December 3, 2021

Carving Owls Out of Wood The Whittler’s Guide

You might think the carving of a wooden owl is the most tedious thing in the world, but that’s not true at all. In fact, the hardest part of carving a wooden owl is deciding what it should look like! The traditional method of carving an owl out of a wooden block is to carve a circle, attach the owl to a stick, and then cut it to shape. While this method will work, there are some people who don’t feel comfortable carving a circle. So, you’re a whittler and have decided to carve an owl out of wood, but if so, you’re wondering, how to carve owls out of wood?

What tools you’ll need

  • Basswood or wood of choice
  • Finish of choice
  • Carving knife 
  • Pencil
  • Ruler.

How to carve an owl

Draw in the top of the head.

Measure down 1/2″ on the front and back corners. Sketch a line from the side corners down to these marks. Make use of the drawings as a guide. That gives you two triangles on opposite sides of the blank.

Shape the top of the head.

You can choose to use a push cut or a paring cut to remove the triangles sketched in the beginning, start making the top of the owl’s head. Choose the type of cut depending on the grain of the wood and your hand strength.

Mark the bottom of the head and body.

Use the drawings as a guide and draw in the perch and the bottom of the head. Make 1/8″-deep stop cuts along these lines and mark the sharp corners to remove on the belly, sides, and the back of the head.

Roughout the owl.

At this point, rough out the owl using a paring cut or a push cut to carve from the middle of the owl’s belly, halfway between the perch and the bottom of the head, up to the stop cuts. Use push cuts to get rid of the sharp corners on the front and sides of the owl. Taper the back of the head.

Sketch in the beak and ears.

Sketch the beak and ears using the drawings as a guide. The ears are defined by long sloping curves across the top, and down both sides and the beak is defined by two triangular cuts that start almost at 1/4″ from the front corner of the blank on either side.

Carve the ears and beak.

Use a push cut to carve along the slanting lines of the ears. Be careful, so that you do not chip out the ears. Make stop cuts along the beak and slice up to the stop cuts to free the chips. Sketch in the eyes, eyebrows, and claws.

Carve the eyes and claws.

To carve the eyes and claws, make two, small chip cuts on each side of the perch to define the owl’s claws. Remove a three-corner chip for each eye, making two curved angled cuts above the eye for each eyebrow.

Add the wings and feathers.

For this part, our guide on Carving Patterns into Wood will help. Make two angled cuts to define each wing on the back of the blank. Use a 1/4″ #6 gouge for stab cuts, and make sure you define the three rows of feathers on the owl’s belly. Apply your finish of choice.

How do you cut an owl out of wood?

  1. Strip the bark and sapwood to ensure that your owl is from the strongest part of the trunk. 
  2. Plan and mark the shape of your owl. 
  3. Power on the chainsaw starts with rough blocking out, then refining, and add key details.

How do you cut an owl out of a log?

Debark the trunk

Start by preparing the piece of wood you are using for your carved owl. Use your chainsaw to remove the bark and sapwood from your trunk. The process helps the finished owl sculpture to be weather-resistant and robust.

Secure your wood and draw the owl

Secure the trunk onto a sturdy subsurface using a ratchet strap, or screw it in place. Be sure that it will not roll away or move as you use your chainsaw to carve it.

Draw an owl on a debarked wooden trunk

Use a pencil or a piece of chalk to draw the rough draft of an owl onto the trunk. Decide on the direction your owl will be facing. Your markings should indicate clear cutting lines for your carving work.

Blocking out

Power on your carving tool and start carving with the chainsaw. Work from top to bottom: start by carving ahead and giving it a rounded shape with your chainsaw. Move on to carving out the body of the owl. Follow your guideline as you carve away corners and edges. Make sure you have your protective clothing.

Work out the fine structure.

Add detail to your owl carving, using the chainsaw to carve wings, a face, and feathers. For the face, use your chalk to draw a vertical line marking the center of your owl’s face, and remove wood in a V shape on both sides of the line. Add contours that bring out the eyes and beak.

To make wings, draw a heart onto the wood; make sure that both halves are at the same height, and draw a vertical line to split the shape in two. For feathers, use your chainsaw to add feathers to the owl’s wings and tail. The lower flight feathers should be straight and overlapping. Start your carving from the middle of the heart and work outward.

For talons, start by marking them. Try to carve all of them to the same depth, and keep natural proportions in mind. Leave enough wood around each talon so that you round them off at the end. 

Add finishing touches

The final step involves carving out the features of your wooden owl using the chainsaw tip or a chisel. Make small details such as the talons and individual feathers look realistic. Carve marks to give the impression of feathers on the wings and tail. For a smooth finish, sand down your owl when 

Treat the wood

To keep your owl beautiful and fresh, protect your chainsaw carving project against fungi and rot, depending on the type of wood you have used.

How do you cut an owl on a walking stick?

  1. Pick a stick of the appropriate size. When standing with your arms at your side, the stick should be about 6 or 8 inches taller than your elbow. Pick a longer wood stick if you will be tackling steep terrain.
  2. Use a finishing spray if you want to keep the bark on the walking stick. Use a finishing spray rather than a brush to apply the wood finish. Seal the wood with an oil-based polyurethane rather than a water-based finish for better protection. 
  3. Follow the instructions above on how to carve an owl out of wood. 
David D. Hughes
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