Introduction: Carving a (Bigger Than) Life Size Cigar Store Person From a Cedar Log

About: 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 history and hand planes. I hugged trees before it was cool but can still operate a chainsaw. …

So for some reason you have a 7 foot section of cedar log. You obviously can't just let it decompose, right? I mean, you could and it is healthy for the forest floor... but seriously, you're not going to leave it alone. You're going to make something with it. Because that's just what you do.

This project is what occurs when you have a million good options, but just happen to ask yourself, "What is it a cigar store has that I don't have?"

Note: I am not a professional anything, let alone a professional wood sculptor. I just do stuff. Some of my projects could be described with words like "unsafe", "ill-advised", and "in direct violation of local building code"... making stuff is risky business sometimes. As Bob Dylan put it, "Behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain". He also advised we ought to "Play if f#$!ing loud!".

I don't know exactly where I was going with that, but please evaluate the possible risks before undertaking this or any other project. Use your best judgement (on your own project, that is... I already did mine).

Also, I forgot to wear my gloves and safety glasses, but I am a very bad example of safe work habits (see DIY Sutures). Wear yours and work safely.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Here's what I used:

  • chainsaw x2 (big and small)
  • wood chisels
  • various gouges and carving knives
  • twine
  • dark wood stain
  • acrylic paint suitable for outdoor use
  • cable staples
  • random cyclone fence hardware
  • sharpening stones
  • hammer

Step 2: Prep and Rough-in

  • Cut the log to length, if necessary. The 7' section I used for this project was still attached to a downed tree, so I lopped it off with the bigger of my chainsaws*
  • Remove the bark
  • Chalk a general person shape onto the bare log, both front and sides
  • Using the small chainsaw and your chalk guides, rough cut a human shape

*Did I mention sustainability?! No trees were harmed in the making of this sculpture! The tree was already down in my highly managed forest acre.

Step 3: Sculpt

The main event here is sculpting. Using your chisels (or chainsaw again), start adding more detail. Keep removing wood. When a person emerges, switch to gouges and finer knives.


  • You can take off material, but can't put it back on. Remove less material per pass than you think you need to. Sneaking up on your shape makes it less likely you'll make a major mistake
  • Keep your tools sharp. I would say I spent as much time honing tools as I did carving on this one. Your mileage may vary depending on the quality of your tools, characteristics of the wood, and your sharpening prowess. Just be prepared to make a lot of edges.
  • Use colored chalk. Until my person started emerging, I used different colors chalk for material I wanted to preserve and remove, as well as different relative degrees of removal depth
  • Use a search engine to pull up human head proportions, drawing guides, and head planes
  • Keep a mirror close by. Unless you're an anatomy pro, you'll likely need a frequent head reference

Step 4: Finish

After the sculpting comes the finishing details.

I decided early on that hair was going to be a nightmare to carve, so I cut jute twine to length and attached down the part with cable staples. I've never seen a blonde woman outside a cigar store, so I "dyed" it with wood stain, which is oil based and waterproof. Once dry, I braided it.

I always knew I wanted her body to be very rough, like she was emerging from the log. Unfortunately, the proportions still matter. I made her head crazy big, so I lengthened her to cut down on the cartoonishness. To do this, I bored holes in the bottom of the piece and in another shorter/wider section of log, and married them up with these cyclone fence fasteners I had (I don't have a cyclone fence, but I am a material and hardware hoarder, so this is isn't entirely a mystery). Think doweling on a larger scale.

I painted the eyes with acrylic paint and used a little stain for the eyebrows and lips.

You, of course, will know what finishing to do. At this point, vision will be your guide, not some instructable.

Step 5: Show It Off

Now when you ask yourself, "What is it a cigar store has that I don't have?" the answer is simply cigars.

Great job! You turned an ordinary log into a yard art masterpiece (just like I knew you would). Put it somewhere prominent for the world to see, and keep making awesome stuff!

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