Bird in a branch

A carving friend who vacations in Colorado brought me a piece of Bristlecone pine. Fred is quite an accomplished carver who I think started about the time I did. He’s concentrated on carving faces, mostly out of Aspen. He also does stylized carvings from many different types of wood. The sycamore gecko I carved is from one of his patterns, and his cedar armadillo was the inspiration for my mesquite armadillo, although I didn’t use his pattern.

The Bristlecone pine stayed on the floor of my truck for a couple of months while I tried to figure out what to do with it. I thought about carving one of my birds to add to the collection, but for some reason couldn’t bring myself to chop up that piece of wood just for a bird. Last week I finally figured it out: I’d carve a bird in the branch. It’s a kind of carving I hadn’t attempted before.

I think what convinced me to try it was the fragment of a small limb that was sticking out from what was otherwise a fairly straight and boring branch. I decided to use that limb as part of the bird’s tail. I wish I’d taken pictures from start to finish. Unfortunately, I just got two after spending some time roughing it out.


bird2_sAs I said, this was new territory for me. I’d always used a bandsaw cutout for my carvings, except for the little dogs and a few attempts at faces. Carving a figure that remains part of the larger piece of wood is quite different. And difficult because I can’t just turn the thing over and carve from a different direction. The uncut part of the branch often got in the way. Detailing the beak was particularly difficult because I couldn’t easily get the Foredom in there, even with the detailing handpiece.

Roughing out took me an hour or two on Saturday. Sunday I spent two or three more hours roughing out and then detailing the bird. The result is a little thin and not quite symmetrical, but I thought it turned out pretty nice.

bird3_sThe bird figure is very smooth and sanded with 220 grit. The rest of the carved wood is sanded with 120 grit, and not perfectly smooth. I left some dips. I thought about trying to texture it like a nest, but didn’t have a good idea of what that should look like. Rather than do something that detracted from the carving, I just sanded and called it good enough.

bird4_sThe finish is two coats of Watco Natural Danish Oil, which I applied to the entire piece–including the uncarved wood. I haven’t yet decided if i should add a couple coats of a spray polyurethane to give it a little shine. We’ll see.

I made plenty of mistakes on this piece, especially in the bird shape. But I understand how and why I made them, and figure I can do better next time. I especially liked doing this with the bird shape because it’s a familiar subject, just rendered a little differently. I find trying to do something familiar in a new way to be an effective learning experience.

bird5_sAll things considered, it was a fun project and a good learning experience. And I like the way it turned out.





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