the sock on your wood or a piece of paper as if it were hanging. You may need to pack some newspaper inside the sock to keep it from looking too flat. Trace around the sock smoothly with a felt-tipped marker. If you trace the sock onto paper, transfer the design to your blank.
Cut away the waste wood. Use a band saw to cut around the outline of the sock. If you don't have a band saw, use a hand saw to get rid of as much waste as you can around the sock and clean up the outline with rasps.
Decide how to secure the blank. You can use a lag bolt, but I chose a Veritas carver's screw. Drill a s/i6"-diameter hole in the back of the blank at a thick point, such as around the ankle. Use a wrench to tighten the fine taper into the hole to about half its length. You can tighten the screw further if the carving works loose.
Make a carving stand. Drill a series of ’/«"-diameter holes in а 1У2" by 4Уг" by 36" piece of pine or similar wood. The holes should be about ЗУ2" apart. Clamp this board in your bench vise at an angle.
Attach the carving screw. Pass the screw through a hole in the stand and lock the blank at a comfortable height. Drill a hole through a scrap block of wood to use as a spacer. This holding method secures the blank at a better working height and lets you move the carving around.
Rough out the stocking. Use the sock as a reference to mark the folds and high spots, such as along the side of the foot and the outer edge of the opening. Leave the wood thick in these parts. Remove the bulk of the waste with a mallet and a large flat or medium gouge. Work across the grain as much as possible; you'll find the shavings fall away more easily.
Carve the general shape. Work all over and around the stocking. You don't have to be exact. Take the carving around to the back of the stocking. There is no need to carve the back; just make sure it looks like a 3-D stocking from the side. As it's meant to be an empty stocking, don't make the body too plump.
Refine the stocking. Deepen the hollows and smooth the surface with short-bent flat gouges to produce a soft woolen look. Avoid sanding as it renders the surface shiny and hard. Use gouges upside-down around the edges and into the undercutting so the stocking looks in the round. Leave wood for the mouse at the top as you define the opening.
Rough out the top of the stocking. Clean up and set in the edge of the opening. The stocking is about Уз" thick. Begin removing wood around the block that will become the mouse. Only the top half of the mouse is visible. Carve the top back corner of the stocking where you will place the hanging hole. As the opening gets deeper, you may need short-bent gouges.
Rough out the mouse. Refer to reference pictures rather than guessing what a mouse looks like. Gradually reduce the block to a rough mouse shape. For most of the work, you'll find %" tools (#3, #7, and #9) useful. Shape the lip of the stocking to allow the paws to be placed on the edge.
Refine the mouse. Draw a centerline down the mouse to keep it symmetrical. A mouse's head is fairly triangular and the ears are quite pronounced. Think of the main shapes and planes, and keep the mouse bold and strong—it is meant to be seen from a little distance.
Refine the top of the stocking. Carve around the mouse and into the opening of the stocking with short-bent gouges as necessary. However, there is no need to go too deep; only the top half of the mouse is necessary to give the illusion of the whole.
Add the details to the mouse. Continue refining the mouse. Add the protruding eyes, hollow ears, and toes. Be careful when defining the eyes that the wood doesn't pop off through levering or the wedge-effect of the tool's bevel. Separate the toes with small V-cuts.
Finish carving the mouse. Cut under the chin and remove the wood between the legs and the body. Make sure the carving is clean and tidy. Don't forget to carve the hanging hole in the stocking at the top back corner.
Add texture to the stocking. Carve stronger horizontal strokes on the colored parts of the stocking, such as the toe, heel, and cuff. Use a lighter texturing for the main areas. Experiment with different cuts on waste wood first. Rock the blade from corner to corner, called walking the edge, to imitate stitching or bands. You can also lightly cross hatch an area with a V-tool.
Coloring and Finishing
It is very important not to over-paint this piece. You want to see the wood through the colors. Experiment first on waste wood. I use thin milk paints on the stocking. Lightly wash the main parts of the stocking with buttermilk and the selected tooled areas with Salem red. Paint the mouse driftwood brown with black eyes. Rub the color back a little with 220-grit sandpaper to reveal the tool cuts more. Finish the whole carving with a coat of Danish oil. Do not wax the carving; stockings aren’t shiny!
• 3"x8"x15" pale basswood
• Milk paints: buttermilk, Salem red, driftwood brown, black
• ’/4" #3 gouge
• 1" #4 gouge
• %" #5 gouge
• #6 gouges: 1"
• #8 gouges: !4", %"
• Various short-bent gouges, '4" to
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