Hand-Carved Weather Station

Sharpen your carving and forecasting skills with this pleasing wall plaque.

Designer/Carver: Michael Kehs

Weather has always been a great conversation starter. So, too, is this themed weather station. We teamed up with Pennsylvania craftsman/carver Michael Kehs to develop this appealing design employing three popular weather station components: a thermometer, hygrometer, and barometer. Guaranteed to take your relief-carving skills up a notch, not only will this project challenge beginning carvers, it also has enough twists and turns to keep the interest of veterans. 

     We list  the tools that Kehs used in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide below. But if you already own carving tools, by all means, feel free to make substitutions. Along with sharp tools (see “Sharpening Made Simple” below), carving requires physical power and control.  To achieve the best control, keep as much of your steering hand and arm in contact with the work as possible. In a sense, you’re pushing forward with one hand while pushing back with the other. For some cuts, use a mallet for controlled power.

Prepare the blank

1 Make two full-sized photocopies of the pattern on page 78. You will glue one directly to your blank; you’ll use the second copy as reference later to pencil in details removed during the carving process.

2 Cut A 7/8"-thick mahogany blank to 75/8×121/8". Apply spray adhesive to the back of one of the patterns, align the edges, and press it onto your blank.

3 Clamp the blank securely to the drill-press table and use a 2" Forstner bit to cut the arcs on the four corners of the blank as shown in Photo A. This trick creates clean, perfect curves requiring little sanding.

4 Drill holes for the weather instruments in two steps. First, use a 23/4" Forstner bit to create the three 3/16"-deep counterbores to serve as depth gauges for excavating the background as shown in Photo B. Next, drill the through-holes for the weather instruments with a 23/8" Forstner bit as shown in Photo C. Use a backer board to prevent breakout.

5 Rough-out the top of the blank on the bandsaw. Make the straight cuts first, backing out of each one, then start at the top of the tombstone shape and saw to the corner to remove the waste.Leave these edges rough until you’ve finished carving.

Start with the stop cuts

Secure the prepared blank to your bench. Bench dogs work well for this project. If you haven’t done much carving, start with one of the simpler elements. We picked the clouds. Begin by matching up the sweeps (or profiles) of the gouges that you have with the curves on the pattern. If you don’t have the exact gouge to mimic a specific curve, use smaller gouges and “walk” them around the curve. You can also modify the pattern to suit your tools.

1 Define the outline of the clouds using the #7 gouges. Keep the tool about 1/16" away from the outlines on the pattern as shown in Photo D. Driving the tool to the final depth with a couple of mallet blows (instead of incremental light taps) is asking for trouble. Bear in mind that the business end of the tool is a wedge and one thing that wedges do most effectively is split wood, especially in short-grain areas. Instead, sneak up on the final depth of 3/16" in 1/16" increments, relieving material on the waste side of the cuts as shown in Photo E after each increase in depth. The relief cuts minimize the chance of breaking off delicate features.

2 Carve stop cuts along straight edges like the border areas and the lightning bolts by following the line with a #12/4mm V-parting tool as shown in Photo F. Again, aim to stay about 1/16" away from the line on the pattern, especially in the short-grain section along the bottom edge of the blank.

3 Clean up to the line by cutting straight down with the gouges that most closely match the pattern. For some tight areas, you’ll need to resort to some careful knife work as shown in Photo G.

4 Start hogging out some of the background waste using the #7/10mm fishtail gouge as shown in Photo H. The counterbores will help you judge your depth. Be sure to leave a little extra material for final cleanup and modeling.

5 Next, work your way into the tight curves of the leaves and rooster weathervane. Here’s where small gouges really shine. Try using a “drilling” technique with either a #8/3mm or #9/3mm as shown in Photo I, rotating the tool while applying downward pressure. This will remove a “plug” of material.

6 Continue working with your small gouges as shown in Photo J until all of the edge work is completed. Inspect the perimeter of each feature and clean up loose fibers to create clean, sharp intersections between the sides and the background.

Move on to modeling and detailing

1 Add motion to the leaves by undulating the top surface with a #5/8mm fishtail gouge and making sweeping gouge cuts as shown in Photo K. Try making the surfaces wavy and varying the thickness of the leaf edges to replicate the look of freely-floating leaves and add a greater sense of depth.

2 add the veins to the leaves with a #12/2mm V-parting tool as shown in Photo L.

3 Define the perimeter of the sun with the #12/4mm V-parting tool, then round the ball’s edge with the inside of the #3/12mm fishtail gouge. Next, taper the sun’s rays with the #7/6mm gouge. Finally, add the fiery texture to the rays with random cuts on each side using the #9/3mm gouge as shown in Photo M on page 40.

4 Soften the edges of the clouds with the inside edge of the #5/8mm fishtail gouge. The surfaces are modeled with random, light gouge cuts to suggest a billowing effect.

5 Round and soften the edges of the rooster, then add the tail feathers with the #12/2mm V-parting tool. For the remaining texturing, use the #9/3mm gouge. Shape the ball of the weathervane with the #7/6mm gouge. Detail the arrow using the #1/5mm skew gouge. Work very carefully to avoid chipping out these small details.

6 Texture the flat background using the #3/12mm fishtail gouge, taking uniform flakes of material on the broadest expanses. In tighter areas, use smaller gouges, taking lighter cuts to achieve a similar effect.

7 Carefully add heat waves coming off the sun, and curved lines suggesting a breeze blowing the leaves, as shown in Photo N, with the #12/2mm V-parting tool. Finally, add a few straight cuts beneath the clouds to suggest raindrops.


Three decades back, Mike asked a 90-year-old master carver to sharpen his tools. He said no, but offered to teach him how to do it himself. The process, which requires only a few stones and softwood scraps, proved so effective that he’s been doing it the same way ever since.

Four stones (at left), do most of his major sharpening. Mike uses a medium India slipstone for refining edges that come off the grinder, a hard Arkansas slipstone to further polish the edge before a tool is stropped, and flat black Arkansas stone for knives, chisels, and plane irons. For the inside edges of his V-tools and small gouges, he uses a thin-edged Japanese waterstone slipstone. All the stones are stored in a plastic tray that’s filled with mineral oil. When they’re not in use, he covers the tray with a piece of aluminum flashing to keep out dust.

Stropping is not only the final step in the sharpening process but also a quick way to hone a slightly dulled edge. Mike makes his custom strops from scraps of pine, poplar, and basswood. The softer woods are easy to shape to fit his tools, and when charged with white rouge, hold the abrasive better than harder woods. (Use a wide, flat board to strop the outside edges of tools.) Mike prefers wood for strops because it doesn’t give like leather. A soft strop can round over or "dub" a tool’s cutting edge.  

To use a strop, clamp the board in a vise, rest the bevel against the wood, and pull the cutting edge toward you (if you push, you’ll dig into your strop). Continue stropping until you remove the wire edge formed while stoning. You can usually recondition an edge dozens of times by stropping before stepping back to your stones.

Finishing touches

1 Look over your carving, remove all splinters, and clean up any remaining rough areas. The #1 gouges and a knife are very useful in tight areas. The goal is to have a smoothly faceted and tooled carved surface that needs no sanding. This is best accomplished by using tools that are razor sharp.

2 Peel off any remaining paper pattern from the perimeter and remove any glue residue with mineral spirits.

3 Smooth the edges of the bandsawn top profile with files and a sanding block, and you’re ready to apply the finish.

4 Enrich the color of the mahogany and pop the carved features using a light oak oil stain. Allow the stain to dry overnight, and then apply three light coats of aerosol Deft gloss lacquer.

5 The weather station needs to stand a bit proud of the wall for the instruments to work correctly. A sawtooth hanger at the top and two 1/8"-thick self-adhesive door bumpers at the bottom corners provide just the right amount of clearance.

6 Finally, install the weather instruments, hang, and check the forecast!

About Our Carver

Michael Kehs, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has been turning and carving for 29 years and is self-taught. He’s exhibited and won awards for his turnings and carvings in many shows and has judged several woodcarving shows. He turned an ornament for the Clinton White House during the Year of the Craft. Active in both local and national turning and carving clubs, he also teaches both woodcarving and woodturning at his studio and his local Woodcraft store in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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