Heartwood Rocking Horses

Carved cedar horse head wall hanging, and adventures in shellac!

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So, I’ve had this old cedar stump sitting in the garage for a while. A local craftsman and friend gave it to me a while back to try out. I met him at my first craft fair and he generously offered to give me some different types of wood that I hadn’t tried before, like this cedar. cedar stump

 I decided to try to sculpt a horse head figure from this single piece of wood. I’ve never tried anything like this. I usually carve from a flat piece of wood that has a narrow profile. I made some sketches of what I thought might work and came up with this:

drawing for cedar stump horse head carving

 My idea was to have a carved mane sticking straight out the top of the head like rays of sunshine. The horse would have a happy energetic expression.

Here’s my first delve into the wood, about a few hours worth of work.

beginning cedar horse head carving

 I soon encountered several checks or cracks in the wood. I also uncovered a knot in the wood that was a beautiful purple color. I decided I wanted this to be in the center of the horse forehead. It reminded me of the Third Eye idea. I also discovered that the easiest way to continue would be to have the ears laid back rather than facing forward. I still wanted to have the mane stick out, but realized it wouldn’t be very tall at this point. Here’s more progress…

beginning cedar horse head carving

beginning cedar horse head carving

beginning cedar horse head carving

 At this point the shape of the head has been determined by the different cracks and features I encountered in the wood. I decided that a nice round neckline will look the best on this horse, and I will try to carve a mane into the side of the neck rather than straight up and down. Also, I learned that the center of the stump has a hollow spot that I will have to incorporate into the mouth of the horse. The expression became a little more wild, feisty, and somewhat surly compared to what I had in mind, but I liked it!

Now it was a bit tough for me to envision exactly how to continue and what the final shape would be. I got the idea to print out a copy of a photo of the head so that I could draw a final outline.

photo copy of cedar horse head to create new outline for carving drawing for cedar horse head carving

 With the final goal in mind, I removed the last of the wood. The hollow center created some difficulty in shaping the mouth and teeth, but the result was a one-of-a-kind, expressive creature! The original intent was to place glass eyes on the head, but when I tried placing these it made the face look a bit too scary and a little strange. I went with carved eyes and really enjoyed sculpting them. Some of my best eye carving so far! I learn and improve with every project. Here’s some images of the final stages and sanding process…

 cedar horse head carving sanding time beginning cedar horse head carving sanded more beginning cedar horse head carving sanded

 So, this post is getting long, but the final step was the most risky. I know that cedar cannot be finished with oil, which is my favorite finish. The oils in the cedar will prevent the oil from curing, and oil will have to be continually applied to keep any kind of finish.

So I decided to try shellac. This is all-natural and non-toxic, and will seal the wood to keep the beautiful red cedar colors and prevent any more cracking as years go on. I have never used shellac so it was an adventure! I did the flat base first. A piece of walnut that I’ve been saving because it has a fun look to it.

shellac the base for cedar horse head wall hanging shellac base for cedar horse head wall hanging

 Then on to the head. The process must be done quickly to prevent drips from drying into the finish. I did several layers and sanded the imperfections out between each one. Each coat dried for about 1-2 hrs before sanding. It was difficult at first but each coat became easier to apply without runs and defects. I found that the best way to apply shellac to a rounded sculpture with fine details is with a wedge shaped make-up application sponge.

carved cedar horse head sculpture shellac finishshiny shellac cedar horse head top view sanding cedar horse head carving after shellac coat cedar horse head carving side view sanded shellac

 The first hanging on the wall!

carved cedar horse head sculpture wall hanging shellac side view cedar horse head carved sculpture wall hanging shellac front view

This is a little too shiny for me. I read that you can sand the finish one more time and then rub in wax to create a matte finish. I tried this method with oil first, and once it dries we’ll see what I think. Final photos will be posted to the Stable when I get professional photos done. Thanks for joining me on this adventure!

cedar horse head carving sanded shellac oil rubbed


Author: Alicia

I live and work in Asheville, NC. I've been learning to carve since 2012, and started my own rocking horse business in 2013. I've always loved drawing horses, and find those skills practiced as a teenager now come in handy as I carve each horse to life from chunks of wood. I love creating things that children can enjoy, move with, and learn from. I also love hiking through the hills of the Asheville area, swimming in the icy waterfalls, and hanging out with my husband and my dog.

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