Introduction: DIY Wooden Butterfly | How to Make a Red Bloodwood Ornament
This tutorial describes how to make a wooden Butterfly ornament from exotic hardwood (or any wood of your choice). I've used a few power tools but have tried to suggest suitable alternative hand tools and how you can achieve the same result without having to have a fully kitted out professional woodshop. The project took me an afternoon to complete and overnight for the first coat of finish to fully dry.
This project is perfect for experimentation and improvisation, very much like every piece of wood no two will be the same and there is no limit to how intricate you could choose to go.
A Brief Note on Health & Safety
Throughout this guide, I'll be describing tools and processes that can result in serious injury. You must use your own judgement throughout and if unsure at any point, seek advice or further instructions.
I will use the following throughout the rest of this tutorial. WARNING indicates something that in my experience has an increased risk of serious injury that requires a specific step or extra care to avoid. I will use Caution to highlight something that is is important to completing the project successfully or could otherwise cause damage.
I've listed everything I have used here but noted in brackets where an alternative is available.
- Two contrasting pieces of wood. In this case Bloodwood 75x50x10mm & Bocote 50x5x5mm (both cut from a bigger piece)
- Butterfly template (optional)
- Scissors (if using the paper template)
- Bandsaw / Scroll Saw or Japanese Pull Saw & Coping Saw
- Disc & Belt Sander (optional)
- Half Round Rasp (other shapes if required)
- Triangular File (other shapes if required)
- Jewellers V Bench Clamp (optional)
- Sandpaper (60 to 220 grit)
- Pin Vise & Drill (1mm)
- Copper wire
- Wire Cutters & Needle Nose Pliers
- Quick curing Epoxy
- Masking Tape
- Cyanoacrylate Adhesive (Super Glue)
- Tung Oil & White Spirit (or other finish)
Step 1: Marking the Shape
Start by choosing two contrasting pieces of wood, anything will do really but in this case I've chosen Bloodwood for the wings and Bocote for the body as these are fairly typical colours for a butterfly. Normally for a project you would avoid knotty or otherwise marked pieces of wood but for this project it would give an interesting pattern to the wings, unfortunately I didn't have anything like that to hand so had to settle for some darker stripes.
If you have more of an artistic streak you could draw the outline freehand but I had to resort to drawings around a printed template. The simpler and smoother you keep the outline the easier this project will be. I marked the outline onto the pieces of Bloodwood but decided it was too small so by eye, I later increased the size using the original outline as a guide.
In this case the piece of bloodwood is about 2 inches (50mm) wide
Step 2: Cutting
Now you know how big your wings will be you can mark the piece to be cut off using a square or in this case the saw itself. You could use many methods to cut the piece but in this case I will be doing it by hand.
WARNING : It is important to note that the dust from many hardwoods cause irritation and rashes and some is even toxic. Take suitable precautions in particular, a good dust mask, and avoid contact with your skin wherever possible. There are many sources of information available online that list the effects and precautions for each type of wood.
Step 3: Cutting the Thickness
Because I have started with a bigger block of wood as is often available for sale online I need to reduce the thickness to twice what I want the final thickness of the wings to be plus a little bit (to allow for the saw cut and sanding). In this case I cut it with a thickness of about 9mm using a small bandsaw although there are many other techniques you could use.
I'm keeping both wings as one piece until the final shape is cut out to help with keeping it symmetrical.
Step 4: Cutting the Outline
Here I am cutting the outline using a scroll saw but as before, you could also do this by hand or as the shape is quite simple I could have used the bandsaw again. Follow the outline you have drawn but don't worry about being super precise at this stage.
Step 5: Sanding the Outline
I chose to smooth the outline at this point use the disc of my disc & belt sander but depending on how happy you are with your outline you could skip this step all together. I smooth the profile of the convex curved parts of the shape, avoiding the flat side and concave parts which I can't reach.
Step 6: Splitting in Two
Now back to the bandsaw for a bit of a tricky cut this time. You could still achieve this manually but it requires a steady hand and a fair bit of patience. If you do want or need to go down the hand tools route I would recommend something like a Japanese style pull saw.
WARNING : Depending on the shape of your wings this is a bit more of a tricky / dangerous cut on the bandsaw. Because of the shape of the wings, no matter how I place it on the saw table, there is always a bit over overhang (which you can see to the left of the first picture). This will cause the wood to try to rotate as the blade passes the point where the wood lasts contacts the bandsaw table, the further the blade gets towards the end of the cut the worse this will become. In a fraction of a second, the wood will rotate, it forces it into the blade which makes it rotate more which forces more into the blade and so on. The first you will know about it is a loud bang and a broken bandsaw blade. As this is a mistake I have made before, I was ready for it and kept a push stick on top of the workpiece which was possible as it was quite long and the overhang was short. Additionally as I approached the end of the cut I eased back on the cutting force.
Step 7: Rough Sanding
Now the two pieces are separated, I use belt of the disc and belt sander to roughly flatten the pieces and even up the thickness. I have also cut a small piece of the Bocote using the bandsaw.
WARNING : Sanding thin pieces such as these brings you fingers very close to the sanding belt, this step could also be achieved manually as follows. Starting with a very coarse sand paper (60 or 80 grit) placed flat on a surface and held with one hand whilst the workpiece is moved around using your other hand, for this first step you don't need to go finer than this.
Step 8: Rough Profiling
Using a semi round Rasp and later a finer set of files I began to shape the edges of the wings. The very rough Rasp I'm using here can tend to cause hardwoods such as this Bloodwood to splinter, so use caution as you initially work around the perimeter for the first time, seeing where the splintering tends to happen and then you know to be careful at those same spots later in the finishing process. A splinter at this point isn't a big deal as we'll be removing a lot more material, but as we get closer to the finished shape I'll be using finer tools and a more delicate touch as it become increasingly difficult to rectify. At points where it does splinter (this will tend to be where you are going across the grain) you can either switch to a finer file or use a lighter pressure and only pull the Rasp towards you.
I found it was easier to work on a small section at a time, then repeating this on the other wing. I used the half round Rasp around the perimeter and the triangular file to start the groove between the two wing sections. I chose the file for this because the finer teeth had less chance of tearing or splintering when going across the wood grain.
Step 9: Holding Your Work
Until this point I had been using the corner of my workbench and cutting mat to support the wings as I was filing, however as I progressed into the trickier areas, I was finding that I was often dropping the wings as the files snagged or I couldn't reach where I needed to. I found the a Jeweller V bench clamp gave good access all around. These can be bought cheaply or as in this case made from a piece of scrap wood.
I continued to work around the edge of the wings, and had switched to a finer file only as I was filing further onto the face of the wing. I won't be removing much material from the front, so the deep scratches the rasp leaves will take much more work to remove than time it saves be removing material quickly.
Step 10: Profiling Continued...
As I was continuing to profile the edges I was working in stages, working at a steep angle near the edges and gradually flattening out as I moved inwards towards the face. This resulted in 3-4 bands around the edge which by using light from a nearby window (second image), I could see how the thickness and angle of each band was progressing and remove more material as required. Don't worry if you remove too much material from one wing, just remove the same amount from the other to match. At this point I still had just under 1mm of the original edge that I hadn't filed (see the first image) which thickened towards the flat side where the wings will join the body. We will cover this in the next step working from the other side.
Step 11: Profiling the Back.
I had decided that the butterfly would likely be mounted onto either a wall or an object so you would be able to see much less of the back so this required much less work than the front but to give it 3D effect from the side, I profiled a small amount from the back so there was a slight gap between the edge and the surface the wings are lying on. For this I just used the same technique as for the front but as I was going to be removing much less material, I started with the finer file and worked at about 45 degrees until the flat side had become a V.
Step 12: Rough Sanding
The shape and profile was now at the final shape I wanted so it was time to switch from the file to the sandpaper and blend the angular bands together into one smooth shape. The left wing is unsanded and the right wing has been sanded lightly with 80 grit sandpaper to remove any remaining scratches and blend the shape to a smooth continuous surface all over. Work with the grain as far a possible to save yourself more sanding later on. I didn't use a sanding block, just a piece of sandpaper, either single, or folded double and let the flexibility help to smooth out the high spots.
Step 13: Angling the Wings
I decided at this point I wanted to try having the wings angled slightly forwards. A bit of trial and error found that around 15 degrees gave a nice effect, less than that wasn't really noticeable. I used the angled table on my disc & belt sander for this but you could sand it by hand, use a hand plane or alternatively skip this step altogether.
Step 14: Profiling the Body
As with the wings I decided to focus much of the work onto the front/top of the body, leaving the underside flat. Firstly I rounded the head end and used the end of the sanding belt to add a bit of shape along the body. Finally I sanded the end to a soft point. Sand paper by hand was used to smooth the shape as before. I left the back flat and tried to avoid sanding the sides where the wings would attach as much as possible to give a nice flat area for the glue to bond.
I continued to sand the wings and body, progressing from the initial 80 grit, upwards and finishing at 180/220.
Step 15: Antenna
I used a spare length of 1.5mm² electrical cable cut to length with pliers and bent the ends around. I cut them long initially and will cut to length in a later step.
Step 16: Drilling for the Antenna
I was particularly nervous about this step, it will be very obvious if the Antenna are uneven and there isn't really anything to be used as a guide. I drilled one first and did a test fit to make sure the hole was deep enough and the drill size was right. I used a 1mm diameter drill which allowed the Antenna to easy slot in, but not wobble around much. The second one was nowhere near a perfect mirror but by bending the copper wire slightly it is possible to make it look decent.
Step 17: Attaching the Wings
I considered many different techniques for attaching the wings.
It will only be a decorative item so doesn't need to be overly robust and also the size would make any kind of physical reinforcement (like a dowel) difficult.
It's a difficult shape to hold or clamp so I wanted something reasonably quick setting, a quick test of cyanoacrylate (super glue) ruled that out.
Wood glue was an option but it often needs up to 20 minutes to form a bond of any strength plus it generally needs to be clamped with pressure to get a good joint and any gaps will not help.
This took me to quick curing Epoxy Resin. It's strong enough to hold weight after 5 minutes (I could hold the parts that long if needed) and it is very tolerant of filling gaps in an uneven surface or if I don't get the angle exactly correct. Also it needs no clamping force to properly work so I can just set the parts next to each other and it will do the job without clamps.
I chose to do one wing at a time, sitting the wing flat on the cutting mat, a strip of tape underneath to prevent excess resin bonding the whole thing to the mat. A small bit of tape was used to hold the body at near to the correct angle against the wing. The biggest issue was mixing two small quantities of Epoxy. The less you mix the harder it is to get the proper 50/50 mix. My first attempt wasn't right so needed to be redone. I keep the scrap wood with the excess Epoxy to check how the curing is progressing, if the excess has cured you know the resin in the actual joint will have cured also.
Step 18: Attaching the Second Wing
Attaching the second wing was similar but I needed to use a small off cut of wood to prop up the right side until the resin had cured.
Step 19: Attaching the Antenna
As the Epoxy was continuing to harden, I used thin cyanoacrylate (super glue) to attach the antenna. Another scrap piece of wood was used to deposit an amount of glue from the bottle and the end of the antenna was dipped into this and then inserted quickly (already at the correct angle) into the drilled hole.
Step 20: Finish Sanding
Removing the complete Butterfly from the cutting mat was easy thanks to the tape and a quick bit of sanding removed any evidence of excess glue. The sharp edge of a folded piece of sand paper was used along the wing-body joint on the front to hide any excess glue there also.
Not quite done with the sanding yet, once the Epoxy was well cured a light spray with water was used to 'raise the grain' this causes tiny fibres left over from the sanding to lift, giving the wood a soft feel and once dried, allows fine sandpaper to be used to remove them. If you don't do this, the fibres will raise when you apply the finish.
Step 21: Applying the Finish
Inspection in good light will highlight any last imperfections and then it onto applying your chosen finish. I chose to finish this with Tung Oil because it was what I had to hand and I find it to be easy to apply and quite forgiving, as a bonus the finish will also be weather proof.
Follow the manufacturers instruction for your chosen finish but for Tung Oil, the first coat should be thinned with White Spirit to assist it soaking into the wood. For increased shine and weather protection add as many coats as desired, cleaning off any sticky residue once it has started to dry.
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