Introduction: Mahogany Carved Dragon's Head - With Glowing Mouth
I was after something different for the garden and wanted to make something to suit. So after finding a few short lengths of mahogany thrown outside someone's house, it seemed the ideal stuff to make this dragons head out of and so began the journey. 90% of the dragon was made from these two pieces of wood.
For This Project I Needed The Following Materials:
2 lengths (approximately 3ft in length by 14" each) of 1 3/8" thick Mahogany - you could use either a different species of solid hardwood such as Oak, etc (wouldn't recommend redwood for this) or a solid worktop made from wood such as Oak or Walnut
1 1/2" Birch dowel, broom handle or curtain pole. Basically anything that is straight, wooden, pale in colour and of a similar thickness.
3' length of 6 x 1 for mounting the dragons head to.
The Following Tools I Used:
Bandsaw, with a 1/4" blade ideally, a jigsaw or coping saw could be used instead to cut out the shapes needed.
Carving Gouges / chisels
PVA glue, ideally for using outdoors (you'll need lots of this!)
Angle grinder with a flap wheel of various grits to be used for sanding and finishing
Woodturning Lathe and chisels
Large F Clamps (think I used between 4 & 6 at certain points of the project)
4 x Spring Clamps
Foredom pendant motor with 1" Saburr Tooth carving burr (ideally a fine tooth one (yellow)
Bench or corded Drill and 15mm & 25mm Forstner drill bit
Yacht Varnish (as mine was going outside) but if you wanted it indoors then you could use linseed or Danish oil instead
1/4" dowel (or equivalent) plus corresponding wood drill bit.
To Make It Glow I Used:
1 x Garden Solar Light with a flame effect.
2 x Lengths of 16/0.2 Wire (or similar gauge)
Hot Glue Gun
Dremel and Cutting Disc
Soldering Iron & Solder
Step 1: The Template
So for the template I drew out a rough idea of how I wanted the side of my dragon's head to look on a large sheet of paper (I find wallpaper really helpful for doing this).
Next I then cut the template down into 3 sections
- Top of the head, including nose and ears
- Lower jaw
The last 2 templates need to have an extra inch added to them to allow them to be attached to the top of the head when assembled.
Step 2: Cutting Out
Now we have our 3 main template pieces it's time to transfer them onto the wood and cut them out.
I drew around the templates using a sharpie You will need 2 pieces for the top of the head and one for the lower jaw. Next I then took them to my bandsaw to cut out.
Why only one piece for the lower jaw I hear you ask? Well the lower jaw piece needs to be halved in thickness in order for it to fit into the mouth and after I did a rip cut on my bandsaw I now had two pieces for the side of the jaw.
Step 3: The Jaw
The lower jaw dictates the rest of the thickness of the head and so it's important to get this right and also to do this step first.
Using a rectangle piece of mahogany approximately 7cm wide and 19cm long to become the bottom of the jaw. An additional block of the same width was then glued on top to become the front of the lower jaw. Next the two sides were then glued and clamped together and left to dry overnight at least before carving.
The outside of the jaw was then carved using my Foredom and Saburr tooth burrs, however you could shape this section with a rasp or possible with a chisel and gouge but would advise caution as the grain of the wood would be going in several directions.
Step 4: The Top of the Head
Using the lower jaw now as your datum the width of the length of mahogany needed for the top of the head can then be worked out. Mine was approximately 9.8cm wide and 33cm in length.
When gluing you will need to make sure that the centre section is flush with the ear section and also the nose. Another block was cut of the same width to create the front of the mouth. This was then all glued and clamped together using F clamps.
Please note, the photos of mine appear to show additional round pieces that I had added for bulking up the snout. These were later removed during carving as I felt they were not actually needed.
Step 5: Carving
Now for the carving!
For this I first of all used a mallet and gouge to make the initial rough contours for the top of the head, mainly the sides and then the snout (please note again that the photos I took on this step still feature the additional snout pieces - these I removed at this stage as it was looking more like a cow than a dragon I felt)
Next I then took my angle grinder with a 60 grit flap wheel to further shape the head and then smooth out the bumpy gouge marks.
I then marked out where I wanted the brow to be with a pencil and then used the edge of the disc to carve out a brow line first and then, marking the eyes out with again with a pencil, carved out the eyes using the side of the disc again.
At this stage the nostrils were also added. I used a 25mm forstner bit and used my corded drill to bore out two holes, the smaller one behind the larger one. You don't need to go all the way through the wood I should add.
I have used my bench drill in the past to do this bit on my other carvings but have found that sometimes you can't get the correct angle, if you can with yours then I would recommend the bench drill as it has far more power than a cordless or corded drill. Next you need to join the two holes together, I used my Foredom and Saburr Tooth burrs for this, but you could also use a carving gouge with a wide sweep if need be.
Step 6: The Teeth
The teeth were turned on my lathe using an old curtain pole which was approximately 1" in diameter. The size of your teeth isn't crucial, just as long as the diameter looks about right and in proportion with the rest of the head then that's OK.
The teeth were turned between centres in a row to maintain a consistent thickness. These were then parted off and sanded at the tips.
To fit the teeth I used my Foredom again with a 1" Saburr Tooth Fine Burr (Yellow one) to create a housing in the gum. I found it easier to do the lower jaw first and then once they were fitted in place to use them as a reference for the teeth in the top of the head.
These were then glued in place using an PVA glue suitable for outdoors and then spring clams were used to keep them in place until the glue had dried completely. I applied a generous amount of glue and as a result it took a little longer to dry.
Step 7: Fitting Jaw to Top of Head
For this step I would recommend a second pair of hands as bits tend to move around when you're drilling.
I used a 1/4" dowel and corresponding drill bit to bore two holes into the side of the head and jaw and both sides. I felt this was a more seamless way of fitting the two parts together rather than using screws, however if you want to use screws, this would work also. Apply a generous amount of glue in both the holes and contact surfaces before fitting together and leaving to dry overnight.
Step 8: The Frill
The Frill is probably the simplest part of this build. I found a remaining offcut from the Mahogany and then using the Frill part of the template mirrored this to create the back piece that would then be used for mounting the head to.
This was then carved using a gouges and then finished with lots of sanding. This was then glued and screwed in place using 4 x 30mm screws.
3 holes were also drilled to allow the wires for the solar light to be threaded through into the open mouth. In hindsight this was probably a bit unnecessary. One would have been enough
Step 9: Head Spikes
Now this next step is purely optional to your dragon's head but I felt mine needed it.
For this I used the remaining 1" birch dowel (ex curtain pole) and turned two spikes that were both approximately 13cm long each between centres. I then created a tenon at each end of each spike, I think mine was 18mm but yours may be different depending on what forstner bit you have, I personally wouldn't go any narrower than 15mm myself. Two holes were then bored into the top of the frill and dry fitted in place while the remaining three smaller spikes were made.
The same procedure was done for the 3 5cm x long spikes on the forehead, but was turned down further to a diameter of 2cm and turned a tenon of 15mm and used a corresponding forstner bit for the holes to which they would fit in.
These were then all glued in place using a weather resistant PVA glue
Step 10: The Tongue
Now the last and for me the most important piece, the tongue. This was again made out of a very slim off cut from the 1 3/8" thick Mahogany. The thickness of the wood becomes the width of the tongue, so would recommend cutting this piece with great care on your bandsaw.
Now dry fit the tongue before carving. The width of the tongue should fit snugly inside the back of the mouth and a rest on the lower two teeth of the jaw.Mark a centre line and a triangular cut out at the tip of the tongue for reference while carving
Again because of the thickness of this piece I would also recommend great care with carving this piece and not using a mallet and gouge.
I used my Foredom with a 1" Fine Saburr Tooth Burr once again, but if you don't have one of these then I would suggest a half round rasp to round off the corners and a rat tail rasp for the dip in the centre of the tongue.
Step 11: Varnishing
Now our dragon needs to be made hardy to the elements. I used a heavy duty yacht varnish as I knew it would be in the sun for most of the day in the garden. I recommend two coats of this. Allow to dry
Step 12: Adding the Glow
Now, this step is purely optional but will really make your dragon come to life in the dark. In hindsight I probably should have done this step before joining the top and bottom jaw together but some may find it easier to put in once its completely assembled.
Either way the process with the lighting is more of less the same regardless of when in the build you decide to start adding the electronics.
I would suggest buying a solar light that takes AA batteries rather than a smaller light for brightness in the mouth of a dragon this size; either way the light has to glow orange, with a flame effect which are commonly available in the UK. I've seen other lights recently that have used different colours, such a green (which would be quite interesting) but I thought a standard flame effect was the more realistic (as far as mythical creatures can be!)
Each light is different so am going to be a bit vague with the steps here as it all really depends on what you have bought. But usually the electronics are the same.
If you want to keep your dragon indoors then you will need just a simple battery and led light with flickering effect but if you want to have it glow outside then continue on.
Making Your Dragon Glow
While the rest of the build is ongoing I would suggest leaving your solar light in the sun to charge up as many are not charged when they are produced in the factory.
First of all we need to dissemble the solar flare light that we have bought. Start by removing the outer casing, usually there will be some screws somewhere.
This should then release the electrical components from their housing (see second photo)
Next we need to extend the wires in certain places, particularly from the light to the solar cell as you want this well clear of the dragon. For this I used about 5 ft of wire but you may need more or less depending on where you're planning to stick the solar cell.
Before you clip any wires, I would strongly suggest marking what wires go with what, as it may get a little confusing otherwise. I used a gold pen to mark out the corresponding wires. I cut the wires that ran to the solar cell (don't cut them too close to the cell if you can, leave at least 2" if possible) and then I soldered the longer wires to these making sure the gold pen was then added to the opposite end of the wire to meet back up with the light and battery pack. Remember to insulate your joins too either by using heat shrink or insulation tape.
Now I threaded the wires through the back of the head of the dragon and into his mouth. I then soldered the light back up to the lengthened wires and insulated them too using heat shrink.
The light was then fitted in place with hot glue to the underside of the mouth, however in the recent heatwave we had last month this has now failed and so have made a slight adaption by gluing a wooden block inside the mouth with a 22mm hole drilled into it to allow the battery end of the light to be inserted into the hole (see last photo). This in hindsight allows for the battery to be changed quite easily.
Once all your wiring is done cover the solar cell with your hand and see if the mouth glows.
Step 13: Mounting to the Wall
Now lets put this in place! For my garden wall, which is white I painted the back of a piece of 6 x 1 a similar colour. This was then screwed to the back of the dragons frill, allowing room for the wires from the solar light to the cell to come out, along with the solar cell at the other end. You could then add seperate block cut at a 45 degree angle at this point to hold the solar cell but I wanted mine hidden and so left it loose at this point.
Two mounting holes were then drilled and counter sunk for the screws. Now the dragon was mounted to the wall using rawl plugs and then a bracket was made to hold the solar cell far out of the way of the climbing plants that my little dragon will be hiding in. I've made a diagram of a cross section of it that will hopefully explain it a bit better. Again this was cut at 45 degrees and a hole was bored inside the shaft using a 5mm extra long wood drill bit. This is a little over kill but our climber does protrude quite far from our garden wall.
A old bit of hose pipe was then used to cover the wires from any stray pruners that may be used in future on our climbing plant that will eventually surround the dragon, this was then mounted to the wall and the two wires between the solar cell bracket and light were then soldered, insulated with heat shrink and then stuffed back into the hose pipe. Again this is what we did but for simplicity I would recommend having the cell mounted above the head on the 6 x 1, but because of our climbing plants this wouldn't be practical.
Step 14: Finished Result
Now you can step back and admired your friendly dragon in the garden.
Second Prize in the
Sculpt & Carve Challenge