I assume that if you are reading this article, you know all about the different kinds of wood carving that exist today. The following is intended for those who want to carve realistic bird feathers. It is a summary of a specific aspect of wood carving wild birds.
It is intended to provide prospective wild bird carvers with pointers to hone their carving skills. Following these guidelines, I can assure you of producing realistic feather detail in every bird you carve. I trust my advice will move your carving ability from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It will help you create realistic feather detail.
It is also assumed that you have learned how to rough out a bird, and have prepared the bird to carve the feather detail. The first step you have to take is to make sure that you have a roughed-out bird carving, free from any tool marks, and sanded to 600 grid with very fine good quality sandpaper. No shortcuts can be tolerated. Every tool mark and every bump in the wood must be eliminated before beginning the detailed feather carving process.
The golden rule for carving realistic feathers is not to carve too deep. It is better to have less detail than deep carving marks resembling fish scales rather than soft feathers. When I first started detailing bird feathers, my birds had the fish scale look to them. I outlined each feather too prominently, instead of a gradual transition from one feather to the next. Some feathers, for example, the soft feathers on the bird’s chest and belly, are very soft with one feather flowing into the next. Achieving this is easier said than done.
To achieve realistic carved feather detail, a bird’s feathers can be classified as stiff or soft feathers. We will address carving the stiff feathers first.
Carving stiff feathers, such as the primary feathers of the wing and the tail, is achieved by **rolling** in the outline of the feather. Rolling is the process of using a round object such as the back end of a drill bit with a very sharp edge. I roll the bit along the pencil outline of the feather, compressing the wood, rather than carving the wood. Consequently creating a depression on the outside of the feather.
As you continue rolling the feathers of the wing or tail with this tool, you are creating the illusion of the feathers being stacked one upon the other. Cutting this feather separation line with a carving knife, you usually end with too deep a cut resulting in the **fish scale look**.
On completion of the rolling process, the rolled area should be sanded with fine sandpaper to remove any deep indentations caused by using too much pressure during the rolling process.
Mark feather quills with a #2 pencil on those feathers where the quill can be seen. The next step is burning in feather details with the aid of a pyrographic pen with a very fine tip. Burn the outline of each quill with the rheostat of the pyrographic setting which will cause a slight browning of the wood. Do not burn dark deep lines, the deeper you burn the wider the lines and the less professional the result.
After burning the quills, the heat is lowered and the feather barbs are burned in. Look at a flight feather of a real bird and note that the barbs are not straight but slightly curved. Using a low heat setting enables you to place the barb lines closer together. It will also prevent you from burning too deep and thus lose your effort to create that real feather look.
Soft feathers are blended into one another. A gradual transition is created by carving a shallow depression between feathers, using a ball-shaped carving bit in a rotary-type carving tool. It is important to use a pink or blue Arkansas stone rather than a diamond or ruby carving bit to give you a softer look. The result is a less pronounced groove between feathers. The next step is to remove the sharp edges of this groove with a flame-shaped stone and sandpaper.
The aim is to achieve barely visible edges between feathers. Once you have created this soft effect you are ready to carve the detail into individual feathers. To achieve this use a cylindrical white or blue stone in the rotary carving tool. Start at the tail cover and proceed to the head. By carving from the tail to the head of the bird, the feather overlay will be correct. Now blend the overlaying feathers into the lower ones. This gives you complete control over the desired softness.
The final step in creating soft feathers is to use the pyrographic tool and burn in the exposed quills, duplicating the procedure for the stiff feather quills. Next, use the burning tool to emphasize a few of the barbs created by the cylindrical stone. Burn only a few of the barbs from their base to about a third of their length. Some burning marks should be shorter than others, thus creating a soft effect.