December 3, 2021

Carving Owls Out of Wood | The Whittler’s Guide

One might think that carving a wooden owl is the most tedious thing in the world, but it’s not. The hardest part of carving a wooden owl is deciding what it should look like! The traditional method of carving an owl from a block of wood is to carve a circle, attach the owl to a stick, and then cut it to size. Even though this method works, some people don’t feel comfortable carving a circle. So you’re a carver and you’ve decided to carve an owl out of wood, but you’re wondering how to carve owls out of wood.

What tools you’ll need

To carve an owl out of wood, you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Basswood or wood of your choice: choose an appropriate species for carving your owl. Basswood is commonly used because it is soft and easy to carve, but you can choose any wood that suits your needs.
  • Finish of your choice: Decide on the finish you want for your carved owl. This can be a natural wood finish or a specific type of paint or varnish.
  • Carving knife: A sharp carving knife shapes wood and creates intricate details. Ensure you have a quality carving knife with a comfortable handle and a sharp, durable blade.
  • Pencil: before carving, use a pencil to sketch the outline and important features of the owl on the wood. This will serve as a guide during the carving process.
  • Ruler: A ruler or measuring tool is useful for taking measurements and maintaining proportions while carving.

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 use a push cut or a paring cut to remove the triangles sketched initially, 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 to guide and draw in the head’s perch and bottom. Make 1/8″-deep stop cuts along these lines and mark the sharp corners to remove on the belly, sides, and 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 remove 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. Long sloping curves across the top define the ears, and down both sides, 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 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 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 adding key details.

How do you cut an owl out of a log?

Debark the trunk

Start by preparing the wood you use 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. Ensure 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, ensure 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 to 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, 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?

To cut an owl design on a walking stick, follow these steps:

  1. Select an appropriate-sized stick: Choose a walking stick that is the right height for you. When standing with your arms at your sides, the stick should be about 6 or 8 inches taller than your elbow. If you plan to use the walking stick on steep terrain, select a longer stick for added stability.
  2. Preserve the bark: If you wish to keep the bark on the walking stick, use a finishing spray instead of a brush-on finish. This will help maintain the natural look of the stick. Opt for an oil-based polyurethane finish, as it provides better protection compared to water-based finishes.
  3. Carve the owl design: Follow the earlier instructions on how to carve an owl out of wood. Use a carving knife, pencil, and ruler to shape and add details to the owl design on the walking stick. Take your time and work slowly to achieve the desired results.
  4. Sand and finish: Use sandpaper to smooth out rough edges or uneven surfaces after carving the owl design. Once the desired shape is achieved, apply the chosen wood finish, such as a varnish or stain, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This will protect the wood and enhance its appearance.

Remember to be careful when carving to avoid injury. Use proper safety equipment, such as gloves and safety glasses, and ensure a stable work surface. Have fun creating your owl design on the walking stick!

David D. Hughes

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