How To Cut 3-D Reindeer on a Scrollsaw - Part One

Charles Lent

Staff member
Central North Carolina
This mostly describes how to make compound cut reindeer with a scroll saw, but the technique applies to all compound (3D) cutting on a scroll saw. You are going to have to have a good pin less blade saw that has been aligned well to be successful. The blade must be absolutely straight (90 deg) to the saw table in both the side to side and front to back directions. The DeWalt 788 or better model saw of similar design will work well for this, but even the DeWalt has problems since it does not have an adjustment for getting the front to back blade angle perfectly to 90 degrees. You will need to elongate the mounting holes that hold the blade mechanism in either the upper or lower yellow arms in order to move the blade to perfectly straight. It won't take much, about an additional screw diameter, but it makes a big difference when compound cutting. Tune your saw well before trying this.

I've been making compound cut reindeer for 17 years now, and give them away to any woman, sales person, cashier, Waitress, Nurse, etc. who helps me in some way during the Christmas Season. Last year I made 428 and gave them all away. Each year the quantity made seems to increase. At the end of their transaction with me I hold out my hand, palm down, toward them with a reindeer in my palm, and I wish them a Very Merry Christmas. When they reach out toward me I drop a reindeer in their hand. I make 4 sizes. The largest is about 3 1/2" high and the size that I make the most of. I can do one in about 6-8 minutes now. The middle sizes are either given away, as is, or I glue a pin to one side of them or make a necklace from them. The smallest, at about 1" high become ear rings. I drill a tiny hole just under their antlers and insert a gold or silver ring that is large enough to clear the antlers. On this ring I attach the ear ring hook for pierced ears. I make a left and a right version so the reindeer face forward when hanging from their ears. These take me about 15 minutes each to make, so they are for "special women friends". A pair is placed in a 3 X 2 box with padding and then given to those special women. The boxes come from Hobby Lobby.

I don't sell these. You have to do something for me to get them, but I get many thanks, sometimes a hug, and occasionally a kiss on the cheek. The girls at Lowes now call me Reindeer Charley, and they all have at least one reindeer. You can also find tiny herds of them sitting high on a shelf in many of the restaurants that I frequent.

The pattern that I use is a slightly modified version of the one that's available through Mathias Wandell's website I just cleaned it up a little (smoothed the lines), changed the size to suit my needs of using it on my scroll saw, and put as many copies of it on an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of paper as I could, to save paper. I print them on an old HP laser printer. because they hold up better than inkjet, but inkjet will work too. When cutting them out, cut the face view first and the side view pattern out together as one with the face view on the left. I prefer going clockwise, but either way will work. Don't cut the two views of the pattern apart. The line between the views is the fold line. Keeping the two views attached to each other keeps them in alignment. The only scissors cut that needs to be accurate is the one on the bottom end of their hooves. When attaching the pattern to the wood, make certain that their hooves touch the bottom edge of the wood, or after cutting, they won't stand properly..

With the pattern sized and cut out of the printed paper, cut blocks of wood just slightly taller than the pattern and wide enough for the side view of the pattern. I use 3/4 pine for the largest reindeer, hard pine, if I can get it in adequate quantities for the three largest sizes. I use hard maple for the smallest sizes, because they are too fragile otherwise. A carpenter friend brings me scraps of construction SPF wood shorts, anything worth picking up (a foot of more long),.that I cut to size when available. When I don't have enough of these pieces, I buy white pine in sizes from 1 X 2 to 1 X 10 #2 grade at Lowes and sometimes at Home Depot.. I hand select the boards to be almost knot free for large areas and then I cut the clean straight grain pieces from them and feed the fire with all of the knots and crazy grain pieces. You could buy select grade wood, but if you are careful when selecting, or you can get #2 grade and waste 30% of it because of the knots and wild grain and still save money. I try to pick the wood that appears almost quarter sawn (grain running almost straight across the 3/4 width) and has almost invisible grain lines.. Strong and dark grain lines make cutting more difficult and the darker brown lines make the reindeer look almost like a hybrid between a reindeer and a zebra after cutting them out. I use hard maple for the smallest ear ring reindeer because they need the additional strength to survive even the cutting process. I cut these tiny reindeer from 3/4 X 3/4 hard maple. Trying to cut them from softer wood usually ends up having them fall apart as they are cut. Even with hard maple they are very delicate.

I fold each pattern on the vertical line between the two views. I just align this fold line top and bottom to the corner of a block of a block of wood and run my finger down the pattern fold line to crease it along the line Then I remove the pattern and bend it further to about 90 degrees. I'll usually cut and fold all of the patterns that were cut from one sheet of paper before continuing. I use common stationery store rubber cement, and go through several of the large jars of it every year. I apply it with the bottle brush to the one wide side as well as the narrow side on the left of the block of wood, You can move the pattern around to get the fold line on the corner of the wood and the reindeer's feet at the bottom edge of the block of wood. Rubber cement is relatively cheap and works well for compound cutting because you never have to remove it after you have cut the pattern. The finished reindeer, or other compound cut project, comes from the center of the block of wood and the paper pattern gets discarded with the scrap wood. Any excess wood above or to the right of the reindeer pattern just becomes waste. I like to have about 1/4" of wood above the reindeer pattern so I can start the cut before cutting into the pattern. A little extra wood on the right side of the pattern keeps the blade from breaking out of the block as you cut the tail of the reindeer.