Leaping Trout Stick

Monday 9 July 2018

Tools you need

Timber Lime (Tilia spp)

Tools Flexi-drive, medium carbide bit, ball nose bit, flame bit, small, flat gouge, carving knife, 2-part plastic wood and gesso

Acrylic paints Iridescent white, raw sienna, burnt umber, black, gold, silver, red and blue

Working with maquettes

Step 1

I couldn't quite visualise the curve from the back of the fish into the flip of the tail and so I decided to sort out these problems with a maquette before committing to wood.

A single piece of sturdy bonsai wire was bent into the shape of the fish and glued into a hole prepared on a piece of cut off stick. Self-hardening clay was then used to build the fish onto the wire (see photo 2).

A few things became clear straight away: firstly, that having any of the fins as separate inserts would render the piece too delicate for practical use; and secondly, that the body was longer than it should be. With the help of my maquette, I was able to sort these problems out early. The maquette was cut into three sections, with each one shortened before being transferred to the wood (see photo 3).

Timber selection

The wood selection is lime (Tilia spp) – in this case the pieces I used were offcuts from larger projects. Each section of the maquette was laid out with the grain of the wood to create a three section stick head for strength through the curve. With the three sections cut out on the bandsaw (see photo 4), you are ready to start carving.

Initial shaping

Draw up all the centrelines on the head and body sections, leave the tail to one side for now, and prepare a dowel joint for the other two sections and glue together (see photo 5).

If you are wanting to add the carving to a stick at a later date, use a jointing stud – on the final stick the stud could either be left in place or the joint could be blended into the stick for a smooth transition.

A medium-sized carbide bit in a flexi-drive is used to round the wood off into a basic fish shape to which the details of the head and fins can be drawn, ready for hand carving (see photo 6).

Detailing the face and fins

Just a couple of basic tools – a knife and a small flat chisel – are all that are needed to carve the details of the face and fins (see photos 7-8). Note the final position of the fins, which are now carved in relief.

Tackling the tail

With the head and body sections carved, the tail can be made ready. The inside curve is best tackled with a ball nose bit (see photo 9) – this will allow you to carve the whole area from any angle without the edge of a cylinder burr cutting in and ruining the smooth curve of the flicking tail.

As before, prepare a dowel joint and glue the sections together. With the glue set, carve the two sections into one continuous curve from the body to the end of the tail (see photo 10).

Placing the eyes

As always, eye placement is of paramount importance, so mark in the position with pencil before drilling into the wood. Here I have used a flame bit to cut out the eyehole and chosen a pair of 9mm dark brown fish eyes.

The eyes are set with two-part plastic wood and shaped with a sharp blade to a pleasing shape – don't be afraid to dig them out and reset if you can't get them right the first time.

The whole piece is then sanded to a smooth and scratch-free finish (see photo 11), then sealed and painted with gesso, ready for painting.

Base coat and scales

Working from the bottom up, the white belly is painted first. If you want a more realistic look, you can use iridescent white, before a mix of raw sienna and a little burnt umber is stippled down the flanks and into the white. If you are not happy with the transition, then stipple the white back into the flanks and bring the sienna mix back down into the white again – this can be done in whole or part until you are satisfied with the result.

The same is true of the back of the fish, which is a mix of burnt umber and black – with this completed, the base coats are done (see photo 12).

Hold on to some of the umber and black mix, and stipple gold along the back and into the sides – this will imitate the gold scale edges of the trout, and then stipple over the gold with the saved umber and black. As before, this can be done a few times until you are happy with the effect (see photo 13).

Placing the eyes

A brown trout has a complex and random pattern of markings over its head and body, made up of silver halos with black and red spotting. Paint random silver spots of different sizes over the sides of the fish (see photo 14) – as with the gold before, use either acrylic paint or, for extra shine, use model makers' enamel paint.

To complete the illusion, add a spot of black or red to the centre of each halo – a few spots of black without a halo will help create a natural look (see photo 15).

Fin rays

Base coat all the fins with the sienna mix, and paint the base of each fin with the umber mix. Next, take a pointed brush and paint lines from the base of the fin to the edge – these will represent the fin rays. With the same brush, reverse the process by painting a line of the sienna mix from the edge between the dark lines of the fin rays. Do this a few times whilst the paint is wet and the lines will soften (see photo 17). To finish, lighten the edges of the fins and add a few black spots.

Finishing touches

The face is completed in the same way as the body and the blue is painted to represent water. You could paint this area to blend with the stick and do away with the joining stud to make it appear that the fish was devouring the stick.

The handle is ready for the stick and the whole piece is given an antique wax finish and buffed up to a mellow shine (see photo 18) – this will take away the newness of the paint and serve to protect the stick head – if repeated a couple of times a year – for many long walks to come.