How to Carve a Wooden Horse Sculpture
Woodcarving the Easy Way
I want to create a small hobby horse wood carving sort of like the horses of an old merry-go-round, only in miniature. This will a bit more involved and complicated than my wooden carved cat sculptures due to the shape of the horse. The head and neck of a horse rises higher than the body so a wider piece of wood is required. Other than that, this carved wood-working project is fairly easy.
I usually do my wood carving from a 2 X 4 beam and align the project template lengthwise, such as my carved cat statues.
Using a wooden plank that is two inches wide (that is, 1.75 inches but it is called "2 inches" I'll explain why next) and 6 inches wide, we have the material to begin.
A "2 X 4" or any other board, beam or plank are the stated dimensions when rough-sawn at the mill. This is where the naming convention originates.
Because this is rough lumber, it needs to be planed to have smooth surfaces. Therefore, a "2 X 4" inch beam is really 1.75 X 3.75 inches, a "1-in. board" is really 0.75 inches thick, etc.
It can be a little confusing with finished lumber being stated by their rough-cut dimensions but the figures are standard so once you are used to this reductive measuring system, it makes sense. Now, let's make the template for the hobby horse wood carving.
Sketch your Design on Card-stock Paper, -a Horse
Create a cardboard template based upon this width of the beam being used (the height of the horse is the width of the beam.) I just lay the 2 X 6 plank across the white cardboard and trace the width and provide sufficient length for the project and base my design upon these parameters.
Using a pizza box as the template cardboard, I have traced the width of the beam onto the white underside and from that, sketched a fair approximation of the design that we will make.
After I drew this I decided to make the horse body longer, as depicted by the black arrows. A clever shortcut here to avoid having to deal with the slender legs is to create this template from the body up, omitting the legs. Perhaps the horse is wading through water; perhaps the lower body is hidden in the dust stirred up by its passage. The imagination is yours. This larger surface area of the bottom will also serve as the base; make the final project more stable.
The Wood-carved Horse Template
Some minor sketch details are added to help visualize the effect we are after, and the template is simplified to the most basic outline possible. Save this template, for it is endlessly reusable and most helpful if you intend to create matched pairs of these horses.
Trace the Template Upon the 2x6 Wood Stock
Again, some detail is added here to the wood itself to help visualize the horse. I like to do as many tracings of my template onto the wood stock as possible and cut them all out at one time. This way I have ready-made 'planchets' or 'blanks' anytime I get the urge to do a little wood-carving.
The hardest part is probably cutting all of these out. It is a bit time-consuming but the time you save now will be rewarded later.
As you can see, I try to squeeze an many tracings of the horse design onto my wood stock as possible. The planchets are photo-highlighted for detail. Note the three little triangular sections just ahead tail, the rear leg and just behind the front leg; Do not cut these out with the jigsaw!
These are just visual guides traced onto the wood. The 'recesses' will be carved or sanded-in later. Cutting these 'notches' out now with the jigsaw will make the recesses too deep, leaving tell-tale saw-blade marks and complicate the finish-sanding of the body.
Cut Out the Planchets using an electric Jig Saw
Notice that the three triangular recesses on each planchet (tail, tummy and chest, along the straight edge) as mentioned above are NOT cut-out.
Power tools are a must for these types of projects. For speed and accuracy, nothing beats a good hand-held electric jig saw for these types of wood-working projects.
Use a medium-gauge blade for speed of cutting and edge smoothness. A sharp / new blades makes the best cut. If the blade is dull, change it. A dull blade 'wanders' from true vertical when cutting around corners and makes the planchets more difficult to render. Saw blades are cheap. When dull, don't wait. Install a new one.
Wood Carving Made Simple! High Speed Rotary Cutting Tools!
Using the HIGH SPEED CUTTING BIT (shown left) in the rotary tool and wearing eye goggles and other protection, we begin to rough-out the general shape of the horse. The front legs will need to be delineated by carving-out the portion shown in hash-marks on the template. This is to suggest that the horse is perhaps taking a step forward with the left-front leg. The rear legs will be rendered more or less side-by-side.
The tail will be pared-down to a roundish 'upside-down teardrop' shape that grows more narrow towards the lower end of the tail, but will terminate upon the tabletop surface as a blunt stump perhaps the diameter of your thumbnail.
The mane of the horse while it looks tricky to rough-out, is really easy. Just remove the wood that isn't 'the mane.' This may sound simplistic, but this is all that wood-carving (or stone-carving, for that matter) really is about. -Just removing that which isn't the subject.
Try to imagine the desired object 'inside' of the wood and remove that which isn't.
The ears are separated and carved to point slightly sideways & forward. Most of these details can be fine-tuned using the paper roll SANDER bit of the rotary tool. By the time you have reached this point (image above) you are pretty much an expert. The rest is just detailing with sandpaper, or the rotary sander then switching to hand-sanding.
The 'hair detail' of the tail and mane will be added later after sanding the body smooth.
(all images copyright, and finished art by author)