How to carve a leprechaun, you wonder? For that matter, what exactly is a leprechaun?
According to Irish folklore, leprechauns are similar to fairies, and they can be quite mischievous.
Leprechauns are creatures that tend to keep to themselves and enjoy playing practical jokes. They are also often associated with pots of gold and rainbows.
Our modern leprechaun has a round body and legs that are poised to do a jig. He’s had a few too many dark ales, which is why his nose is red. His hat features a belt, buckle, and four-leaf clover.
We hope you have as much fun carving him as we did!
We use a basswood block that is 1 x 1 x 4 inches (2.5 x 2.5 x 10 cm). We often work with blocks that are only 3 inches tall and the extra inch allowed us to add more details that bring a wood carving to life.
We use a flat-edged knife (with a 1 1/2-inch blade) that we prefer to use on small blocks. A V-tool to outline the four-leaf clover, and U-gouge to carve the nostrils, are helpful (but you should be able to achieve similar results with a detail knife).
We can never stress this enough: Always wear a safety glove when you carve. We also wear a thumb guard on our carving hand.
Prefer to use a bandsaw? Use our free, full-color pattern at the bottom of the page.
Watch this short progression video to see the key steps for our how to carve a leprechaun tutorial.
Draw your guidelines as follows (see photo below):
Using your knife, make a stop cut at each corner of the base, and remove wood from underneath (photo 1). Continue between the corners (all around the wood block) until the base is separated (photo 2).
Continue this process on the next several guidelines, until the legs, body, and hat are separated all around (photo 3). Note: At this point, the back looks exactly like the front.
Round all of the corners, midway on the top section of your block, to create a cylinder shape for the hat (photos 4-6). Tip: Switch to a sturdier roughout knife for faster, easier wood removal.
Sketch the hat, the hat belt, and the hat belt buckle. Color the areas on each side of the hat that you will remove (photos 5-8).
Using your knife, make stop cuts to separate the bottom of the hat belt, removing wood from underneath (photo 9).
Now, separate the top of the hat belt all around (photo 10).
Carve off the marked wood on the sides to narrow the hat (photo 11).
Using small stop cuts, separate the hat belt buckle and further refine the shape of the hat (photo 12).
Carefully narrow the brim of the hat by shaving off wood. Go slowly (and do not remove too much wood) to avoid weakening, or cracking, the brim (see progress photo 12).
Draw on the arms and hands, and a square box to reserve wood for the nose. Draw circular lines around the nose, which will define the face of the leprechaun (photo 12).
Also draw the beard. At this point, your leprechaun wood carving should look like photo 12.
The leprechaun will have a short, round body.
Using your knife, round the corners all around the wood block (photo 13).
Use a stop cut to separate the bottom of the nose (photo 14) and remove wood from underneath.
Continue to use stop cuts to remove wood around the square nose box (photo 15).
Separate the cheek lines around the nose (photo 16). We dig our knife in and gently push it with our thumb. You can also work in the opposite direction using a variation of a pull cut.
Mark wood to remove on the corners of the nose (photo 17). Carefully slice the wood off and round the nose (photo 18). Also, make a tiny pyramid cut at each corner of the nose to create shadow.
Evenly shave wood off above the nose to flatten the surface for the eyes (visible in photos 17-18).
Make a stop cut under the arm and remove wood from underneath (photo 19). Continue until the entire arm is separated (photos 20, 21). Repeat this process on the other arm.
Use stop cuts to separate the beard (photo 22). We use a tiny V-cut to create the curve at the bottom of the beard (most visible in photo 38).
Round down the front and back corners (photo 23) on the lower part of the carving. This will create a flatter and narrower surface for the legs.
Draw the outline of the legs and shoes on the front and back (photos 24,27). Color the wood that you will remove (photos 24-27).
Draw the four-leaf clover on the hat (photo 24). You can carve it later.
Remove the wood you colored around the legs (photo 28).
To split the legs with just a knife (feel free to use a fishtail gouge instead), make a large pyramid cut on the top half of the wood between the legs on the back (visible in photo 29) and the front. Make a second pyramid cut on the bottom half (photo 30).
Tip: If your cuts are uneven, you may need to make a second pyramid cut in the same place to remove the wood without too much splintering.
Make a stop cut to define each shoe, and remove wood from above (see progress photo 31).
Once the legs are split, you can remove more wood from the front and back (photo 31) to narrow the thickness of the legs.
Once the legs are shaped, mark where you will make a small pyramid cut (photos 32,33) to carve the shoe heels on the front and back (photo 34).
Create a curve from the middle of the back, up to the hat (visible in photo 33), by turning your wrist as you sweep your knife upwards.
Use a V-tool to outline the four-leaf clover on the hat. Then use your knife to clean and deepen your cuts (visible in photo 34). Tip: If you don’t have a V-tool, stab your knife along the guideline (or use short stop cuts).
Draw the eyes and fingers on the hands (photo 34). Outline the eye with your knife (photo 35). Carve the small, beady eyes by making small pyramid cuts in the inner and outer corner of the eyes. Tip: If you mess up, carve everything off (i.e., flatten the eye surface) and start over.
Make small V-cuts to separate the fingers on each hand (visible in photo 35). Be careful here to avoid wood from crumbling.
We use a laminated U- gouge to slightly curve the nostrils under the nose (visible in photos 36,37). Tip: If you do not have a U-gouge, carefully use your knife under the nose to slice wood off and shape your curved nostrils.
Prior to painting, clean up any wood fuzzies, or deepen your cuts. This will help your paint adhere well and avoid colors from bleeding into each other.
Check your leprechaun carving to be sure the arms are symmetrical on the front and back (we did a little noodling to even ours out).
You may also want to add more of a curve on the back and round the body further (see photo 37).
Tip: We scrub our carvings with a little dish soap to clean them before painting.
We create paint washes with acrylic paints. We dip the brush in water, and pull a little paint into a separate paint well. While we favor flat and round brushes, you may prefer to use other types of paint brushes.
Prior to painting, we brush boiled linseed oil over the entire carving. We start painting right away (some carvers like to let the oil dry overnight). If any of the oil spills onto paper towels, throw them away in an outside garbage bin (they are highly combustible).
We keep an old knife handy to clean up mistakes as we go. You want to avoid painting over other paint (the color will bleed through).
All paints are Delta Ceramcoat unless otherwise noted. It is recommended that you start with the lightest colors first.
If you prefer to use a bandsaw, simply photocopy our pattern to size to fit any wood block.