Dragon Brooch


Dragon Brooch:
Dave Western shows how to make a Welsh-inspired pin brooch.

Dave Western shows how to make a Welsh-inspired pin brooch

My wife is fond of wearing scarves when she braves our Canadian winters. I read somewhere that the ancient Celts would wear their beautiful brooches to keep shawls in place and I thought something like that would be good for keeping things battened down on windy days. I wasn’t prepared to attempt a traditional metal brooch like the ones the Celts of Britain made famous, but I thought a wooden one would be fun.
Because wood is a slightly less robust material than iron or steel, I realised that both the pin portion of the brooch and the actual body of the design would both have to be kept thicker. This means the brooch is only really suited for coarsely woven materials or for materials that can be pulled over the pin. That aside, it occurred to me that rather than make a traditional circular brooch with Celtic knotwork designs, I could play around a lot with the design and have a bit of fun.
I opted to make the brooch in the form of a flying dragon. Being Welsh, the dragon is a particular favourite, but it is also perfectly suited for this task. The long neck and tail of the dragon can stick out past the body of the brooch and still look good, the wings give the piece some ‘movement’ and the fabric pulled up over the pin gives it a perfect plump body.
Although there’s absolutely nothing traditional about it, the dragon brooch retains a classic look while simultaneously being bit more whimsical and fun than the customary knotwork brooch.

Things you will need
• Straight knife
• Bent knife
• Abrasives
• Brush
• Oil finish
• Any scrap wood, but  tough dense wood is best.

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. This project is a great way to use up small scrap. On this particular piece, I placed the pattern carefully so that the pin took advantage of tighter, more vertical grain and the body got the wild tangential grain. This let me have the strongest possible pin and the most visually dramatic body for the brooch. I used a piece of eastern maple for this project. It’s a very tough, dense wood that I knew would be strong and robust. It was a nightmare to carve, but I don’t have to worry about it breaking

2. Because the piece is small and potentially difficult to handle, I recommend dealing with the central hole first. If you have a scroll or jeweller’s saw, simply drill a pilot hole then saw away the rest. If you don’t have a saw, drill a large hole or a group of smaller ones and use your straight knife to cut away the excess material

3. After cutting away most of the material and forming the body outline using a saw, I opted to leave a chunk of wood that could be used as a platform for clamping. With small pieces like this, clamping helps when rough shaping, enabling you to use two hands and be confident the material won’t skid around beneath the tools

4. At this point, remove some material from the top face so that a domed shape is created between the wings. Use a straight knife or flat chisel to rough off stock and form the shape. Don’t take too much material at once or you risk snapping off the wing tips. Take your time and make nice symmetrical cuts. I scribed a line around the piece to help me locate my depth and to keep both sides consistent

5. Once the wings are nicely domed, redraw the wing lines back on to the body. Use a regular pencil for this and don’t get too fussy about being perfect about it. As long as the lines flow and are close to the right place, fine adjustments can be made as carving proceeds. With the lines in place, use a gouge or bent knife to hollow the sections between each wing segment. Keep the area where the wing ‘tendons’ are higher uncarved until the hollowing is finished. Once the hollowing is done, the tendons can be detailed with a nice rounded-over shape

6. Now the top face of the body is complete, I use a gouge to clear a groove for the pin to rest on. The groove will help centre the pin and keep it from moving around. Don’t get too carried away with it, though. Keep the depth limited to about half the diameter of the pin. I usually keep a bit of wood between the top of the body and the clamp so that if the gouge slips at all, I don’t have to worry about it contacting the metal clamp. I left it off for the photograph but it is definitely something you’ll want for protection!

7. Shape the area around the top of the body, but don’t cut the clamping pad off just yet. It will come in handy when you turn the body over and start hollowing the back

8. Use a bent knife or gouges to hollow this area, being careful not to chip those wing tips. Go slowly and aim for side-to side-consistency

9. With the back hollowed, the effect should be a noticeable, even bend from side to side. I left mine at about 4mm thick. If your timber seems sturdy, you might be able to go thinner. Conversely, if you are at all worried about the strength of your material, leave it on the thicker side – 5 or 6mm would be considered thick. Once all the shaping is complete,  cut off the clamping pad and clean up the tip of the body

10a. Now, begin the pin by cutting the side profile of the head using a scrollsaw or jeweller’s saw. Alternatively, bring the head into shape with a straight knife. Be careful not to knock the teeth down when sawing or carving in the mouth area. Cut along the outside of the line to the tail of the pin to keep a bit more material for the shaping process and it will keep the pin a bit sturdier

10b. Draw a centreline down the middle of the dragon’s head and pencil in the curves of its cheeks

11. With the head marked out, cut or carve down to the pencil lines to form the sides of the face. Once that is complete, the horns can be defined by using a narrow gouge to clear the material between them. Go slow and take light cuts, it is VERY easy to slip and do damage to both the material and your hand if you are not careful

12. Next, I like to shape the teeth. I begin by scribing along the gum line then cutting back the teeth to a depth of approximately 1mm. Next, gently round each tooth then bring each to a nice pointed shape. Easy does it, as this is an area where it is particularly easy to chip the tips off the teeth or to break them out altogether. Once the teeth have been shaped on both sides, I like to separate the front teeth with a little V cut

13. Finish up the facial details by cutting in the eyes and some nostrils. If you are up for a challenge, cut them at the front of the nose into the end grain. If you’d rather keep life simple for yourself, you can cut one in on each side of the face and stay with the easier-to-work wood. Place the eyes carefully so they aren’t out of alignment when the dragon is viewed ‘head on’. You might want to measure them both before committing to any cutting. You need not cut too deep to shape the eyes, usually about 1mm around the edge is plenty

14. You can get as carried away as you like with the face at this stage. Add scales or inlay the eyes, define the facial features or just leave it simple…either way, he has a cheeky look about him

15. With the face completed, shape the pin by chamfering each edge for its entire length. Then, divide the original chamfer into two more chamfers to give yourself a consistent, fair edge along the pin shaft. Once it is getting ‘round’, you can continue with more light chamfering or you can head right to sandpaper to work it smooth

16. While the sandpaper is out, give the body a good going over to round sharp edges. I avoid sanding the front surface of the body where I prefer the tool marks to stay visible, but I give the back a good going over. Make sure the edges in the hole are well rounded so they don’t snag on the fabric that will be pushed in there. A final bath or two of Danish oil followed by a wet-sanded coat (use 1000 grit wet and dry for this) and a final surface coat of beeswax polish and you have a lovely little dragon who looks great and will give many years of dedicated service

17. The finished brooch


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