Monday, July 24, 2017

Hand Carved Rocking Horse

This post is a throwback to some woodworking I did in 2001. This is long before I did things with ZBrush and a CNC router. Back then, when my son was two years old, I made him a rocking horse.

I've been asked a few times how I made it... here are some pictures which document the process.

I got the idea to make the horse when I saw a picture in Woodwork magazine of a rocking horse the professional carver Joe Leonard made for a client. Joe and two assistants hand carved the carousel for Euro Disney outside of Paris.

To get me started I took a carving class from Joe in his studio in Garrettsville, Ohio.  The class was a week long and we carved a head and neck starting with a router cut blank he provided.  This was a great class as there were only three students. Joe is fantastically talented and it was wonderful to watch him work.

Here's the piece we carved in the class.

After the class Joe provided me a side view drawing of a horse that I used as a full-size pattern.  The pattern was for a military horse so I mainly used it for outlines and sizing:

The wood used was 8/4 Poplar for the legs and rockers and 8/4 Basswood for the rest of the horse. It's easier to carve the Basswood but the Poplar was needed for strength.

The parts were laminated up - two to four layers thick. The head and neck were two, the body was four. Carbon paper was used to trace the pattern onto the wood.

The bandsaw was used to rough out all the parts:  

Here the body has been laminated and the pattern traced on. The rockers are being smoothed with a spokeshave: 

Carving the head - using the head I did in class to guide me: 

The body was carved independent of the head and neck which were later attached with dowels. Occasionally I used a carve-able wood filler which you can see over the eye. This would have seemed like a cheat to me - except it was shown to me by Joe Leonard himself! It's actually great stuff and surprisingly carves beautifully!

Poplar legs. Thin sections were laminated on to give extra width where needed. 

Using gouges and rasps to shape the legs. 

The legs are secured to body with dowels.

Once the legs were attached they could be carved and smoothed into the body.

The tail template is traced onto the basswood:

The bandsaw was used to rough shape it:

 Starting the carving:

The Veritas Carver's Bench and Vise were really handy for clamping and orienting many of these parts:

After the intersection was planed flat the tail was glued on with a dowel. The tail is braced between the legs to give it extra strength. I've seen lots of kids sit on the tail over the years:

Once the carving and sanding was finished I applied several coats of white pigmented shellac as a sealer. The horse was secured to the stretchers with some tapered blocks. The stretchers were secured to the legs with mortise and tenon joints:

My father in law, Gary Zarbua, (a painter and sculptor who lives in Nebraska) volunteered to paint it. So I build a crate to ship it off to him.

A few months later it was returned in the same crate all painted. I just had to glue on the rockers and it was done. Here it is today, sixteen years later, with my now eighteen year old son aboard:



The flags on the rockers are the countries of his ancestors: Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands, and United States. 


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