Santa Sticks – Kid-Friendly Woodcraft

These twiggy Santa Sticks are an old Forest School favourite woodcraft, and would normally be made using a sharp knife to carve Father Christmas’ hat, face, and beard. But the sessions I run often include preschool children who might be a bit young or inexperienced for knife work.

So I wanted to try making Santa Sticks using different equipment that would be less challenging to master for very small children, and that parents would feel comfortable to do with them.

The method I’ve come up with uses cheap and readily-available tools that are easy and safe for little fingers, and can be used again and again to make a whole family of Santas, and a village of elves as well!

Sticks carved to look like Santa.

Knife-substitutes for younger children

My own children are enthusiastic collectors of tourist tat, with a weakness for oversize novelty items found in museum and castle gift shops. I don’t usually consider this a good thing,but among their treasures we have several giant pencils with enormous sharpeners dangling from them, to use to keep them pointy.

If you can sharpen a wooden pencil with those, I reasoned, surely you could also sharpen the top of a twig into a leadless but hat-like point to make Santa Sticks? And, of course, a little test proved you absolutely can!

I already use vegetable peelers as knife substitutes for young children, when sharpening sticks to points for cooking on. But a lot of parents at my sessions are still vary wary of letting their smallest children use these, since the blades can be very sharp. The pencil sharpener method makes a good alternative, as the blade is even less accessible than on a peeler. We still use a peeler to scrape away the bark for a face and beard area.

Of course, both sharpener and peeler DO have blades, and therefore I count them as tools in my sessions and make sure to follow all our usual tool rules. I have a little tool-talk with the children before we begin, going through which parts are safe to touch, which are sharp, how to hold them, and what direction to use them in. You can find this tool talk at the bottom of the post.

How to make Santa Sticks

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Making a Santa Stick will take some children mere minutes, while others will be absorbed by the task for a lot longer. A big part of the fun is finding the right stick, worthy of being transformed into Father Christmas (and that’s also nice and straight, and the right thickness to fit into the sharpener…). So don’t be tempted to do this bit (or any other bits!) for them. Instead, go for a walk in the woods together and get twig hunting.

Materials needed

Scraping barks off twigs isn’t great for blade sharpness, so I’d highly recommend having a dedicated peeler for this, if you want to keep peeling vegetables later a thing.

Equipment needed to make Santa sticks - twigs, peeler, and a giant pencil sharpener.


1. Use the giant sharpener to make one end of the stick pointy. This will be your Father Christmas’s hat.

Child using a giant pencil sharpener to make a pointy stick.

2. Choose the best side, and use the vegetable peeler to scrape away a thumb shaped space under the hat. This will be Father Christmas’s face. Extend this down in a long triangle-ish shape for his beard.

Child using a vegetable peeler to scrape the bark off a twig.

3. Now all you need to do is decorate! Paint the hat red and the beard white to make Father Christmas, or use green to make an elf!

A child painting a stick to look like Santa Claus.

4. Once the paint is dry, use a black felt-tip pen to draw on the face. I like to do just the eyes, but children often prefer to do the whole shebang – eyes, mouth, nose… and even the odd pair of rosy cheeks!

Father Christmas stick.

Santa Sticks Tool Talks

When I introduce these tools to children, we start by looking at the tool and establishing the rules of using it, carrying it (if they can take it away with them), and putting it away. We also make sure they keep an arms-length all round away from other children while they are working (their ‘work circle’, sometimes charmingly called the ‘blood bubble’!).

This is the basic script I follow for these tools.

Sharpener tool talk

  • This is a sharpener – it has a blade with a very sharp edge that can cut our skin.
  • Which part do you think is the blade?
  • Which parts do you think are safe to touch?
  • We hold the sharpener between our finger and thumb, in a hard pinch. We have to hold it firmly.
  • Where do you think we put the stick?
  • What might happen if we put our finger in this hole?
  • We turn the stick round and round, towards the sharp edge of the blade. Can you see how it is shaving off the bark?
  • If bits of wood gets jammed in the blade, we use a stick to clear it. We never use our fingers because the blade could cut them.

Peeler tool talk

  • This is a peeler – it has a blade with a very sharp edge that can cut our skin.
  • Which part do you think is the blade?
  • Which parts do you think are safe to touch?
  • We hold the peeler handle with a firm grip, using our whole hand.
  • When using the peeler, we hold the stick in one hand and the peeler in our other hand.
  • We press the blade to our stick and drag it along the surface, away from us. We may need to press hard.
  • Why should we always direct the peeler away from us? What might happen to our other hand if we don’t?
  • When we are using cutting tools, we keep them to the sides and on the outside of our legs or in front of us, in front of our knees.
  • If bits of wood gets jammed in the blade, we use a stick to clear it. We never use our fingers because the blade could cut them.

A point to note – while you can get a child to wear a protective glove on their ‘helper hand’ (the hand NOT holding the tool, as this is the hand that would be injured if the tool slipped), this does make gripping harder. I personally think it is safer for them to have a good grip on the tool and stick, so I don’t use gloves for this activity. You would of course need to make your own assessment.

More from Rhubarb and Wren

Looking for more fun things to make and do with the kids? Check out these great activities from Rhubarb and Wren!

home-made Christmas star decorations

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Santa stick - carved and painted twig.

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