Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Woodburned Peg Doll Nativity How-To

I know, I know... it's only September. But in my book, its never too early to start planning for Advent and Christmas and gift giving.  I'd rather do a little work early on so that I can enjoy the season.  Last Christmas, I made this peg doll nativity for my just-turned-one year old niece, and it was a big hit.  The peg dolls are just the right size for a little fist, they make satisfying banging noises, and are fun to chew on (and later will hopefully help her understand the true meaning of Christmas). We've added two new nephews to the family this year, so I wanted to make another nativity.  After watching my niece play with hers I was inspired to think a little differently about the next set.

When making toys for babies & toddlers, you have to consider that everything is going to end up in their mouths.  With that in mind, I still made Baby Jesus a tiny size, but as He is a choking hazard, my sister has Him stored away until the kiddos are bigger.  When I painted last time, I also made sure that my paint and sealer were non-toxic.  This time considering my nephew is even younger, I knew that there was an even higher likelihood that he would have these pieces in his mouth all the time.

After a friend gave me a woodburner this summer, I knew that it would be the perfect medium to make more baby-friendly peg dolls.  I woodburned the peg dolls, stained them with coffee, and sealed with mineral oil and beeswax- all non-toxic, food safe materials that a mama can feel a little better about her baby chewing on.  Not only that, but I l-o-v-e the style of the Nativity and how simple and beautiful it looks.  Plus, they smell delicious- a combo of the burned wood, coffee, and beeswax is like a campfire and incense all rolled into one. :)

If you want to try this technique, I've got a lot of pictures to help you along the way.  If you stumbled upon this and want to paint a set of nativity peg dolls, you could easily use the woodburned patterns below as outlines and you might want to check out this post.  Also, this post has ideas for painting animals for a peg doll nativity, and this post has a set of Saints, a cathedral, and a Mass set.  I think the kiddos in your life would love any of them!

Note: Many of the links to products in this post are affiliate links.  That means that if you click on that link and make a purchase through it, I receive a small percentage at no cost to you.  I only recommend things I already have used and have been happy with.  I appreciate your support!

Here are my supply recommendations based on what I used:
-Wood Doll Bodies Man 3 9/16" (Although I bought in bulk last time to save!)
-Wood Doll Bodies Woman 3 1/2" (Also bought in bulk)
-Wood Blocks 2"
-Wood Blocks 1/2"
-Wood Eggs 2 1/2"
-Woodburning Kit
-Mineral Oil
-Baby Jesus was from Hobby Lobby, but this wood doll is similar
-All of the boxes used (large stable for whole Nativity, small box for Holy Family, and tiny box for Baby Jesus) were from Hobby Lobby.  Unfortunately, I can't link right to the products I used, but I love these boxes.  They are sturdy and you can get them individually in store.  The medium one listed at that link is the one featured in this post.

(*Update- A reader asked about the total cost for this project. I based on amounts from buying the peg dolls in bulk from the links above and I used a 40% off coupon on the large wooden box from Hobby Lobby.  With those discounts, all of the items you see in the first picture cost me about $30.  This doesn't count the cost of the woodburner, wax, oil... or coffee :) It would be a bit more expensive if you purchased the peg dolls in smaller quantities, but you could always find someone to split a larger order with, do a peg exchange, etc.)

First up, sketch lightly in pencil.  Totally worth the time, because then you concentrate on small areas while wordburning without trying to figure out the big picture.  And there's no need to erase unless you miss some lines.  You can keep an eye out for any rough edges that might need some light sanding at this point.  All of the supplies I mentioned above have always been very well made and I haven't had to worry about sanding, except on the edges of the boxes.

The woodburning kit I used (listed above) came with a few standard tips.  I almost exclusively used the fine and round tips.  I did use the straight tip in some cases for hair and a couple of lines, and I used the shading tip to create the angels' wings.  I hadn't woodburned in many many years, but it actually was easier than I remembered.  I would recommend practicing with a scrap piece of wood to get a feel for the tips and to also be very careful with your fingers when you start working on the pegs. :)

As great as the woodburning looked, it needed a little contrast.  I decided to use a coffee stain.  I brewed double strength coffee and brushed it on with a paint brush.  I had planned on adding water to dilute it and make lighter shades, but actually ended up letting it dry and adding more coats to create darker shades.  The coffee obviously soaks into cut ends and smooth ends of the wood differently.

Here you can see what a difference the contrasting brown colors makes.  I let the stain dry completely before adding sealer.

Also, the wooden blocks, especially the 2" size, seemed to have very sharp corners.  Not only did this make me nervous if one of the kids fell onto it, but it also seemed more likely to wear down and splinter.  I could have sanded the corners, but again, thinking about preventing splinters I tried another technique.  I put one corner of the block on a steel plate I use for jewelry making (you could use any hard surface, like the bottom of a skillet) and then whacked the opposite diagonal corner with a hammer.  The result was a dented in corner on two of the eight corners that looks much more baby safe.  It only took a couple of minutes to do this on all of the blocks.

Next up, sealing the wood.  I used mineral oil and beeswax to create a food safe sealant for the natural wood.  Using a one part wax to four parts oil ratio, I warmed up the mineral oil in a double boiler and then added small pieces of the wax, stirring until melted.  I waited for it to cool a bit and then used a rag to rub into the wood while it was still warm.  As it cools, it gets too solid to work with, so I just put it in a hot water bath to warm it back up.  I let the sealant sit for about 20 minutes (basically the time for me to put it on every piece and then get back to the beginning) and then buffed off the excess with another clean rag.  I put two coats on some of the rougher piece of wood, including the box.

Ok, ready to get started?  Whether you decide to paint or woodburn, it can be nice to have a pattern to start with.  I always like to have one peg doll to look at, so I took pictures of the front, back and side of the various people and animals in the Nativity:

Here's the Holy Family:
The Wise Men:
Their Camels:
The Angels:
The Shepherds:
Their Sheep:
And the Cattle and Donkey:

And finally, I woodburned a big star and lots of little stars inside the lid of the box listed above.  It is the perfect size to function as a stable for play and also for storage.  Baby Jesus is lying in swaddling clothes in the bottom of a tiny wood box (from Hobby Lobby) for His manger.

If you don't want to start with the whole Nativity, you could make just the Holy Family in a small box like this.  I made these for some baby showers this fall.

Aren't they so cute?!? I just love how this turned out :)

If you are interested in more Catholic peg doll projects, check out these posts:

Peg Doll Nativity:

Wooden Animals for a Peg Doll Nativity:

Passion & Resurrection Peg Doll Set:

Saints, Cathedral, and Mass Set:


  1. Can you update with a link to the woodburning tool you used? I'm looking at your angels in particular and it looks like yours has some different tips.

    1. Hi Margaret Mary! Actually it is the exact same kit. The angels' wings were made with the tip that is called the shading point in this kit. It's the one that is in the middle of the tips in the product picture (shaped like a tear drop), and then if you scroll further down on the Amazon page, there is an up close picture of each tip. It is the 4th one shown. To make the angles' wings I held the tip point down, and let it burn, then picked it up and moved it to the next spot, etc. kind of creating a look of feathers. Hope that helps!

  2. Amazing! I'm so excited!... I mean Teddy is so excited! :)