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My SO started doing some carving, which was a little out of the ordinary because I'm usually the one doing that kind of stuff around here. I wanted to just be encouraging of his artistic endeavors. I controlled myself as long as I could...

But the little man that lives in my head is relentless with his "Come on, try it. You could do that. What are you waiting for? That would be FUN, don't you think? Are you really going to sit back while someone else takes your Artsy Fartsy title?"

"Zip it, little guy! You know I hate being called Artsy Fartsy. And yes, I want to carve a fish, DUH... but just lay off for Pete's sake. I have other stuff I have to do. And what do you care anyway? You aren't concerned with my happiness, you just want to see me cut myself. Think I haven't caught on to your cheering in the background every time the opportunity to play with something sharp arises? Sheesh."

But of course I did it anyway. And of course I cut myself. I always do. But I kinda like the way my sturgeon turned out  and I didn't sever any major arteries, so all's well that ends well.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies.

    Paper
    Pencil
    Wood
    Saw or saws of choice
    Drill
    Utility knife and a fistful of blades
    Sanding implement
    Drill
    Paint
    Glue
    An eyeball
    Fish "bling" to run down the side
    Felt

Step 2: Make the Template.

Grab your pencil and some paper and draw a sturgeon (or your fish of choice) from memory.  Look anything like a sturgeon? Yeah, mine didn't either. You have to give these things a shot, though. Now, open this pattern, blow it up to the size you want your fish, and print. Cut it out.

Step 3: Mark the Wood.

Place your paper fish cut out on the wood you intend to use for your fish sculpture. I used a scrap piece of fir 2 x 4. Trace around the cutout with a pencil, or try this handy trick: grab a can of spray paint and spray a few quick shots from a few feet away directly over the pattern (if you shoot from the side you'll blow the pattern off). You don't need much spray at all, and just try to think of floating the paint down to the fish instead of shooting it directly. Takes no time at all and you'll end up with a perfect pattern. Stick with me, and you'll learn lots of things you can do with spray paint.

Step 4: Cut the Wood.

Now it's time to get your wood looking more like a fish, so pick your saw or saws. I used a table saw, jig saw, and a coping saw, but a hand saw alone would work, as would a scroll saw if it accommodates the size of your stock. A band saw would be the cat's ass, if you have one. (I ask Jesus every night to bring me a band saw, but so far all I've received is the usual blow-off. Thanks again, Jesus.)  Since I used a 2 x 4 and knew I was going to need to take off a lot of stock, I ran mine through the table saw first to slim down the dorsal (top) side. That made cutting out the fins and cleaning it up a little easier. You can skip that part if you're using thinner stock. Cut around the outline you drew or painted.

Step 5: Fine Tune Your Fish.

Now comes the fun (and messy) part of the operation: the whittling. If you have a porch, get in your rocker for this step. I don't really have a porch, per se, so I used a stool on my deck. It worked, but I just think a porch and rocker is the way to go if you have the means.

There are all kinds of carving/whittling tools out there, but today we're going to be using our trusty utility knife, and here's why: we don't have the patience to sit around sharpening tools all day long. We want a fish, and we want it now. That means we should spend out time carving, not sharpening. If you decide you want to make a career of this or sculpt a whole school of fish, the carving tools are probably the way to go. But for today, it's utility knife and plenty of blades.  One starts getting dull, switch to the next blade. If you have a quick change knife, it'll be that much easier.

Okay, position your fish so that you are looking down on him from the top. Visualize a fish from this position. Shade with your pencil the areas on your current piece that don't belong. This will give you a rough idea about where you should be doing your wood removal. 

At some point you'll have whittled away all your pencil marks if. If you have the hang of working in three dimensions at that point, continue on. If you're wandering a lot with your knife or still a little unsure of your carving skills (which are mad, by the way), take a top view and again shade what doesn't jive with your mental sturge picture. If you can't visualize the top view of a fish at all, go ask my BFF Google. He'll help you out.

Step 6: Prep for "accessories".

Since you'll be adding some lateral line bling to your sturge, you'll benefit from having the proper bling habitat. By that I mean if you have a fish eye with a post, drill an eye hole to accommodate it. Cut a groove down the side of the fish to nest your lateral line goodies in. Not only will it make them easier to affix later, it'll make the accessories integrate better visually with the wooden subject. Like the fish was born with pretty rocks imbedded in his wooden body.

Step 7: Sand. Sand. Sand.

I always hate this step. It always seems like it should take waaay less time than it actually does. You're so close to seeing an end product, but instead of running around showing everyone your awesome fish, you're stuck in sandyland.

It's the most tedious part but it also pays the most benefits. 9 times out of ten, if I'm unhappy with the results of a project like this, it's because I cut my sanding time too short. Really. So settle in and sand the piss out of that there fish. Start with a coarse grade of sandpaper (60-80) and work your way  to fine (220-300).

See how great it looks? Aren't you happy you did that?

Step 8: Finish.

Wipe or vacuum  all the sanding dust off that beautiful fish of yours and then give it a once over with a tack cloth or damp rag. Paint or stain the desired hue, or just leave it natural and rub in a little teak or tung oil (Cabot, of course :)

After the paint is dry, you can glue some felt on the side of the fish that will butt up against the wall. That's entirely optional, it just gives him a little more finished appearance if you plan on making him a gift fish.

Glue on your lateral line bling. Hot melt glue works great- just don't over-do it.

When you're happy with your fish, it's advisable to put on a protective clear coat of some kind. Besides protection, the clear coat will help give him that shiny fish appearance. (Cabot Water-borne Polyurethane should do the trick.)

You're done! And he looks great! You are such an awesome fish sculptor. I knew you would be. Now, hang him up on the wall or give him to a friend and be proud of your "catch".

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Bio: I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie who loves to create, even if all I'm making is a mess. I love hammers and rocks and ... More »
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