Whittle yourself an Oompa Loompa carving

Bring this beloved character to life in wood. 

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!  

Painted Oompa Loompa carving

Oompa Loompa carving materials

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. 

Oompa Loompa carving tutorial at-a-glance

Getting started

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).  

Wood carving guidelines for Oompa Loompa1. Corners are rounded, guidelines are drawn

Separate the head and legs

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).

Starting wood carved Oompa Loompa2. Stop cut to separate wood
Progress of wood carved Oompa Loompa3. Wood is separated all around

Sketch the Oompa Loompa

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). 

Oompa Loompa wood carving design4. Design is drawn on front
Right view of Oompa Loompa design5. Design from right view
Left view of Oompa Loompa design on wood6. Left view of design
Back view of Oompa Loompa design7. Back of the Oompa Loompa

Start the legs of the Oompa Loompa carving

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). 

Carving Oompa Loompa shoes8. Making a stop cut to separate the top of the shoes
V-cut with knife9. Making a V-cut to split the legs
Marked wooden block10. Wood to remove on the front
Back view of wood with design11. Wood to remove on the back

Carve the legs

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). 

Cutting wood with OCC Tools knife12. Removing wood to narrow the legs
Carved Oompa Loompa shoes13. Shoes are rounded (front view)
Back view of carved Oompa Loompa shoes14. Back of shoes on the Oompa Loompa carving

Carve the details

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).

Carving arm of Oompa Loompa15. Separating the left arm
Carved pants on Oompa Loompa16. Starting the waistband
Carved fingers of Oompa Loompa17. Separating the fingers
Right view of Oompa Loompa fingers18. Right arm progress
Left view of Oompa Loompa arm19. Left arm progress
Carved arms on back of Oompa Loompa20. Arms on the back

Redraw the suspenders

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)

Shaped body of Oompa Loompa21. Front details are redrawn
Wood carving in progress22. Back details are redrawn

Carve the head

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.  

Rounded wood carved head23. Head is rounded

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.  

Making V cut on wood24. Making the hair curl with a V-cut

Draw and carve the facial details

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! 

Facial details on wood carving25. Details are drawn
Carving nose of Oompa Loompa26. Making a stop cut
Nose guidelines on wood carving27. Guidelines are added
Carved face on wood28. Carving the details

Clean up your cuts 

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.  

Fully carved Oompa Loompa29. Front view of prepainted Oompa Loompa
Right view of wooden Oompa Loompa30. Right view of Oompa Loompa carving
Left view of wooden Oompa Loompa31. Left view of Oompa Loompa carving
Back view of wooden Oompa Loompa32. Back view of Loompa Oompa carving

Painting the Oompa Loompa carving

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.   

  • Eye whites, gloves, pants, stripes: 100% Artist’s Loft titanium white.  
  • Clothing stripes and buttons: 100% Academy burnt sienna paint, applied with a toothpick.
  • Shirt and shoes: Burnt sienna wash.  Optional: we curved some wire around a needle-nosed plier to create the little ribbons on top of the shoes.  We attached them with Crazy Glue. 
  • Hair and brun: FolkArt bright green. 
Front wooden Oompa carving painted
Right view of painted wooden Oompa
Left side of painted Oompa
Back view of wood Oompa painted

Oompa Loompa carving tutorial summary

  • Oompa Loompas are beloved little green men that are fun to carve from wood.
  • Our tutorial has a few options (wire bow on shoes and brun from scrap wood) that can add some pizzaz.
  • Use a toothpick when you paint the stripes (for greater control) and start with the white stripe first.


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