Introduction: Chisel Carved Tiki Idol

About: Proud member of Newcastle Makerspace!
After getting a nice new set of chisels i thought i should try them out. What could i possibly make on a cold winter's evening? Something warming. Woody obviously, but with a hint of danger...

Yeah, that'll do nicely! Thanks Presidents!

Step 1:

First I started doing a bit of research on what Tiki Idols actually look like. To Google! (other internet search engines are available, but a bit of a waste of time). This quickly led me to this fascinating wikipedia article on tiki culture. Turns out that the whole kitsch shebang is a 20th century American pastiche of Polynesian Culture. Heavy on rum drinks with random bits of fruit in them and hawaiian shirts. Two of my favourite things!

I started with a piece of 45mm X 90mm (essentially a 2×4 style) bit of building wood. This wood is nice and soft, so its good to start carving with. I used a bit of reclaimed wood from a dismantled bunkbed (hence the funky blue colour).

I roughly drew a design. It’s pretty basic, but i didn’t want to over design as I knew the outcome was going to change as part of the carving process.

(It's at this point, 32 plays later, that i started to get a bit tired of the song.)

Step 2: Rough Carve

The photo above shows the early stages of the rough shaping carve. This stage just removes all the excess wood quickly before you start on the detail. The eyes and eyebrows wanted a strong straight line, so i used a saw to cut down to the rough depth i wanted. i then started cutting round the edges of my lines by following the lines with a chisel and mallet to cut the grain cleanly before chiselling across to cut the wood out.

Carving is made a lot easier and you tend to get a few less scars by using a bench hook. This just sits on the edge of your work (ahem…kitchen) table and keeps the wood from sliding away as you chisel.

From this point the carving was pretty straightforward. Take small amounts off each time, as you can’t replace that wood!

Step 3: Carving the Detail

The photos for this step show the carve in progress. If you look closely you can see the levels of the cuts as i shaped the wood.

I find that for decorative carving like this, using your hands to push the chisel through the wood is a lot more accurate and neat than hammering it through. Soft wood like the wood I used here obviously helps for this, but as long as your chisels are sharp, you can shave off material from your carving very neatly. You will be taking very small amounts off at a time, and patience is crucial as you build your confidence and skill with the chisels.

To give a greater sense of depth you can cut slightly behind various features on the head.

I wasn’t sure how i wanted to have the nose, but after a bit of research i decided to change from a simple triangular nose to something a lot more nostrilly. The eye design changed as well, and i used a saw to cut some iris-type slits. Projects and ideas always develop as time passes!

I carved the back and sided of the block up a bit to give it a more carved-from-real-tree feel. The deeper carved parts were left roughly carved to give it more of a stone-age feel, while the standout detail was more finely carved. A nice sharp chisel can leave a very smooth surface, and is a lot faster than sandpaper! Most of the original paint was removed like this. It gives a better finish for less effort and time than sanding.

Keep your chisels sharp! it's safer and the whole process takes less time and gives better results.

Step 4: Sanding Down

After the carving was more or less finished, i sanded the detail down using 180-grit sandpaper then gave it a good going over with some 240-grit.This leaves it feeling smooth without feeling too polished.

I like to rub my hands over the wood to find any non visible rough/pointy bits so that I can smooth them out. Also because I am a pervert.

While the detail was sanded the rest of the wood was left rough, with just a check over for splinters, to preserve a rough, desert island feel for the idol.

Step 5: Wood Staining

While the detail was sanded the rest of the wood was left rough, with just a check over for splinters.

I then used some Colron Wood dye to dye the light pine to a darker colour. I used a mix of about 2 parts Red Mahogany to 1 part Indian Rosewood, as the red is too red but the indian rosewood is very,very dark!

The dye was brushed on after the wood had bee cleaned by wiping all over it with a white spirit soaked rag. This removes any sawdust or grease which would stop the dye getting absorbed properly. Using a brush rather than a rag to apply the wood dye makes it easier to thoroughly dye all the nooks and crannies of the carving, so you don't suddenly notice a patch of undyed plae wood a couple of weeks later.

After the dye dried i went all over the wood with some 180-grit sandpaper. This brings out the grain in the wood, as the dense part of the grain doesn’t absorb as much of the dye as the rest of the wood and a small bit of sanding lets emphasises the grain, giving a lovely woody effect!

No varnish was used, to keep a more natural wood effect.

Ooo Tiki God, You make me shake, you make me shiver…

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