How to Wood Carve a Fish and Put on Scales

By Wade Shaddy

Fish are among the easier things to carve. They are open to almost any interpretation and you can even carve them in an abstract way. They come in all sizes and do not have the detail that accompanies other wood carvings. They are a great way to learn carving. You can paint a carved fish, or leave it natural, it's up to you. You can also add as much detail as you like. Scales are relatively simple to apply to the fish if you have the right tools.

List of Items Needed

  • Wood blank, 2-by-6-by-12 inches
  • Marker
  • Bandsaw
  • Large-tooth wood rasp
  • V-gouge carving knife
  • Forstner drill bit
  • Cordless drill
  • Gouge chisel set
  • Mallet
  • Rotary tool with sanding and carving accessories
  1. Lay the wood blank out on a flat surface. Draw the rough outline of a fish on the blank with a marker. Cut the outline out with a bandsaw and remove as much of the wood from the fish as you can without cutting into the drawing.

  2. Clamp the fish in a bench vise. Hold the large-tooth wood rasp with one hand and set the teeth on top of the fish pointing down at a 30-degree angle. Push forward and down with the rasp, and pull it back, letting the rasp cut and remove wood with each forward stroke.

  3. Rasp downward on the fish's body, walking around it and rasping it from every angle. Reposition it in the vise when you need to. Turn it upside down and continue rasping away wood until you have the rough outline complete.

  4. Use a V-gouge carving knife to add detail to fins and facial detail. Use a small Forstner bit and a cordless drill to carve the fish's eyes.

  5. Cut the scales with a set of gouge chisels. Use the semicircular round tip of the biggest gouge chisel to add big scales randomly over the fish's body. Place the tip of the gouge chisel on the fish's body and tap the end of the chisel with a mallet to cut a scale.

  6. Switch to a medium-sized gouge chisel to fill in between large scales. Finish by adding small scales between other scales, tapering them off toward the head and tail of the fish. If desired, sand the body of the fish with a handheld power sander or sandpaper, or leave it with a rough, textured look.

Tips and Warnings

  • Instead of carving with hand tools, you can use a rotary tool and any number of carving and shaping accessories.
  • Keep it simple. Don't try to carve elaborate fins on your fish. Keep them close with a low profile. Long thin fins break off.
  • Refine the fish by switching to smaller and finer tipped sanding and carving accessories; it's up to you how smooth you want the fish.
  • Wear rubber gloves when using wood rasps to prevent blisters. Wear safety glasses when carving. Be careful -- wood carving tools are sharp.

© Demand Media 2011