Introduction: Making Heirloom Christmas Ornaments

Every year for the last 9 in November I start my annual Christmas ornament. I usually depict something note worthy from that year. I make 20 every year and they are given out to my family and co workers. They are always dated and always either penguins or snowmen sometimes both. They depict anything from new babies to long projects at work to whimsical happenings and always represent a person as a penguin. All of them are hand painted and no two are alike. Some are even slightly re sculpted to fit a certain person. Everyone looks forward to seeing what it will be each year since I make them at home and usually only my wife and brother preview them. I usually enlist them to help paint them over the years, Thank you. If you have not figured it out yet this can be a bit of a project and not for the faint of heart. It usually takes a few week during your evenings to complete and yes, I have asked myself how long I want to keep making them. But after all is said and done and they are all given out the smiles have made it worth it.

Step 1: Getting Started, What Will It Be?

First thing, what to make! I decided long ago on penguins and snowmen. But it can be anything that reminds you of the holidays. Keep in mind though you're going to mold this and how many parts do you want to assemble. I try to stick to a main body and a base. Start simple. My second year I did a snowman with four penguins, I had to paint close to a 100 penguins and 24 snowmen...! That was when I limited it to 20 ornaments and no more then 2 characters. Check out a craft store if you're doing something that needs embellishments this can cut down some work for you. I had a Christmas tree as part of last years ornament so I found small beads, ribbon and a star. Keep in mind size, don't make it too large or small, you want it seen but not the focus of a tree. I personally like to make mine so they can also stand on their own. this way I can display them on a shelf and I also sign the bottom of them so it gives me a place to write.

Step 2: Lets Start Sculpting

You don't need to be a great sculptor to do this type of project. Do it to the extent of your abilities. Here are a few tricks that help. I'm sure you have seen those learn to draw books that show you starting off with an oval for the body then adding a circle for the head and so on. But in this case it's an egg shape and a ball. After you get the building blocks of your shape together you start blending them together. For sculpting anything with multiples like arms or legs, I will make a rough quick shape with the clay. Once I like the size I will roll it back up into a ball and make another ball the same size. Now I will make the part using one ball for right and one ball for left. This will make both parts the same size in volume the shape is up to you.

You can see in the pictures this project has three parts. I have found sculpting the feet on the base part works best for my project this my not be the case with yours. I could have made the present he will be holding part of the penguin but you will see later on in molding it would cause problems and I like to leave the option of changing what he's holding. The base is on a flat piece of wood and you will notice there is a indent. The indent is where the body will fit , it helps with placement and forms a well for the epoxy to sit in. I will also put a post in the main body so I can mount it on a piece of wood.

You will reach a point in any sculpt that you need to stop handling it and only touch the clay with sculpting tools. Sculpt in your painting details, for example there is a very distinct line to indicate where the bodies white belly will be and the same with around the beak. I also carve the year into the sculpt, usually on the scarf. I will also add a divot to a place I know I will have to drill a hole for a mounting hook or any other thing I know all of them will have.

Most clays will slightly melt with some solvents, rubbing alcohol work well with most clays. Do a test with some extra clay to see what works best, some clays respond to water.

To finish up a sculpt brush it down with a good soft brush dipped onto the alcohol and smooth it out if you lose any detail you want go back in with a tool to sharpen it up. Don't soak it, you don't want the clay to get to soft. When you're happy with it give it a good coat of gloss crystal clear spray paint. Don't let it run or drip but make it nice and glossy.

Step 3: The Mold

For this project where going to make a simple block mold. Your sculpt should have a good sealing coat of clear spray paint and completely dry. Lets make some walls. Masonite works good for this and you will need a hot glue gun. You could also use foam core from the dollar store for the walls. Measure your sculpt at its highest point and add a 3/8 of a inch then cut a strip of Masonite to that measurement. Now measure your width and depth and add at least 1/2 inch then cut two of each measurement from the strip you cut earlier. Now start gluing up your walls. Pick a side and place your cut Masonite 1/4 to 3/8 in. away from the side make sure one of the edges is in the write location for the next wall to be 1/4 to 3/8 in away from that surface, see example pic. Make sure to put the clean smooth side of the Masonite to the inside. When you're satisfied with the placement run a bead of hot glue on the bottom of the outside edge, make sure it is a 90 degree angle from the base by butting up the next wall and gluing the base. a now corner, with a bead of hot glue. Now move on to the next wall then the next so if you have to make any adjustment the hot glue will allow you some.

When that is done you need to figure out how much silicone you will need. You can guess, mix too much and let the extra go to waste. Once it is catalyzed it's done. I like to fill the mold with a fine sand to about 3/8 of an inch over my sculpt then pour it into a measuring cup to see how much you need. With the sand poured out of both molds I see I need 12 oz of silicone mold rubber to fill my molds.Silicone rubber usually is catalyzed at 10%, so I will pour 12 oz of base silicone and add 10% catalyst. This will give me a little extra in case of any leakage from the mold. Blow out the mold, make sure there is no left over sand or other debris. Now very slowly pour it into the mold. You want it to be a very thin stream so it stretchs out the trapped bubbles in the silicone and you minimize the amount of bubbles trapped against the sculpt. When it is full let it sit over night.

Step 4: Preping Your Mold Part 1

You're going to need a casing or jacket for your mold before you open it. First remove the Masonite walls from your mold, be careful not to remove the bottom or base board. After you have the Masonite off do a little clean up trim with some small scissors to any extra silicone. The base on my project will not need any extra support it will not be cut and when the part is poured you can simply flex the mold and the part will pop out.

The body mold will need support so start by measuring the height of the mold and cut a strip of 3/8 particle board. Make sure you cut enough to make walls around all four sides. Measure the shortest ends and cut them the same width, measure both sides they might be slightly different. Now that both ends are cut do the same for the long side including the width of the wood cut for the two short ends. Fit them up and once you are satisfied apply some wood glue and clamp them together. You want the wood to fit snug so don't get carried away with the clamps and start squishing the silicone block/mold. When it is set enough that the wood won't slip out of place measure and cut a top for it and drill a 3/16 hole in the middle of it. They tell you when clamping wood to let it sit over night before unclamping but for the most part it will be fine for something like this to be unclamped after an hour so you can glue and clamp the top on. Let it sit and dry for a few hour now or wait till the next day.

At this point your probably asking yourself didn't I already do this so why should I do it again. The short answer is yes you could make the particle board jacket and poured the silicone into it and be done in one shot. What I don't like about doing this is often the silicone adheres to the jacket to well and is very tough to get out and I have broken a few trying to get them out. The other thing I like about using the Masonite for the dam walls is that I like to be able to adjust the dam "Masonite" walls to the best position possible and sometimes you can't see it till you have a flat surface up against it. The last thing is the 3/16 hole at the top of the mold needs to be 1" so you can pour the silicone in, and messes up the compressed air trick I'll described later.

Step 5: Preping Your Mold Part 2

Now that the jacket is completely dry it is time to open this mold. Remove the base from under the sculpt. If it got a little glue on it you might need to pry it off with a paint scraper. Wedge it between the jacket and the base and gently pry it free. With this off take a compressed air nozzle and shoot it into the 3/16 hole you drilled in the top. It should pop out of the jacket like a piston. If it don't you may need to do a little prying with the paint scraper. Slide it down between the silicone and jacket wedge it open a bit and spray some silicone oil in there. This will eventually do the trick.

Once it is out give the inside of the jacket a good coat of Howard's wax and feed. Now that the silicone is free of the jacket you need to get the sculpt out of the block of silicone. Start at the bottom where the base was at the fill spot with a sharp exacto and a #11 blade start cutting the sculpt free. Keep in mine or better yet take a picture of how the sculpt is shaped and situated in the mold. You're going to want to make your cut as close to the apex of the sculpt on the plane you're cutting from. Your cuts don't need to be perfectly straight they can have some curve or angles even hard corners just try to avoid jagged or choppy cuts if you find yourself off course steer your cut in the right direction, don't back up a and start a new cut only a few degrees to the side of the wrong cut.You don't want any wedge shaped cuts side by side. If you went right instead of left that's different just stop and restart your cut in the proper direction. Slowly cut the sculpt free. After it is free make sure all the clay is out of the mold and spray the inside and out with the silicone spray. Let it soak in /dry a little. Wipe off any excess wax and feed off the jacket part of the mold then slide the silicone back into it. At this point the top of the jacket is now the bottom and the bottom of the silicone is now your top and if you put it back together right you should see your pour spot. With the silicone nice and slippery all the cuts should register back together if not slip your finger in there and push it around till it lines back up. With compressed air blow out the mold to remove extra silicone spray oil.

Step 6: Making Part From Your Mold

We are now ready to start making parts from your new mold. I like to use " Smooth-On, smooth-cast 300" to make my part. You can buy it at your higher end art stores " Blicks" , some hobby stores or online at

This is what we call a fast cast, it sets and cures very quickly. Set time is about 5 min. and you can demold it in 20 min. or less. I do my sand trick but with water instead to determine how much to use. Fill all parts to be casted with water to their top and pour into measuring cup. Smooth-cast 300 is a 50/50 mixture so I will divide my water measurement by two. I will also increase this about 5% on each to allow for leakage or spillage. Blow the mold out to remove any water left over. Make sure you have every thing ready to go before you start mixing the smooth-on.Your mixing cups, tongue depressors, the mold dry and ready to go. I like the 1 oz dosage cups for this but dixie cups work well too. If I have an odd amount I need to mix or have nothing fancy, pre mark the amount needed on two cups and mark one A and the other B and use them for measuring only use a third cup for mixing and make sure it is large enough to hold both A and B with room to mix without spilling it. When you have all this ready start mixing and pouring. Don't mix it like a blender you don't want to add more bubble, mix it gently for no more then a minute because you need to start pouring it before it sets. The mixture is clearish at first but as it sets it will turn white.

Step 7: Finishing and Painting

Now that you have all your parts made it is time to clean them up and get them ready to paint. Check your seam lines you will need to do some hand sanding. If there is a larger step at the seam use a Dremel tool if you need too.I drill a 1/8 in hole into the body of mine so I can put it on my painting stand, your own sculpt will determine what yours will need. After you get your sanding done give them a quick wash in acetone if you have it or rubbing alcohol. I use a qt size cup fill it with about 4 oz of acetone and place a few of your parts and give it a good sloshing around making sure every part gets wet. Do this for about 30 seconds each and set aside to dry while you do another batch till all are cleaned. This will get any oil off.

If there are any air bubbles that need to be filled you can use a sculpting epoxy or Bondo. Give all your parts a good coat of "Kilz primer" in the spray can. You can get it a most any hardware store and sticks great. I've tried many other primers and it has been hit and miss on the results something in the Smooth-cast 300 reacts with some primers and they just stay sticky.

After the primer dries completely spray paint the parts with a base color. My penguins I start with flat black on the base and present I just kept with the Kilz white. Water base paints work best for the detail painting. Whatever your base color use a flat spray paint, it has more tooth to it and makes the application of the detail paint easier. You will probably have to do two coast still, but with a gloss finish it is more like three or four coats. After all the painting is done and dry you can start gluing it together. With a Dremel tool grind the paint off where the glue will be applied. Use 5 min epoxy, trust me on this. I used super glue this year and all seemed fine at first, but then any little hit and one after another started coming apart. So I had to pop them all apart grind off the supper glue and epoxy them together, twice the work plus having to retouch some paint. With everything painted and glued give it a few good coat of crystal clear spray paint. I like gloss but you can use semi or satin.Make sure you get even coverage so you don't have gloss spots and satin spots,you want a nice even sheen.

The last thing it needs is a hanger for the hook. I use a sterling silver jewelers wire bought from the craft store. Cut a piece about a inch long and from the center bend it into a "U" shape and pinch the two ends together. If you have jewelers pliers they work great. Now take a drill bit big enough to allow the pinched "U" shaped wire to fit into it. You can use a power drill to make the hole or a pinvise and twist it by hand to drill the hole. My hole for this year is in the top of his head. Test fit the wire in the hole and trim the wire or drill the hole to allow at least a 1/4 in penetration. Once satisfied mix some epoxy dip the wire end into it then slide it into the hole. If you get any extra where you don't want it clean it up with some rubbing alcohol.Wait an hour and make sure it holds by giving it a little tug.

Step 8: Lets Pack It Up !

I always like to package mine up in a box or a tin. Yes this might be over the top, but you have come this far. As soon as I get my first parts out of the molds I assemble one of them and head to the Dollar store. In early November all the Christmas decor is out and fully stocked. They always have great little boxes or tins with Holiday decor printed on them. I take my ornament and see which one fits it best, then buy twenty of them. When all of the ornaments are done and dry I sign the bottom side and put them in their box with a label of the recipient.

With every project there are always many different way to achieve great results and these are the ones that have worked for me, but feel free to grow and expand in your own way. I hope you enjoyed this instructable and I wish you all happy holidays and have a happy new year.

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