Kingfisher on a Leaf:
Paul Purnell carves this distinctive river bird in a moment of stillness to create a decorative dish.
Paul Purnell carves this distinctive river bird in a moment of stillness to create a decorative dish
There are around 90 groups of kingfishers in the world ranging from the African Dwarf at 10cm in length to the Giant Kingfisher at 42-48cm, unless the Australian kingfisher, known as the Laughing Kookaburra, is included, which can be larger.
The bird native to the UK is the common kingfisher (Latin name: Alcedo atthis – family: Alcedinidae) also known as the Eurasian kingfisher or river kingfisher. They are widespread in central and southern England, but become less common further north especially in Scotland.
The common kingfisher is blue-green on top with an azure-blue rump and tail, orange underparts and bright orange feet. The brightness of the colours is not due to iridescence or pigmentation, but the way the structure of the feathers scatter blue light. The male and female are the same colour, except the female has an orange-red patch at the base of her lower mandible.
Often the first sighting of a kingfisher will be an electric-blue flash flying fast and low over slow-moving or still water. It is exclusively fish eating and well designed for this purpose with a long dagger-shaped bill; excellent vision; adeptness at judging water depth and refraction and a membrane that covers the eyes to protect them when the bird hits water.
Things you will need
• Rotary carving tool
• Coarse and medium spiked burrs
• Carbide fluted burrs
• Selection of diamond burrs
• Carving knife or scalpel
• Cushioned-drum sander
• Cloth sandpaper 120 through to 400-grit
• Epoxy putty
• Epoxy glue
• Finishing oil
• Glass eyes: 4mm black
• Kingfisher – piece of yew: 75 x 40mm
• Leaf dish – piece of olive ash: 160 x 90 x 50mm
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. Have reference material to hand, especially for the kingfisher. Use the diagram to make a cardboard template of the side view of the leaf. Use this template to bandsaw the blank. As the upright of the stalk is cross-grain, keep it on the chunky side
2. Shape the underside with a coarse bull-nose carbide burr. When you are happy with the profile, give a rough sand with 120-grit on a cushioned-drum sander. Ensure that you leave a flat area for stability
3. Hollow out the top side of the leaf using the same coarse burr. This is a slow process. Work methodically and do not try to take off too much wood at any one time. Plenty of material is needed for several rounds of sanding, so be mindful of carving the leaf too thin
4. Shape the stalk with a medium flame burr. The upright part of the stalk is cross-grain and will need to remain robust enough to support the weight of the kingfisher. When shaping the stalk, think about the final position of where the kingfisher will be perched. It should interfere as little as possible with the main area of the leaf if the intention is to use it as a dish. Depending on the coarseness of the finish after using the burr, you may choose to use a medium burr before sanding. Normally, 120-grit paper on the cushioned-drum sander will suffice to remove most of the marks left by the coarse burr
5. Sand the entire leaf with 180, 240 and 320-grit paper on the cushioned-drum sander. Finally, hand sand with 400-grit paper. Wipe over the leaf with white spirit and check in the daylight for any remaining blemishes. Put the dish to one side
6. Use the diagram to make the side template of the kingfisher and use it to cut out the blank. There is no need to cut the kingfisher blank in two dimensions
7. Draw a centreline. Using the plan template and reference material for guidance, start to rough out the top view of the head and beak with a coarse cylinder burr
8. Once you are happy with the plan-view shape, round over the head and body using the same coarse burr. Do not round over the beak nor carve the tail at this stage
9. Define the area of the under tail coverts with the coarse burr
10. Work on the top of the tail to reduce the thickness ready for sanding. Carve the edges with a slight downward movement
11. Sand the entire piece with 120-grit paper on a cushioned drum sander. This is only a rough sand to help with perspective, symmetry of the carving and to provide a clean surface to pencil on details. Redraw the centreline
12. I prefer to shape the beak with a carving knife and hand sanding. This way there is more control of the material you remove. If you prefer, you can use a diamond burr instead. Whatever method you use, remove very small amounts at any one time to ensure you achieve the chunky, dagger-like shape – one of the kingfisher’s distinctive features. To provide some rigidity to the sandpaper when hand sanding, stick different grits to a variety of sticks, such as coffee stirring sticks or toothpick. I also find my wife’s emery boards useful for this purpose!
13. Once you have achieved the overall shape, pencil on where the beak meets the forehead, chin and the gape. Use the carving knife to define these areas. Separate the upper and lower halves of the beak with the knife. When you are happy with the dimensions and symmetry of the beak, sand it with 240-grit paper. Also sand the head down to 240-grit
14. Use a flame-shaped fluted cutter to outline the eye channel. Blend the channel into the crown and cheeks with 240-grit paper on the split mandrel sander
15. Locate the position of the eyes. Draw the position of an eye on one side. Mark the centre with a pin. Then use another pin on the other side to align with the first. Check from above and from the front to ensure correct alignment. Drill a hole on both sides with a 2mm drill to depth of 10mm. Then use a diamond bud-shaped burr to widen and deepen the socket to receive the 4mm eyes. As you enlarge, keep checking the alignment. The eye socket needs to be deep enough to accommodate fixing the eyes with epoxy putty. Ensure that you achieve the tightest fit of the eyes to avoid the putty showing through once fixed in place. Even good quality eyes can differ in size by a fraction of a millimetre. This is not a problem if you are carving a bird that is going to be painted. If there is a slight difference, enlarge each hole to match one of the pair of eyes and mark each eye with left and right to identify them when fixing
16. Sand the body and tail with 180 and then 240-grit abrasive on a cushioned sanding drum. Constantly check symmetry from all sides as you sand
17. Pencil on the upper tail coverts and the primary and secondary feather groups
18. Define these areas with a 3mm, fluted cylinder cutter
19. Use the diamond bud and then mandrel sander with 240-grit abrasive to blend these areas into the body. The aim is to remove all marks left by the cutter
20. The kingfisher’s shape is now complete. Once you are happy that everything is symmetrical, finish with two rounds of sanding by hand – firstly, with 320 and lastly with 400-grit abrasive
21. Now fit the kingfisher to the stalk of the leaf. Find the best stance, keeping the bird aligned so that the beak does not intrude over the leaf dish. Draw a line across the lower body to match this alignment. Use the 3mm fluted cutter to carve a grove to match the profile of the stalk. Take tiny amounts away at a time and keep checking until you achieve a good fit
22. Mark the centre point of the groove that will fit on to the stalk. Mark the stalk to align with this point. I have used a 2mm dowel for this fix (you could also use a nail or pin with the head removed). Drill into the bird and stalk to accommodate the dowel. When drilling into the stalk, ensure you do not drill through to the bottom surface. Mark the drill with a piece of masking tape at the depth you need. Wipe down the kingfisher with white spirit to remove any remaining dust. Do a last check for marks left by the carving burrs or sandpaper. Yew is unforgiving when it comes to any small blemish showing through after oiling
23. Apply four coats of finishing oil of your choice. Fix the 4mm black eyes using a small amount of epoxy putty. If you have drilled deep enough at stage 14, and providing your pair of eyes are on a wire, leave a good proportion of the wire on the eye when you snip it off. The wire can then be held in the drilled hole with a small amount of putty. This way it ensures you will have no putty squeezing through and around the eyes and spoiling the look
24. Finally, with epoxy glue attach the kingfisher to the leaf. This is the finished carving