Weekend Projects – Dutch doll

Monday 9 July 2018

Wooden Dutch dolls, sometimes referred to as ‘Peg dolls’ are a type of wooden doll with articulated limbs, originating from Germany and the Netherlands from the late 18th and throughout the 19th century. They originated as simple lathe-turned dolls – some were just whittled – from the Val Gardena area in the Alps. Sold undressed, young girls would then make their clothing from scraps of fabric. These dolls were made in various sizes, including examples as small as 10mm. As is often the case with ‘folk art’ these simple dolls started as a cottage industry and they exhibit a distinct naïve charm. Later they were made on a more semi-industrial scale. My first encounter with a wooden Dutch doll was in 2000, when I was engaged by the BBC to set up a woodturner’s workshop, to enable the filming of a short ‘alternative’ nativity film entitled It’s a Girl. The actor John Thompson was asked to play the lead role of Joseph and doll-maker Eric Horne was commissioned to supply the doll, which I was given after the filming. This project is inspired by that doll – it still sits upon a shelf in my study. The originals were somewhat lowly dolls made by, and mainly for, the working classes. The material was usually softwood, pine (Pinus spp.) that was easily obtained in the countryside. I, therefore, think that it is fitting I follow this tradition regarding material, so I have chosen a length of close-grained pinewood left over from a DIY job.

Tools used:

Spindle roughing gouge

Skew chisel

Narrow parting tool

Vernier callipers

10mm spindle gouge

Fine-tooth saw


Belt sander

Sharp knife

PPE: facemask, respirator/dust mask and extraction


The first step, using the bandsaw, is to remove the waste from the back area of the body of your close-grained softwood blank but leaving the remaining length full size – approximately 45mm square allowing for a finished size of 40mm – for the head. Choose a piece measuring 170mm in length, which will allow for a clean parting off


Using a spindle roughing gouge, turn the blank to a cylinder and part-cylinder


Next, make the main divisions with a ‘V’ cut using the long point of a skew chisel


To make the ‘V’ cut, be sure to use the skew that you are most comfortable with


Using the dimensions on the drawing – see opposite – make a cut of the indicated diameter with a narrow parting tool. For safety reasons, because of the ‘flat’ area on the blank, measure with Vernier callipers while the lathe is stationary


The next step is to taper the doll’s waist with a 10mm spindle gouge


Plane this area with the skew chisel. Angle the chisel so that it is the bottom half of the blade doing the work


You can then create the 16mm neck with a 6mm parting tool


Use the long point of the skew chisel to remove thin shavings. This will achieve a nice clean finish on the shoulder of the doll, which will make for easier sanding


Again, using the skew in ‘short point mode’, proceed to round off the outer portion of the rounded head section. If you are ‘skew adverse’, then use your preferred alternative tool


Now to pick up where you left off on the shoulder of the doll. Use the ‘long point’ of the skew chisel to complete the rounding to the neck


Repeat the process for the top of the head and then with a thin parting tool, part off to about 3mm. Similarly, do the same at the other end. With a fine-tooth saw take off the spigots and clean up the scar


As the arms of the doll need to pivot, drill a 5mm hole through the shoulders; this will allow you to accommodate the spindle on which the arms articulate


This project is essentially a spindle turning exercise with the limbs being a straightforward item. Here the foot is left square in section with the top turned convex in form


Use a belt sander, or alternatively a sharp knife, to achieve the correct shape


The photo here demonstrates the belt sander in progress


This is how your completed components should look so far


Next, sand the flat areas of the chest and tummy on a belt sander. Now it’s time to look to the moving parts. Articulating the limbs requires non-woodturning skills. Begin by marking out the relevant joints – a small square is useful for accurate marking


Use a fine-tooth saw for cutting the joints. I used a small ancient ‘Gents’ tenon saw with the ‘set’ ground out to give the thinnest possible cut


Complete the tenon with the blank clamped firmly


You can now cross-cut the base of the ‘open’ tenon using a fretsaw blade, while holding it in a piercing saw frame


A good tip is to try using cocktail sticks to create the hinges – this is a typical and simple joint


Trim off the protruding ends of the cocktail stick and apply a small drop of glue to one of the outer areas and then sand flush. Now I know how Geppetto felt when he created Pinocchio!


One small traditional feature was the nose – much smaller than Pinocchio’s! Drill a tiny short hole and plug with a short section of turned dowel, leaving just a short section protruding. Whittle with a knife and sand


The doll is now almost complete, but it is lacking a personality


That’s better, a full make-over. After applying a coat of white acrylic paint to the head, shoulders and limbs I used good quality paint pens that won’t fade to provide our Dutch doll with her own unique character, and a new found friend, Lilianna King


The doll before and after her makover. Any design can be used on the doll, the choice is yours!


1. Upon completion of this doll the recipient can then clothe it in period style clothing or bring her up to date with a moderm outfit – perfect for a granddaughter

2. If the doll is to be made as a ‘toy’ rather than an ornament, please ensure that any colouring and decoration is ‘child safe’

3. Googling ‘wooden peg doll’ will provide more choice regarding face details. The early faces tend to be rather ‘prim and proper’ with many looking rather austere, but it depends on what you prefer! The key words ‘Dutch doll’ will elicit more than you might wish to peruse!

4. Turning softwood requires sharp tools to avoid tear-out; this is good practice

for your spindle turning expertise. 60 grit abrasive may remove tear-out but will reduce the diameter and detail, so is therefore best to avoid!

5. Street entertainers used to make these dolls with loose joints. To do this for yourself, simply insert a stick in the back and make them tap-dance on a board. Try it and earn a few pennies!