This Christmas, I made a handful of fan birds. The fan bird is a traditional European carving of a bird formed from one block of solid wood (or in more elaborate examples, a few blocks of wood). The feathers are profiled as one block, then are sliced and fanned apart in order to form wings and a tail. I first learned how to do this from Mike, but I recently refreshed my knowledge at Sally and David Nye’s excellent website.
Once you get the hang of it, this is a quick project – the bird I show below took just under an hour to make. This is green woodworking, so use relatively fresh stock. Some folks have had success with boiling dried lumber, but I haven’t yet found success with that method. Instead, I harvested a small white birch tree so that the material was sopping wet. Here’s how you can do it yourself:
Rive a block of fresh wood 3/4" thick, 2" tall, and 6" long. Grain orientation is important. Because you’ll be splitting the feathers perpendicular to the 3/4" thickness, you need the block tangentially, not radially split. (Think flatsawn board, not quartersawn.) Otherwise, the grain will try to steer your feather slicing.
Shape one end as the tip of the feathers to the profile you wish.
Draw a pencil line around the block 1" from the feather tips and mark the center on the two edges of the block. This line will guide your gouge.
Carve an “interlock” groove on both sides. The feathers will ultimately lap and lock into each other at this groove.
Now draw a pencil line around the block 3-1/2" from the feather tips on one edge and 3-1/4" on the opposite edge so that you have an off-square line running around all four sides. Mark the center on both edges.
Saw down the lines on both sides with the kerfs tilting toward the feathers, leaving at least 1/8" of material in the middle – this will be the hinge from which the feathers will spread.
Then pare the feathers down to the saw cuts.
This is where you should be at this point.
Then add whatever decorative doodads you fancy.
I carved three grooves with U gouges.
I also tapered the edges of the grooves and stacked gouge profiles for decorative effect.
Pencil in the bird’s body to envision the final proportions.
In Part Two, we slice the feathers, carve the bird, and fan out the wings and tail. And it will be a completed fan bird, ready to fly away.