This idea started when I took my boys to a show called Snakes Alivewhere they had a blast learning about reptiles (mainly snakes and alligators) and even got to hold and touch them! Tom Kessenich the herpetologist was so fun and so good with all the kids! The show was great and I recommend it to anyone who has kids that love reptiles!
My older son has always been fascinated by snakes, other reptiles and anything creepy crawly! My younger son likes that stuff too but he isn't as much into it as my older son.
Anyway, they had a wooden snake toy there for the kids to play with and both my boys had a hard time putting it down when it was time to leave. It was solid unstained and unpainted wood but slithered, moved, had a tongue and looked antiqued! I looked at it and thought we should just try and make a few instead of hunting for hours trying to find two to buy. And this way the family could work together on a summer project and have tons of fun doing it.
The snake they played with looked weathered/antiqued. Whether it was like that from the start or like that from hours of play I don't know but I liked the look so we tried to replicate it in a painted version!
You will need the following supplies to make a wooden snake:
paint and brushes
saw and miter box
drill and 1/16 inch drill bit
Step 1: Carve the Wood
Using a utility blade start cutting away at the wood making one end pointed and one end more rounded. If you haven't noticed you are cutting the tail and the head of a snake!!
Once you get the shapes you want for the head and tail lightly carve the entire dowel giving it a hand-cut texture. I recommend doing this outside so you can easily clean up scraps with a broom when you are done.
Lightly sand any rough spots using a fine grit sandpaper.
***Any cutting tool, including a utility blade, is extremely sharp. Use them with much caution and do not let the kids help with this step! Always cut AWAY from yourself.
Step 2: Cut Grooves in the Snakes
Using a pencil draw one line to show where the head will be and one where the tail will be (1 1/2 to 2 inches from each end) and straight lines on the top and bottom of the snakes. Don't worry too much about them being exactly straight. It doesn't really matter.
Using much caution with your utility blade (they are extremely sharp) cut grooves along only the straight lines (on the top and bottom). Do not cut the lines showing where the head and tail will be.
Step 3: Paint the Snakes
Tape newspaper on the work surface - kids can be messy! A painting smock or old shirt isn't a bad idea if you are using paint that can ruin clothing.
We let the boys use acrylic paint to paint their snakes. Since acrylic paint is somewhat toxic (containing formaldehyde) closely observe your children making sure they aren't getting the paint on their skin. If this is a concern to you use water colors or tempera paints instead.
Only be encouraging and complimentary during this step. Don't criticize or suggest colors or patterns. The kids are creating a one-of-a-kind custom toy for themselves. You will be thrilled to see how proud they are of themselves when they are done. The smiles are endless!
Let the snakes dry completely on the newspaper.
If the paint was thick enough, re-cut the grooves using a utility blade.
Step 4: Cut Painted Snakes Into Pieces and Sand
Since we were going for an 'old, distressed toy' look this worked out perfectly. The saw was dull enough that it caused splintering in random places that would be sanded down later making the random worn out pattern!
Make sure to number your pieces when cutting the snake or you will struggle later trying to piece the snake back together.
Once all of the pieces are cut you can begin sanding. Using sandpaper smooth any rough edges. The last thing these little artists need are splinters in their fingers so take your time with this step.
Some of the paint will come off. Don't worry about it. That is what is going to give your snake so much character and give it that one-of-a-kind look!
Kids can definitely help with this part just pay attention so they don't sand off the numbers!
Step 5: Drill Holes
The hole in the tail will just need to be in from the cut end about 1/2 inch and drilled straight down and completely through the wood using a 1/16 inch drill bit.
The head is somewhat more complicated. (I tried to show the diagonal of how you want the hole with a toothpick. Sorry for the crudeness!) You want to also drill a straight hole about 1/2 inch from the cut end completely through the wood. Then you will need a diagonal from the previously drilled hole to where you want the mouth.
The second and third pictures show drilling of the head.
**We always tell the boys that power tools don't care what they cut, drill or grind so use extra caution when using the drill in this step. Holding a piece wood in your hand while drilling is dangerous and should only be done by an experienced adult if at all.
Step 6: Assemble Snakes
1. Lay out the snake pieces in order by using your previous numbering.
2. Let the children pick a colored piece of embroidery thread that is twice the length of the snake, plus a few inches.
3. Insert a needle threader through the drilled hole in the tail and pull thread up through the hole.
4. Pull the thread through so you have an even length on each side of the tail piece.
5. Using Elmer's glue and a small paint brush or a cotton swab dab glue along the cut groove and press thread into the groove using your fingernail or a toothpick. Repeat on the other side.
6. Find the next appropriately numbered piece and spread glue in the groove.
7. Leaving about a 1/16 inch space between the two pieces secure the thread in the gluey groove. Repeat on the bottom.
8. Continue for the entire length of the snake.
9. Once you get to the head use your needle threader again and pull the bottom thread up through the snake head.
10. Now thread the needle threader through the mouth and up through the top of the head.
11. Pull both threads out through the mouth.
12. Tie the threads in a knot at the mouth and cut to desired length of tongue.
13. Gluing the threads together is optional but my boys wanted tongues that looked just like snake tongues!
14. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to make sure all of the glue is dry.
15. Give to your child and let them play!
**The more space you leave between the pieces the more your snake will bend. I found that 1/16 inch was perfect for us.