Power Piggy

Spend an enjoyable weekend wallowing in sawdust while you carve a piggy bank for your pocket change.

Tools: Rotary carver, die grinder, burrs, flap sander, clamps
TIME: A weekend
Materials:  1¾" thick pine, 9mm eyes, glue, epoxy, stain, varnish

If you have always wanted to try your hand at carving, you might get the most instant gratification out of rotary tools. In our opinion, they are easier to use and a heck of a lot faster than carving tools. 

You can make this project even if you have very little carving experience. As Joe says, “The best teacher is OJT (On-the-Job Training).” You can teach yourself over time to master power carving techniques without the hassle of learning to sharpen and wield chisels and knives. Power carving is faster but not necessarily safer, as the holes in John’s pants and shirts — and patches of missing hair on Joe’s chest — attest. Always remember to wear appropriate safety equipment and follow the safety instructions that come with your woodworking equipment. 

A piggy bank such as ours can be constructed from any species of wood. We prefer boards with a lot of grain such as pine, sassafras or other easy-to-carve wood. The grain adds character to the piece and tells the world it’s made of wood, not resin. We also like straight, wide boards, but sometimes you just  can’t find them.  

Enlarge and trace the patterns on page 29 onto 1¾" or thicker boards (any thinner and the pig looks “wormy”). The grain can go either vertically or horizontally through the legs. If the grain is vertical the ears might snap off; if it is horizontal the legs might snap off. You choose which one you want to cuss about. Just make sure the grain on all three pieces is going in the same direction. 

The pig is constructed from three pieces of wood: one centerpiece with snout, ears, tail and a cut-out area for coins (there are no legs on the centerpiece) and two side pieces with legs.

1. Cutting the opening in your center hole in a funnel shape makes coins fall out easily when the finished bank is turned upside down.

2. Carefully round the edges of your new carving blank, taking a little (but not too much!) off the legs and belly.   

Bandsaw the three separate pieces (Fig. 1), taking care to leave enough wood around the center cavity for gluing and deep carving. Otherwise you might break into the money hole, and then you’ll be left with only some firewood and a few choice words lingering in the air. 

Glue the three pieces together and clamp them with a single clamp. Then place the pig on a flat surface, feet down, to ensure all four feet are level and touching the surface. Make any necessary adjustments and add more clamps; leave this to dry thoroughly. 

On the bandsaw, trim off some of the excess wood (Fig. 2) to make your carving easier. Pigs are fat, round little fellows, so the bandsaw can safely remove the sharp, square edges. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this on the bandsaw, pick up a die grinder with a rough-as-a-corncob burr and start rounding it over by hand. 

Here’s how to plan your cut. Mark the front leg to leave 1" of wood on the inside of the leg. Set the pig on his butt and attach a clamp for a handle. It’s important to have complete control of wood when making these cuts, and using a clamp as a handle gives you that control. Cut the front and rear legs at the same time. Make sure the rear leg is aligned with the front leg so they are cut evenly. The saw blade should move up the legs and taper out. Do both sides. 

3. Mark the head and haunches as shown, and trim those too.  

4. When rounding the top and belly, cut to within about ¾" of the glue line.  

Place the pig in an upright position. Place a clamp/handle on the rear of pig, then draw guides (Fig. 3) and round out the head. Turn the pig around and round out the hams. 

Tilt the bandsaw table and round over the top and belly, leaving enough wood to ensure a fat-backed hog (Fig. 4).

5. Stabilize your pig in a vise so both hands are free to control your carving tools.  
6. Sketch guides onto the sides of the pig before cutting.   

The pig is now roughed out — and you simply carve away everything that doesn’t smell like pig! 

Okay ... we guess more instructions are needed. Let’s be honest here, Joe and I do an awful lot of  “eyeballing.” We work down the piece until it looks right. Therefore, the following are helpful instructions, but in order to succeed you’ll have to visualize that pig coming out of the wood. It often helps to have pictures of real animals or little plastic models to look at. Even after you have trained your eye to see things like an artist, pictures and models help you look at anatomy from all the angles. 

Large die grinders and smaller rotary tools are used to shape the pig. Cone, cylinder, and pointed burrs are used in the tools. Cut the excess wood away to separate the ears, and then thin the tail down to about ¾" thick. Round over the back. Again, no precise measuring, just a lot of “eyeballing.” It’s a good idea to place the pig in a vise (Fig. 5). 

Undercut the ears on the side, tapering the wood toward the snout. Make the snout triangular. 

With a cylinder-shaped bit, cut out the jowls, shoulders and hams and round out the legs. Be sure to leave a fat belly. (Fig. 6)

7. Shave off excess wood in the lower corners of the pig’s mouth.  
8. Paying attention to small details, like this pig’s dimpled smile, can make the finished project far more interesting.

Use a long, narrow bit to round over the inside of the legs and belly. Then clamp the pig on its rear and cut out the lower jaw (Fig. 7).

Using smaller tools, carve in the mouth with dimples and the bags under the eyes (Fig. 8), and clean up the facial features. Leave a space for 9-mm eyes. Then carve out the dew claws and round over the hooves. Pigs have cloven hooves; therefore, make a slit in the front of each foot. Also, put a twist in the tail (Fig. 9). 

9. A pig is not truly a pig without a curly tail. 
10. Start with 60-grit paper and work your way up until you’re happy with the surface. 

11. Finishing touch: level up the pig's feet with a disc sander.  

When putting the holes in for the eyes, be sure to set them in close to the snout. A wide-eyed hog looks downright scary. The eyes should be looking out at a 45° angle from the snout. Each eye needs to be recessed into its eye socket, but not so deeply that it looks sunken. 

Using whatever sanding tools you have available, begin to smooth the surface of the pig. We use a flap sanding device that fits on a drill (Fig. 10).

Ruby and diamond bits in the rotary tools will be used to finish up the finer details. A few wrinkles cut across the top of the nose gives the pig a “snorting” attitude. Then personalize the pig by carving your name and the date into its belly. This turns it into a true heirloom.

Stain the pig with whatever color you like. A black-belted Hampshire pig is popular and requires only ebony stain, leaving the “white” sections unstained. Apply several coats of clear finish over the piece, and then glue the 9-mm eyes in place. Two-part epoxy putty is used to fill in around the eyes and to form an eyelid. Paint the putty to match the rest of the pig. 

And last but not least, to make the piece perfectly level, flatten the feet on a disc sander (Fig. 11).

If you do break through into the center cavity when you are carving, it might be possible to patch the hole with putty and paint black spots on your pig to cover up the putty.

A lot of people ask us:  “How do you get the money out?” Turn the pig upside down and shake it. If the money doesn’t flow out freely, take a butter knife and insert it into the coin slot. Shake and poke at the same time and the money will fall out.  The bank is for coins only; no folding money unless you really want to “break the bank” to get it out.

And there you have it — a project that took a weekend to complete but will be treasured for years.

John R. Garton & Joe D. Adkins

John uses his veterinary training to create all kinds of realistic animals (gartonoriginals.com). Joe adds his gift of “hillbilly engineering” and his keen observations of nature to the mix. Both are self-taught wood carvers who are inspired by the beauty of the mountains near Petersburg, W.Va.

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