Carve a Stunning Diving Kingfisher archive

Thursday 26 January 2012

Bill Prickett shows you how to carve this small and distinctive bird in a diving pose


I really wanted to produce a moderately simple carving that was still able to incorporate a degree of dynamism. Well you can't get much more dynamic than a kingfisher - one of my favourite birds and possibly one of Britain's most exotic looking.

The attitude I wanted to capture was the moment a fraction of a second after the kingfisher has targeted a potential prey item, and has just started the first powerful wing strokes to drive it from its perch into a headlong dive.

Initially, I start with plasticine to help decide on the final position, and I would always advocate this process to help familiarise oneself with the subject before committing it to wood. Also, gather as much photographic/video reference as you feel you may need, in addition to the templates provided. If you feel like continuing into the realms of greater detail than I'll be showing here, then obviously some good photographic reference is even more important.

Step 1

Enlarge the templates to the required size and check that the scale of each is the same, then cut them out accurately. Draw around the outline of the plan view template, aligning the grain direction of your chosen piece of wood with the direction of the beak for strength purposes.

Bandsaw around these lines, tape the bits of waste wood back into place, then draw around the left side template on the corresponding face of your timber - note the holding block that is left to assist in gripping the work during the carving process. Now bandsaw round the line. You are left with a piece of wood similar to that shown in photo 1 and have saved several hours of waste wood removal.

Step 2

Mark the large area of waste wood above the left wing - use the front view template to help - and remove using a large gouge (22mm No.9).

Step 3

Reduce the width of the holding block to something like a square (waste marked in photo) down to the underside of the kingfisher.

Step 4

Draw the curve of the body under the left wing and remove the waste wood to thin the wing section down some, and expose the left side of the body.

Step 5

Similarly, remove the waste beneath the right wing, making sure to define and carve around the outer edge of the tail. Refer to the underside view of the plans.

Steps 6-7

Outline the trailing edge of the right wing where it lies over the top of the tail, then carve away the waste wood to expose the upper surface of the tail area. Take a bit of time curving over the upper surfaces of the left and right wings, initially using a gouge (22mm No.9), then finishing off with a broad flat tool to leave a smooth surface.

Step 8

Moving back underneath the wings, refine the shape and thickness of the leading edge of both wings, removing the area as shaded.

Step 9

Draw a centreline for the head (as viewed from above), round off the harsh corners of the neck, and shape the shoulders down to merge in gently with this new neck shape.

Step 10

Draw the lines indicating the edges of the major feather groups onto the upper surfaces of the wings, then carve along these lines with a 1/4in No.10 gouge.

Step 11

Mark the 'near final' shape and thickness for the trailing edges of the wings, along with the tail. Remove the narrow area of wood between the upper surface of the tail and the lower surface of the right wing using a narrow veiner (3mm No.11) and a long, narrow-bladed knife.

Steps 12-13

To place the eyes, draw a couple of lines coming from a point on the head centreline (approx in the middle of the head), out to where the eyes want to be as viewed from directly above. Drop these lines down both sides of the head and mark the point on these new lines for the centres of the eyes. Make sure that each eye point is symmetrical, relative to the opposite side.

Step 14

Draw in the eyes, along with the small groups of feathers around the cheek and neck that form some of the distinguishing features. Use a small gouge (3mm No.11) and in some areas, like the corners of the eyes, use a V-tool (1/4in).

Step 15

Refine some of the detail around the beak, draw in the dividing line between upper and lower mandibles and after checking symmetry with the opposite side, cut this line in with a scalpel. Smooth over the eye area with 240 grit abrasive, mark the line formed by the eyelids, and cut with a V-tool.

Step 16

Draw in the individual feathers within the feather group for primaries and secondaries. Use a V-tool to leave nice crisp edges.

Steps 17-18

Next draw in the rest of the wing feathers and carve around each of these using a small gouge (3mm No.11). Angle each feather to give the impression that the hidden part of it comes from beneath the feather(s) adjacent to it, and round over any harsh corners with a small, flat tool (5mm No.1).

Step 19

Shape the body of the kingfisher and carve in some of the undulations created by the feathers, but not every individual feather.

Step 20

When working on the underside of the wings, I found it helpful to rest the bird on a small sandbag. Carve in the primary and secondary feathers using a V-tool - the rest are added with a small gouge. You can see that the holding block has been reduced in size to expose more of the wood required to carve the feet.

Step 21

Time to undercut the wing feathers using a scalpel. Don't make the cuts too straight - try and add a little undulation to them.

Step 22

Sand over the wings with 180 grit abrasive, paying attention to individual features. Sharply fold the abrasive to sand sharp edges of the primaries. Roll the abrasive to maintain the soft transitions of the feathers without undercuts.

Step 23

Finish carving the flow lines created by the feathers of the body and sand over this area. Draw where the toes will be positioned and carve away the parts of the holding block that are getting in the way. The feet of a kingfisher are very small and only a couple of toes are visible when tucked up for flight. Carve these in using a scalpel and small gouge. Shape the area just under and behind the feet, which is where the connection between bird and support takes place.

Steps 24-25

Sand over the whole kingfisher, working through grades 180, 240, 320 and 400 abrasive, and sharpen up any crisp detail such as undercutting the riffled feathers of the throat area using a scalpel. Brush away any dust and loose grit from the abrasive in between each grade to reduce cross contamination of abrasives.


I used offcuts of 18mm (23/32in) thick birch-faced plywood, but other types and thicknesses would work. Each layer within the plywood runs with the grain at 90° to the adjacent layers. It is therefore inherently very strong.

Step 26

After cutting out the plywood layers to the shape of the templates, glue and clamp them together using a good wood glue, and G- or F-clamps. Once cured, draw the profile using the support side view template as a guide. You might find it useful to cut the shape out using a coping saw.

Now round the edges and produce a nice, sinuous form. Use a round sectioned rasp or microplane to help with shaping. Sand over the support through 180 - or coarser if a rasp has been used - to 320 grit. Note - if you have used rasps or files to shape the plywood, you may need to start sanding with a much coarser grade of abrasive.

Step 27

Carefully drill and glue in place a 25mm (1in) length of 4mm (5/32in) box section brass tube at the kingfisher connection point.

Drill the guide holes on the underside of the support that will accept screws used to fit it to your base of choice - I used a 6 x 6 x 2 piece of slate, but a similar piece of wood would also do the trick.


Carefully drill a hole in the kingfisher, behind the feet, to accept the 4mm square section connector. Use a square cross section as once glued, it stands less chance of twisting than a round section might do.

Once happy with the connection between bird and support, and that the desired angle and no gap between the two has been achieved, give both the bird and support a coat of finishing oil. Brush on liberally and dab off any excess using kitchen roll, then allow to dry overnight. Follow with a second and even third coat. After the last coat has dried, buff to a soft sheen - I use a rotary brush in a fixed position drill - or for a more polished look, apply a coat of wax polish and buff in the same way. Fix the support to the completed base, then finally epoxy the bird to the support.

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

bird carving , kingfisher , bill prickett

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Lime (Tilia spp)


Kingfisher: 190 x 150 x 85mm (71/2 x 6 x 3 1/4in)
Stand: 290 x 205 x 70mm (11 3/8 x 8 3/16 x 2 3/4in)


1. 5mm No.1 flat tool
2. 22mm No.9 gouge
3. 8mm No.10 gouge
4. 3mm No.11 gouge
5. 15mm No.9 gouge
6. 3mm and 1/4in V-tool
7. Swann Morton scalpel, No.4 handle, No.26 blade


1. Abrasive 80, 180, 240, 320 and 400 grit
2. Liberon finishing oil
3. Liberon wax polish

Where To Buy

1. Liberon Finishing Oil and Wax Polish
2. Liberon
Tel: 01797 367 555
2. The ToolPost
Tel: 01235 511 101

About The Author

Bill Prickett is based in Kent.
He runs courses and teaches on a private basis.
Tel: 0845 2570887

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge