View Full Version : Bird carving

John Novak
06-10-2008, 7:33 PM
I found that bird carving is enjoyable for myself and for a lot of people. It is one of the few carving projects that you can carve away and quit almost whenever you want. You can carve a bird that is basically smooth with only a little detail on the wings, or you can get ambitious or whatever you want to call it and carve every bit of detail. Each and every feather – each and every quill and barb. Or you can quit at any point in between and still have a great project.

Bird feet are easy – cast pewter metal feet available for many species. Drill a pair of holes in the body, put some epoxy glue in the holes, and insert the feet. The base of each foot has a shaft sticking down and you attach the feet to your base. The toes can be bent – very carefully and slowly – to fit your base. Larger toes may require a small notch to be filed on the under side of the toe to prevent breaking.

Glass eyes are available in sizes down to 3mm diameter and in a wide range of colors. I use what eye makers call a “flat back” eye – there is no wire attached to the back of the eye. Taxidermists use ones with wires to hold the eyes in their mounts. I recess a small area for the eye and set it in place with 5 min, epoxy. If you do not recess the eye slightly the eye appears to be bulging out like a gold fish. Then to form an eye lid and to fill in around the eye I will use either wood filler (Plastic Wood or an equivalent) or an epoxy compound. The epoxy compounds are usually colored so painting is required. If you are planning on a natural finish, use wood filler. Plastic wood is an acetone base and dries very quickly. You can extend the working life of the wood filler by using a paint brush to moisten the filler. I work small chisels, toothpicks, dental picks, etc to form the lid.

Bird heads are the biggest challenge. No matter how good your carving is, if it has a bad face it looks lousy. This is true for all bird and animal carvings as well as people carving – caricature carvings usually have funny looking faces. People will always concentrate on the face. For birds I will usually carve the head separately. For decoys – the third head is usually the final one.

I do not like to enter competition with my carvings – I carve to make me happy and I do not care what some judge has to say. I guess I’m too independent. Every spring – out east, somewhere around Atlantic City – the Ward Foundation holds their annual competition for wildfowl art. The “professional” class of carvers will spend as much as a thousand on a decoy – you have to touch them see if the feathers are real. In the decoy competition the first step in judging blows my mind. They have a tank of water and they throw the decoys in and see how they float – I guess they are decoys and they half to float right.

Feather detail --- I use a Foredom motor tool for a lot of the carving – great for roughing out and for fine detail. I use hand tools in between. The Foredom with fine diamond and ruby chips bonded to the different shapes or newer ceramic based bits designed for wood. Feather barbs are done with a wood burner. Use a very fine burning tip and keep the temperature down to leave the mark in the wood I want without leaving charcoal - the real black stuff. Charcoal will crumble and leave an uneven finish. I burn for a very light tan. With the fine tip I can get about a hundred lines per inch in a feather.

I guess I've run off at the mouth or finger tips enough for today. Most of the carving that I have seen here has been chi or relief carving. If you are going to do any other carving - think round.

I wish that I could up load picture with higher resolution to include more detail.

Jamie Cowan
06-10-2008, 11:52 PM
Those birds are amazing. Great work. Thank you for sharing some of your technique, as well as the info about the carving contests. If I spent that kind of time and money on a carving and watched some guy throw it in a tank of water...well, I wouldn't be happy. I agree with you about carving for fun. That's where it's at. Anyway, nice work, and keep them coming.

randall rosenthal
06-12-2008, 9:52 AM
really nice!!.....like the tail feather shot

Clara Koss
06-12-2008, 1:11 PM
nice duck butt!!!!! i am very fond of ducks as was my dad.... especially the round fat ones!!!!! thanks for posting... keep showing pics....;)

curtis rosche
06-12-2008, 7:19 PM
omg! thats amazing!

Bill Bolen
06-16-2008, 2:36 PM
Outstanding! That nuthatch looks like he is ready to move down that limb!...Bill...

Dave McGeehan
06-18-2008, 6:08 PM
Great job, John. I especially like the duck with the natural finish and the way you layered the feathers in the rear. Terrific work!

Zahid Naqvi
06-20-2008, 7:06 PM
John, just like everyone else stated above, it's great looking work.