With a little time, tools, and effort, you can turn a piece of fallen wood into the
absolute icon of the North and the Season.
The materials needed can be cut from one medium sized branch, perhaps shared by a neighbor, or the result of storm damage. The only tools you will need are a few simple hand tools:
Always work carefully and safely. Eye protection and gloves are recommended.
Children should be carefully monitored.
Small handsaw (a pruning saw, curved banana blade, or small bow saw)
Hand drill (battery powered or corded)
One inch drill bit (spade-tip or Forstner)
Half inch drill bit (spade-tip or Forstner)
Sharp craft knife, utility knife and/or small woodworker’s chisel (to pare down the parts to fit into the mortises).
Optional-Woodworker’s file or rasp can also be used for the same purpose and is less dangerous.
Optional- pruning shears to trim antler tips.
Glue-yellow woodworkers glue is best because of its slow drying time and easy soap and water cleanup. Silicone and polyurethane glues are nearly impossible to get out of clothing. A low temperature, crafting glue gun works well since the parts are instantly bound together but children should be carefully monitored since they can cause serious accidental burns.
This project can be scaled down to any size desired and every part can be
fashioned with a pocketknife.
Using the measurements given will make an 18 inch-tall reindeer that can stand proudly in the corner of the entryway and will suffer being decorated for any season. Be flexible and use whatever tools you have on hand. Some extra hands are useful to hold things while they are being cut or glued. Use push pins, tape, or bungee cords when working alone.
Personally, I always work outside. A workbench can be rigged up using two 5-
gallon plastic pails and a plank. A picnic table is great. Just be sure to protect the
surface some way. You know me as you will see from the photographs, my reindeer was mostly completed in the forest with copious “spare parts” to choose from.
The dimensions are just suggestions. If you’d prefer a leggier deer, or fatter, or to have knobby or crooked legs, then go for it. The antlers might be large branched Irish Elk, six-point, eight-point, fork, or spike- it’s your personal deer.
This is a list of the pieces and dimensions needed to make the reindeer
photographed which stands two feet tall.
Body- 1 piece 3 ½ in. dia. x 8 in. long
Neck- 1 piece 1 ½ in. dia. x 6 in. long
Head- 1 piece 2 ½ in. dia. x 6 in. long
Legs- 4 pieces 1 1/8 in. dia. x 10 in. long
Tail- 1 piece chevron-shaped 3 in. long
Ears- 2 pieces chevron-shaped 2 in. long
(The previous tail and ears are made by sawing two long parallel diagonal cuts
through a 1 ½ in. branch to make an oval approximately 1 ½ in. x 4 in. One oval
will make the two ears when halved, a second oval will form the tail. Leather or
felt fabric can also be used for the ears and is much easier to fashion and attach
to the head.)
Eyes-I made two ¼ in. thick x 1 in. diameter flat disks to be glued on where the
eyes will be located to create eye bulges. The bark underneath these was shaved
down to make a smooth glue surface. Next disks cut from a smaller diameter
branch will make a darker pupil for the eye. A small acorn or nut can be sawed in
half and substituted as eyes. Another option would be to use black buttons or
google-eyes found in a craft store.
Antlers- 2 pieces ½ in. dia. X 8 in. long branched material.
Start with the body.
Drill the four 1 in. leg holes in the underside of the body.
Drill the holes in pairs, two near what will be the front, angled outwards
about 20-30 degrees from the centerline and another pair near the rear also
angled outwards an equal amount. When the legs are installed, they will angle
outward giving your trophy more stability, like chair legs. Next, roll the body
upright and drill a 1 in. neck hole directly over the holes you made for the front
legs. This neck-hole may be angled slightly rearward towards the tail. It must not
deviate from the centerline however, because if it does, your deer will topple
over from the weight of the head when added.
Next step is to make the neck from the 1 ½ in. x 6 in. long piece. You will need to
cut a shoulder around each end and whittle away the waste to create a tenon that
is 1 in. diameter and 3/4 in. long. (see photos). The shoulder can be cut carefully
with a handsaw or using a knife or chisel. Make a cut about 1/8 in. deep and ¾ in.
from the end completely around the neck. Do this on both ends. Next either
whittle or rasp away the waste to form a tenon. Test the fit into the 1 in. body
The head is from the 2 ½ in. dia. X 6 in. stock. Drill a single neck hole near one
end. Drill this hole perpendicular to the surface so the head will be square to the
neck. When the head and neck are assembled, the head will be tossed back
slightly by the body neck hole angle. Saw a small wedge out of the forward end
to make a mouth, if desired. Drill two ½ in. diameter holes about 1 in. apart and
angled outwards to receive the antlers. You might want to have a more
pronounced nose. A wedge of wood can be added, as in my model. If you’d like,
a nut can be glued on instead and left natural or painted red. The bark should be
carved away where the nose will be glued on, if you decide to do this step. Glue
on the eye pieces (whichever type you choose). Shape and fit the ears and glue
them on below the antler holes (this is where extra hands or hot glue is helpful
because the ears tend to fall off until the glue hardens). Leather or felt ears are
easier to secure.
The legs are next. Choose whatever legs you prefer. They might be of the same
wood or made from a contrasting wood. My personal favorite is tulip poplar since
the lower branches naturally fall off the trees, shed their bark, and bleach white.
They are light and strong. Choose the legs so the large end is slightly greater than
he body hole, then cut to final length. Using a knife or rasp taper the end to fit
snugly into the body. After the four legs are inserted, twist or trim the legs until
the reindeer will stand solidly on the floor. Glue the legs in this position
Fit and glue the head and neck assembly onto the body. I turn the head slightly in
relationship to the body. This, plus the tossed back angle of the neck, gives your
deer a jaunty appearance. Be sure before doing the final gluing that the entire
deer is balanced and adjust and trim the legs as needed.
The final detail is to select and fit the antlers. Put them in last because they are
the most fragile part and are easily broken. The sky’s the limit as far as style and
size is concerned. Find much branched twigs that have the base slightly larger
than the antler holes you bored. If necessary, too small bases can be shimmed up
with paper. (On the prototype I made to photograph, I accidentally drilled the
antler holes too large. I used wood filler to set the antlers, and no one will know
but you). Just as with the legs, carefully taper the bases to fit the holes. Twist
and trim them until you are satisfied, then glue them in place.
All that is left is to dress him up as you desire for the season. A ribbon scarf, a
bell, some holly or tinsel -it’s to your pleasure. Invite some friends over for cider