Winter Robin

Monday 9 July 2018

For just about everyone in the UK – gardeners in particular – the robin is possibly the most often seen and easily recognised wild bird. However, I thought that I might be asking for trouble by choosing it as a subject for a carving project, as one of its key features is the red breast, and I didn't intend to paint it. Still, the robin does have a distinctive shape, with a perky feistiness, as well as being appropriate for this time of year.

By all means make full use of the templates, but you may also find it useful to find some of your own reference material, as you might like to interpret some of the stylised details in your own way.


I chose to use a piece of butternut (Juglans cinerea) for my carving as it has a pleasing figuring in the grain, a nice warm tone when oiled, and I haven't used any for some years. Butternut is not a particularly suitable choice for a beginner as it is very soft. Some may think that this would make it ideal, but unfortunately, the softness also comes with a very spongy, open grain that can tear and compress badly if carved with anything less than razor sharp tools.

Species of wood that could also be suitable for this carving would be; lime (Tilia spp), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), London plane (Platanus hybrida), or if you felt more adventurous, any of the fruit woods. Alternatively, for those with some experience of wood and their properties, you may want to experiment with whatever you feel might work.


When carving an open grained timber such as butternut or sweet chestnut, you can sometimes achieve a desirable finish by sanding the wood through the last couple of grades of abrasive, in this case 320 and 400grit, while oiling at the same time – I use Liberon Finishing Oil. This develops a smooth paste, made up of oil and fine wood dust, which acts as a grain filler. The sanding is all done while the oil is still wet, then when the sanding is completed, the surplus oil and wood slurry is wiped off with kitchen roll and the piece is left to dry overnight. Further applications of oil will increase the shine, or alternatively, a coat of suitable wax polish can be added, given 30 minutes to dry, and then buffed to a soft sheen.

If you have chosen to use a closer grained timber you can finish it off with one or more applications of finishing oil – depending on the degree of shine that is desired. Apply the oil with a brush, dab off the excess with kitchen roll, and allow to dry overnight in between coats. Alternatively, a coat of wax can be applied after one coat of oil has been allowed to dry.