Here is a super, fun owl wood carving tutorial that features a trio of owls (also known as a parliament of owls) on top of one another.
The only challenging part of the tutorial is carving the owl’s talons. But if you take your time, you should be able to successfully carve those talons.
Let’s get carving!
I used a basswood block that is 1.25 x 1.25 x 4 inches (3.8 x 3.8 x 10.2 cm). As always, feel free to increase the dimensions to go larger. If you do, I suggest printing out this tutorial and changing the dimensions on your paper version to avoid making any mistakes. A full-color pattern is included at the end of this tutorial—if you prefer to use a bandsaw for your roughout.
You will need a ruler and a writing tool to make your guidelines. While pencil has a tendency to smudge, it is easy to erase your lines and sketches.
Use your knife (or knives) of choice. A micro U-gouge was used to create the texture on the belly of each owl. If you do not have this tool, you can use a knife instead (I’ll explain later).
Always use a good carving glove for safety. If you carve over your lap, always cover it with a carving board or a square piece of wood. You want to protect your precious blood arteries!
I used my Colwood detailer (affiliate link) to wood burn the carved lines on the owl wood carving. If you don’t have a wood burner, you can substitute brown paint or simply not add any highlights.
A full painting guide is included at the end of this page—if you want the same look. You can also use colors that are more traditional for owls, such as tan, gray, or reddish to deep brown.
You may find it helpful to check out this short video that gives you a summary of the key steps for this owl wood carving tutorial.
Round off all the corners on your wood block. Draw a guideline all around that is about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) from the bottom.
Draw a second guideline all around that is 2.75 inches (7 cm) from the bottom.
Add a total of 6 boxes to reserve wood for the talons. They should be about 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) square. Don’t worry if they are not all alike. A little variation will make your owl wood carving more interesting.
Use stop cuts to separate each of the guidelines (completed in photos 3,4) that mark the bottom of each owl. Tip: Be careful to skip over the boxes you reserved for the talons. You may want to start in the corners and work your way toward the middle.
Separate the bottoms of the talon boxes (photo 5). You can use a stop cut—or hold your knife like a pencil and move it along the guideline—removing wood around the boxes. Once you gain more access, continue to separate the wood around—and between—the talon boxes (completed in photo 6). Tip: Make 2 stop cuts that overlap each other (extend slightly) in the corners to make it easier to remove wood around your stop cuts.
Work your way up the block to separate the other talon boxes. You can also start to round down the head and belly of each owl (completed in photo 7). Again, your owls do not need to match perfectly.
Once you get the desired shape, sketch on the face, eyebrow, and wing details (photo 7).
Use your knife–or a V-tool—to separate the details you just drew on your owl wood carving (started in photo 8). I push my knife along the guideline and make a second slicing cut, but you can use wha
After all the details are separated, sketch the talons and mark the wood that you will remove (photo 9).
I carefully sliced wood off both sides of the talon. Then, I used a series of pyramid cuts to remove wood in between the talons (photo 10). In hindsight, make your pyramid cuts first to maintain wood stability. Tip: you may need to reduce the height on the talons before starting your pyramid cuts. If you do not, it is easy to crack the wood. Another trick to avoid breaking the wood is to make a series of shallow pyramid cuts, removing thinner chips (layers) of wood of wood at a time. If the wood breaks, simply break out some wood glue and give it 24 hours to dry thoroughly.
Use a micro U-gouge (I used a 3 mm micro U-gouge from Dockyard Tools) to create texture on the belly of each owl (photo 11). Tip: Sharpen the gouge before you start. If you do not have a U-gouge, you can make a series of sweeping cuts across the belly (rotate your wrist as you shave wood off with your knife).
Draw the main feather lines on the back of your owl wood carving (photo 12). Use a knife or a V-tool to carve the lines on the back. You can use stop cuts, paring cuts, or make an initial cut—holding your knife like a pencil—and a secondary slicing cut.
Before painting your owl wood carving, use a wood burner to outline the key areas (photo 14). This helps make the painted colors pop. If you do not have a wood burner, you can use brown or gray paint instead. If you are considering purchasing a wood burner, check out this Colwood detailer kit (affiliate link). I upgraded from my inexpensive burner and have not regretted it!
If you want great painting tips, read this helpful page. To get the same look as my owl wood carving, use these acrylic paints:
Photocopy this pattern to size to fit your wood block If you like working with a pattern (or a bandsaw for a larger carving).