Making a bird, Part 2: The cutout

This is the second in a short series of posts describing how I create a stylized bird from a chunk of wood. You might want to read the first part, Preparing the block.

At the end of the previous post, I had created a block from a raw chunk of wood. The next step is to copy the bird pattern onto the wood and then cut it out.

The pattern I’m using is below. The pattern was originally created by Frank Faust, and a version of it was published in Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine in the Winter 2011 issue. My pattern is a slightly modified version of Frank’s. He has given me permission to publish it here.

There are several different ways to attach a pattern to a block of wood. If you’re only making one of something, perhaps the best way is to print the pattern on paper, and then glue it to the block with spray glue or a glue stick. I’ve also taped a pattern to the block using clear packing tape.

If you’re making many copies of something, printing all those patterns gets to be a pain in the neck. I printed the pattern on some thick stock and then trace it onto the wood with a pencil. The pattern gets beat up with use, and I’ve had to replace it twice in the course of carving almost 60 birds.

Another option is to print one copy of the pattern and then make a “master pattern” cutout from some thin (1/8″ or 1/16″ thick) stock.

However you do it, you want to end up with the pattern transferred to your block, like this.

Ignore the other bird tail in the picture. I originally tried to put the bird on the other end of the block, but then I noticed a small crack that might have extended into the bird’s body. So I used this end.

It’s important to align the beak with the edge of the wood on both sides, and to get the pattern straight on the wood. Otherwise your side profile won’t match the top profile, and you’ll have to do some creative interpretation once you start carving. That’s not impossible or even especially difficult, but you’re better off starting with balanced cutout.

With the pattern transferred, I cut the block to size (length and width) and then prepared to cut out the top view on the bandsaw. Note that I’ve changed to a 1/4 inch, 4 TPI blade. I prefer a 3/16 inch blade for this kind of work, but I didn’t have one in the shop. The 1/4 inch blade can make the curved cuts, but just barely. The 3/16 inch blade lets me make a tighter curve. Here are before and after pictures.

What I have at this point is a block that’s two inches tall, cut to the shape of the top view. I need to cut out the side view, but I have the same problem I had when I started: there’s no flat side to place against the saw table. The way I do it is to tape the sides back onto the cutout with clear packing tape, making a block again.

If you look closely (click on the image to get a much larger view), you can see the tape. You can also see the lines where I had cut out the top view.

I can now turn the block run it through the saw to cut out the side view. Once that’s done and I pull all the pieces apart, you can see the bird cutout in the middle.

Now I’m ready to start carving.

Part 3: Carving

4 thoughts on “Making a bird, Part 2: The cutout

  1. Fairly cool to see my Rainbow cedar go through the process. Thanks for taking the time to lay this out.

  2. I use a plastic milk carton to make my pattern, it lasts longer when I’m doing several. I have never clear tried tape to put the block back together. I’m going to try it next time. I have used glue, but sometimes it’s hard to get them apart later.

  3. For what it’s worth, I cut the block slightly longer than needed then stop all my cuts at the end of the pattern. This allows me to make the necessary cuts without resorting to glue or tape. Once the cuts are complete I simply cut the excess from the end of the block and release the bird.

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