How to Carve a Wooden Alligator

By Mark Morris

Alligators are very distinctive creatures, with their bumpy hide and long snout. An alligator makes a fun subject for a wood carving. There are three phases to every carving. The first is the planning phase, where wood is chosen and images selected for the design. Second is the drawing and rough cut phase, where the general outline is carved. The third is the detail phase, where final elements are finished.

Wood Selection

The best wood for carving is fairly soft, with consistent, straight grain. There are two major indications to look for when selecting your wood. First, the color should be the same throughout, which is a sign of consistent density in the grain. Second, straight grain lines, with subtle, rather than harsh contrasts are a sign of grain that is even. Balsa, basswood and yellow pine are three of the most common woods used for carvings.

Transferring the Image

Select an alligator image to use as inspiration. If you are working from a photo, trace the main outline and details onto a plain white sheet of paper. It is best to work from several views, or at least a top and one side view. Use carbon paper to transfer the image onto your wood block. Do this for both the top and side views and a front and rear view, if available.

Block Carving

Cut the basic outline from your wood block. This can be done with a heavy carving knife, a band saw or handheld rotary tool with cutting accessory. Carve along the line to create the basic shape of the alligator including tail, snout and legs. At the completion of this stage, the basic shape of the alligator should be recognizable. Always leave just a little more wood than you think you should; removing more is easy, but putting it back is impossible.

Adding Detail

Once the basic shape is complete, add the details using a thin blade carving knife or small burr cutting accessory on a handheld rotary tool. Work along the back adding the bumps, carve out the alligator's eyes and teeth and add small details such as scales on the legs. Work to create as smooth a surface as possible with each cut. Use a small sanding accessory on a handheld rotary tool to make fine adjustments.

© Demand Media 2011