Introduction: Wooden Fish Skeleton

About: Steward to about 20,000 trees on 40 acres.

Maybe you have seen wooden fish skeletons on Pinterest or for sale on Etsy. You can make your own, even with your kids or grandchildren, from scrap in an hour or two. This is how I made mine from salvaged pallet wood but you can start with materials purchased at a lumber supply place and use hand tools.

Tools and Supplies

Table saw

Disc sander

Ruler and pencil

Wood glue


Sawtooth picture hanger

Step 1: Preparing the Parts

I figured that making two heads and two tails at once was almost as fast as one at a time. The head shapes were drawn on a piece of 1-1/4" x 3" x 7" soft wood, like aspen or pine. The heads and tails are stylized, not anatomically correct. I rough cut the shapes on the table saw before separating the heads. On the disc sander I smoothed the curves and beveled the edges of the head that faced "out". Soft wood is advised since there is a fair amount of wood to be removed at this point. Once you have something that looks roughly like a fish head, stop. This is a decorative piece to be hung on a wall at a lake cabin of on the side of a garage. It is not a coffee table you have in your living room.

Two tails were made from a piece of soft wood 1/4" x 2-1/4" x 7". Again, draw something that looks roughly like two join fish tails and cut them out. Cut the two tails apart and shape them on the disc sander.

The ribs were cut from a 1/4" thick piece of soft wood 1-1/4" x 24" +/-. The length will depend on how many ribs you add. From this piece I cut:

one 3" piece

one 2-3/4" piece

two 2-1/2" pieces

two 2-1/4" pieces

two 2" pieces

one 1-3/4" piece

one 1-1/2" piece

two 1-1/4" pieces

Draw lines on each rib piece to represent the taper of the fish as the body gets narrower and shorter from the head to the tail. On the sander, remove the excess material from each rib so they look a little like the ribs in photos 4 and 5. I feel mine are a bit wide making the fish fairly tubular. Once you have the shape you want, sand off any bits of hanging wood shaving.

My fish spine was 3/4" x 3/4" and I think this was a little too large. 1/2" x 1/2" might work. I left 1/2" -5/8" between ribs. With 12 ribs at 1/4" each and 13 spaces of 5/8" plus 1" to glue the head and tail to the spine I ended up with a spine piece about 13-1/4" long. I wanted to cut grooves in the spine to glue the ribs into. Starting at one end of the spine I measured in 1-5/8" and marked it. From that mark, I made marks about every 3/4" to serve as cut guides. The table saw was set to remove about 1/4" of material. With pencil marks up I eyeballed cut the rib grooves (picture 5). Check each groove to make sure the rib fits.

Step 2: Assembly and Finishing

Line up the ribs in order next to the grooved spine. Add wood glue to the grooves and insert the ribs so you have a fish-like taper. When the ribs are secure, glue and clamp the head and tail into position.

Sigh and date your project. For a horizontal mounting, locate the balance point of the skeleton and mark it. Using the center mark as a guide, carefully add a sawtooth picture hanger. For a vertical hanging attach a D-ring hanger at the head end.

Apply paint or a finish to protect your wooden skeleton from the weather. Moisture may soften the glue causing parts to fall off or to reposition themselves.

Make several as presents for friends who fish or have weekend cabins.