Carving a fish from wood isn’t smelly at all (unlike carving a fish to clean it).
We came up with this fun design that features bulging eyes, a wide tooth grin, and silly scales all over.
It is bigger than our usual whittles, but goes pretty quickly once you roughout the shape.
Let’s get going!
We use a basswood block that is 3 inches (7.6 cm) across and 2 inches (5.1 cm) high. For best results, remember to strop your knives before you start this carving a fish tutorial.
A good sturdy knife for removing wood and a detail knife are all you need. For roughing out, we use a Helvie boxcutter. For some of the detail work (like the fish scales) we use an OCC Tools straight knife (1 1/2 inch blade).
Of course, if you prefer using a bandsaw for your roughout, simply use our pattern at the end.
You will need a round object to draw the scales and a pencil to sketch your design.
We never carve without a good safety glove and always recommend one for you.
Using your roughout knife, round all the sides on the wood block (i.e., round the four sharp corners).
Draw your guidelines as follows:
Using a sturdy roughout knife, make a V-cut on one corner (photo 6). Continue to make a series of V-cuts to separate the head all around (photo 7). Don’t cut too deeply. You will extend the head back later, but for now, you just need access to split the eyes.
Once the head is separated all around, use a deep pyramid cut to split the eyes (photo 8). Or, you can make several V-cuts (start with a small V-cut in the middle and work your way outward).
We use a stop cut to start to remove the wood around the tail (photo 10). It is a bit of a workout. We find that removing wood is meditative and don’t mind using just a knife. But feel free to use a fishtail gouge.
Color more wood that you will remove on the back to shape the tail (photo 11). We use a pyramid cut to start to remove wood to split the tail (photo 12). Continue removing more wood a little at a time, using a series of V-cuts (or stop cuts). Tip: If you are using a knife, use one that is sturdy and be careful not to break the tip.
Keep removing wood until you have the rough shape of the split tail (photo 13).
Now that you have created the rough shape of the tail, you can use your knife to remove wood to create a round, fat, fish body, starting on back of the fish (photo 14). Then, move to the front, behind the eyes (photo 15).
After rounding the body, create a curve on the tail (photo 16). We shave the wood off, but you need a knife that has some flex (to avoid breaking the tip). If you do not have this type of knife, make a wide V-cut instead.
Continue refining the tail until your fish carving looks similar to photo 17.
Draw a fin on each side of the fish carving (photos 18,19). You can see how they look from the back in photo 19.
Also draw a line that arcs on both sides (photos 18,19). You will separate these lines later.
Using your knife, make stop cuts to separate the fin on all three sides (photo 21).
Then, draw a line under the fin and across the body (photo 22) where you will remove wood (save this for last to avoid breaking the fins). This will make the fin stick out below the body of the fish (see photo 30 for reference).
Repeat on the other side.
Make a stop cut at the midway point on the outer side of the eye (photo 23) and remove wood from above it. Shape the eyes, sketch the eyelids and the pupils, and mark more wood to remove from the sides of the fish head (photo 24).
Remove marked wood from the sides. We use a roughout knife and shave the wood off (photo 25). Cut along the eyelid guideline and remove wood from underneath (photos 25,26). This will separate the eyelid from the eye (photo 25).
Whenever we use a pull cut (sometimes called a paring cut), we always slip on a thumb guard for safety (photo 26).
Cut along the guidelines for the mouth and teeth (photo 28). Once the mouth and teeth are separated, refine the teeth by removing wood at a downward angle on every side (photo 29).
Once the mouth is shaped, you can remove some wood under the eyes so they bulge out. Cut back into the head and remove wood from above your cut. This will create a flat surface above the mouth (see photo 31 for reference).
Before starting the scales make a small V-cut to separate the lips (see photo 32 for reference). Remove wood underneath the fins (see photos 31,35,36 for reference). Use stop cuts to separate the top section of the fish, removing wood from underneath (see photos 35,36 for reference).
To draw the scales, use something with a small round shape (we use the end cap of a magic marker, as seen in photo 30). Create your first row of scales. On the second row, center your round item in the middle of the first scale to create the pattern (illustrated in photos 30,31).
Repeat until all the scales are drawn on both sides of the fish and on the top and the bottom.
Using your knife, cut along the top guideline of each scale (photo 32). We use a pull cut, but use whatever cut is most comfortable for you. Then, slide your knife under your cut to carve a little bit of wood off beneath the first cut (photo 33). Tip: Make sure your first cuts are deep enough to cleanly remove wood from the second cuts.
Work your way around the sides of the scale in the same manner. Tip: practice a row or two on a piece of scrap wood until you get the hang of it.
Carve a series of lines on the tail and fins (photos 34-37). You can use your knife to make narrow V-cuts. But if you have a V-tool, it will be much faster to use it here.
Make some lines short (and others long) on the back of the tail (photo 37).
Clean up your cuts and remove any wood fuzzies. Also deepen any cuts that you think will enhance your carving.
Prior to painting, wash the carving in warm water and a little dishwashing detergent. You can use a light brush to help remove dirt and pencil marks.
All paints are Delta Ceramcoat acrylic (except where noted) and are diluted with water. We repeatedly dip the brush into a mason jar filled with water and use the brush to swirl the water into a few drops of paint, until the wash is cloudy. You can use a small plastic cup, ice cube tray, or a plastic painting palette to water down your paints.
We favor flat and round brushes, but use whatever you like best.
Simply increase or decrease the size of the pattern for use on a bandsaw. Or use it as a color guide for painting.