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How to Carve Realistic Snakes

Updated April 17, 2017

The cylindrical shape of snakes makes them an ideal carving subject. Since there are no square edges on a snake body, they are perfect for practicing rounding techniques. Snakes can be made from a branch that is vine wrapped or from twisted roots. Ordinary logs and lumber may also be the bases for a snake carving. The latter allows you to plan your design, instead of following the natural contours and twists of serpentine branches. Keep tools sharp and clean to produce the best carving results.

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  1. Study reference photos to see details and postures for your snake carving. Decide what pose works best for your wood stock.

  2. Draw the snake contour lines in pencil, on a piece of pine or basswood. Make your pattern wider than the plans for the completed snake carving. Undercuts take away more wood than you may think.

  3. Mark the areas that will be removed.

  4. Cut the basic shape into the wood with chisels and a hacksaw. This is the roughing out portion of the carving, where you develop the basic shape of your design. Take away large areas of wood that do not belong on the finished carving.

  5. Use stop cuts to start refining the snake body. Drive a chisel into the wood, along the pencil lines, with a hammer or wooden mallet. Cut into these slices, at a 90 degree angle, and remove the wood. This results in a squared version of your finished design.

  6. Use a shallow gouge to round off the top of the snake body. Work over the entire surface with this round gouging motion and remove all the square corners.

  7. Taper the head and tail onto the form. Refine the bulging eyes and their corner recesses. Use a V gouge and scalpel to shape the eyes, nostrils, scales and recesses at the corner of the eyes. Make a single V stroke for the distinctive iris.

  8. Remove waste wood to refine the whole snake shape. Compare your carving to the reference photos, as you preoceed.

  9. Remove gouge marks and continue to refine the shape with a knife, rasp and sandpaper.

  10. Define scales with a small gouge and a cutting sequence. Outline the contours with a stop cut on each side of the scale. Make shallow undercuts for smooth scaled subjects. Finish with a surface cut that mimics the particular species. Order the scales as bricks are layered, in a staggered arrangement.

  11. Apply paste wax as a finish. Rub and buff it onto the wood with clean rags.

  12. Tip

    A snake can be formed in plasticine before you begin to work in wood. This serves as a good model to measure dimensions, as you proceed to remove wood. Wood burners are sometimes used in snake carving to add details.

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Things You'll Need

  • Snake reference photos
  • Pine or basswood
  • Chisels
  • Hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Wooden mallet
  • Shallow gouge
  • V gouge
  • Scalpel
  • Knife
  • Rasp
  • Sandpaper
  • Paste wax
  • Clean rags

About the Author

Patti Perry is currently attending West Virginia University and expanding her knowledge base. She has worked as a freelance visual artist for 30 years, with specialties in watercolor and scherenschnitte. Originality of creation is her motivation and she continues to pursue this avenue in her writing. Perry is currently contributing articles to eHow.

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