Introduction: Tiny-Happy People : Wood-turned Toys

About: Love outdoors, climbing, cycling, longboarding, kayaking/canoeing, woodworking, food, recycling/up-cycling.

Christmas is hard, what do you get people, socks obviously, but what else? how about Tiny-Happy People? These three are for my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and Nephew.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You don't need a great deal for this project but you do need a Lathe, and ideally a chuck but there are ways around it if you don't have one.


Wood lathe

Lathe chuck (or a jam chuck)

Roughing gouge

Skew chisel


Parting chisel

An awl or a small drill bit and drill


I used some chunks of cedar of Lebanon trued up to about 1-5 to 2 inches in diameter. Cedar is lovely, and it cleans up well, and is also light and relatively soft.

You will also need:

Mineral oil

Garden wire


Leather scrap, felt or silicone for the bases.

Step 2: Design

Designing the tiny-happy-people was rather fun but there are a few things to consider, I modeled them on my Nephew, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. You need to make a super simple representation of them that is easily recognized as them, isn't offensive but is still simple and clean, and uses the fewest processes possible.

A good way around this is to think of it like a caricature, pick out the persons easily recognizable features, e.g. glasses, beards, the way they wear their hair, maybe even a hobby if you want to make a prop.

next you can think about who they are in relation to the other tiny happy people. It's pretty clear that the shortest model is a child, but alone it might not be so clear.

Body Shape:

this is where it gets tricky, you don't want to make a short dumpy model to represent someone, so try to use shape carefully and represent the person without being too over the top.

Arms: The arms are a good way to show differences in gender and age, long straight arms, close to the body look more feminine, curved c shape arms make the model look wider and more masculine, again mounting the arms can change the look, short stumpy arms mounted low look childish.

Hands: the size of the hands needs to be in scale with the rest of the model, slightly larger hands for for the Dad, smaller Mum and smaller still for the child.

Head: the heads are all about the same size, the full size head on a smaller body makes it look more childish.

so, with all of this in mind I went for the following features on my three models:

Dad: Body, slightly shorter than Mum with a wider shoulder tapering towards the base, hands larger,head normal size, arms curved wide.

Mum: body, wider about 2 3rds up, tapering to the base. Hands, smaller than Dads, arms straight and closer to the body (helps to make the hole for the arms at an angle so they stick out less). The head has a bobble on the pack for her bun.

Child: body is half the height of the tallest figure, normal head, smallest hands, mounted just above half way with very short arms (t-rex style). the body is domed at the top, straight fora cm or so and then tapers to the base, a combination of the other 2 models with a bit of shoulder.

so, sketch out your models on graph paper, once you are happy you can cut out your drawing, fold it in half and copy it onto card, measure one cm from the edge and cut it off, then cut out the model and keep the card as a template, this will help you match

your dimensions on the lathe. If you are using a chuck you can just cut 1cm from the base of the model. and use a template to see how close you are to the design, otherwise a set of calipers or just eyeballing it is also fine.

Step 3: Turning the Dolls

First off, true up your blank and rough it down to the widest diameter of the doll + A few millimeters for safety/sanding. Next, mark out the height of the doll along the blank and cut tenons at either end with the parting tool. Leave the wood 1cm thick so that you can use your card template to match the shape. hold your card template to the wood and mark any points in contact with the wood with a pencil, cut them away and compare again so that your doll matches the template, then sand and burnish/finish with oil/wax/laquer etc.

when parting off the piece, I use a 1 handed parting tool, with one hand I cut the piece off a a slight angle so that the piece has a concave base, this makes it more stable. with the other hand i make a 'C' shape around the piece, ready to catch it when it is cut off.

When making the balls for the head and hands, I measured out the diameter of the ball and rounded the sides with a skew chisel, then used sandpaper to make sure the ball was smooth without bumps.

If you are turning between centers, shape the piece, leaving some spindle about 1/2 a cm. sand and finish the work on the lathe and then cut them off with a sharp knife or saw (hacksaw works well as it has a fine kerf.) Then, sand the ends by hand.

Step 4: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes.

To attach the various parts of the dolls, you will need your awl or a fine drill bit and drill, the garden wire, and Superglue.

lay the torso flat and place the pieces in the appropriate places, wherever you think they look good, measure out a length of wire you need, with 1/2 to 1cm of extra.

mounting the head and hands is made easier by the fact they are made on a lathe, there tends to be a mark left that indicates the center, using the awl in end grain is a bit easier, find the centerpoint on the head, hands and torso and make a hole in each about 1/2-1 cm deep, cut your sections of wire and dry fit test the wires by firmly pushing the wire in with pliers, when you're happy with the wire length, add the glue and refit the pieces.

Cut a small section of material, the same shape as the base of each doll, glue on with supergule to stop it from making any marks on surfaces. Note: do not use superglue on cotton as it has an exothermic reaction and tends to smoke.

Step 5: Done!

That’s it, I really like these dolls as they are poseable, simple and have a lot of character, they can make a great personalised gift, and are relatively simple to make. I hope you have fun if you decide to make some and share your tiny happy people with me!

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