Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Carving Carousel Animals

Capture the magic of the carnival as you learn how to construct and carve a full size carousel animal. 10 day class with Bill Dentzel.


Carving Carousel Animals

Bill Dentzel



In this course, fifth generation carousel maker, Bill Dentzel, will demystify the secrets of large scale woodcarving as he guides you through designing and building a 3.5' - 5' carousel animal.  Learn to  design and layout the template, cut out the pieces, glue up the body and begin carving the shapes and details. You will not likely finish the carving in class, but Bill will also cover painting and finishing techniques so you can complete your project at home.  

Bonus! You will also get to assemble a versatile carving bench to use in class and take home with you.

Class Description

Before the class starts, you should have some idea of what animal you would like to make.  Bill will help you assess your animal; an animal is any creature or object that could possibly be mounted on a carousel. You don’t have to stick to a classic horse; an “animal” could be anything from a spaceship, to an eggplant, or a humpback whale.  As long as the saddle and pole are properly placed and no dangerous or awkward protrusions are included, your animal will be well.  

YOUR HOMEWORK before you arrive is to pick an animal or two and find images or objects to use as examples.  You may also find it helpful to make a quick maquette from modeling clay to help visualize your 3-dimensional piece, this is something which can be demonstrated in class. This preliminary model will quickly display the relationship of 2-D designing and 3-D construction. Proportional sized scaling will also be applied to designs in class. If you are unsure about the achievability of your animal, you can e-mail Bill for guidance. 

A sturdy carving bench is essential for this project.  At the beginning of the class, you will assemble a carving bench from prepared stock to use during the class and keep for the continuation and completion of your animal at home. These benches are excellent for all types of woodworking, not just carving. A standard cast iron vice can also be attached to the bench. It comes with a large jawed wooden carving vice.

The carousel animals will be approximately 3.5 to 5 feet long, big enough to carry a child or adult on a smaller carousel yet small enough to complete in a reasonable amount of time (likely not during the course but at home). All of the skills and techniques for making any larger animal will be learned.

The course will cover two different hollow body construction methods: box construction and curved lamination (like a building a topographical map). You may end up using bit of both depending on your design. 

The basswood and glue needed to build your animal will be provided as well as the basic shop tools needed to mill and cut the wood. Basswood is the preferred wood for this type of project and will respond well to your desires.

The carving and surfacing portion of the class will be done with hand tools. This makes for a pleasant workshop environment. It is best to bring a simple set of carving chisels of your own to start with and then try others by sharing with your classmates to see which chisels you'd like to buy in the future. See the “tools” section below for Bill”s recommendations for carving chisels and abrasives.  

The final days will cover finishing techniques including final surfacing, painting, glazing, varnish and mounting glass eyes .


Carving Tools

  • -Mallets, more than one. Round wood, rubber, leather. Club style and/or hammer style.
  • -Standard set of carpenters straight chisels, 1/4"-1 1/2", plus a 2" if possible. Stanley or Marples are good.
  • -A variety of full sized carving chisels are needed, buying a starter set from a major supplier is a good way to start, then add to it gradually. Looking at other carving chisels in class and trying them out will also give you a better idea of what you might purchase. You will need your own basic set in class. Below is a list of good tools. There are several makers, good carbon steel is best as it holds an edge and sharpens well. Stainless steel is harder to sharpen. Here are a few brand names:
  • Two Cherries, Pfeil, Flexcut, Henry Taylor, Chris Pye, Hirsch, Sayers, Sorby and others. Expect the good ones to be expensive, they are worth it. Below are the approximate sizes I recommend, if you get a kit, add one or two other special chisels to it, such as a bigger gouge:
  • #2/20mm
  • #3/35mm
  • #4/60mm (fishtail)
  • #4/30mm
  • #4/18mm
  • #5/14mm
  • #6/12mm (fishtail)
  • #6-36/18mm
  • #8/10mm
  • #8-18/25mm
  • #8/20mm
  • #41/8mm
  • #41/12mm
  • #41/22mm
  • [We will be doing a lot of designing, cutting, and gluing in class, some carving too, but lots of carving will also happen at home using your carving bench and tools that you have come to like.]


  • Having an assortment of the following clamps is good, the more the better, you will love your clamps for easy and strong glue-ups. Preferably no plastic clamps. Pony and Channel Lock are two good brands.
  • -Pony clamps (adjustable "C" clamps); 12" to 24" with 3" throat depth also a set with 8" throat depth if possible. I use some deeper ones too.
  • -Pipe clamps, use 3/4" diameter and/or 1/2" diameter galvanized or black steel pipe. 12" to 24" or even longer depending on your animal.
  • -Spring clip clamps (giant clothes pins style), very handy. Several large size, 9", 6", 4".
  • -Jorgensen wood jaw clamps. These are handy, bigger is better. Small can be good too.
  • -Pinch Dogs, very important, essential! 10 pack of 2" pinch dogs is the minimum.

Rasps etc.

  • Again, an assortment of rasps is nice, other hand shapers too.
  • -large convex cheese grater type rasp (i.e. Stanley)
  • -other cheese grater type rasps (optional)
  • -rough medium and large steel wood rasps
  • -Italian riffler detail rasps


  • -large dividers
  • -canvas or leather tool pouch
  • -sharpening stones


This is an intermediate carving class. It requires familiarity with some shop tools and readiness to add in a couple more if necessary. Some wood carving experience is desirable although not essential. 

More about this class

For questions or queries: 
Email Bill: bilito@gmail.com 
Call Bill: 
or visit website: Carousel Construction Guide

Class Information and Registration

Duration: 10 days (M-F two weeks), to achieve glued up body and beginning of carving process. The workspace will be closed to students over the weekend to give everyone a break! 

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
This class takes place in Building 304 at Fort Worden - not the School Building. Map
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $ 1400
Materials Charge: $400 Deposit
Register By: July 27, 2015

**Must have minimum enrollment of 6 by July 10

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.