Carving the Whittle Pup

First steps

I start by removing the bark from the piece of wood, including the bark around the tail piece if it's there. Using your knife, take off the bark. Leave the sapwood (the thin layer of typically white wood that's directly under the bark). Most of the sapwood will be removed as part of carving the dog figure, and the few bits that are left make for some variety in the figure's coloring. You can remove the sapwood at this step if you like, although if you plan to do so then I would suggest starting with a slightly thicker limb. When you're done removing the bark, you want the block to be at least one inch in diameter.

After you have removed the bark, get out your trusty pencil and draw a line from the middle of the tail, straight up to the top of the piece of wood. From there, draw a line across the top, through the center of the wood to the other side, and then back down. That is the front center line, which we will use to make sure the figure's features are reasonably balanced.

You also want to draw a line perpendicular to the front/back line. Your best bet is to draw a line across the top that intersects the first line at a 90 degree angle in the center. Then extend the line down each side, as shown in the picture above.

Next, measure 1/4 inch (about 0.6 cm) from one of the side lines towards the front of the figure, and draw a line about halfway up the piece of wood, as shown in the picture above. If you don't have a ruler or tape measure, make it one pencil width as an estimate. That should be pretty close, since a standard pencil is 1/4 inch thick. Do the same thing on the other side of the block, making sure that the new line is towards the front of the figure. I call these the depth lines because they define how deeply we carve out the area for the legs.

Now, turn the block so that the front is facing you. We're going to draw three different lines here on the front of the block. The image above shows the lines we're going to draw.

Measure 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) from the bottom and draw a line horizontally from one depth line to the other. This is called the foot line, because it defines the feet. The little dog's paws will be shaped from the wood below this line.

Measure one inch (2.5 cm) up from the bottom of the block and draw another horizontal line between the two depth lines. I call this the jaw line. It defines the bottom of the dog's jaw. If you don't have a tape measure, you have two options. You can measure four pencil widths or, if you cut the piece of wood two inches tall, just estimate the halfway point.

Remember, your measurements here don't have to be exact. This is especially true when working with a piece of tree limb because it probably isn't perfectly round, anyway. In addition, this carving isn't intended to be a show entry. It's just a fun way to pass the time creating a cute little figure.

The last line you have to draw is called the nose line. It defines the top of the dog's nose. I usually make the nose a little bit taller than I absolutely have to at this point, which gives me some room to adjust things. Remember, it's better to leave wood that you have to take off later. Adding wood back after you've carved it away is kind of like asking a barber to make your hair longer. Draw the nose line 3/8 inch (about 1 cm) above the jaw line, again from one depth line to the other. If you don't have a tape measure, just make it one and a half or two pencil widths above the jaw line. We'll end up cutting it down later.

It might seem like a lot of work drawing all those lines, but it's important to know where you'll be cutting. After you've carved a few of these things, you might be comfortable trying it without the lines. But I'll tell you right now that after carving something like a hundred of these little dogs, I'm still more confident if I draw the lines before I start cutting. I think you'll find that drawing the lines takes you just a minute or two and will help prevent you from making some common mistakes.

I took a minute to draw the dog's features on the block so you can get an idea of what these lines mean. You don't need to do this, and in fact I'd discourage you from drawing the features on your block because they might confuse you. By the time you're ready to carve legs, snout, eyes, and ears, the block of wood is going to look much different, and the lines you drew on it will be mostly gone.

With the cut lines marked, it's almost time to start whittling.

You should make it a point to strop your blade regularly when working on this project. Carving found wood is more destructive to the edge of your knife than is working with basswood. Not only is the wood typically harder, but it also contains bits of silica (sand) and other materials that can put tiny nicks in your blade. This is especially true when you're removing the bark and in some woods, the sap wood. You can't strop your knife too much, and doing so on a regular basis will keep the edge sharp.

So, after you've given your knife a good stropping, move on to the next section.