Introduction: DIY Driftwood Horse Sculpture How-To Build (Reclaimed Wood)

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This is my first attempt at building a “driftwood” rearing horse sculpture (actually more like reclaimed wood). I used the CNC machine to help me cut out patterns to help guide and speed up the process.

  • The original idea for this sculpture came from seeing popular beach driftwood sculptures that are common around coastal areas.
  • Since there were no beaches nearby, a collection of sticks, stumps and branches were use to improvise this driftwood-style sculpture.
  • Although not required, A CNC router machine was used to make a frame for the horse to help with the positioning and proportions of the horse’s stance.

Step 1: Collect Your Wood

This is a great excuse to go for a hike and experience a bit of nature off the beaten path. It helps to have a wheelbarrow nearby to fill up as the wood can be heavy when you collect a lot of pieces.

Step 2: Choose Your Design

The way that you process your initial design is optional and can vary. You can use existing images on the web for inspiration or you can eyeball the design/shape manually from scratch.

A quick Google search for “driftwood sculpture” will yield all kinds of designs and animal figures that you can use for reference.

In this case, I decided that I liked the rearing horse stance the best. For a simplified silhouette of the desired stance, I did a Google image search for “rearing horse coloring”. This search yielded image results that were black and white and meant for coloring in.

When I found an image with proportions that I liked, I converted the image to a vector and modified it for cutting out on the CNC machine.

Step 3: Build Your Frame

Keep in a mind that a CNC machine is not required to build your frame or “skeleton”. You can manually build a rough frame out of scrap wood, branches, coat hangers, twine, and wires. The appearance of the frame isn’t really important as it will either be covered up or disposed of as you add your pieces of reclaimed wood.

I printed out an “assembly guide” to help visualize the positioning of the limbs as they relate to the torso in the drawing that I chose earlier.

The initial frame was put together with various sizes of construction screws and deck screws.

If this is an outdoor sculpture, it’s recommended to not use cheaper ‘indoor’ screws like drywall screws or floor screws because they will rust over time and lose their integrity.

Once you have your approximate shape of the frame, it’s time to start adding your reclaimed wood!

Step 4: Building Your Core

For a stronger and longer-lasting sculpture, it is important that the core (foundation) of your sculpture is well established and can stand on its own. In this case I used the thickest stumps first as structural elements.

It may help to hang your frame/skeleton/spine from the ceiling if your frame cannot initially support itself to stand up.

Following from the center of gravity of the sculpture, I kept adding pieces that followed into the legs/feet of the horse to eventually complete a solid free-standing base.

The longer 7-inch screws really help to create stability by interconnecting the legs to the core.

Step 5: Picking and Placing Wood

This step is the more artistic/creative part of the process.

There are no clear rules as far as which pieces of wood go where – but there are some general guidelines you can follow so the process of adding wood evolves more gracefully.

I started by adding the pieces of wood that anatomically resembled a horse.

For example, a long curved piece was added as the horse’s belly.

Pieces that resembled posed arms were placed as the horse’s arms and shoulders.

As pieces of wood are added and the structure is reinforced, I removed parts of the skeleton that were no longer needed.

Luckily I found the perfect stump for the horse’s head that had a knot that looked like the horse’s eye.

To get specific shapes to fit, I sometimes split pieces to get the desired proportions.

Watch out for colonies of fire ants inside the wood!

When the best pieces of wood were used up, I used the remaining bits to “fill in” the gaps of the body.

I did my best to the orient the remaining wood in positions that resembled the direction of the animal’s muscle fibers.

Step 6: Hiding the Crimes

We’re almost done…all that’s left to do is mask the imperfections left by splintered wood and screw holes.

I went back out into the forest one more time and gathered various pieces of bark and moss.

I also managed to find some preserved green moss at the local dollar store.

I used hot glue to cover any exposed holes and screws with bark and moss. The hot glue (used sparingly) binds really nicely to the dry wood. Also the fragments of moss and bark get embedded into the glue, so if the moss or bark falls off from weathering, little embedded bits of dirt and moss will hide the sheen of the glue if it ever gets exposed.

Step 7: A Coat of Stain

I really like the natural look of the wood and some of you may decide to keep it all natural looking. I wanted this sculpture to last a little bit longer so I decided to give it a coat of stain. In this case I chose a semi-transparent walnut stain but any wood stain should work depending on the look you’re going for.

The result is a bit different-looking darker sculpture, but I think I’m happy with it! I did my best to avoid staining the larger bunches of moss that would hide its green color. Of course you can always add moss after staining.

Step 8: Place It in the Garden!

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