Mouse Letter Opener


Mouse Letter Opener:
Paul Purnell makes good use of leftover gun stock by carving this handy letter opener

Paul Purnell makes good use of leftover gun stock by carving this handy letter opener

Should a shotgun user damage the stock of their gun, the chances are they will have it repaired at their local gunsmith. If the damage is beyond repair, the stock will need replacing. A stable wood is essential for any gunstock and an attractive grain is desirable. This is why walnut (Juglans spp.) is often a top choice. Other woods commonly used include wild cherry (Prunus spp.), maple (Acer spp.), mahogany (Khaya spp.), ebony (Diospyros spp.) and a couple of other exotic hardwoods. Some stocks are handmade with very high-quality material that has fantastic grain. Therefore, it is possible that sitting in the stockroom of your local gun shop there will be a box of broken stocks that might end up in a woodstove. With some negotiation, you could have access to some great pieces of wood for small carvings. MGR Guns of Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire kindly donated the walnut stock from which I have made this simple project of a mouse letter opener. The exact species of walnut is unknown although I do suspect it is American black (Juglans nigra).

Things you will need
• Glass eyes: 4mm dark brown or black
• Walnut: 210 x 25 x 20mm
• Bandsaw
• Rotary carving tool
• Coarse and medium spiked burrs
• Selection of diamond burrs
• Blue ceramic cone for texturing
• Carving knife or scalpel
• Cushioned-drum sander
• Cloth sandpaper 120 through to 400-grit
• Epoxy putty
• Finishing oil

1. Have plenty of reference material to hand before you start to carve. Use the diagram to make cardboard templates. Use the side template to bandsaw the blank. Do not touch the top view at this initial stage. Ensure you leave plenty of material on the blade to accommodate the tail – ideally a depth of 7–8mm. Have the grain run along the length of the piece of wood

2. Mark a centreline on both sides. Draw the side view positions of the legs and ears. Use a coarse, flame burr in your rotary tool to rough out the side view. Use the top view template to draw the top profile of the mouse’s body

3. From the top perspective, use the coarse burr to shape the snout, body and the cutouts at the point where the blade of the opener meets the backside of the mouse

4. With a medium, flame burr round over the body and snout. Separate the ears on the top view. As this carving is of a generic mouse, the ears can be of any size. However, neither carve them too large nor too thin, as this will make them fragile. This is especially important if the intention is to use the opener as opposed to it just being an ornament

5a. Continue to refine the ears from both the side and top views. Start to outline the leg and feet positions – all with the medium burr. With a cushioned-drum sander and 120-grit abrasive, sand the body.

5b. Do not be too fussy, as this sanding is simply to enable a better perspective of how things are looking, and to facilitate the pencilling back in of the details. Redraw the features

6. With a diamond, flame burr continue to refine the ears, shape the head and nose, and remove any marks left on the body from the coarser burrs

7a. Then use the same diamond burr to obtain better definition of the legs and feet. A carving knife or scalpel will help with the shaping of the feet. Draw the position of the four feet on the underside.

7b. Outline with the carving knife and use the diamond taper to define further. Use the same burr to add shape to the belly

8a. Sand the feet and head with 240-grit paper in a split mandrel. Each foot has five toes. The number of toes you will be able to define will depend on how much wood you leave on the topside of each foot. It doesn’t matter if you do not have room for five, as often only a couple of toes will be visible in this pose.

8b. To define the toes, use a knife or scalpel to run a line between each toe on the upper and lower surfaces. Then take a sliver from each side of this line to give a v-shaped groove. Use a thin, diamond needle burr to round over the edges. Sand with a piece of 240-grit abrasive folded to enable you to work between each toe by hand. If you just touch a 1mm diamond ball to the tip of each toe, the small indentation will give the impression of a toenail

9. Next, use two pins to locate the eye positions on either side of the head, as shown

10. Hollow out the ears using a 1mm and 2mm diamond ball. Do not make the edges too thin and fragile. Sand the ears using the mandrel with 240-grit paper

11. Create  a shallow depression running through the eye with the mandrel sander and 240-grit abrasive. Starting with the 2mm diamond ball, create the eye socket. Check the symmetry and alignment. Using a 3mm diamond ball, enlarge the socket to accommodate the 3mm glass eyes. Starting with the smaller diamond burr will enable you to adjust alignment if necessary. Ensure a tight fit. The eyes will be fitted with epoxy putty, which will show through if the sockets are too large. The nose is a tiny pip of around 2mm in width. Use a knife or scalpel to define it. Carefully round over with the small piece of folded, 240-grit paper. Mark the position of the mouth. Run a knife or scalpel vertically along the drawn line then cut at an angle of about 45° to take out a small section. Soften the edges with the piece of folded abrasive. Check over the mouse; remove any hard edges or imperfections

12a. Draw a line to bisect the side edges of the letter opener blade. This should leave 3–4mm either side. Draw the position of the tail on the top of the blade. Use a coarse, blunt-end carbide burr to remove the wood from one side of the tail down to the mid-point line. Now remove the wood from the other side of the tail. Tidy up both sides with a medium blunt-end burr. Use a sanding block, with 240-grit abrasive, to sand the edges of the blade.

12b. Use the centreline to obtain symmetry. With the medium burr, reduce the remainder of the blade’s top surface to match the bottom profile of the tail. Sand the top surface using the drum sander and the sanding block with 120, 180 and 240-grit abrasive. Use the mid-point line on the edge for reference. Shape the tip of the blade

13. Round over the tail and tidy up around the mouse’s backside. Sand the underside of the blade using a sanding block with 120, 180 and 240-grit abrasive.

14. The side profile of the blade should be around 3–4mm at the base of the tail tapering down to 1mm at the tip of the blade

15. Sand the entire piece by hand with 320 then 400-grit abrasive. Use a blue ceramic cone to add the detail. Remove any debris from the carving with an abrasive brush in the rotary tool

16. Wipe down the carving with white spirit, then allow to dry. Apply four coats of finishing oil. Fit the eyes with epoxy putty. Use the smallest amount to achieve the fix. If you are planning on using the opener, smear a thin layer of superglue over both surfaces at the tip of the blade to add extra strength

17. The finished carving


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