How to sculpt with chicken wire

Hex netting, known by the common names of poultry wire, chicken wire or chicken netting, is a galvanised woven hardware product often used in the construction of fencing and pens for poultry and other small animals. But it has an additional use: serving as a sculpture material.

Because it is made of thin wire woven into hexagon shapes, chicken netting is strong yet very flexible and easily can be formed into three-dimensional shapes.

Select chicken wire by its size and properties according to your needs. Chicken wire comes in 1-inch and 2-inch hex sizes. The larger 2-inch gauge is generally easier to bend into shapes but has less overall strength. The smaller 1-inch gauge is tougher to bend and shape but will support more weight. If you're going to be draping the final shape with a material such as paper mache, the 2-inch-gauge wire will be strong enough to support the wet paper until it dries. If you're intending to drape the sculpture with a heavier product, consider choosing the tougher 1-inch hex gauge; otherwise the weight of the material can deform the sculpted shape. You also can combine the two gauges.

Construct an armature, or skeletal frame, for your sculpture if you need a frame as a guide. Armatures should be made from wood using either 1-inch-thick dimensional lumber or 2-by-4-inch pieces of wood so the chicken wire can be stapled to the skeleton. But you also can sculpt chicken wire without benefit of an armature, especially if you want to reduce overall weight.

Roll out the chicken wire bundle. Most chicken wire comes in 10-foot, 25-foot and 50-foot bundled rolls. When first unbundled, the chicken wire will be very springy and will tend to want to roll back up again. Flatten the length of the whole roll and weigh it down with heavy objects. Give the chicken wire a chance to relax like this before proceeding.

Cut the wire using wire cutters or tin snips. Snip through each hex shape until a section of the wire is freed from the roll. Cut sections of the wire into sizes that are easily handled; large sections should be no wider than you can easily hold with your arms spread wide. Using smaller pieces of chicken netting will allow you to sculpt finer, more detailed pieces for the overall sculpture.

Anchor one side of the chicken wire to the wooden skeleton using a staple gun. Bend the section of chicken wire into the desired shape. Once the desired shape is achieved, anchor the netting with more staples or connect the section to another section of chicken netting using either baling wire or plastic cable ties. You also can use baling wire to pull the netting in specific directions, usually inward toward the skeletal spine, to maintain a desired shape.

Cover the final chicken wire sculpture with a lightweight, flexible material such as paper mache, plaster-impregnated bandages or fabric.