Carving an owl step-by-step

Carve yourself a beautiful barn owl.


Thinking about carving an owl? This step-by-step tutorial will show you how to create a beautiful owl from a block of wood with just a knife or two.

Whether you're a beginner looking to start a new project, or an experienced carver aiming to refine your skills, this tutorial will help you carve a stunning, little owl.

Let's get started on this exciting wood carving project together! 

Carving an owl
Painted wood carved owlBlue background brings out rich colors

What you will need for this carving an owl tutorial

  • I used a 1 x 1 x 3 inch (2.5 x 2.5 x 7.6 cm) block of basswood. You can always go bigger and double or triple the tutorial measurements. 
  • You can probably just use a single carving knife to carve your owl, but I switched from a roughout carving knife to a smaller detail knife for separating the feathers. 
  • Keep a ruler and a pen, pencil, or magic marker available to sketch the guidelines. 
  • I'm a broken record on this important point: Always use a safety glove while carving.
  • If you like to carve over your lap, please protect your thighs (and precious blood arteries) against slips. 
  • As always, I include a painting guide to help you get a similar look. I use and love these acrylic paints (affiliate link), these paint brushes (affiliate link) and these paint brushes (affiliate link). 

Carving an owl tutorial at-a-glance

Here’s a quick video that highlights the key steps in one easy-to-follow video. You may want to watch it before you start carving an owl. 

Carving an owl: Setup

Draw a guideline that is 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) from the top of your wood block (photo 1). Slightly round off the corners with your knife (completed in photo 2). 

Guidelines for owl carving1. Guideline is drawn
Corners rounded on owl carving2. Corners are rounded

Carving an owl: Next steps

Carve the top of the head back on your owl wood carving (photo 3). Tip: leave enough wood on the front for the beak. 

Sketch the beak on each side (photo 4), which is about 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) at its widest point. Add a triangle on each side, marking the wood to remove. 

Use a stop cut on the guideline below the beak(photo 5). Remove wood from above and under your stop cut (photo 6). Or you could make a wide V-cut

Rounding head on owl carving3. Rounding the head
Beak is sketched on owl carving4. Beak is sketched
Making a stop cut on own carving5. Making a stop cut
Making an undercut on owl carving6. Undercutting stop cut

Carving an owl: Add details

Sketch the eyes on the front (photo 7). 

Sketch the tail feather on the back (photo 8). 

Use a pyramid cut to separate the beak, removing the triangles on each side (photos 9, 10). You will refine the beak later.

Eyes are sketched on owl carving7. Eyes are sketched
Tail feather is sketched on own carving8. Tail feather is sketched
Separating the beak on owl carving9. Making first cut
Making a pyramid cut on owl carving10. Removing triangles

Carving an owl: More steps 

Round the corners a bit more (you can remove the guideline now that the beak is established). 

Remove wood under the breast of the owl (photo 11). 

Separate the bottom of the back tail feather (photo 12). You can use a paring cut, or hold the knife like a pencil to make your first cut. Then, make a second slicing cut. You will have to dig a bit to remove wood under the tail feather if you want it to stand out (visible in photos 15,16). Be careful here not to crack the wood.  

Shape the beak (completed in photos 15,16). You will have to dig a bit (and curve your wrist as you carve) under the beak to craft the shape. Take your time here and be careful not to break your knife tip. If you carve the beak off, grab some wood glue. Wait 24 hours before carving again. 

Sketch the first feathers around the eyes (photo 13). These feathers will be thinner than the bottom feathers. 

Sketch the bottom feathers on the front (photo 14). Aim to have some feathers overlapping other feathers. Vary the size and shape for added interest (photos 13,14). 

Owl carving is rounded11. Shaping the owl breast
Separating tail on owl carving12. Separating the tail
Sketched feathers on owl carving13. Top feathers are sketched
Bottom feathers are sketched14. Bottom feathers are sketched

Sketch more details

Continue to sketch the feathers all around your owl wood carving (photos 15-17), including the tail feather (photo 17).

Left view of feathers on owl carving15. Left side feathers
Right feathers on owl carving16. Right side feathers
Back view of sketched feathers on owl carving17. Back feathers

Carve the details

Use V-cuts to separate the feathers on the body. Tip: I switched to a smaller detail knife here. 

You can also remove wood between the beak and the eyes (completed in photo 18). I used a pyramid cut here. 

Separate the eyes all around. I held my knife like a pencil to make my first cut (photo 19) and made a second slicing cut. 

Now, separate the top feathers all around (photo 20). I started by making a pyramid cut between the top of two feathers. 

Work your way around (photo 21) in the same fashion to separate all the feathers. 

Separating feathers on owl carving18. Separating feathers
Shaping eyes on wooden owl19. Separating the eyes
Separating feathers on owl carving20. Separating top feathers
Shaping back feathers on owl carving21. Separating back feathers

Carving an owl: Refine your cuts

Clean up your cuts and remove any wood fuzzies prior to painting. Your owl should look similar to photos 22-25. 

Front of  raw owl wood carving22. Front view of owl carving
Left view of unpainted owl carving23. Left view of owl carving
Right view of unpainted owl carving24. Right view of owl carving
Back view of unpainted owl carving25. Back view of owl carving

Carving an owl: Painting

Check out this article on painting a wood carving if you want some background and tips. Here are the paint brushes (affiliate link) I like to use. I also really like these brushes (affiliate link).

Here are the acrylic paints I used if you want the same look. I also really love these acrylic paints (affiliate link). You could also use wood stain for a more natural look. 

  • Under beak: FolkArt steel gray wash.
  • Feathers: washes with CraftSmart green teal, mix of Americana antique gold/Apple Barrel flamenco red, Ceramcoat turquoise, Apple Barrel blueberry frost, and FolkArt true blue. Mix up the colors and layer them to create visual interest. 
  • Beak and pupil rim: Americana antique gold.
  • Cut lines: Ceramcoat black wash. 
  • Pupils: Black magic marker and 100% CraftSmart ivory applied with round end of a toothpick. Allow to completely dry and use clear nail polish for an eye-like shine. 
Front of painted wood carved owl26. Front of painted owl
Right of painted wood carved owl27. Right view of owl
Left of painted wood carved owl28. Left view of owl
Back of painted wood carved owl29. Back of owl

Carving an owl pattern

If you prefer to use a bandsaw to roughout a larger owl, photocopy this pattern to size to fit your wood block. You can also use the pattern as a painting guide. 

Pattern for owl carving from wood

Carving an owl tutorial summary

  • This whimsical barn owl can be painted with bright colors, or you could use a wood stain for a more natural look.
  • The beak and feathers add a small challenge and are fun to carve. 
  • Take your time on the beak and tail feather to avoid cracking the wood.
  • Make a mistake? Wood glue is always your friend!


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