Carve an Adorable Wood Mouse
Wednesday 21 September 2011
Step up your carving skills with Bill Prickett's wood mouse perched on a cotton reel
For my carving and teaching work, I rent a rather nice studio on a local farm. Outside my window is a field, which contains two large walnut trees that crop heavily each year. Every now and then I discover some of the nuts from these trees secreted about my workspace. This, I discovered, is the work of my resident wood mouse, which is the subject of this issue's project.
In the prone position and on all fours, the shape of the wood mouse is a little like a door wedge, and the head - being near the ground - is a little hard to see. I decided therefore to design this particular wood mouse with its front feet resting on something that would raise the head and front quarters off the ground.
The idea of carving a cotton reel with threaded needle came to mind, and I just had to have a play with that concept to see how technically tricky it would be to carve this all from a single block.
I prefer to carve from a single piece of wood, however, if you are going to give the wood mouse a go but would feel happier producing the needle and thread separately to add at the end, then please do so.
After scaling the templates to size and cutting them out, lay the left view template on your chosen piece of timber and draw around the outside. Make certain that the grain direction runs exactly along the direction of the needle and thread region (dotted lines on template). Bandsaw or cut with a coping saw around these outside lines, leaving things a little square and bulky around the head area
To save a bit of time, tape the waste bits of wood back into place to form a complete block again, and then mark the major waste areas using the rear templates, sawing around these lines also
Using the front view template, mark the wood either side of the area to be left from which the needle and thread are to be carved, and remove this waste wood down to where the top of the cotton reel will be
Removing waste wood - refer to the plan view to mark the waste area outside of the front right leg (as shown)
Also with the plan view, draw a centreline for the head - which is looking off to the right - and square off the back of the head, incorporating the ears. Next, you will need to draw and carve an approximate shape for the muzzle
Using the profile for the right side of the head, mark the most obvious waste and then remove with a shallow gouge
Use the head front view template to mark the waste area between the ears, then remove using a 1/4in No.10 gouge
The region to the rear of the cotton reel area can now be pared back. To do this, use a shallow gouge to match the width of the mouse
Reduce the wood above the undulating upper line of the tail, to the level of the rest of the body. Round over the back and hindquarters of the mouse’s body. On this freshly exposed surface, mark the area that is not mouse (cross hatched) then drop this region back to the level that relates to the right-hand side of the cotton reel
Mark the gap under the belly, behind the cotton reel, but above the tail and feet, and if it helps to get you started, make a few holes with a drill. Tidy up with a V-tool and chisel. Round off the belly and throat area, leaving the front and rear legs untouched at this stage
Draw the outside line of the tail as it curves around from the body using the plan view template for reference. Remove the waste outside of this line using a sharp 1/4in V-tool. Remember - you are cutting across end grain here
Mark in the eyes and some of the other features of the face. Make sure the eyes are symmetrical and that they are big enough. At this stage, the area being left proud will eventually incorporate the eyelids as well. Carve around the eyes with the V-tool and shape around the head with a shallow gouge, then dome over the eyes with a small shallow gouge that is inverted
Viewing from above, draw the circular shape of the cotton reel, along with a rough outline of the left foot position. Round off the outside of the cotton reel, then remove the waste wood around the foot, down to the top of the reel
Mark the area that the mouse will be standing on along the inside edge of the tail, as well as around the cotton reel and between the feet. Drop this area down to 'ground' level with a V-tool and small flat chisel. Carve in the rear feet when they are exposed. Also, angle the front leg from its widest point at the elbow so that the foot will be resting on the reel
Shape the limbs and body curves, then give a preliminary sanding with 180 grit abrasive. Refine the shape and position of the right forelimb and draw the inner edge of the eyelids. Carefully carve along these lines, then dome the eyeball area within the lids. Mark and carve in other facial features such as nostrils, minor undulations and the mouth
From the front, define the wood needed for the needle (on the left) and thread (on the right). Draw in the cotton reel’s rims (top and bottom) and mark the extension of the thread as it passes the upper rim and joins the windings on the reel. Carve along these lines with a V-tool, and then reduce the diameter of the reel between the rims with a flat tool
On top of the cotton reel, refine the shape of the front feet (which are quite hand-like) using a combination of V-tool and scalpel. Expose the 'label' on the top surface of the reel by dropping the rim edge by 1mm or less, working about 3mm in towards the centre of the reel. The edge formed is slightly undercut with a scalpel to give the effect of a paper label that is lifting slightly
Draw some more detail into the 'needle'. Carve in the 'thread' with a V-tool as it joins the lower half of the reel, and continue the lines around and around the reel in a close spiral, until you meet the edge of the lower rim
Thin down the needle, leaving an elongated teardrop shape at the end for the 'eye'. The aperture for the eye is carved in very carefully with the tip of a scalpel. Make certain you cut the wood fibres and don't just split them apart. Carve in the rest of the thread around the reel, and carefully pare down the thickness of the thread to match the thread carved on the reel. Leave a small buttress of wood at the base of the exposed thread for a little extra strength. Sand over the whole piece - except for the thread windings and the floor surface - working through abrasives 180, 240, 320 and 400 grit
Now it is just a simple task of bending the thread into a question mark shape and passing the end through the eye of the needle! I used the steam of a kettle for about a minute to soften the fibres enough to bend. While bending the thread, it did kink in a couple of places but the key point is, it didn't break. Experimentation is recommended, and be careful when working with steam
With a small shallow gouge, tool over the surface that the mouse and reel are sitting on. Be careful not to lever the shank of the tool against areas such as the tail while accessing tricky parts. Remove the strengthening buttress at the junction of the thread and reel, then using a scalpel, cut the notch in the upper rim of the reel, through which the thread is meant to be running
Apply two coats of finishing oil and a light wax on just the mouse, and your carving is now complete