Intro: Inspired Wooden Plague Doctor Mask
Well as you can tell from the title, my mastery of words isn't the best. I need to come up with a better title. Anyway, to the point at hand, I'm going to teach you how to create a wooden mask that looks similar to this. Wearable art to hang on your wall! It's the mask pictured here, and also the one that I am wearing in my profile picture, just as evidence to show you can indeed wear this mask!
Let me warn you, when I made this mask, I was a complete novice at woodworking, so if you feel I'm missing something, please add it in the comments! This does not have an oil finish on it either, but when you add the oil it will add a whole new dimension to your finished piece. But be careful, oil soaked rags can burst into flame, so soak them in water after you're done and then dry them flat without them touching one another.
This will involve wood, saw dust, glue, clamps and other things that are not easy to deal with, so I don't recommend this as a kid-friendly project.
Step 1: Supplies
Oh here's the part everyone loves and hates. The supplies! Now this project can be done as cheaply or as expensive as you like. You're going to need:
*Wood of your choice. (The wood that I picked from my collection is called Wenge and Mahogany, even though I started off with Bloodwood instead.)
*Jigsaw or Bandsaw, preferably the latter
* Vice (optional)
*Dremel OR Right Angle Diegrinder and Liner Die Grinder. You need one or the grinders for this project, and if you pick the diegrinders, then you need an air compressor.
*Sand paper, grits from 80 to 220.
*Newspaper, bubble wrap, or some scrap paper
*Thick cardstock or cardboard
NOTE ABOUT SAFETY: Saw dust can be very dangerous. Once you breathe it in, it stays in your lungs and just sits there forever. You absolutely need a respirator for this project and try to get one with a filter on it. They're about six dollars at your local hardware store and are worth the investment. The same goes for eye protection. You only have two eyes and you need to protect those suckers.
WOOD: Man I love these notes, don't I? Well, each wood has different properties to them, especially the exotic ones. They're beautiful and achieve wonderful finishes, but they're usually poisonous. All sawdust is dangerous for you to breathe in, but Wenge, the wood I used for this project is especially bad. Be careful when handling the wood, it splinters easily and when you get stuck, remove the splinters immediately. They will fester and go septic which is not good for you. If you feel unsafe working with Wenge, pick a different wood. another darker wood will work just as well.
Step 2: Planning
Alright, well in this stage you want to sketch out your design and maybe make yourself a model. I had those things, but I made the mistake of leaving them where my dog could reach them, so I could show you a picture of confetti. Note: Don't make your model in aluminum foil and tape. Your dog will find it.
So have someone draw the shape of your head for the front of your eyes, or do it on some willing participant. You'll also need the patterns for the back of the head.
Step 3: Cut Your Wood
Now that you have a pattern cut out for the measurement of your face and the back of your head, it's time to cut your wood and glue it together. To do the mask, I cut my wenge and glued them up on top of one another, paying mind to which direction the grain of the wood was going.
As pictured here on a piece of wood I already had glued together, you can see the lines of the wood are moving horizontally. You always, always want to draw and cut your piece in the direction of the grain. When you are making small, brittle pieces this is especially important because if your piece follows the length of the grain, it is stronger than if you are going across it.
You can see an example of this on the nose part I drew out.
Step 4: Glue It Up!
Now that you have your wood cut out, it's time to glue it together.
For my face, I realized I needed about four one inch boards glued on top of one another so it could give me enough room. You can do this in any number of ways, but I prefer to do it in pairs so I can have thorough bond throughout the entire clamped piece.
To start, take your first two boards and coat each with a layer of glue. You want just enough glue to cover it, but you want to be able to see the grain of the wood through the glue. Wait five to ten minutes, or until the wood gets tacky. When it gets tacky, put the glued sides of the boards together. You can do this same thing to the other two boards to save on some time. Once you have them paired up, repeat the process to the paired up sides and then clamp the whole thing together.
Four clamps as pictured here is the MINIMUM. It would be far more beneficial if you had six clamps so you could clamp each corner to ensure the laminated pieces will stay together.
The glue will bead out the sides, and that's fine. So put a layer of bubblewrap/newspaper/whatever underneath your piece to catch the glue. You'll want to wipe some glue away, but don't use a wet rag otherwise you'll just smear a thin layer of glue on your wood that you won't be able to see. It'll stain the wood and just be a general pain in the butt to sand away.
Let it sit for at least eight to twenty four hours.
Step 5: Cutting Wood... Again!
Okay! Now that you have your wood pieces all glued together, it's time to cut your wood. You're going to want to use a jigsaw, but preferably a bandsaw for this step.
This is where the cardboard and paper patterns of your head come in handy. You'll need to draw out the line on the wood where you want to cut. Cut out the curves, then flip the wood on its other side to draw out the design you planned for your mask.
Step 6: Carving
This is a spiral bit that goes into my Dremel. I have another one I put into my Liner Die Grinder, but meet your best friend.
You are a squishy human who is not nearly as hard to cut as wood. This will cut you straight to the bone if you let it skip off the wood piece, so be very careful. I have a number of scars from where I didn't secure my work properly and the spiral bit nicked my skin. This is one of the occasions I would suggest wearing gloves just in case because it offers a little extra protection.
I used this bit to block in the area where I wanted to make the eyes of my mask. I also used it to carve out the curves and flairs on the sides of the mask.
You can use other carving bits, but this is the one that seemed to work best for me :)
Step 7: Rough Sanding and Sanding
Once you have everything carved out, you'll want to smooth that sucker down. To do this, you'll want to whip out a new bit on your dremel/ die grinder. Both tools have sanding drums that can smooth out the curves and the things that will be going on your face. Chances are that when you cut out your piece, it started to look a bit jagged in the back, so to smooth that out you'll want to hold it against an electric sander, or even the small bits your dremel comes with.
Granted the latter takes quite a bit longer, but it will get the job done.
Use these tool to shape the wood in however direction you want it to be. Round it out and curve the pieces.
When you're sanding, and this works better with a diegrinder I've found, try to set your sanding drum against the underside of your nose. That way you can try to hollow out some of the wood there so it's less heavy for when you attach it. (For the purposes of this tutorial, ignore the fact that it's attached to the mask. I forgot to take a picture of it when it was off)
Sanding Wenge is a pain in the butt. It seals itself really nicely once you're done working with it, but I pulled a tendon in my hand working on it because of how dense the wood is. The mahogany nose and head swirls were so much easier to sand.
To sand, start with 80 grit sand paper (or 60 grit) and get rid of all the tool marks you see. Once you get done with that, move up to your next grit which is 100. You'll want to sand until all the lines that the 80 grit paper left on the wood are gone and have been replaced with the 100 grit paper. Repeat this step until you get up to 220 sand paper.
Tip: Sand with the grain of the wood. It likes that. Also, when you get up the higher grits, put your piece on something soft so it doesn't get scratched up.
Once you have everything sanded to a gloriously smooth surface, you have the option of putting oil on your piece. I've seen people use linseed oil, olive oil, but I use tung oil for my wood pieces. I have had the best luck with tung oil, but remember. It's flammable!
Step 8: More Gluing!
Alright, remember how you glued up your pieces of wood for your mask? It's time to glue the nose onto your mask! Unless you opted not to have a nose, in which case, skip this step!
Drill a hole from the back of your mask to the front. Drill a hole in your nose one where you want it to connect to the mask. This step is optional as you would be putting a nail or a dowel in the mask to add extra strength to the nose. I did not do this, but I simply drilled the holes to line up where I wanted the nose to go.
Just like before, coat the end of the nose, and the place where the nose is going with glue. As you can't clamp this, especially after its been sanded, you'll have to prop it against something to keep it in place and then leave it alone. Seriously, just leave it alone overnight.
Note: Keep in mind, you would have to have shaped the nose to fit flush against the mask, otherwise there will be holes and gapes on the mask.
Step 9: Drill and Thread
Is your piece sanded and glued up? It's time for you to put your finishing touches on your mask.
Okay, this part is the most conflicting part. It's really easy, and really hard at the same time.
For your mask, you're going to need to drill four holes. Two on the left side of the eye, and two on the right. Find a discreet place to put these holes that will be sturdy but won't detract form the piece.
For your head swirls, you'll need two holes in each swirl. One at the top and one on the bottom.
Here comes the hard part, threading your ribbon through each of the holes. Sounds easy? Well, it really wasn't. I didn't have the right needle for something like this, so I had to tape up a tube of paper with the ribbon stuck inside of it and thread it through. That took me a million tries to get it done, but I have needles with bigger eyes now.
If you come up with a better way to thread the ribbon, let me know!
Step 10: Done!
Congratulations, you have finished your wooden mask! Mine was inspired by the plague doctors of old with a flair of venetian fashion thrown into the mix, but have fun with them!
WilsonR made it!