Horse Head Pt 1

Wednesday 11 July 2018

This month's project involves the carving of a horse's head, and there is quite a bit of scope to personalise the design.

There are so many different types of horse that you have a huge range of choices. Probably the two most popular breeds for people to draw, paint or carve are the Thoroughbred and Arabian. They are very different in appearance and I suggest you choose one of them for your carving.


If you study the two drawings you will no doubt notice the difference in outline and, once you have chosen which one to use It would certainly be a good idea to get yourself some photographs of actual heads for reference. While drawings and patterns are very useful and important for carving they are not sufficient in themselves. You still need good reference material and, if the actual subject is not available, accurate photographs are the next best things.

For this project I have chosen a piece of American white walnut or Butternut (juglans cinera) as it is not only quite soft and easy to carve but also has a very attractive grain pattern. The stock I have is only around two and a half inches thick so, in order to fit in the head I have made it seven inches long, fitting the whole carving in a piece seven by nine inches. If you can get stock three inches thick you will get a better head around nine inches long, but it can be any size you wish.

Don't forget, when sorting out sizes, that you need to allow for some extra to mount the block onto your clamp or into your vice. In this case it has been added to the bottom of the neck and will be removed when the carving is finished.

In general you should expect to have the thickness of your block about a third of the proposed length of the head so you can make it whatever size suits your timber.

Once this has been sorted out, copy the basic pattern and transfer it to the wood by either cutting out the pattern in card and drawing around it or transferring with carbon paper.


1 The drawing should be arranged on the wood so that the grain direction is running from the bottom to the tip of the ears. This will lessen the likelihood of these getting broken during the carving process. The rest of the head should not be affected by having short grain anywhere. I have deliberately not drawn a detailed pattern as this wouldn't allow for any adjustments should they become necessary. The shaded area shows the extra allowed to mount the block

2 When you are happy with your pattern on the wood you can cut it out to the lines you have drawn. The easiest way to do this is with a power bandsaw but you can also use a scrollsaw or do it by hand with a coping saw. If you have none of these at your disposal I suggest that you draw the pattern on both sides, making sure that they match each other, and then cut the outline using a handsaw and carving gouge. This is a much lengthier process but is quite satisfactory – I had no choice but to do it this way for years until I could afford a bandsaw.

Whatever method you use you are aiming to get the pattern cut out as accurately as you can – work to the lines, not somewhere near the lines – any allowances have been made in the basic pattern. Once you start carving the form of the head you will lose any lines you have drawn and there is a danger of the head being larger than the pattern if you deviate.

3 The head is now cut out ready to start carving

4 Mark the rough outline of the front of the face

5 The areas to be removed have been shaded

6 Using as big a gouge as you can handle, cut down each side of the nose to the lines you have drawn…

7 …like so

8 Mark area in front of ears ready to remove

9 All the waste removed from the front

10 Using a number nine deep gouge cut the curve behind each ear around the back of the head…

11 …do not take too much off, just enough to show where the ears meet the head

12 Shape the top of the neck by rounding it off from about half way down. Don't forget to allow extra on one side for the mane

13 Mark a second line down the neck…

14 …about 3 cm from the centre line on the side away from the mane

15 With your deep gouge round off under the throat and continue downwards. You have completed the first roughing out stage

16 Before continuing you will need more information. Before next month I suggest that you look at as many pictures of a horse head as you can to get the structure clear in your mind. A collection of views from different angles will also help considerably

17 Comparing to the drawing

Click here for: Part 2