Itty bitty nisse wood carving tutorial

Carve a wide-nosed character holding his porridge bowl. 

This miniature nisse wood carving tutorial is a fun carve with cute details, including a porridge bowl.  

Nisses (also sometimes called brownies) are part of Scandinavian folklore.  They are small—like children—and live in barns, stables, and sometimes churches.  Their caps are red and they often wear gray work aprons.

Their favorite food is rice porridge.  Treat them well and they will reward you by helping out around your home.

Nisse wood carving

What you will need for your nisse wood carving

For this tutorial you will need a block of wood that is 1 x 1 x 3 inches (2.5 x 2.5 x 6.6 cm).  As always, feel free to use a bigger block and simply increase the provided dimensions. 

A pencil will be needed to sketch your guidelines.  Grab a knife (or two) suitable for roughing out wood and for carving fine details. 

Remember to always use safety gloves and to protect your lap from knife slips that can be dangerous.  

Keep a leather or cardboard strop handy for sharpening your knife every 30 minutes or so.  

Nisse wood carving tutorial at-a-glance

Watch this progression video to see the key steps included in this nisse wood carving tutorial.

Setting up your nisse wood carving

Round all the corners on the block.  Draw a guideline 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) from the top of the block (all around) to mark the bottom of the head (photos 1,2).  On the front only, you will extend a triangle down about 3/4 of an inch (1.9 cm) to reserve wood for the beard (photo 1).    

Draw another line 2.75 inches (6.9 cm) from the top to mark the top of the shoes (photos 1,2).  

Front nisse guidelines for wood carving1. Front guidelines with wood reserved for beard
Back nisse guidelines for wood carving2. Back guidelines

Nisse wood carving: Separate the shoes and head

Using stop cuts, separate the shoes (photo 3) and the bottom of the head (photo 4).  When you are done, the nisse wood carving should look like photo 5.

Making a stop cut on nisse carving3. Making stop cut for shoes
Separating head on nisse carving4. Making stop cut to separate the head
Head and shoes are separated on nisse carving5. Head and shoes are separated

Nisse wood carving: Round the head back

Use push cuts (photo 6) to round back the head (photo 7).

Turn the nisse wood carving upside down and mark the areas of wood to remove to shape the shoes (photo 8).  

Use a V-cut to split the shoes (photo 8) on the front.  To prevent breaking your knife, start with a small V-cut, and make additional V-cuts, until you can easily slide the wood off from each side.  Tip: You may want to use a sturdy roughout knife here.  

Split the shoes on the back in the same way.  

Rounding head on nisse carving6. Rounding back the head
Rounded head on nisse carving7. Head is rounded back
Shaping shoes on nisse carving8. Making a V-cut to split the shoes

Add some details to your nisse wood carving

Use your knife to remove wood from the sides and to round the shoes (photos 9-12).  You will refine the shoes later.  Also, narrow the body a little all around and draw on the details, including the porridge bowl (photo 9), hands (photos 9-11), and arms (photos 9-12).  

The bowl is about 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) square.  The arms are roughly 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) wide.  The hands are a tad more than 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) wide.

Draw the set up for the nose on the front using our triangle-by-triangle nose carving system, and draw the hat line on the face (photo 9).  The finished nose is about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) wide and 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) tall.  Make your nose box slightly larger than these dimensions.  

Roughly sketch the apron on the front and back (photos 9 and 12).  Draw a line all around to mark the top of the pants (photos 9-12).  

Also, mark a little Y on the backside that you will carve on the tush (photo 12).

Drawn details on nisse carving9. Front view of drawn details
Right view of details drawn on nisse carving10. Right view of drawn details
Left view of drawn details on nisse carving11. Left view of drawn details
Back side of details drawn on nisse carving12. Back view of drawn details

Carve the face of the nisse wood carving

Make a stop cut under the nose (photo 13) and remove wood from underneath.  Now, make a pyramid cut on each side where you have marked the wood for removal (photos 14,15).  

Draw the second set of triangles on the nose that you will remove  (photo 15).  Cut into the bridge of the nose at a downward  angle (photo 16).  Then, cut the bottom of the nose at an angle so the nose will turn up slightly (photo 17).

Tip: You can noodle the nose further on the sides to get the shape you want after you carve the beard, mustache, and mouth. 

Starting nose on nisse carving13. Making a stop cut
Pyramid cut on nisse carving14. Starting the pyramid cut
Marking wood to remove on nisse carving15. Marking new triangles after pyramid cuts
Cutting bridge of nose on nisse carving16. Cutting bridge of the nose
Shaping nose on nisse carving17. Cutting bottom of the nose at an angle

Continue to shape the head of the nisse wood carving

Draw the eyebrows on the nisse wood carving (photo 18).  Using your knife, follow the eyebrow guideline (you can make a controlled pull cut).  Then, remove wood from above the brow (visible in photo 19).  

Draw on the mustache, mouth, and tongue (photo 19).

Adding eyebrows to nisse carving18. Eyebrows are drawn
Drawn beard on nisse carving19. Eyebrows are cut

Carve more details on your nisse wood carving

Carve the outline of the mustache and mouth, carefully removing wood around your cuts as you go (photo 20).   Shape the tongue (visible in photo 28).  

Draw the tassel on the back of the nisse wood carving (photo 21).  It should be about 3/4 of an inch (1.9 cm) long and a 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) wide.  

Make a stop cut under the tassel and remove wood from underneath (photo 22).   This will allow you to make a sweep cut under the tassel (photo 22) to curve the hat.  Use V-cuts to separate each side of the tassel.  Then, make a pyramid cut on each side to notch the tassel (photo 23).  

Face carved on nisse carving20. Face is carved
Drawn tassel on nisse carving21. Tassel is drawn
Making stop cut to nisse carving22. Starting the tassel
Notching tassel on nisse carving23. Notching the tassel

Carve the body of your nisse wood carving

Use stop cuts to separate the arms of the nisse wood carving, removing wood from underneath (photo 24).

Use your knife to separate the pants, the bottom of the apron, and the bottom of the bowl on the front (photo 25).  Continue until all the details are separated all around.  

Use a V-cut to carve the back of the arms (photo 26).  You can use a stop cut or V-cut to separate the apron on the back (photo 27).

Making stop cut to separate arm on nisse carving24. Separating the arm
Separating front details on nisse carving25. Separating the front details
Separating back of arms on nisse carving26. Making a V-cut
Separating apron on nisse carving27. Separating the apron.

Carve more details on your nisse wood carving

Narrow the neck and cut back the shoulders on the front of the nisse wood carving (photo 28).  You can use a push or pull cut here.  Note: You may have to redraw the apron top.

Use a pyramid cut to carve the crook of the front of the arm on each side (photo 29).  You can further noodle the shape.  

Sketch on the fingers and the rim of the shoes (photo 30). 

Very carefully, separate the fingers using small V-cuts (this is a good time to stop and strop your knife before you make these cuts).  Remember, the pinkie fingers will be a little shorter than the others.  I angled the bottom half of the fingers downward (photo 31) and had to re-separate the fingers.  It may be easier to cut your angle before you separate the fingers to prevent the wood from crumbling.

Tip: If the fingers don’t pan out for you, simply slice them off, and you can give your nisse mittens when you paint him.  Problem solved! 

Narrow neck on nisse carving28. Narrowing the neckline and front shoulders
Carving inner arm on nisse carving29. Completing pyramid cut in arm crook
Adding fingers to nisse carving30. More details are drawn
Carving fingers on nisse carving31. Cutting fingers at an angle

Refine your nisse wood carving details

Add some wrinkles to the nisse wood carving on the hat, arms, and pants (photos 32, 36-39).  

Draw a few guidelines on the beard where you will (carefully) use V-cuts to notch out sections on your nisse wood carving (photos 32,33).  Continue to carefully make V-cuts  along the mustache and the hair on the back of the head (photos 34, 36-39).

Use stop cuts to carve a rim around the shoes of the nisse wood carving.  Then, use a V-cut to carve the heel on each shoe (photo 35).  Tip: mark the wood to remove on each side to ensure that the heels are symmetrical.  

Adding beard to nisse carving32. Beard lines are drawn
Carving back hair on nisse carving34. Making V-cuts on hair under the hat
Carving beard on nisse carving33. Carving the beard sections
Adding heel to nisse carving35. Cutting a heel

Get ready to paint your nisse wood carving

Use your knife to clean up cuts, or to deepen them, to prevent paint from bleeding (photos 36-39). 

Front of nisse carving prior to painting36. Front view of nisse wood carving
Right side of nisse carving prior to painting37. Right view of nisse wood carving
Left side of nisse carving prior to painting38. Left view of nisse wood carving
Back side of nisse carving prior to painting39. Back view of nisse wood carving

Paint your nisse wood carving

Front view of painted nisse wood carving40. Painted nisse wood carving
Right view of painted nisse wood carving41. Right view of painted nisse wood carving
Left view of painted nisse wood carving42. Left view of painted nisse wood carving
Back view of painted nisse wood carving43. Back view of painted nisse wood carving

All paints listed below are acrylic and watered down (unless marked as 100%), which is referred to as a wash.

Use whatever brushes you prefer.  Tip: A shading brush comes in handy for tight corners.  

  • Skin: 100% Ceramacoat tawny light with a tiny drop of academy burnt sienna (on toothpick).
  • Beard and eyebrows: 100% dolphin gray.  When dry, use 100% Artist’s Loft titanium white applied with dry brushing.
  • Hat: FolkArt lipstick red wash.  Reserve and water down further to accent the nose, cheeks, and tongue.
  • Shirt: 100% Ceramcoat bright yellow.
  • Apron: FolkArt medium gray wash.
  • Bowl: 100% FolkArt true blue.
  • Pants: Apple Barrel classic caramel wash.
  • Shoes: Academy burnt sienna wash.
  • Eye whites: 100% Artist’s Loft titanium white.
  • Pupils: Black Tombow water based N15 marker. 
  • Porridge (optional): Glue a few grains of uncooked brown rice (cut in half) into the bowl.
  • Finish: Howard’s Feed-N-Wax.  

Want some awesome painting tips?  Click here

Nisse wood carving tutorial summary

  • The nisse is a beloved character from Scandinavian folklore.
  • You can change up the colors of your nisse wood carving clothes and hat (but red and gray are traditional).
  • Take your time carving the fine details, like the beard and eyebrows.
  • Use our triangle-by-triangle nose carving system to easily carve a big, humorous nose.
  • To learn more about nisses, click here.


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