Let me tell you a story. A story about how two crafty biologists date.
It all started when my boyfriend worked at an Ornithology Lab, meaning he spent most of his time stuffing dead birds for scientific studies. Being a biologist, in the midst of his labor he thought: "Wow, this dead Smooth-billed ani is gorgeous! Let me take a picture".
Later on, back at home, he began to work with the shapes of the bird. He made several vectors, trying to capture the natural lines along with ornament-like designs. It was brought up during a conversation, when he used the vector in a shirt design we were planning together.
I took instant interest upon the diseased bird, and went straight to pencil and paper to elaborate details on the shape, thinking about some kind of jewel. I sent it back to him, who made the details into vector art as well, and later on I made further additions on Photoshop (not shown).
Well, this story is a few years old already. Now that we are happily married, I decided to dig into it again and make the first 3D use of the bird by designing a carved pendant as a Christmas gift for my husband.
Step 1: Drawing and Preparing the Wood
"Oh boy, I don't have a printer!" was my first thought when I planned to begin the project. Then I realized the pendant would have a 2" wingspan, so no precise details were needed.
On CorelDraw (no, it did not bug any time during the project) I set the vector to the desired size and the zoom to real size, which is at 106% on my screen. Not all details are traced, just the ones that I would be able to carve in a piece so small.
The wood came from a bed slat picked up from the curb, although now I might regret not having used a more noble wood. Anyway, I am more than familiar with the way pine carves and burns, so easier this way. I left a lot of extra room and thickness on the piece, in order to hold it in place while working.
Finally, to transfer the drawing I used the good old "trace as hard as you can" method, then darkened the lines with pencil. Main reason is that I could not find my carbon paper (still looking).
Step 2: Burn the Outlines
This step is plain cheating. Since I have reduced carving experience, I prefer to burn the lines first so they can guide the chisels later on. This was my second carving job (the first is sneaking on the first picture's top right), so the trick seems to work pretty well!
I used my favorite tip for the task, a spade-shaped one. It has a cutting edge and a fine tip, so it allows a lot of movement and precision for long lines at the same time. Try to make it as clean as possible, as mistakes are hard to fix when burning.
Step 3: Carving Around
With a rotary tool and a fine carving bit, I went around the drawing to make a recess. From the recess, I worked with the chisels (U and V shaped) to remove material around the bird.
The intention here was highlighting the actual bird, so I could start rounding the edges.
Step 4: Cutting Out the Extra
Then I realized it was more effective to cut out the excess right away, so I could work better on those edges. I went back to the band saw and tried to get close to the bird, but leaving a small contour around the burned outline.
Step 5: Sanding the Edge
Once more I took out the rotary tool, this time with a sanding drum to fix marks left by the band saw. I advise working carefully, since sanding bits tend to eat out pine wood quickly.
I used a cone-shaped grinding stone for rounding the edge, deliberately going over the burned lines this time. For hard-to-reach areas, such as the recess between the neck and the wings, I used sanding paper folded in half.
Step 6: Some Actual Carving
I began with the V-shaped chisel, running it along the burned lines. Thanks to the burning, it's an effortless task even against the grain.
Then, I used the rotary tool's grinding bit to carve the features as shown in red on picture 03. I carved the main curve along the wings, then each of the big feathers, and repeated for the tail.The center and neck are more delicate, so I tried to do some smaller details there. The chisel was handy for sharp corners, but otherwise the grinding bit was effective for the whole piece.
Step 7: Reducing Thickness
Now that a good grip was no longer necessary, time came to sand the piece until the ideal thickness. I did most of the job on the belt sander, for I would not dare to do it on the band saw after so much work. Once the piece was thin (and I had already sanded my fingers on the belt sander), I switched to finer sand paper to make it smooth. Same treatment on the sides.
Step 8: Burn It Again!
Now that most of the burned lines were removed, we burn them again.
Usually I would go for a flat tip when doing gradients, but since the bird is too small I chose a calligraphy pen. Set a medium temperature (6/10, on my wood burner) and darken the parts that were carved. Burn lightly the higher areas, leaving them a golden brown tone, and don't be afraid to make the lower areas completely black. Your carving will start popping out!
Tip: Blow the tip before touching the wood, to prevent it form burning right away, and let it regain heat as you work on light circular movements. The result will be a much more even gradient.
Step 9: A Bit More Sanding
At this point, I was wondering whether I should try to stain the sides or burn them. As you might have guessed, I like burning.
To make sure it would be an easy task, I did another round of fine sanding on the sides.
Step 10: Burn the Sides
Using a flat tip on the wood burner and medium/high heat, I darkened the sides as much as possible without losing shine. If you overdo it, the wood begins looking like charcoal (which is not pretty). Again, I made a gradient towards the bird sides for a smoother look.
Step 11: Add Some Finish and Drill
Since all the visible surface was somehow burned, there was no sense in using a stain. I simply applied a butcher block oil with a piece of cloth, to give it a shiny coat.
Last but not least, I drilled a hole from side to side of the neck (Frankenstein's monster style) to pass a string.
Step 12: Make It a Gift!
Add a box, make it pretty and there you go. Spoiler: he loved it!