Carving a Cat


Carving a Cat:
Andrew Thomas shows how to fashion an inscrutable feline

Andrew Thomas shows how to fashion an inscrutable feline

I am going to look at how to carve a cat. The outline of both profile views on the plan are of a real cat, so if you wish to, you can use this design or, along with your own research and drawings to produce a fully realistic cat. Please ensure that you gather a good body of reference material of cats – heads, ears, eyes, nose and body – from any sources you may have access to and use this information to help you to visually understand the shape of the details that you will be carving as you work through this project.
Before you start, please read through the complete step-by-step guide and study the stage and finished images to see how the project develops. 

Things you will need
Suggested tools – swiss gouges:
• No.2, 2mm
• No.2, 20mm
• No.5, 3mm
• No.7, 6mm
• No.7, 20mm
• No.9, 7mm
• No.9, 10mm
• No.12, 1mm
• No.12, 6mm
• Knife
• 1mm diamond sphere rotary burr or 1mm drill bit
Material requirements
• Tulipwood (Liriodendron tulipifera) 185 x 100 x 80mm

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

1. Scan or photocopy the scale drawings provided, enlarging them to the correct size for your wood, and print them out onto card to use as templates. Transfer them onto your block of wood, ensuring that they are in perfect alignment with each other, and that the grain direction is running vertically through the block. Leave an area of 30mm depth at the base to attach to your faceplate. Cut this shape out and secure it safely onto your vice. Measure and draw a centre line on all four sides

2. Using the template supplied, transfer the details of the head and face accurately onto your wood

3. Use a No.7, 6mm gouge to remove the waste wood around the outline of the jaw and chin areas, back to the position where the head joins the neck. Then use a No.9, 10mm gouge to curve the straight edges of the bandsawn form, around the neck area, from the centre line on the sides to the centre line on the front

4. Draw the details of the cat’s face accurately in their correct positions. Use the No.7, 6mm again to round over the square edges of the head, from the centre line on the side of the form, up to the curved line on the side of the mouth area. The area above the eyes up to the ears can also be shaped around naturally

5. Use the side view template to measure the rearmost position of the mouth and eyes. Mark these onto both sides of the head and check for symmetry. Now pare the wood back between the curved line of the mouth area on the front view, to the rearmost position of the mouth on the side view. Do the same with the eyes; from the inner corner of the eye on the front view, to the rearmost position on the side

6. The straight edges around the mouth and eyes can now be blended evenly into their surrounding areas

7. The back of the head is next to be shaped. Use a No.2, 20mm to create an even curve, from the centre line on the back of the head, to the centre line on the sides. Work up and over the flat bandsawn area on the top of the head, and then shape the ears from their outer to inner edges

8. The ears can now be slightly hollowed. Use either a No.9, 7mm, or a spherical/conical rotary burr, to carve between the outer and inner edges of the ears, gradually working into the ear until you have reached a depth of approximately 3 or 4mm, or until they look effective

Top tip:
When carving facial details on a small scale such as this, when the basic shape of the head has been carved, it is important to sand through the various grit levels before carving in the eyes, nose and mouth, otherwise their shallow lines may become lost and require re-cutting. 

9. Sand over the complete head with grits 100, 150, 240 and 400. Use the template to transfer the eyes, nose and mouth back into their correct positions again. Next, use either a razor-sharp knife or a gouge with the correct sweep to cut squarely along the very outer edge of the upper and lower eye lines

10. Use a No.2, 2mm gouge to curve the eyeball, from the surface of the eye into the knife cuts. The inner and outer corners of the eyes should be made deeper than the upper and lower eyelids. Repeat these steps until the eyeballs look realistic, and then sand over with grits 240 and 400

11. The natural shape of a cat’s iris can range from a circle, like a human one, to a very thin slit, like a snake’s. The example on this cat is approximately halfway between the two. Either make a small template, or draw these on by hand, and then use a No.5, 3mm gouge, cutting in at a slight angle from both sides to meet in the middle, causing the centre piece to chip out. The deeper you make this recess, the more shadow will fall into it giving a greater effect

12. The nose is formed using a combination of a very small V-tool, to ‘sketch’ around its shape, and then the knife, to cut a deep slit into the V-tool cut. The areas adjoining the knife cuts are blended evenly into the knife cut, and then all of the details are sanded over with grit 240 and 400 abrasive

13. The cat’s nostrils are semi-circular in their appearance, but it will help to study your reference material to fully understand their shape. Draw these in position on the nose, and use either a 1mm diamond rotary burr or a 1mm drill bit to make the small holes. Sand the sharp edges naturally into the holes with grit 240 and 400

14. Next, move directly underneath to the mouth area. There is a very small vertical line directly under the nose, which connects the nose to the two sides of the cat’s mouth. Use the knife to make a deep slice into this position and then around the line of the mouth around each side of the head

15. Use the No.2, 2mm gouge to shape the areas above and below the knife slit, into the knife slit. Repeat this procedure two or three times, or until it looks realistic in comparison with your reference material of a real cat. Finally, smooth over the complete area with grits 240 and 400 to bring these details to life. The head is now complete!

16. Next we move down to the body, which will be carved in a semi-abstracted, stylised fashion. Starting with the back, use the No.2, 20mm gouge, or larger if you have one, to curve the back naturally around, from the centre line on both sides to the centre line down the back

17. The front of the body is a little more difficult to carve due to the concave section below the chest, where the line flows down towards the feet. Start at the top and shape the areas below the neckline on both sides, from the centre line on the side to the centre line on the front. Then switch to a No.7, 20mm gouge to carve across the grain underneath the chest, and across the legs

18. Use the template to help you draw the line of the tail in position. Then use the No. 9, 10mm gouge to carve a deep groove along the top edge of it

Top tip:
If you wish to, you could alter the angle of the tail so that it curls slightly in the opposite direction, which would expose the front right paw as well as the left one.

19. Pare the depth of the gouge cut evenly into the adjoining areas to create a flowing contour from the shoulder and hind quarter to the tail. Repeat steps 18 and 19 until the depth of the tail is at least 7mm thick

20. The inner edge of the tail that rests against the body needs to give the visual impression that it is a separate volume from the body. This is achieved by using a No.12, 6mm V-tool, carving at an angle down and in towards the body to create the parting

21. This top of the tail can then be curved into the V-tool cut and also rounded over the outer edge, to create the desired cylindrical shape. Repeat steps 20 and 21 until the tail looks like it is naturally wrapped around the body

22. The lines of the hind legs can now be drawn in their correct positions to be carved. Starting on the right side, use the No.9, 10mm gouge to carve a deep groove along the outside of the line. Then blend the depths of the outside of the gouge cut evenly into the shoulders and front leg

23. Next, move around to the front of the form and mark the cat’s left front paw in its correct position, approximately 5mm back from the front line. Carve this small piece of waste wood back to the line and naturally curve it like a paw, around from the outer edge and in towards the tail

24. The left hind leg can now be carved into its correct position using the same technique as outlined in step 22. The depth of the legs should taper from 3mm at the top down to approximately 10mm at the base

25. The cat’s paw can now be carved to a very basic shape. Use the No.9, 7mm gouge, working from the base, up and over the top of the paw, and then down again towards the tail. The height should finish at approximately 7mm, as should the depth in towards the leg

26. You now need to carve a slight hollow in between the legs, to create the visual impression of their separation. Do this with the No.9, 10mm gouge, working from just below the chest, down to the paws. Then simply round the left and right legs into this hollow

27. Your carving is ready to be sanded

28. Start with grit 100, and work over the complete form, apart from the head. follow the line of the grain wherever possible, to remove every tool mark and smooth the details naturally together. When perfectly smooth; clean the sawdust off all the surfaces, and brush or pour hot water over the complete carving and leave it to dry, thus raising the grain and allowing the following grit to be worked more effectively. Work through subsequent grits down to 400 repeating the hot water process in between. A finish of  boiled linseed oil was applied and left for a week to cure before a couple of coats of dark wax was applied and buffed when dry


1 Comment

  1. This is a great project. I’ve got a suitable blank waiting to head to the bandsaw. Is the 30mm piece at the bottom a separate block for workholding which is temporarily attached to the workpiece? It looks like it is in the pictures but step 1 seems to suggest leaving 30mm at the base.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.