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Carving a Figurehead


There may be times when you would like to carve a figurehead for your model because the kit you are building doesn't include one or because the quality of the one included is not very good. In this article, I will explain and show how I've approached this situation.

Years ago the late Harold Hahn wrote a book called Ships of the American Revolution and their models. In that book, he explained how he approached the carving of a figurehead for his models. Photo 1 shows a picture guide taken from his book that shows the carving of the figurehead for his Rattlesnake model.

Photo 1

This approach is fine if you're a talented carver, but it never worked for me. Over the years I came upon a series of practicums written by Father William Romero. Father Bill's approach was somewhat different. He would start with a block of boxwood that was large enough to carve the figurehead in width, height, and thickness. This method requires that you have a profile drawing and a head-on drawing in scale of the figurehead you wish to carve.

The first step is to rubber cement the two drawings to one side of the block and the other to the front of the block. Photo 2 shows this step.

Photo 2

The import thing about these drawings is that the profile drawing on the side must align with the front or head-on drawing. You can see that i have cut the two drawings at the very top of the hair and the very bottom of the feet. That enabled me to align them with each other.

The next step is to cut out the profile drawing with a scroll saw. Photo 3 shows this.

Photo 3

After the profile has been cut out, you must tape the block back together with scotch tape as shown in Photo 4.

Photo 4

With the block taped back together, you can now cut out the head-on drawing using the scroll saw as shown in Photo 5.

Photo 5

what you will end up with is a plug with the profile shape and head-on shape cut out for you. This will make it easier to carve the final figurehead. Photo 6 shows the plug before carving it. This is the profile view.

Photo 6

Photo 7 shows the head-on view. You can see the slot between the legs where the figurehead is fitted to the stem of the ship.

Photo 7

In Photo 8, I have begun to carve the details into the right side of the plug using a small carving knife like the one I pointed out in my article on Making Carvings. I drew a line that shows the edge of the right arm. I drew another line that shows the edge of the skirt and some lines that show the cape folds. I also outlined some of the details of the right leg and foot.

Photo 8

In Photo 9, I've carved more details. in the arm. Once you've drawn some reference lines onto the plug, it really isn't that difficult to cut in these details.

Photo 9

In Photo 10, more details on the right side have been carved.

Photo 10

In photo 11 you can see some details on the left side being carved.

Photo 11

In photo 12, you see a front view of the carving. The only thing left to carve is the face.

Photo 12

In Photo 13, the face has been carved. For this part I used the Turbo Carver I discussed in the article on Making Carvings.

Photo 13

All that is left at this stage is to smooth out the carvings using some 300 grit sandpaper folded so that the edges can be used to get into the cracks and detailed lines of the figurehead. The final detail is to give the entire carving a couple of coats of Wipe on Poly.

Bob Hunt


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