Introduction: The Calvin and Hobbes Snowmen
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Holiday decorations are not my thing, but if I'm going to make them ... they are going to be a bit macabre.
Growing up in the 80s meant that Calvin and Hobbes were part of my Sunday comic review, as well as being staples in my adolescent library.
If you're familiar with Calvin ... then you know he was (and probably still is) a Grand Master of snowman sculpture within his 2 dimensional world. My goal was to recreate one of his masterpieces within my 3 dimensional world.
Step 1: Fabricating the Bodies
If you have a lathe, the snowmen bodies could be turned from a single block of wood. I don't have a lathe, so I'm using wooden balls/doll heads from the craft store.
2 1/2" diameter for the bottoms
2" diameter for the middles
1 1/2" diameter for the heads
I wanted the wooden balls to nest into each other for a cohesive look. Instead of balancing atop each other like some circus act, they needed to look smashed into each other like actual snow. To achieve this look, I used forstner bits and drilled just deep enough for the adjoining ball to sit flush on the edge of the hole.
1 1/4" bit for the bottoms
1" bit for the middles
Foreseeing a slapstick comedy glue up, I decided to use 3/8" wooden doweling as a way to auto align and peg the separate sections together. I used a 3/8" Forstner bit and drilled to the depth of the cutter, which is right around 3/8" deep. Alignment of the hole placement was easy for the top side of the bottom and middle balls since I could use the already established center indent from the larger bits. For the bottoms of all of the wooden balls, I used my Sphere Center Align and Drill-O-Nator. It's not a necessary jig, but it was quick to make and I really appreciate having it in times like these.
Short sections of 3/8" dowel were cut using the small parts small table saw sled and then it was time for glue up. I slathered wood glue into the holes, larger recesses, as well as onto the dowel stubs ... then stacked the wooden balls into snowmen.
On a side note ... Who is Michael and why are his wooden balls so expensive?
Step 2: Slicing and Placing Snowmen
Once the glue was dry, it was time to slice one of these snowmen vertically, so that it could lay flat. One of them ended up a bit wonky, so he became the obvious victim.
I used the bandsaw to make the cut, which is safer than the table saw, but not without risk since the stacked balls have the potential to roll towards either side mid cut. Go slow with a steady hand and keep your fingers away from the blade. I used a pencil for the final push.
I used the oscillating belt sander remove blade chatter and flatten the cut face so that it would sit flush on the base, which is a scrap of 1/2" plywood.
I positioned the snowmen on the base in order to determine their mounting locations. Once marked, I drilled 3/8" holes about 1/4" deep, into the plywood. At this point, I also drilled 3/8" holes into the bottoms of the snowmen, into which I glued small sections of 3/8" doweling. These pegs will greatly simplify the final assembly since placement is predetermined and the pegs will hold the snowmen in place while the adhesive dries.
Step 3: Fabricating the Mouth, Snowman Cone, Noses, and Cannibalism
The murderous snowman (I guess he could be scavenger) has a wide open mouth, with which to enjoy a fresh snowman cone. I once again made these cuts on the bandsaw and they were a wee bit precarious. In this instance, the blade has the potential to grab the wood and spin the snowman downward, which in turn might pull your hand directly into the blade ... you don't want that.
I used a spacer block to level out the snowman body and carefully made the top of the mouth cut, which was a straight shot. I then angled the body to make the bottom of the mouth cut even more carefully. The cuts didn't perfectly meet and required some shaping with a few files and a sanding stick, but all operations were without incident.
Snowman Cone And Noses
For the top of the snowman cone, I found 7/16" diameter doll heads at the craft store. They come in the pack of three and are attached to 1/4" stems, but it was better than buying a 25 pack of small wooden beads. I separated the ball from the stem using the bandsaw. I then shaped each end of the remaining 1/4" dowel to a gradual point using the oscillating belt sander. This was then cut in half to become two snowman noses and a 3/16" hole was drilled into each snowman head to accept them.
The actual cone was made from a section of 1/2" dowel - sanded to gradual point and then cut using the bandsaw. To assemble snowman cone, I drilled a small hole in the ball, as well as the top of the cone, and then used a section of toothpick with glue to lock the parts together.
The unfortunately deceased snowman has three holes in his back ... thanks to Frosty the Sweet Tooth. These were drilled out using a 5/16" brad tip bit and then the bottom rounded for visual appeal using a dremel and small, round, high speed cutter.
For the ice cream scoop handle, I used a short section of 1/4" dowel glued into a 1/4" hole.
Step 4: Fabricating the Arms
The obvious answer for snowman arms is of course sticks, but that would mean very small sticks. Add to that the fact that I don't have any trees in my yard and it's 8 degrees outside (so I'm not even looking out the window), and we have a need for an alternative. I thought about twisting three strands of CAT-5 cable for the arms, which would then split off at the end to form three fingers, but that option doesn't hold a static shape very well. The next idea was to use copper wire and since it was cold in the basement and I no longer wanted to brainstorm, it was the winning option.
I had a random length of romex wire, so I stripped the sheathing to scavenge the ground wire. From this, I cut 4 sections to become the arms/middle fingers and 4 sections bent into a U shape to become the two outer fingers.
Initially, I soldered the U shaped sections to one end of the arm sections and tried to finesse the shape of the solder using the tip of the iron, but it just looked to thick. My solution was of course to flatten/smash these joints with a hammer, which for the most part worked. I finished the look with a dremel and grinding tip.
Holes were drilled into the snowmen torsos to accept the copper wire and then the arms were bent into shape and trimmed as necessary until they were a proportional fit.
Step 5: Shaping the Base
I didn't want the base to be a perfect geometric shape; such as a square, circle, or oval. I wanted it to have more of a random water puddle feel, so I scribbled some loose reference lines and then pretty much failed to follow them with the bandsaw. Further shaping and mistake correcting was done using the oscillating belt sander.
Lastly, I dry fit all the parts to see how it looked. The verdict was ... pretty good.
Step 6: Eyes and Buttons
I had every intention of just painting on the buttons and eyes, but I have shaky hands at the most inopportune moments ... like when painting or or carrying an impressively full drink. I decided a better and more accurate solution was to use nail heads. The unnecessary shanks were removed with bolt cutters and holes drilled in the snowmen to accept that diameter.
Step 7: Shellac and Spray Paint
With fabrication complete, it was time to move on to finishing. For all of the wooden parts ... snowmen and base .. this started with a coat of shellac. For the copper arms and nail heads ... this meant two coats of cheap black spray paint.
Step 8: Painting
Once the shellac was dry, it was time to apply color by way of acrylic paint. Most covered in 1 coat, but the white was stubborn and took 3.
Base - I actually did 2 coats
Snow cone: Assorted color stripes for the ball. A yellowish/brown mix for the cone.
Eyes: Black sharpie
Holes: 1 yellow, 1 green, 1 blue, and some red for blood
Ice cream scoop: Black
Step 9: Assembly
Once the paint was dry, it was time for final assembly I decided to use two part epoxy since some parts were painted and others were metal. Since it was cold in my shop, I gave the epoxy a water bath to make it flow and mix better.
I started by gluing the snow cone into the psychopath's left hand, since it would need time to cure. Next, I used a tooth pick to place a small dab into his button and eye holes, to which I then inserted the painted nail heads.
Giving that time to set, I moved on to Deadman's arms, followed by gluing him to the base via the 3/8" dowel peg.
Lastly, I glued Hungryman to the base and then attached his arms.
Step 10: Glamour Shots
There we go .. . Calvin and Hobbes Snowmen #1, with so many more to choose from. It would be fun to bring a different comic strip to life every winter ... I'll just need to find a cheaper source for wooden balls ... or get a lathe.
It make a great gift for a loved one ... like your Mother for example. I'm sure she'll love it.
Spoiler: She didn't love it. This is the new dining room centerpiece!
Honorable Mention: My inspiration for this project, other than Calvin and Hobbes, was/is an insanely creative and talented scroll saw artist - Justin Christensen. You NEED to check out his work on Instagram - especially his Calvin and Hobbes pieces.