On a “cold, cold, wet day” this past weekend, I sat warm and dry in the shop by the window and whittled a little bird from a pine branch. Winter birds bring a special joy. It’s magical to be in the snowy woods and have an enthusiastic bunch of chickadees gleaning the twigs just overhead. Or to see the brilliant flashes of bluebirds darting around tattered brown stalks of goldenrod. A carved bird like this can bring a little of the magic inside.
It’s a fun project any time of year, but maybe there’s even time to carve one or two before Christmas. I didn’t think to take any photos until I was quite a ways along, so I made some notes in my sketchbook showing the basic procedure and suggested dimensions.
All you need is a stick and a knife. Starting with a saw cut at the feet of the bird makes the initial roughing a little easier, but even that isn’t necessary.
I carved mine from a pine branch that had been around awhile and was dry. It was about 1 1/2″ in diameter. I think the relatively small size makes it possible to leave the pith in such a piece and not have it crack open. I’ve carved similar ones from green sticks, crack free. I suppose it would be best if the branch is harvested in winter. Experiment with what you have around, but species like aspen, poplar, basswood, birch, and many others would surely work well.
There’s no one right shape or size for a bird, but if you use a bigger or smaller diameter stick you could scale the other dimensions up or down accordingly. Or you can ignore even these few measurements altogether. It’s just a whittled bird. Relax and enjoy.
I worked eight long facets around the surface. In a sense, the form ends up as an octagon that has been pulled, pushed, and stretched. Then again, facets like this aren’t necessary at all. You could experiment with other textures, paint, or maybe designs or letters on the base.
If I have a choice, I prefer light coming from my left when I’m carving. In the final stages I work progressively around the bird from one facet to the next, concentrating on the flow of the ridge between them.
Warm up with the bird, then get inspiration from this fantastic episode of the Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill’s fun wood toy ideas. And here’s a link to a toy post I wrote a few years ago with a few more ideas for carved toys, some of them also inspired by Roy. Another wonderful gift for yourself and friends is the 2022 Dickinsons Reach Calendar. Mine is on the way.
Wishing you a joyful holiday and a Happy New Year full of birds and wood chips!