If you want to make an Oompa Loompa carving, you are in for a treat with this tutorial. These beloved, green-haired, candy-making helpers are the hallmark of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie (the original 1970 movie with Gene Wilder), and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake in 2005 (with Johnny Depp).
Take a Sunday morning to watch both movies, especially if you have kids, grandkids (or an inner child!). Sing a song or two. Root for Charlie. We watched them back to back on a cold, rainy day and it brought back great memories.
Fun facts: In the original movie, there were 10 actors who played Oompa Loompas. In the remake, there was just one actor (Deep Roy). Animation technology was used to create a total of 165 adorable versions of him.
But enough about the movies. Let’s start the Oompa Loompa carving!
For this Oompa Loompa carving tutorial, we used a 1 x 1 x 3-inch (2.5 x 2.5 x 7.6 cm) basswood block. We also use a straight knife with a 1-1/2 inch blade. You end up using most of the wood block, so there is no need to use a roughout knife.
You will carve off the corner on this little whittle, which will give you enough room to raise the arms and create the green hair that is a signature of the Oompa Loompas.
Please always use a protective glove whenever you carve. It’s downright dangerous not to.
Optional: After painting, we decided our Oompa Loompa carving needed a brun (a bun for bro’s), so we carved a piece of scrap wood and glued it on with Duco cement. Then we painted it. A full painting guide is included at the end of this tutorial.
We also used some 20-gauge wire for the bows on the shoes, which were attached to the Oompa Loompa carving with Crazy Glue. We wrapped the wire around a needle-nosed plier to get a uniform shape.
Use a pencil, pen, or other writing instrument to draw on the design. You can also print out our free pattern (at the end) and trace it onto the wood block. Bandsaw users can use the pattern, too.
Round all the corners on the wood block. Draw your first guideline 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) from the bottom to mark the top of the legs.
Your second guideline will be 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom and marks the bottom of the head (photo 1).
Using your knife, make a stop cut at each corner (photo 2), removing wood from underneath. Work your way completely around each guideline (photo 3).
Sketch the rough design of the Oopma Loompa. This is important to help you reserve wood for the arms, legs, hair, head, and clothing (photos 4-7). It does not have to be perfect.
Since the Oompa Loompas have a curl in their hair, we’ve reserved wood for that as well (photos 5-7).
You will also color the areas that you want to remove, including where you will split the legs on the front (photo 4) and the back (photo 7).
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to carving. We like to save the head for later, in order to get a sense of the proportions of the body first.
Using your knife, make a stop cut in each corner of the guideline for the top of the shoes (photo 8), removing wood from underneath. Work your way around between the corners.
Make a V-cut to split the legs on the front and back (photo 9).
Also mark the wood that you will remove to shape and narrow the legs on the front and the back (photos 10,11).
The legs on the Oompa Loompa carving need to be narrowed and shaped. Using your knife, carefully remove the wood you have marked on the outer sides of the legs (photo 12). Check periodically as you carve to ensure that the legs are even.
Start to round the shoes on the front and back of the Oompa Loompa carving (photos 13,14).
Use a stop cut to separate the arms, removing wood from underneath (photo 15). Keep working your way around the arms, removing wood as you go (photo 16). You can use a stop cut, or a line cut, if you prefer.
Also begin to shape the wide waistband of the Oompa Loompa’s pants (photo 16).
Carefully make small cuts around the fingers and remove wood from around them (photo 17). Be careful here. It’s easy for the fingers to crumble. If they do, you can always slice off the entire section and start again (or just recut the errant finger).
Continue to carve the arms around the sides (photos 18, 19) and on the back of the Oompa Loompa carving (photo 20).
While carving the hands and fingers, we carved off the previous markings for the suspenders, waistband, and buttons. Redraw them on the front and back (photos 21,22).
Now, use stop cuts to separate these details (see progress photo 23)
Round the corners of the head. Start to curve the bottom of the head into the neck (photo 23).
Angle the top of the head back a little (photo 23). Also, shape off the very top of the head (the end grain) to ensure that paint will adhere properly.
To carve the curl of the hair, make a V-cut on one side (photo 24). Work your way around with small V-cuts to the other side of the head.
Draw the eyes (photo 25).
Make a stop cut at the bottom of the nose, removing wood from underneath (photo 26).
Draw a guideline on each side of the cut you just made to guide your next cuts, which will define the nose (photo 27).
Use your knife to shape the nose, outline the eyes, and carve the lips (photo 28). We also added smile lines around the lips (photo 28). Also, separate the hair from the head. You can start with stop cuts on the top, removing wood from underneath. On the sides, it may be easier to use line cuts.
Note: Since our wood started to crumble, we decided to paint on the eyebrows rather than carve them. Wood does not always respond the way you want it to. In this case, it was not worth the risk of losing the entire carving!
Clean up your cuts (or deepen them as needed) prior to painting your Oompa Loompa carving. Also make sure you remove any wood fuzzies. We always take pictures at this point, which helps us see areas that need additional finessing.
We create washes with our acrylic paints by adding water. We squeeze one drop of paint into a paint well. We then swirl our paint brush into a container of water, pull up a little paint, and swirl it around in a clean paint well. We continue adding water, as needed, until the paint looks kind of milky.
Paint washes allow you to see some of the grain on the wood. You can adjust the amount of water you use, until you get a wash that you like. Sometimes we also use 100% of the paint, such as for eye whites.
You can use acrylic paints of your choice, as well as whatever paint brushes you have. Like carving knives, you may develop a preference for certain shaped paint brushes (we like flat and circular brushes).
Keep a knife you do not use for carving on hand to clean up mistakes as you paint. Start with the lightest color first on your Oompa Loompa carving.
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The chip carving knife is my go-to for clean pyramid cuts. The long whittling knife is good for roughing out wood.
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