How to carve a lion

With just a knife you can carve this beautiful animal.

Wondering how to carve a lion? Get ready to bungle in the jungle with our simple and easy-to-follow tutorial.  

In a couple of hours you can complete this ferocious (not) feline. 

This is one of my very early tutorials so it's great for beginners.

Lion wood carvingPin our how to carve a lion tutorial

What you will need

  • 1 basswood block (ours is 1.5 x 1.5 x 4 inches/3.81 x 3.81 x 10.16 cm).
  • Pencil (magic marker is optional).
  • Carving knife of choice (we use a roughout knife and a detail knife).
  • Paint brush and acrylic paints of choice (painting guide at end).
  • Good carving glove for safety.

How to carve a lion tutorial at a glance

How to carve a lion step 1: Draw your guidelines

  • Draw your first line 1/2-inch (1.27 cm) down from the top (all around) to mark where the bottom of the ears will be (photos 1-2).
  • Draw a second line 2 inches (5.08 cm) down from the top (all around) to mark the bottom of the lion's head (photos 1-2).
  • On the top of the block, draw a circle to mark the lion's head and the wood to remove around it (photo 3).
Front guidelines for carving a lion1. Guidelines are drawn (front view)
Lion wood carving guidelines2. Guidelines extend all around
Lion woodcarving pattern top3. Top of the lion's head

How to carve a lion step 2: Round all the corners 

  • Round all the corners and remove excess wood from around the top of the head (photos 5,6).
  • Using deep stop cuts, separate the back of the head from the lower body (photos 4-6). Do not separate the head on the front (reserve that wood for the mane).
  • Draw a box on the top of the head on both sides to reserve wood for the ears (photos 5,6).
Stop cut to separate the bottom of the lion head4. Stop cut to separate the bottom of the head
Lion wood carving with head separated5. Reserve wood for the ears (left view)
Carving a lion's ears6. Right view

Tip: Strop your knife every 30 minutes to keep it sharp.

How to carve a lion step 3: Cut the ears and round the head

  • Using deep stop-cuts, separate the ears (you will shape them later), removing wood from underneath your cuts (photo 7).
  • Round the head in the front and the back from your top guideline upward (and between the ears). Also shave off the end grain on the top of the head so paint will adhere properly  (photos 8-11).
  • Remove some wood to slightly flatten the face in the front and on the back of the head (photos 8,11).
Cutting ears of lion wood carving7. Make a stop cut to separate the ears
Lions ears are cut8. Ears are cut, head is rounded, and face is flattened
Side view of lions ears9. Left view
Basswood block10. Right view
Back view of lion wood ears11. Back view

How to carve a lion step 4: Add the face

  • Draw a center line on the front and draw the face of the lion and the mane (photo 12). The mane should be uneven across the front. We use a magic marker so you can easily see the lines (photos 12-13).
  • Draw lines for the ears (photo 12), which you will carve last to avoid breaking them.
  • Draw the lower body (photo 12). The hind paws extend slightly on the sides (photos 13-14).
  • Also draw the tail on the back (photo 15).
Adding guidelines to lion woodcarving12. Face lines are drawn
Left view of lion wood carving pattern13. Left view
Lion wood carving patter right14. Right view
Back of lion wood carving pattern15. Back view

How to carve a lion step 5: Define the face

  • Start with a stop cut around the outline of the face, and slice wood off from underneath (photo 16).
  • Continue to define the outline of the face, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, and the top of the mane (photo 17).
  • Round down the cheeks (photo 17).
Making a stop cut on lion head16. Removing wood under a stop cut
Face of lion has been carved17. Facial features are defined

How to carve a lion step 6: Define the mane 

  • Draw lines for the mane on the front and on the back (photos 18,19).
  • Define the mane: Make an outer cut first (photo 20) and shave the wood off from underneath your cut (photo 21). We use a detail knife (make some of your lines criss cross as you go, or add more cuts in between your original lines).
  • Note: If you have a gouge, you can use it in place of a knife to define the mane.
  • Cut the shoulders on the front and the back of the neck (photos 18,19).
Lion mane is drawn18. Mane lines are drawn
Back of lion's mane19. Back of the head
Helvie detail knife20. First cut on the outer line
Using a detail knife21. Second cut is underneath

How to carve a lion step 7: Separate and define the front legs and paws

  • Use deep cuts to separate and define the front legs and paws (photos 22-24).
  • Also separate and define the tail on the back (photo 25).
Cutting the legs on lion wood carving22. Define the legs and paws
Progress photo of lion wood carving23. Front view
Side view of lion wood carving progress24. Side view
Back tail of lion is carved25. Tail is defined

How to carve a lion step 8: Shape and refine the lower body

  • Use a V cut to separate the front legs and further shape the paws and tail (photos 26-29).
  • Carve the ears (photos 26,29).
  • Clean up fuzzies or deepen cuts prior to painting.
  • If the carving is dirty, wash with dish soap and warm water prior to painting.
Front of lion wood carving prior to painting26. Lion is ready for painting
Left view of lion prior to painting27. Left view
Right view of lion wood carving before painting28. Right view
Back view of wooden lion before painting29. Back view

Step 9: Paint your lion wood carving

Painted lion wood carving
Right view of painted lion wood carving
Finished lion wood carving
Back mane of lion wood carving

To get this look (all paints are Craftsmart except where noted):

  • Underbelly, paws, and lower mouth: 2 drops of Apple Barrel light mocha paint, 1 drop of Apple Barrel white paint, and 5 drops of yellow paint mixed together with 15 drops water.  Save leftover paint.
  • Cheeks, ears, and body: Add 3 drops of orange paint and 5 more drops of water to leftover paint.  Save what is left of this, too.
  • Eyes and inner ears: Add 12 drops of Apple Barrel white paint mixed with 10 drops of water to the paint you reserved.
  • Nose, mane, and tip of tail: Mix 2 drops of Academy burnt sienna paint with 15 drops of water.
  • Mouth: 1 drop of Apple Barrel sunkissed peach paint mixed with 1 drop of Apple Barrel cameo pink paint and 5 drops of water.
  • Eyes: black magic marker for eyes and Apple Barrel white paint applied with a toothpick for specs.
  • Finish: brush lion with mineral oil and allow to dry.  Add 2 coats of polyurethane matte spray to seal. Antique with FolkArt antique medium (plaid) and finish with Howard's Feed-N-Wax.

Free lion wood carving pattern

If you prefer to carve your lion with a pattern, photocopy this to size to fit your wood block. 

Free lion wood carving pattern

Summary of how to carve a lion tutorial

  • If you want to know how to carve a lion easily, this tutorial takes you through the steps.
  • Feel free to change up the colors.
  • You can complete this lion with just a knife, or use a gouge for the mane.

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