Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | March 24, 2011

Carving a Wood Pendant

Over the years, I have carved a lot of personalized “doo-dads” as gifts for friends.  One such gift doo-dad that I really enjoy carving is a personalized pendant.  Everyone has a “handle” (hobby, sports interest, art interest, etc.) and I have found that a personalized pendant makes a great and well received gift… and I love doing them.  My good buddy Don Mertz, the Wood Bee Carver,  recently requested a posting on my pendants… telling me that he thought folks would be interested.  So, hopefully you will be…here we go:

Dragon Fly & North Coast Eagle Pendants - Western Juniper

Dragon, North Coast Eagle, OM Pendants - Western Juniper

First, Is the Idea

I have a strong liking for North Coast Indian art and I like eagles, so a good pendant for me would be a pendant with a North West Coast style eagle.  For a baseball enthusiast, you could do a bat and ball or a glove and ball… for your true love, a heart.  The possibilities are endless.  One suggestion though… keep it simple.  Pendants are no larger than a silver dollar so we have limited room and the carved objects are pretty small.  Google Images is a great place to poke around for ideas on specific subject matter.

Selecting the Wood

Selecting the wood is an important step.  The harder the wood, the more difficult it is to carve in miniature (for me anyway)… yet, we do want a stout wood.  I like wood with grain but our piece should not be too grainy like with fir.  There are probably lots of possibilities for wood but my personal favorite is Western Juniper.  It has character, color, and it carves well.  Various fruit woods are also a good choice but I will warn you that cherry is seriously hard.  Knowing that I am going to be carving several pendants over the next year, I often cut a bunch of pendant blanks from scraps of Western Juniper left over from larger projects so that I have them on hand.  They are roughly 2 1/4″ X 3″ X 1/4.”  The size here really does not matter but they should be around 1/4″ thick.

Laying-out Your Pendant

I start with a square cut piece of wood, but if you wish, you can start carving with a pre-cut circular shape.  Draw your subject on the blank.  You can either draw it directly on the blank or you can use carbon paper or the like (caution: carbon paper smears and can make a mess of your piece).

Lay-out of Pendant

Carving Your Pendant

Before you actually start to carve, drill your hole in the pendant for a lanyard.  I carefully drill at a slight angle to the center from both sides of the tab area.  I suggest using a tiny wood drill rather than a steel or general purpose drill.  If you use a steel drill, use an awl in advance to keep the drill centered.  Do this first because if you make a mistake with drilling, it is well better to do it in advance of a couple of hours of detailed carving.

You are going to need some fine (detail) tools and they are going to need to be SHARP.  There is no trick here; this is no more than a fine detail relief carving.  Because it is so small, I find it best to get out an extra dose of patience.  I simply cut around the perimeter of my subject and go from there.  With hard woods, I suggest taping your gouges rather than pushing them.  With hard woods, it is easy to slip with pushing strokes.  I you are using softer woods like the Juniper or Basswood, pushing works well.

Drawing and First Carving steps of Gandalf Pendant

Holding these little guys can be a challenge.  I use a small Grip-All Jaws but you can carefully secure these in any vice.  It may help to wrap a strip of rubber around the edge to keep it from sliding.  I do suggest securing them in some fashion.  Holding them in your hand could be a bit dangerous if you slip with a tiny gouge or detail knife.  Even a glove won’t stop a tiny or pointed tool.

If you are reading this, you are likely a carver so I will not get carried away with “how to carve” here.  Just go slow and do not be too aggressive… this is a tiny carving. I find that it is easy to slip or over-carve with ting carvings.  Of course, you should have no problem if you are like the master of tiny carving, Don Mertz, and are used to carving golf tees and other miniatures.  Comparatively speaking, these things are monsters.

Once you have your subject carved to your desires, look for background areas that can be textured.  Texturing will “bring out” your carving and add greatly to its attractiveness.  Texturing can be done with a burr, a texturing tool, nail tips, or simple scoring with a tiny v-parting tool.

Typically, I do not believe in sanding carvings but since these are jewelry, I often do lightly sand my pieces… especially the back.  I like to put a hewn edge on my pieces but you may want to sand yours.

Finish and Lanyard

My favorite finish on these pendants (and most other things) is Howard Feed’n Wax.  I don’t paint pretty wood and I find Howard Feed’n Wax really raises the color and character of the wood.  I leave it on for an hour or so then and wipe off all excess.  Suggesting Howard Feed’n Wax is assuming the the pendant will be worn on the outside of clothing and not against the skin.

Completed Gandalf Pendant

If the pendant is to be worn next to the skin, I use Jojoba oil as the finishing oil as the finishing oil.  Jojoba is natural and non-toxic.  One can usually find Jojoba oil in natural food stores.   Natural oils from the body will eventually keep a nice finish on the pendant and it may not be necessary to re-apply a finish.

Now you can “string” in a piece of leather or fabric lanyard.  Women tend to go for the fabric over leather.  Both lanyard materials can be found at most bead shops.

Name Badge Option

These pendants also make a great name badge for shows or demonstrations.  For a name badge, you can get by with a larger pendant.  A plain name is great or you can add design to it.  I wear one when I do art festivals and I always get lots of nice comments.


As I mentioned in the beginning, pendants can make a nice gift.  Recently, my wife completed a year long certification course for “hand analysis” (  So I made her a pendant with a hand on it.  She even wears it and tells me she gets lots of nice comments (of course, what can she say).  It is fun to please someone else with a customized piece.  Boy Scouts love these things with arrow heads, buffalo skulls, snakes, or eagles on them.

Hand Analysis Pendant w/crystal

So, add a pendant to your list of projects.  I think you will enjoy it.

Keep Sharp and Happy Carving!

Please visit my web site at


  1. Michael, Thank you for a very informative and inspirational journey into your wonderful world of carving pendants. As always a visit to White Eagle Studio is like a tour of a museum of beautiful carvings and insightful writings. BEE Carveful with a sharp knife and sharp mind. Don

  2. Nice article, Michael. I like the tone of it. Good to remind people that giving things away, especially personally made things, brings great pleasure to the work and joy in the giving. I like the pendant idea. Haven’t done any yet. Another idea.

    John K

  3. Michael and Friends: Thanks for this great article and for your added comments, guys. I’m a few months away from the young age of 78, and have taken an interest in learning to carve, specifically caricature carving: I have never carved an article in all my life. If I ever get to the point of creating any carvings, I do not plan to sell any of my items; I believe that wood is a living object which carries its spirit of the woods with it beyond the felling stage. As with my graphite pencil drawings, I draw for enjoyment, and if anyone likes my drawings, well then…that’s a bonus! I have yet to place a steel knife-edge to a piece of wood; I am presently in the learning stage, reading everything about carving that I am able to: I do not want to make any undue mistakes in my carvings. I am teaching myself, as I taught myself to draw over the past four years; I do not like to be restricted to certain ours of classes, and having to rush through a class for the sake of time. Perhaps I’m being too tough on myself, but I respect God’s creation. Just wanted to tell you a little bit of myself. Thanks for your time.

    • Thanks for your comments Herb. I wish you the very best in your new endeavors.

      • Hi Michael
        Thank you for a most informative total article on wood carving.
        I have only commenced carving in the last couple of years since retirement. Your articles are what I have been looking for for quite some time. My next task is to try and implement what I have been fortunate to have found on your site. Most of the wood that we have in Tasmania seem to be quite different to those available to you but some of that we’ll be trial and error (. Not too much error hopefully) I get the English Woodcarving magazine which is helpful.
        Once again thank you for making your experience available to a mere amateur.
        Brian Hughes
        Hobart Tasmania

      • Thank you for your kind words Brian. I hope you are safe down there from fires. Practice, practice, practice and don’t worry about outcomes. You will learn from each piece.

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