Dog Head Mould archive

Thursday 6 November 2008

Bill Prickett's miniature dog's head was carved for use as a mould but would also be ideal for jewellery or netsuke-type sculpture


Last year a local silversmith asked me to carve several miniature dog heads representing a variety of breeds from which he could produce some moulds.

From these he intended producing a number of waxes that would then be used to cast solid-silver replicas to be grafted onto silver whistles which he makes himself.

I reasoned that the same type of small carved originals could also be used for one-off jewellery items or for small netsuke-type sculptures.


As the head would measure only 20mm in length and about 12.5mm wide (3/4 x 1/2in), I didn't think lime would be hard or close-grained enough to take fine detail on that kind of scale without losing crispness during the mould-taking process. So I thought I would give boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) a try. I wasn't disappointed.

Starting to carve

Cut the wood to a suitable and manageable size, allowing enough waste at one end to clamp it with an engineer's clamp which is then G-clamped to the fixing plate of a standard carving clamp.

Then use the template to draw the outline of the dog head. A couple of location lines on the template and wood help when re-aligning the template for the addition of extra detail later on.

Remove the waste with a 3mm (1/8in) No.10 gouge and knife, through the full depth of the wood and down to the pencil line.

Sharp edges, such as those used to form the collar, are cut in using a 6mm (1/4in) V-tool.

Place the template back in position and use the location lines for positioning, then pencil in the outline of the ears. Use the V-tool to run around these lines to a depth of 1mm (3/64in) or so, then, using a small flat tool, cut everything else back to the bottom of the V-tool cuts. Repeat on the other side.

Looking down on top of the head, mark the approximate position for the eyes. These look slightly out to the sides by about 35 degrees, so draw lines representing their plane.

At the same time, mark the waste wood at either side of the muzzle, from the position of the eyes forward.

With the flat 6mm (1/4in) tool, remove this waste wood. To form the roundness of the skull and the brow ridge, mark the edges at the top corners of the head, then remove the waste.

Similarly, mark the edge that has been formed between cheek and muzzle, and blend them together. Then tackle the front of the muzzle - leaving the nose itself flat - and the area under the chin, in the same way.

Move under the jaw, and mark the lower jaw line. Cut along this line with the V-tool and then do the same thing with the wrinkles of skin under the neck.

Using the 3mm (1/8in) No.10 gouge, form the undulations of the ears in the same way. To shape the area at the base of the ears, mark the width of the skull, and curve the top of the head using the 6mm (1/4in) flat tool.

If you want to carve a collar, have a close look at the way a real buckle is formed and the way that the strap part weaves over and under various parts of it. With a sharp pencil, mark the key features and use the scalpel to carve carefully.

Don't be in too much of a hurry to undercut the collar and the loose end that sticks out from the buckle. Leave any final undercutting for as long as possible in order to allow for any changes that may be required.

Putting in detail

Remove the pencil marks with the tools before reassessing further action - a single millimeter goes a long way towards ruin at this small size.

What is vitally important is that you get it straight in your own mind whether you mark the high points on a carving - that need to be left alone - or whether you mark the low points - which need to be removed. I do both, using solid lines to show areas to be left alone and shaded areas for those that need to be hollowed with the gouge.

Mark the outline of the nose, then run around this line very carefully with the gouge to define the transition from muzzle to nose.

Copy the shape of the nostril, using a 0.5mm rotary burr in a small drill used at a slow speed and with a steady hand, to create two non-circular holes.

Enlarge the hole deeper in to add extra shadow. The 'nasal flaps' to each side are formed with the scalpel. Now we come to the part that fills many people with dread, the eyes. Draw the aperture between upper and lower eye lids.

Follow these lines using the tip of the scalpel blade - if you drop the angle of the handle and consequently allow a greater length of the blade to penetrate the wood, the blade will take control and only 'want' to cut a straight line.

Cut deeper into the corners of the eye than the middle. Use the tip of the scalpel to curve the eyeball from side to side into these deep corners and then to a lesser degree, from top to bottom.

Slightly undercut the upper eyelid, but not the lower. The final touch is to extend the line of the cut from the upper lid so that it runs just a little way over the lower lid. Cut the lower lid so that it appears to tuck underneath the upper lid at the corners.

Now repeat the other side. Try to get it moderately level with the first one, but trust your eyes. If you do not achieve perfect symmetry, do not worry - few things in nature are symmetrical.

Now remove any small tool marks and round off any unwanted sharp edges with a bit of light sanding, using 320 grit or finer folded aluminium oxide paper.

For the larger surfaces, simply roll the paper into a stiff tube that will then deform to suit the contours of the piece and not just flatten the high points.

For smaller areas such as the eyeballs, fold a 90 degree corner in half to form a 45 degree sanding point. A small piece of stiffening may be required to back this up, such as a thin strip of (old) credit card. The final undercutting around collar, ears and mouth can now be completed.


Draw pencil lines to indicate the general direction of flow of the hair running from the nose, along the muzzle, around the eyes then down the neck and the ears.

Follow these lines with the drill and a 1mm-diameter diamond burr, keeping the revs below the speed at which the wood may start to burn.


A final light wipe over with 0000 wire wool or synthetic abrasive matting takes away any slight fluffiness. Then a light coat of clear wax can be brushed on, allowed to dry for half an hour, then buffed off with a fine but stiff bristled brush.

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

bill prickett , mammals , Dog

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"I did not think lime would be hard or close-grained enough to take fine detail on that kind of scale"

Reference Material

If you have access to a real live dog of your chosen species, take some photographs, capturing perfect side views (each side), straight-on front view and a view looking directly down on top of the head.
Have someone to attract the subject's attention; otherwise it won't matter how you position yourself relative to the dog, every shot will have it looking - probably with a bemused expression - directly into the camera lens.
If you lack a willing model, then photo references from the library or off the internet should prove adequate.
To make life a little easier, trace the outline of one of the side views, along with a distillation of the key features of the dog head, onto paper. The detail is maintained better if this is done at a larger scale than the final template, then reduced by photocopier to the final size.