How to …carve a dragon-head finial.

Dragon-heads are one of my favourite finials, perfect for tiller handles.

One of the nicest ways to begin learning how to carve animals is to carve mythical creatures, this is because no-one has a real dragon to compare your carving to and, of course, you intended it to look like that, didn’t you?

Dragon heads, like most quadruped heads, are triangular in basic shape when viewed from both the side and from above.

Changing the shape of the triangle, broad and short, or tall and pointy will dramatically change the appearence of the creature.

imagethis is a page from my sketchbook showing a draft plan for this project, for those not familiar with drafting the three views (elevations) you need a 45 degree line to reflect one set of construction lines to meet the other set of lines, see the bottom right quadrant of the page. Carry as many significant reference  points from the other elevations through the ‘reflector’ as necessary to draw the elevations- corners of eye, tip of nose, end of horns and so on.

OK, time to carve.

First draw on the centre-line and then cut off the corners to form the side profile and the plan (top-down) profile.

Re-draw the centre line, a vital step as it helps to ensure symmetry.

Draw on one of the profile outlines and carve it; then draw on the other profile and carve it out.



triangles cut out, profiles re-drawn and centre-line put in






imageRound over the snout and hollow the cheeks to enable you to carve the eye.

Draw in the mouth and cut it in, be careful to keep both sides the same as it will affect the view from the front.

The eye-ball is a ball and you really must try hard to round it over, you will be staggered at the difference it makes to a carving if the eye is left too flat.

imageYou will find that to enable you to carve the eyeball, the eye-lids and the hollow around them will form naturally as you relieve (carve away) the area around the eye. DO NOT dig into the wood but pare-away the enwanted timber, if you dig into the wood it will splinter; it is hard to control the depth of cut; you will scar the timber at the base of the hole; when you come back to refine the carving later the deep cut will be hard to re-model.

While it is fresh in your mind, repeat the process to cut the other eye – carry the position over the skull by drawing two lines at 90-degrees to the centre-line, one line for each corner of the ey (the image above shows these lines).   Better than carving one eye then the other, carve both sides simulataneously, including repeating any mistakes made, as a symmetrical head will be the result and that is better than relying on memory and a pattern.

imageComplete modelling the horns and add any detailing needed.

     imageHere are a couple more…

The sharp-eyed ones amongst you may notice the bottom dragon is the one from the plan, I changed my mind about the beard and carved this head without one, kinda wish I’d left it on though.

Have fun!


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