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Carve a Christmas Nativity Scene

Monday 9 July 2018

Like many of my age and generation, the first carving I was aware of seeing as a child was a nativity scene at my Sunday school. It came out year after year and has remained in my mind ever since.

Reminiscing over my childhood, a few months back I decided to carve a nativity scene for the home, with the aim of completing it just in time for Christmas. In keeping with the spirit of the festive season I thought it would be nice to share the making of it with a group of people who may like to carve a version for their families, children or grandchildren – you readers.


In the interests of simplicity I have restricted the number of figures to those I deemed central to the plot – Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus in the manger, the ox, the ass, and of course, the star. If you so choose you could add the three wise men, shepherds and angels at a later date, the option is yours.

The first thing to establish is its size. In my case it has to stand on a deep windowsill. I have made a 25mm (1in) square Da Vinci grid on the pattern, which will help you regardless of your intended size – simply increase or decrease the size of the squares.

The details have been deliberately minimised making it readily achievable for carvers of most levels of competence, although you can of course use it as a vehicle for your own version by either increasing the detail or minimising it. Whichever you choose the basic pattern should lend itself to this.

This is essentially a whittling project although you may well find it easier to use conventional carving methods. I personally find the knife more versatile for this smaller type of work although I know many carvers who do not share this view.

Getting started

Using tracing paper, take time to transfer the patterns accurately onto the two planes and use the same system of progression of the work for all the separate pieces. Once you have got into the way of it, the rest should follow.

Assuming you have use of a bandsaw, cut the first profile and using masking tape, tape the waste back on to re-form the block. Bandsaw the block in the other plane which should give you the crude form. All that remains is to round off and define the main areas, gradually refining as you go. Remember not to try to cut too much detail with the saw or you may have problems later on. If you don’t have a bandsaw, carve off to the pattern lines to achieve much the same effect.

If you really want a minimalist figure, simply define the main planes and leave it at that – you will still have the form of the figure although it will be in an abstract form. How far you wish to take it is up to you.