Introduction: Wooden Carved Skull

Picture of Wooden Carved Skull

I have a good old friend who wanted a wooden skull making.
Being that wood is awesome and skulls are awesome I thought it would be silly not to.

Step 1: Sketch Out Some Reference to Work From

Picture of Sketch Out Some Reference to Work From

It always makes it easier working to a sketch.

Often I will adapt from my initial sketches when I'm working in the round but doing a little thinking before hand does help.

For this little skull I found a 3D model of a skull which I could rotate to see different angles. I used the computers screen as a light box and traced some of the details in different orientations. I made sure to keep the skull at the same distance/ size.

I cannot share the file I used with the 3d skull. (Its a friends project and he hasn't published it yet.) But i can link to a grate image which can be used in much the same way. (Hope this helps)

Step 2: Grab Your Wood and Identify Where You Want to Work

Picture of Grab Your Wood and Identify Where You Want to Work

For this project I am using some maple left over from a rolling pin project. (I love it when I can use the bits left over from other projects)

This wood had a knot in it which I didn't want to be part of the skull. I identified this defect and made sure to position my initial cuts to avoid.

Step 3: Score the Thickness

Picture of Score the Thickness

I am lucky enough to have some really beautiful tools which work perfectly and save a lot of time.
If you don't have a cutting gauge you can use a ruler and a pencil or anything that's handy. I have been known to use store cards and adapt them into tools for this type of work in emergency.

I measured the thickness of the skull in my reference material and transferred this to the wood.

Step 4: Trace the Skull Profile Onto the Wood

Picture of Trace the Skull Profile Onto the Wood

I used a few different methods to transfer images to different surfaces but the easiest and cheapest is to scribble on the reverse of the drawing you want to transfer and then re-draw on the sketch side to push the graphite onto the wood.

I oriented the skull in a position where I thought the wood grain would look great on the finished product.

Step 5: Cut to Thickness and Lengh

Picture of Cut to Thickness and Lengh

Its better to cut to thickness before cutting out the skull shape.

It means less ware on the tools in the long run and working on thinner stock is easier for you.

(If you don't have a band saw you can do this with hand tools but it will be more work. (If you do this with hand tools you will probably develop some pretty awesome muscles.. I know before I had power tools woodworking was better than going to the gym, It gave great results in health and furniture))

Step 6: Cut Out Your Skull Shape

Picture of Cut Out Your Skull Shape

I draw over the skull shape with ink for illustration purposes. If you are happy working to a pencil line you don't have to do this.

If you don't have a band saw you might want to make some reference cuts into your material and carve to the line.

I did this to illustrate using the band saw (As long as you can put evenly you shouldn't have a problem it just takes a bit longer. But also is hugely rewarding... and you know what I was saying about woodworking being better than going to a gym... This is one of the exercises which makes you look like a bad-ass)

Step 7: Find Your Center

Picture of Find Your Center

Its a lot easier to work out where things should be when you know where the middle is.


Don't use a cutting or scratch gauge here. You're getting closer to the finished work and it would be a shame to cut a line in it now.

I measured and made a few marks before connecting the dots and then drew on where I thought the eyes, nose and other details made sense.

Step 8: Work Out the Best Way to Hold Your Skull and Then Get to Carving

Picture of Work Out the Best Way to Hold Your Skull and Then Get to Carving

I am using a metalworking vice here, which isn't ideal, but I am also using shins on the vice to ensure the work is being held evenly around a curve and didn't crush the fibers as could be the case with a mettle working vice.

There are a few ways to carve. My preferred method is to make a cut down from one direction and then cut from a different direction to meet the first cut.

I also love to use power tools and find they shift a whole bunch of material fast . (Though it takes a little while to get used to a new tool. I would recommend reading the safety instructions and wearing goggles/ a mask and being sober. (Seriously don't do this if you are taking medication or have been drinking. It's silly (I know a person who did themselves a mischief when they were not paying attention))

Step 9: Check the Work Using Reference Tweak and Sand

Picture of Check the Work Using Reference Tweak and Sand

Once you're happy with your carving you might want to make a few final cuts and tweaks. I thought my skull would look better sanded and I don't think he needs any finish. I think he will develop an interesting patina though being handled.


Karlozzz made it! (author)2016-04-21

olive wood, knives, gouges, files, Dremel..

looks fab. great work.

Mahendra Kumar made it! (author)2015-12-31

I made it from scrap wood using dremel rotatry tool for it.

It is my first wood carving.

nice one. great work.

skalmans made it! (author)2015-09-18

I made a skull a couple of month ago which turned out ok but I used a Dremel for sculpting it. I didn't know what I would do with it after so I converted it in to a pipe :P

lol fantastic. I know a few people who would love one of thoese

avelicu (author)2015-07-13

I made a bunch of tiny skulls out of bone, antler, wood and I tried one made of a pearl, too!

Nice one.. these are exceptionally cool. I havent worked in bone or pearl before. I will have to give it a go sometime

russaw (author)2015-07-03

Really cool

Thank you

jevans70 (author)2015-04-26

Great job, really enjoyed reading that. Here's one I carved with a knife a rasp and a Japanese saw to block it out. My pictures are a little rubbish... I then made a little form fitting stump mount for it. Also did the punisher skull. Really enjoyed them, this was my 1st.

PaleHorseRider (author)jevans702015-05-14

Damn your good at this. Hell I'd buy one from you.

That is super cool buddy. Your skull kinda reminds me of the Discworld death. I really like the stump.

mpulliam1 (author)2015-04-24

I am so envious of people that can work with wood. Im that guy that snaps bolts and breaks pliers. I work construction and actually collect "special" pieces of scrap when I spot them in trash bins at sites. I have a 3 year old piece of spruce I have wanted to make a skull out of since I found it. This just might have pushed me into sitting out back this weekend after work, sip a cold one, and start sanding...

Hi I don't think that carving should be the thing where you can break the tool. My advice is to use a scary shop tool. This way you don't have to put in as much force and you don't have to do as much work it makes the job a lot more pleasurable and gives you a much greater chance of success

clewis21 (author)2015-04-24

Great job!

Thank you for the kind words

dwhite0 (author)2015-04-24

It sure would have been nice if you had provided us with a downloadable pattern, for those of us that are not artists.

Dan White

hope this helps

Rubeus Hagrid (author)2015-04-23

Im starting right now.

nice one. i hope you share your creation, if you get stuck im happy to make recomendations

jpayne21 (author)2015-04-20

The skull looks great

jeffcole (author)jpayne212015-04-24

I agree. Very realistic.

Thank you. Its really great seeing that people like the work that I do and enjoy the instructable

lowbike1 (author)2015-04-23

this is awesome!

Thanks.. it gives me a huge sence of achievement seeing that people enjoy the work

N-CountryFace (author)2015-04-21

Wow,It's is Easy Makes.Thank you for sharing us.

Hey thanks for the kind words. Im glad you like it

Iyer2711 (author)2015-04-21

WONDERFUL!!!! and just the right size too. :-) Thank you for sharing.

I do like when things are hand sized. I tend to fiddle with things .. a lot.. I dont know why but i think it helps me to think, something about movement lighing up more parts of the brain i suspect. with this little fella my thumb and finger naturally fall into the grooves just behind the eyes. its very satisfying.

I am sure it is very comforting too to hold. :-)

My skills are VERY basic, and with clay only. I wish I had your talent.

Don't be hard on yourself. your work looks ace. I think with anything new its a case of getting used to working in a different material an in a slightly different way. but from my perspective it looks like your 1/2 way their already. you odiously feel comfortable thinking and working in 3d. from there its just a case of pushing yourself to try new things. ~(if that's what you want to do) I really like the little bird shape.. (I cannot remember where I was looking but I'm sure I have seen something like it very recently .. I suspect it was an artifact found in an iron age settlement near me.. I dont think I have had any other oppertunity recently to have seen something like it)

AND, kind sire, you are much too generous about my humble attempts! :-) Getting serious, trying out a different material is a great idea - ALWAYS. I do water color n threads n this and that. But somehow wood has always seemed to me as ....physical? Not to mention the very real & dumb fear of not being able to get the result I see in my head. I think that kind of a fear is really stupid that can be taken care of by trying (and trying more).

I think I can understand.. At one point I taught art .. actually I have taught art for a good deal of my professional life in gallery ect.. The way I see it is as follows.. : all creative acts boil down to the same thing, I like food so to me it is fun to use food as an analogy. when cooking you can follow recipes and get good results. But the best cooks understand the food they make. they have tasted all the flavors they have and tried different ways to cut, they have experimented with temperature and different pans and they have a world of experience to draw from.. painting / sculpting/ carving/ music ect is just the same.. The more you try the more "ingredients" you have. even if you fail you will have learnt something which you will be able to use at a later date. The more you do the better you get anyway. you solve little puzzles all the time like how to make this coloure, should I put down a tone coat and then glaze over the top or mix a flat colour .. the more you do it the more experiments you make the more likely you are to hit the goal of createing the work you see in your head.. and better than that whilst working you will refine the work you have in your head so you will make better than what you started out thinking of.. But by not doing anything even if you have the next Monalisa in your head without it being created it exists only as a ghost.. So and this is the teacher wanting to encourage a student to challenge themselves and hit their goals. If you think that the thing in your head is worth creating then you should put in the work to make it happen.. Your in the perfect position to do this. you have the idea, you have a support network of makers who .. lets face facts if there's anything a maker likes to do more than make things its talk about making things. and .. im assuming here but you have the health and dexterity to work on a project. .. (I live in a small town in the north of England, there has been a joke tat we have been in regression since the 70's so the big recession we are in now didn't come as so much of a shock to us... but there is a single thing you can invest in during regression which is guaranteed to pay off.. and that is yourself and your skills. To be fair even if it doesn't pay off financially making stuff is still one of the coolest things anyone can do.)

PS painting on wood is great. its been done for a long long time. I would possibly consider looking at sanding sealers if you find your paints start to bleed an its not something you want to happen.. . you can definatly get some amazing results with wood an different types of paint.. I look forward to seeing what you end up creating.

TyroTinker (author)2015-04-19

I love this carving! Where did you find the 3D model that you could rotate? I've been looking for one for awhile to help with a project of mine.

Im sorry I used a friends uni work. He hasn't releced the file yet but I think he plans to soon. I will make sure you get a link when he does

spark master (author)2015-04-21

This reminds me to finally carve one of my own, as I have thought about doing one for years, but other sticks keep tripping me up. I do walking sticks and this might be nice on top of a walking stick.

Perhaps I will do an instructable, I would use a slightly different method. Can you post a scan of the drawings?

For the uninitiated practice in wax/soap/clay. Don't use super hard woods, maple can be hard and tens to chunk when carving (I found that out trying to do walking sticks with dowels) linden tree wood,(bass wood or lime tree wood), is worth the cash for newbies.

I would try this in a chunk of nontreated lumber. Cut offs or twisted pieces may be free at a real lumber yard, or from a friendly fence guy. I have carved mushroom ball in a cages from pallet slat separators (hey hey hey pallet crazed people), used in some 48X48 4 way entry pallets.

I threw away the original reference but have worked with photoshop to pull this from an image.. I hope it helps

maple is a pretty hard wood. A wood turner who i rate highly called Tracy Owen once told me that the best tool for the job is normally the one you have access to. I chose maple mainly because I had a handy chunk in a reasonable size. There are defiantly preferred woods to work with. Lime wood is one of my favorite woods of all time and the wood preferred by Grinling Gibbons who if anyone hasn't heard of him i recommend google image searching and preparing to have your breath taken away. I suspect if you take your time and have a decent idea of what you want to achieve as long as your working with a wood which isn't too brittle you are likely to hit your goal. I would agree that experimentation is a really good idea. for anyone starting out with woodwork in any form I would recommend trying out everything you can. The first time I tried to carve I worked with a blunt chisel on pine and found the results very unsatisfactory. with a few pointers and a different wood choice I found the results to be much better. you don't need to spend an arm and a leg on materials but sometimes it can help to work on just slightly better than pine.

Its a really good idea to work in soap first.. I often find that its worth making a few maquet model's before I work on a finished work. It helps me to prepare for differnt unforscene situations and help me realize in my own mind how something is going to work in 3 dimensions as apposed to a 2d sketch.

Unfortunately the drawings went out with the sawdust and detritus from the workshop.. I think someone else asking for a link to the 3d file i used earlier on.. (its a friends uni work and hasn't been published yet so I cannot share the file but I will try to make some reference materials available as a print off)

I would love to see your skull stick. There are a few stick carvers near to me.. I haven't tried to carve one myself yet but as a Disney fan I aspire to make a prop replica Jafar's Snake Staff. I think a skull top stick would indefinably be popular. I suspect a good number of people would find it desirable.
Please let me see what you come up with.

Biodynamic (author)2015-04-20

Wow! Being sober would definitely help with this build! Great job.

Lol I would recommend being sober most of the time but especially when using edge tools. (even sober people can make silly mistakes)

My buddy 3 fingers Frankie would tend to agree!

Lol I used to work with a fella who went by the same name.. He lost his fingers in a factory working with a band saw. the flicker of the lights gave a strobe effect and made the blade appear still. with the noise of the factory he didn't hear it was on and cut his fingers off whilst explaining the cut he was going to make to his apprentice. he lost the little finger and one next to it. but remained one of the most talented furniture makers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. (Just an illustration that you can be sober and competent and still have accidents)

kingofprojects (author)2015-04-20

this is little bit hard but its nice.i love this

Thank you.. Its really not as hard as you might think. Just remember to take your time, use sharp tools and go bit by bit an you are sure to end up with something you can feel proud of.

xXDeaDXx666 (author)2015-04-20

Looks really great

Thank you very much. Its nice to know its apreciated.

NathanSellers (author)2015-04-19

Thanks. I'm hoping it does well in the animals contest.

I cannot predict how it will do but for me and my girlfriend it stood out as being something special.

ashleyjlong (author)2015-04-19

Ok, we're on the same wave length again because I just did skull project too! Lovely wood work, as always.

About This Instructable




Bio: I work for a charity most of the time but when i,m not i am a wood tuner, former teacher, artist and prop maker ... More »
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