Introduction: Wooden Eagle Relief Carving

About: I'm currently living in Mexico and I love building stuff. I speak English and Spanish but I prefer English and I think Instructables is great!

Welcome! I'm going to take you through the steps that I took to carve this eagle in case you want to make your own! I'll try to make my tips as general as possible so that you can understand how to apply the techniques used to your other carving projects!

If you've carved wood before, you should have most of the tools available. Otherwise, I recommending investing in some cheap chisels and files off Amazon. I followed an Instructable on making a wooden mallet.


A piece of wood, preferably flat - I glued two 1x4" plank side by side

Chisels of various sizes or carving knives

A wooden mallet

Wood files, ideally a needle file set as well as regular sized files

Sanding paper

Optional - wood stain or the finish of your liking

Step 1: Step 1: Find Inspiration!

I'm not much of an artist myself so I based this carving off an Aztec carving a saw at Mexico's National Anthropology Museum.

If you can't go to a museum, the internet has millions of carvings and images created by very creative and talented illustrators that you can draw inspiration from!

Step 2: Step 2: Draw Your Design Out

This is maybe to most important step. On your chosen piece of wood, draw out the image that you'll be carving.

I recommend using a pencil so that you can adjust lines as you're drawing. Don't be afraid of making strong, visible lines with your pencil as any remaining lines can be sanded out later.

If you're not good at drawing free hand, you can using tracing paper in order to get your design on your wood.

Step 3: Step 3: Carve Out Your Outline

Work your V chisel or your knife around the outline of your image.

Once you have an outline, use a curved chisel of knife to remove wood from around your eagle (or whichever shape you're working on). so that your shape is left standing out from your wood.

Take your time to do this. If you make a mistake, don't stress. Maybe you lobbed off a big chunk of your image - try to adjust the drawing so that it make sense again or contour the image deeper in that section.

Step 4: Step 4: Start Working on the Details

I started working on the head here.

Notice that for sections such as the beak that I didn't lower the entire plane of the beak, I only lowered the relief in the part where it meets the head of the eagle. This created the illusion that the beak is lower than the head but it's not really.

Some parts of the wood will be left messy or stringy but we'll sand out those details later.

Play with your chisels and knives to find ways of making lines thicker or thinner. To define the feathers, I generally made the outline thick with a wide V chisel and gave them a centre line texture using a thin V chisel.

Step 5: Step 5: Be Patient and Work in Sections

As you can see in the images, I split this project in to various "areas":

The head, the torso, the left wing, the right wing, and the feet.

This helps me get a better idea of how the areas interact with each other and also makes it easier for me to make them visually distinct. Focus carefully on the pattern you drew, try to figure out what elements make the image identifiable.

For example, the torso has a different feather pattern to the wing in my image. Futhermore, the top, bottom (talons) and edge of the wing have a different patter to the rest of the feathers.

For very small details such as the feet, I prefer not to carve to deep in order to avoid chipping or snapping large pieces of the carving accidentally. It is evident I messed up on the eagle's right toe - don't stress though! I'll fix it later on when I sand!

Once again, notice the illusion of depth in the feathers. You don't have to lower the entire feather, only lower the areas where it meets the feather that overlaps it.

This is the step that will take longest.

Step 6: Step 6: Let's Make It Presentable

At this point the eagle is looking very nice - but its surroundings aren't.

Take some time to flatten out the background of your relief. Some sections will be very hard to reach with files or sandpaper - if you have a needle file set, take advantage of it here.

Generally this part is very boring but it'll also help you notice a lot of details that you may have missed in your carving. Take time to fix them before moving on.

I flattened out my eagle's background as much as I could but you can still see uneven sections of the plane, I like to call that "adding character".

Step 7: Step 7: Prep for Finishing

Now the eagle is looking really good.

At this point I recommend sanding the entire eagle with very fine sandpaper. The objective is to smoothen out the carving but not to remove the details you carved in.

Be meticulous and careful here, sanding too hard can cause chips.

If you sand a detail out accidentally, feel free to carve it back in.

Once you're done and satisfied, clean off the sawdust using a brush or a damp cloth. We can now move on to adding a finish.

Step 8: Step 8: (Optional) Add a Finish

I finished my eagle with an oil-based wood stain.

I applied two layers of it with a paintbrush with sanding in between.

I normally favour dark finishes because they bring out the details of your relief more and tend to hide shallow scratches.

Make sure your relief is dust-free when you add your finish.

In this case, I didn't like how the finish came out very much but at least I know for next time!

Thanks for reading! I hope to see pictures of your eagles (or whatever you carve) soon!

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