Power-Carved Trout

A Fisherman's Delight.

Whether you own a low-dough handheld rotary carving tool or one that features an easy-to-manage flex shaft, you’ll find this handsome plaque a joy to make, using our full-sized pattern and a few selected cutters. Go through the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide to check off the items you already own, and pick up those you don’t. Or, you may have alternative burrs that will serve just as well.

While carving pro John Garton of Petersburg, West Virginia, designed the plaque as a stand-alone project, we also made sure that it serves as the perfect, glue or screw-mount motif for the fisherman’s (rod and reel) catch-all. Follow along now as John and his carving associate Joe Adkins (see “About Our Carvers”) walk through the project steps from wood blank to finished fish.

Note: John and Joe selected a sassafras blank that measured 7/8  x 71/2 x 12" for the fish carving, but many other woods can be substituted, among them basswood, walnut, mahogany, and butternut.

Cut the blank and transfer the pattern

1 Cut and plane a blank from a wood of your choosing, using the dimensions found in the note above.

2 Print the full-sized fish pattern from onlineEXTRAS and flip the copy over on your work surface. Using a graphite pencil, rub lead in the area of the pattern from the opposite side as shown in Photo A. (This saves buying carbon paper.)

3 Next, lay your blank on the work surface, good side up, and tape the copy onto the wood. Now, go over the pattern with pencil to transfer the lines onto the blank as shown in Photo B. Lift up the corner of the pattern to check on the transfer (Photo C).

Rout out the waste areas

1 Clamp the blank securely to your work surface, and then chuck a 1/8" upcut spiral cutter (see the Buying Guide) into your trim router. To rout out the background (see the Relief Depth Guide), position the bit away from the line, switch on your router and then lower the bit about ¼" into your material. Run the bit up to and around the outer edges of the fish and grass as shown in Photo D. Rout out any small sections where a larger bit won’t fit. Repeat this process two or three times until you’ve worked down to the 5/8" background depth. 

2 Hog out the larger waste areas with a plunge router and a 1/4" upcut spiral cutter as shown in Photo E. 

Relief Depth Guide

In relief carving, the general tendency is to not carve deeply enough. Use this guide to remind you how deep the various elements of the plaque should be for the maximum dimensional effect.

The plaque's rim level is the same as the thickness of the original planed board. 
The body of the fish is the shallowest part of the carving, from 1/8" to 1/4" below the rim's surface.
The fins and some of the plant matter are on the middle level, from 1/4" to 3/8" below the rim.
Some of the rocks and plant matter are 3/8" to 1/2" below the rim.
This is the deepest level at 5/8" and consists of the textured background.

Power-carve the routed blank

1 Chuck a tungsten carbide coarse cylinder burr with a 1/8" shank in your power carver (see the Buying Guide) to round over and/or rough-out the fish, grass, and rocks as shown in Photo F. Refer to the Relief Depth Guide below, and the opening photo to help with tapering and dimensioning.

2 Redraw lost pattern lines from time to time, first after rough-shaping the parts as shown in Photo G, and then later as needed. Keep a copy of the full-sized pattern in close view.

3 Chuck in a ball-tipped diamond bit (from a 28-piece carving burr set like the one listed in the Buying Guide) and begin creating more depth and detail around the fish parts—the fins, jaw, eye, for instance—as shown in Photo H. Further refine the grass and rocks as well.

4 Switch to a cone-shaped ruby carving bit (see the Buying Guide) to clean up and refine the edges and crannies, get rid of coarse lines, remove burn marks, and create sharp edges on the grass blades as shown in Photo I. Also, use the ruby cutter to define the eye, gills, and other fish parts, as well as undercut the rocks and grass for a 3-D look. 

5 Chuck a flat-headed bit from your diamond carving burrs into your power carver and then use it to define the sharp edges between the fish, grass blades, rocks and relief background.

6 Return to your coarse cylinder burr and round over the inside perimeter of the plaque frame as shown in Photo J.

7 Install a 120-grit sanding star (see the Buying Guide) in a cordless drill to soften and clean up the surface of the carving as shown in Photo K.

8 Chuck a diamond cylinder bit in your power carver to remove remaining burn marks and further clean up edges as shown in Photo L.

9 Pencil in the lateral line from the gill to the tail, as well at the vertebrae lines for the fins as shown in Photo M. Now, select either a flat-headed or pointed diamond burr and carve the fin lines as shown in Photo N. Create branching vein lines in the grass blades as well. Smooth the carving with a 150-grit sanding star.

Add a textured background

1 Bevel-grind the shafts of worn-out and broken 1/8" and  3/16" drill bits as shown in Photo O.

2 Chuck the smaller 1/8" bit in your power carver and create the textured background surface between the fish, grass blades, and rocks as shown in Photo P, allowing the spinning tip to cut 1/32"-deep circles. 

3 Use the same bit to dot the trout’s eye as in Photo Q.

4   Switch to the larger 3/16" bit. Then break up the monotony of the texture by adding a few randomly located larger circles 1/16" deep as shown in Photo R.

Apply a finish

1 Bandsaw the plaque to shape, cutting just outside the frame’s cutline as shown in Photo S, using a 1/4" blade.

2 Disc- or spindle-sand the plaque to the line, creating a smooth, even frame all around as shown in Photo T.

3 Chuck a 1/4" round-over bit in your trim router and round over the outside edge of the plaque as shown in Photo U. Touch up the workpiece with a 180-grit sanding star and a little hand-sanding where needed to remove machining and burn marks.

4 Apply a stain and finish as desired. Joe and John applied a golden oak oil stain, and later, sprayed on three coats of clear satin lacquer, sanding with 400 grit sandpaper between the first two coats.

About Our Carvers

Having taken up carving two decades ago, retired veterinarian Dr. John R. Garton of Petersburg, West Virginia, right, transferred his love of animals from medicine to making full-sized carvings that often reflect his great sense of humor. John's full-sized subjects include wildlife, household pets, cigar-store Indians, and carousel horses. His carving cohort, Joe D. Adkins, provides the needed prep work, allowing John the time required to add the artist’s touch. See John’s gallery of work at gartonoriginals.com.

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