Making a bird, Part 4

Sanding and Finishing

This is the fourth and last part in a series showing how I carve and finish my birds. The other parts are:

Preparing the Block
The Cutout

There’s not much I can say about sanding. After I finished with the diamond burr, I cut a square of 120 grid sandpaper and used it to smooth the figure. As I said in the previous post, the diamond burr works well for removing the really high spots and deep scratches, but isn’t very good for smoothing a larger surface. At least, I’m not that good with it. I always end up with a wavy surface. So I use the 120 grit sandpaper by hand to smooth the figure.

After I’ve finished with the 120 grit sandpaper, I move up to 150 or 180, then to 220 grit. Here’s the figure after 220 grit sanding.

Before I complete sanding, I drill the hole for the hanger, and engrave the bird number and my name on the bottom. The picture below shows the bird with a mark on its back where I’ll drill the hole.

After I drill the hole (about 1/2 inch deep, using a 1/32 inch drill bit connected to my little battery powered rotary tool), I switch to an engraving bit and engrave my name on the bottom of the bird. Then I sand again with 220 grit. At this point I decide how smooth I want the figure. 220 grit is plenty smooth, but I typically will go to at least 320, and often finish by sanding with 400 grit wet/dry paper and a little water. That makes for a nice smooth finish.

I’ve gone as high as 1,200 grit (wet) on some of the harder woods. It makes for an almost glass-smooth finish. But it really is overkill.

When I started this project, I was using a small eye screw for the hanger. But those eye screws were slightly too large for the figure, and I didn’t much like the the silver (stainless steel, aluminum, whatever) finish. I’ve since begun using smaller pins that I picked up in the jewelry findings section of a big-box craft store (not sure if it was Michael’s or Hobby Lobby).

These pins are two inches long and slightly less than 1/32 inch in diameter. I cut the pin to something between 1/2 and 3/4 inch long, test fit it, then put a drop of super glue on it and push it into the hole.

If I’m feeling especially fastidious, I’ll try to clean up the bit of glue that seeps out around the pin. Usually I’ll just leave it, unless I somehow got a whole lot of glue that will leave a noticeable bump. I let the glue dry for an hour or so before I continue.

I should note here that the super glue is strong enough to hold this bird figure when it’s hanging, but it won’t hold if you put much stress on it. You especially don’t want to twist the pin in the hole after the glue is set. That will break the glue joint and you’ll have to re-glue it.

I like simple finishes, so I typically go with a wax or oil/wax mixture. I’ve used Howard Feed ‘n Wax (mixture of orange oil, beeswax, and carnauba wax) on most of my birds. For this one, I selected MinWax paste finishing wax. Following the directions on the package, I applied some of the wax, let it set for a while, and then buffed it with a soft cloth.

If you decide to go the MinWax route, do yourself a favor and buy a smaller can. I’ve had this stuff for six years and it’s not even half empty. If you make small things like I do, a little container of wax is going to last you a long, long time.

And here’s the bird a couple of days after I buffed off the wax.

That’s how I take a block of wood and turn it into a stylized bird. It doesn’t take as long as you might think. Now that I have the steps down, I can go from raw block to finished bird with maybe an hour of work. Less than that with a soft wood like this Western Red Cedar. The most time consuming parts are the carving and the first bit of sanding. Getting the figure smooth can take longer than the carving! After that, there’s not much work to do.

The finish work is spread out over a couple of hours because I have to wait for the figure to dry after wet sanding, for the glue to dry, and for the finish to dry. But the amount of work I have to do between times is very small.

I’ve carved several of these birds with a knife, as well. The carving takes a bit more time, depending on the wood’s hardness, but everything else takes about the same.