How to Carve Wood Fish

Wooden fish carving is an art of its own.
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Fish carving is an art form unto itself and many individuals specialize and compete in wooden fish carving events worldwide. Carving a fish can be as rudimentary or complicated as you want to make it. Experienced fish carvers use custom-made burning tips, fabricated with special wire to create fish scales. Wax paper is used to generate exact templates of scales, which are different with each type of fish. Some fish carvings only feature half of the fish while others are are carved entirely. In either case, there are some basic points to consider when carving your first fish.

Things You'll Need

  • Chisel
  • Sealer
  • Wood
  • Brushes
  • Sandpaper
  • Saw
  • Carving Knife
  • Pencil
  • Gouge
  • Paint
  • Paper

Draw the outline of the fish you want to carve using an image and tracing paper. Place the paper on the wood and trace the outline to mark the wood underneath. Always keep the paper in the same place to preserve the proper proportion of your markings. Use the saw to cut a rough outline of the fish about two inches larger the actual dimension of the fish to make sure you will have enough wood to work with. Cut the wood so the grain goes along the length of the fish.

Carve the sharp edges of your blank carefully by shaving off small slivers. Don't cut too deep as you may go beyond your marked edges. Refer to the image you used to create the outline and take note of the shape of the fish. Use your knife, chisel and gouge to remove material as well as create finer detail. Look how the mouth is shaped and where exactly the fins are. Keep carving until the shape comes alive. Carve in the gills and continue to add detail to the tail, fins and head.

Use sandpaper, going from rough to fine grit, to smooth any grain fuzzing and other rough areas. Keep in mind that fish are extremely smooth, so keep sanding until you feel no rough areas with your hand. Clean off the dust with a moist cloth.

Decide if you want to keep the natural look of the wood or whether you want to paint it. Apply paint carefully by studying the exact colours you see in the image. Look for areas with glitter and particular shadings and color markings. Use a good wood sealer to coat the unpainted fish if you want the natural look and grain of the wood to stand out.


  • Keep your tools sharp for best results.

    Start with softwood for easier carving.

    Use hardwoods for the best natural finish.


  • Use proper safety procedures and always wear a dust mask when cutting and sanding wood.

    Be careful when using treated or toxic exotic wood as this may cause permanent injury.