It's winter in Illinois. It's cold, snowy and generally unpleasant to be outdoors. So this weekend I was stuck inside looking for something to do that didn't involve a screen. I received a set of Mikisyo Power Grip Carving Tools for Christmas after learning some cool wood carving techniques from Brad Woodard of Brave the Woods at a workshop during WMC Fest: Off the Grid. I hadn't had a chance to use them yet and I figured that this weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to break them out. But I couldn't just tool around with them on the little scraps of wood I already had, that would be too easy. I needed something more complicated and involved! When I woke up on Saturday I had it, I was going to make stick ponies! I broke out the tools and got to cutting and sanding. Between making the form and decoration, each stick pony took me about 5 hours to complete. I think they have some nice character, I want to make some more in the future and play with different colors and shapes.
Do you want to make your own stick pony?
The process is pretty straightforward and fun. Here is what I did to make my horses, you can use this walkthrough as a guide if you want to try to make your own stick toy.
A piece of hard wood (mine was red oak) that measures AT LEAST 9"x9"x1.5" (mine was a 2" thick, larger board)
9x9 sheet of paper
A 3ft long 3/4" dowel rod (the ones sold at craft stores are perfect)
A jigsaw (I'm pretty sure there is a better saw for this but that's what I have)
Ribbon (I didn't have a ribbon so I used a scrap of fabric I had left over from another project)
Yarn for the mane
Yarn or rope for the bridal
Making the Form:
STEP 1: With the 9x9 sheet of paper and pencil, draw out what shape you want the horse head to be. Try to use the entire square with the base of the neck at the bottom left of the sheet and the nose in the upper right. This will make the head the perfect size for a small rider. Once you're happy with the contour, cut the shape out.
STEP 2: Trace the paper template onto your 9x9 board then carefully use a jigsaw to cut out the shape of the head. (Again, there is probably a MUCH better saw to use than a jigsaw, which was a bit challenging in the tight, curvy places but that's all I have so I made it work.)
STEP 3: Using the drill and the 3/4" bit, drill a hole in the center of the base of the neck. You will want it to be about an inch deep. This is where the pole will attach to the head. I aim to line the angle of the hole up with the direction of the neck to give the horse the most natural appearance once assembled.
STEP 4: Sand, Sand, Sand! I spent about 30 minutes sanding down each head with the orbital sander before finishing up the tight spots it couldn't reach with a scrap of sandpaper. While you have the sander out, take the 3/4" dowl and sand one end into a blunt, rounded finish. Sand the top inch on the other end until it can slip easily but tightly into the hole you drilled in the horse's neck. Don't glue it in quite yet, it will be easier to decorate the head before it is attached.
Now you should have a finished form that looks similar to the ones below and it is time to move on to decoration!
STEP 1: Paint the head and pole whatever color you want. For the carving technique it works best if you pair a dark wood with a lighter paint color or a light wood (like the red oak I used) with a darker paint color. The Pole can be whatever color you want. Make it match the bridal color or pick a neutral like I did to keep the focus on the head.
STEP 2: Using the pencil, draw your design out on the head. If you chose a light wood and a dark paint, mark the areas that you want to be "white." If you are using a dark wood and a lighter paint color, mark out the areas you want to be dark.
STEP 3: Using the wood carving tools, carve away at the top painted layer to expose the color of the natural wood beneath. Be careful and make sure to always cut away from your body with your hands safely out of the path of the gauge.
STEP 4: Once you are done carving, spray the entire pony with a protective finish. I chose satin finish so that my pieces would have a little bit of shine. Allow it to dry in a well-ventilated area.
Ears and Bridal:
STEP 1: For the ears, Cut two identical teardrop shapes out of felt, you can play with the exact size and shape to make your pony look unique. I chose to cut a small triangle out of the bottom of mine's ears to give them a flat bottom once attached.
STEP 2: Fold the bottom part of the ear exactly in half. This will help the soft felt to stand on it's own and mimic the cup shape of a horse's ear. Place it against the top of the head wherever you want it, and using two small nails, attach it to the horse. Repeat with the other side being careful to line the placement of the second ear up with the first.
STEP 3: Next let's make the bridal. Cut a piece of your yarn or rope that is about 3 feet long.
STEP 4: Fold it in half to find the center. Take the center and hold it on the bottom of the horse's chin. Wrap both pieces of yarn up and over the nose so they form a ring, then back down, finishing them with a knot in the middle of the horse's cheek. now you should have a tight ring around the nose and two loose strings of equal length. Tie off the two loose strings to form the reins.
STEP 1: Place one end of the ribbon on top of your horse's head where you want the mane to start, run it along the back of the neck to the bottom and cut the ribbon where it hits the base of the neck.
STEP 2: Cut a piece of cardboard into a rectangle that is roughly 6 inches tall. Take your yarn and wrap it repeatedly around the cardboard.
STEP 3: Using the scissors, cut along the cardboard (through all the loops) to create a bunch of strings that are all about a foot in length.
STEP 4: Take the ribbon that you have cut to length and tie the yarns down the length of it using a girth hitch knot.
You should end up with something that looks like this:
STEP 5: Take one end of the mane and tucking the small exposed piece of ribbon under it, use the staple gun to fasten the mane to the top of the horse head. Work your way down the mane, adding a staple every inch or so until you get to the bottom, tucking the end under like you did the top to hide the ribbon.
STEP 6: You can trim the front lock of your mane shorter if it blocks the horse's face.
The last step is to add a generous amount of wood glue into the hole at the base of the horse's neck. Insert the pole and apply pressure. You want the glue to fill the gaps and squeeze up to the top of the joint but not ooze out all over the place. Allow the pony to dry upside down for as long as your glue recommends before turning it right-side-up to avoid it dripping out and down the pole.
That about wraps it up, I forgot to take pictures of certain steps so I will have to update this tutorial with better images if I make more ponies in the future! Here's how my two stick ponies turned out, I think this carving technique is a really great way to show off the properties and texture of the wood and add character to the toys.
If you liked this story, here's some more you could try:
Howl's Moving Castle
I created a series of three illustrations inspired by the book Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. For these illustrations I focused on creating dynamic compositions and a strong style that would unite the pieces visually. The final results convey the whimsy and magic that I felt when reading the story while still staying accurate to the text.