HOW TO CARVE PLIERS AND WHITTLE YOUR WAY TO FLYING DRAGONS
This three-foot ‘whittle stick’ of ½” x ½” Poplar wood shows you better than a paper pattern just how to make the ten cuts that make a slip-joint pair of pliers out of a piece of wood. A hundred years ago a whittler named Ernest “Mooney” Warther (Google him! Fascinating) could take a ¼” x ¼” x 3” stick and make slip-joint ‘pliers’ with ten cuts in 11 seconds. It takes me at least 11 minutes, try as fast as I can, and much longer when I complicate the design with pivot-joints, chain joints, chip-carving, legs, fins, wings, fangs, whatever mind can dream up and hands DO, as on this demonstration stick.
The 3ft Demonstration Stick
When you get good at this and can whittle not just one ‘plier’ but several in a row without disaster, it’s so much fun to sign/date and varnish a finished 36” row of ‘pliers’ and hang it up to look back on (remember to keep manipulating all joints until the varnish is dry and no more danger of joints being ‘glued’ stiff). THEN the fun begins! Like the 3ft demonstration stick, make the 1st ‘plier’ BASIC; the 2nd with ‘pivot joints’ and chip carving decoration; the 3rd with jagged teeth and whippy tail with chip- carved alligator scales; the 4th with alligator feet (the 1st use of additional wood inserts); the 5th with hammerhead shark eyes and fins; the 6th with dragon snout, jagged teeth, a row of formidable spine scales, and dragon wings extended; the final 7th with fangs and furled wings and extended claws ready to fight. Have fun being creative, make each succeeding ‘plier’ more complex than the preceding one! When you’ve a WOW of a demonstration stick of your own, send the pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org with your own description of what you did, how you did it, and what wood and what finish you used to seal it for exhibition. That’s what website ‘whittledwhimseys.com’ is for, world-wide EXHIBIT in the language of the computer owner.
There are seven 5” segments in the 3ft demonstration stick, all carved into “pliers”. The first one is your basic slip-joint pliers.
The 10 cuts need to be precisely placed to “free” the ‘pliers’ to open/shut. Once you learn to whittle this, you are ready to make ‘pivot-joint pliers’, which enable “eyes” in the remaining six segments.
But, first things first: see Photo 2 showing this foot-long ‘whittle stick’ and how it’s carved into two segments, one a completed slip-joint ‘pliers’, and the other marked-up to show where the 10 cuts go. THIS stick demonstrates clearly how to make your ‘pliers’ for segment #1 of the 3ft stick.
The 1ft Demonstration Stick
I suggest you get ½ dozen ¼”x ¼”x 36” sticks of Basswood or Catalpa or Limewood. Thicker sticks and harder wood require more strength and longer time in cutting.
Sharp, thin but strong blades of assorted widths and shapes are required. The author lives where these blades are sold cheaply in “dollar stores” in packages of 10, handles included.
Also from “dollar stores” comes a package of 10 ‘jewelers screwdrivers’ of various sizes.
Diamond files are less than $5 each from tool suppliers at woodcarving shows, and more expensive from hobby and craft shops. You need a file that will shape a ‘jewelers screwdriver’ tip into a miniature chisel sharpened one side and ‘undercut’ the other side so you have a ‘beavertooth chisel’ tip of each width available.
I use a flat ‘Superfine’ diamond file that I can also use to sharpen and re-sharpen my blades, with a 6” strip of leather belt used to ‘strop’ burrs off the edge. Burrs (abrasion of the edge) always form when filing off metal to make a sharper edge.
Tool suppliers will gladly sell you specially-made chisels and drills at special prices. A ‘retiree’ on limited income, I make my own hand tools. Mooney Warther did too, and Warther tool knives are being made and sold to this day. Click on to www.warthers.com – very interesting.
Carving the First ‘Pliers’
Mark with pencil or pen the 10 cuts required, as shown on the 1ft demonstration stick. Drill a ‘stop-split’ hole with the thinnest ‘jewelers screwdriver’ used as drill (or use power tool), where you want the cut to end. Take a wide, slightly angled blade, insert it into the stronger handle, and make the first cut #1 that will open the mouth of the ‘pliers’. Incidentally, Mooney Warther could make cuts without splitting the wood. He didn’t need ‘stop-split’ holes. I do. Let’s see what you can do.
Side View Photo 3 (photo of marked-up uncut portion of 1ft Demonstration Stick)
Top View Photo 4 (photo of top of marked-up uncut portion of 1ft Demonstration Stick)
Bottom View Photo 5 (photo of bottom, showing how cuts change from Top View)
Figures 1, 2 and 3 (showing the 10 cuts, numbered in order, and blades used)
After cutting the mouth of the ‘pliers’, drill a ‘stop-split hole’ before making the cut that will open the ‘handle’. That’s cut #2 of 10 cuts marked on Figures 1, 2 and 3.
Drill, at correct angles, 8 ‘stop-split holes’ that define cuts #3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.
Cuts #5, 6 are done (at correct angles) with narrower blade, leaving no shreds of wood to prevent joint from opening.
Cuts #7, 8, 9, 10 are done (use wide, angled blade) so that no shreds of wood remain to prevent joint from opening.
If you are lucky with first ‘plier’, the combination of stop-split holes and careful angling of cuts results in no shreds of wood left between cuts to prevent ‘plier’ from opening/closing freely. Chances are you’ll have to insert narrow blade repeatedly at all corners to make sure all cuts meet with no shreds of wood to prevent opening freely.
I shake my head bewilderedly, after reading the above words I myself wrote. These WORDS do not inform the hands what to DO to make simple slip-joint pliers! We start over again, using diagrams of what hands DO to make a simple slip-joint plier:
Drill 1/16” ‘stop-split’ holes (2) To DO, use this blade
Drill 8 ‘stop-split’ holes, #3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 as shown:
Drill holes #3,4,5,6 in Top View at 45-degree angles just halfway, to cuts #1 and #2:
Drill holes #7,8,9,10 in Bottom View at 45-degree angles just halfway, to cuts #1 and #2:
Sealing the Joint
When ‘plier’ opens/shuts freely, it needs to be sealed, as fresh-cut wood acts as a wick, absorbing humidity and worms. I use Elmers Exterior Stainable Wood Glue liberally over all surfaces and ‘packing the joint’, wiping off the excess, and working the ‘pliers’ back and forth until glue is dry, about 15-20 minutes. Be patient or you’ll have to recarve the joint open again if glue is still drying and can still seal the joint tightly shut. This method has the added advantage of eliminating ‘play’ in the joint.
Varnish to finish
Varnish and hang up to dry, opening and shutting ‘pliers’ for several minutes until varnish dries and no longer any danger of varnish gluing the joint shut. Enjoy, until ready to carve a new creation.
What’ve you learned so far?
So far, you’ve learned the 10 cuts that turn a ¼” x ¼” x 3” stick into a 1-piece ‘plier’. If successful with those 10 cuts done with 2 sizes of razor-sharp knives and ‘stop-holed’ with 1/16” drill, you’ve learned the skills in angling the cuts so they meet precisely, and no wood remains to prevent the ‘plier’ from opening easily. You’ve learned the value of equally-precise ‘stop-split holes’ at the angles and depths required. You’ve learned to seal the newly-cut wood with Elmers Stainable Exterior wood glue (or equivalent). Now you have awell-sealed ‘plier’ that will work freely for a long time.
You can make each succeeding ‘plier’ more creative, proceeding from simple slip-joint ‘plier’ to pivot-joint/chip-carved, to sinuous footless ‘alligator’, to footed ‘crocodile’ (1st use of whittled wood inserts), to finned ‘hammerhead shark’, to ‘winged dragon’, finally to ‘dragon’ with fangs, claws, and furled wings. Have some fun with your own creations, no two alike (why should they be?).
Along the way you need to make ‘chain links’ to keep the ‘pliers’ connected, not easily lost:
My 6” whittling knife is this shape:
The jewelers screwdriver with beavertooth chisel-tip looks like this:
The tip is sharpened like a ‘beaver tooth’ to excavate remaining wood between chain links without splitting the link.
Cut the wood so cross-section looks like a cross:
Cut half-links to get this:
Cut and chisel remaining wood as a full link. Use beavertooth chisel to open links freely. When free, immediately seal newly-cut links with Elmers Stainable Exterior wood glue (or equivalent). Keep working the links back and forth until glue is dry (about 15-20 minutes).
Why 2 half-links and 1 full link?
Doesn’t break as easily as when using 2 half-links alone. You want your demonstration stick to last a long time. Now you have a fully-free chain link held by half-links holding each ‘plier’ You could settle for just 2 half-links as a connection, but it’ll break easily (after all the work you put into whittling a chain of whimseys to exhibit proudly).
Watch how it’s done
At this point after reading all these words, you realize how much easier it is to watch an expert doing all the above.
Better yet, at your local woodcarving club, look over the shoulder of an expert DOing it, and ask questions without being annoying.