Caricature Pirate Bust

Patterns & Projects

Caricature Pirate Bust

This plumed pillager is better than buried treasure 

By Jim Feather
Step-by-step photos by Mike Mihalo

Why sail the high seas when you could learn to carve this swashbuckling character at home? If you’re new to caricature, this is an excellent project to begin with. I designed him so the center of the face falls on a corner rather than a flat space—this will allow you more freedom to play with depth and dimension right off the bat.

Getting Started

Start with a block of basswood. Make two lines along adjacent faces of the blank with a pencil, following the angle of the bottom of the hat. You’ll be carving on the corner, so the lines should form a peak right at the center of his face.

Roughing Out

Step 1

Make a stop cut along the bottom of the hat. Carve straight in with a rough out knife; do not undercut at all. Carve up to the stop cut on the corner to make a notch. Carve along the other lines with a 1/4″ (6mm) 45° V-tool. Deepen the grooves with the knife.

Step 2

Mark the top of the hat brim. Round the top of the hat. Leave wood for the feather, but remove some of the excess from the other side with the knife. Carve along the top of the hat brim with the 1/4″ (6mm) 45° V-tool. Use the knife to carve away more excess wood around the crown of the hat.

Step 3 

Round the corner of the hat above the nose. Use the knife. Make a stop cut along the eyeline and carve up to it from the cheek area.

Step 4

Make a stop cut along the bottom of the nose. Carve up to the stop cut to separate the nose from the mustache. Round the hat and feather. Mark the oversized wings of the nose and draw a centerline down the face, starting at the forehead.

Step 5

Carve up from the wings of the nose into the eye sockets. Use a 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge. Do this on both sides. Carve across the eye socket and meet up with the first cut to deepen the eye sockets. Carve between the eyebrows with the same tool.

Step 6

Shape the nose with the knife. Carve off the corners and draw the creases that run from the outer edges of the nose to the mouth. Make a stop cut along the lines with the knife, and then carve up to the stop cut to set in the sides of the mouth.

Step 7

Carve up alongside the edges of the beard and face. Use the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge. This sets the width of the face and leaves space for sideburns. Free loose chips with the knife. Shape the hat.

Step 8

Remove some wood from above the eyebrows. Remember, one eyebrow will be lifted, so leave wood for that. Round the corners on the back and sides of the hat. Mark the location of both shoulders with an inverted V. Follow those lines with the knife and carve up to the stop cuts.

Step 9

Draw the outline of the beard. Carve along these lines with a 5/16″ (8mm) 60° V-tool. Draw the bottom of the cloak, so you don’t accidentally cut into the base area. With the knife, make a stop cut on the corners under the hair and under the cloak and carve up to the stop cuts to create notches. Connect the notches with the 5/16″ (8mm) 60° V-tool.

Step 10

Undercut the cloak. Use the knife along the V-tool cuts to deepen and undercut them. Tuck the cloak up under the beard with the knife. This sets in the location of all of the landmarks.

Adding the Details

Step 11

Round the mouth mound. Use the knife. Mark the bottom of the mustache and make a stop cut along the line. Carve up to the stop cut to distinguish the mustache from the face. Draw the smirking mouth. Make a stop cut along this line and carve down to the stop cut to open the mouth.

Step 12

Establish the lower lip. Make a shallow cut along the bottom of the lip with the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge. Smooth the area with the knife. Tuck the lower lip up under the upper lip with the knife.

Step 13

Smooth out the eye and cheek area. Use the knife. Make this area as smooth as possible before you carve the eyes. Use the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge inside the sockets if needed..

Tip: Looking From All Angles

At this stage, take a moment to look at the face from all angles. You might need to make small tweaks, like bringing the sideburn back slightly, so the carving will look good from the side as well as the front.


Step 14

Make a dot in the inside corner of each eye. Make sure they are even. Draw matching dots in the outside corners of the eyes and connect the dots. If the eyes are positioned properly, it should look like the carving is sleeping. Then draw an arc to complete each eyelid. Plunge the point of a detail knife in on the dot, with the knife following the top and bottom lines on all four corners of the eye. Move a bit away from the corner and carve up to the corner to free the chips. If the chip doesn’t pop right out, make the plunging cuts again. Do not pry it out, as this will create messy corners.

Step 15

Make shallow stop cuts along the bottom and top of the top eyelid. Use the detail knife. Carefully round the eye to these stop cuts. Extend the top eyelid out beyond the outer corner of each eye.

Step 16

Carve a groove above the eye. Use a 1/8″ (3mm) #11 gouge. This creates the upper eyelid. Repeat the process for the other eye.

Step 17

Make an S-shaped cut under each eye. Use the 1/8″ (3mm) #11 gouge. This creates slight bags under the eyes, which give the pirate a weathered look. Smooth the groove into the cheeks with the knife.

Step 18

Mark the edges of the nose. Use the tip of the detail knife to make a stop cut from the bottom of the nose to the top. Carve to the stop cut to separate the outer edges of the nose from the rest of the face. Smooth and shape the bottom of the nose. Then stab in the nostril holes. Use the 1/8″ (3mm) #11 gouge. Free the chips with the tip of the knife.

Step 19

Separate the teeth. Use the tip of the detail knife. I think about Chiclets gum when I’m making teeth—I want them to be big and cartoonish. If the teeth are too small, the carving looks creepy.

Step 20

Round and shape the hair. Use the knife. Remove any sharp corners. Repeat the process with the beard. Then mark the hair flow and follow the lines with the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge. Stay away from the chin so you can leave a slight mound there.

Step 21

Refine the hair texture. Make short cuts among the existing ones with the 1/8″ (3mm) #11 gouge. Use the same tool to add texture to the mustache. Go back over the mustache with a 1/16″ (2mm) #11 gouge. Then make a few cuts on the beard and hair inside the larger grooves to create shadows. Notch the bottom of the beard with the rough out knife for additional texture. Undercut the hair slightly to create more shadow.

Step 22

Smooth the cloak with the knife. Draw the lapel. Then make a stop cut along the line with the knife. Carve up to the stop cut to separate the lapel from the jacket.

Step 23

Smooth the eyebrows with the knife. Then make little divots with the 1/16″ (2mm) #11 gouge to add some texture.

Step 24

Round the top of the feather. Use the knife. Shape the hat to fit the head. Use the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge to hollow the area between the hat and feather. Mark the area where the feather attaches to the hat, make stop cuts along the lines, and carve up to the stop cuts. Switch back and forth between the gouge and knife to separate the feather from the hat.


Step 25

Make a scooping cut along the brim of the hat. Use the knife. Then round the corner slightly. Carve along the top of the hat brim with the 1/4″ (6mm) 45° V-tool to separate it from the crown of the hat. Use the knife to finish separating the feather from the hat.

Step 26

Soften the intersection between the back of the crown and the brim. Use the 9/32″ (7mm) #11 gouge. Draw the hatband and make stop cuts above and below it with the knife. Carve up to the stop cuts to separate the band from the rest of the hat. Draw the top of the binding where the feather attaches to the hat. Make a stop cut and carve to it to separate the feather from the binding.

Step 27

Round and soften the feather. Use the knife. Draw the shaft down the center of the feather. Carve down the shaft with the 1/4″ (6mm) 45° V-tool. Round the feather down to the V-groove with the knife. Make another cut with the 1/4″ (6mm) 45° V-tool parallel to the first cut to create a slight ridge.

Step 28

Draw the flow of the veins on the feather. Start on either side of the shaft, and carve short strokes outward with the 1/16″ (2mm) #11 gouge. Make curving cuts and pay attention to the grain direction to keep from splitting the wood. Draw a few bands on the binding and relieve the areas around them with the detail knife. Clean up your cuts and add any final tweaks.


Dunk the carving in a mixture of boiled linseed oil and raw sienna oil paint. Wipe off the excess with clean cotton rags and let dry. Then paint the carving with thinned acrylics, referring to the Paint Notes (below). Once done, drybrush the feather with titanium white.

Download the pattern below:


Paint Notes

Beard, hair, eyebrows: burnt sienna (1)

Face: thinned burgundy (1)

Teeth: warm white (1)

Coat, hat: Payne’s gray (1)

Feather: dioxazine purple, Alizarin crimson, brilliant orange (2), drybrush with titanium white (1)

Lapels and hat brim: gold (1)

Undercoat: Payne’s gray (1)

Eyes: warm white (1)

Irises: burnt sienna (1)

Pupils: Payne’s gray (1)

Eye highlights: titanium white (1)

1 DecoArt Americana

2 Liquitex



• Basswood, 1 1/2″ (3.8cm) square:
6″ (15.2cm) long

• Pencil

• Boiled linseed oil

• Oil paint: raw sienna

• Clean cotton rags

• Acrylic paints, such as DecoArt: burgundy, burnt sienna, gold, Payne’s gray, titanium white, warm white; such as Liquitex: Alizarin crimson, brilliant orange, dioxazine purple


                  • Knives: rough out, detail

                  • #11 gouges: 1/16″ (2mm), 1/8″ (3mm), 9/32″ (7mm)

                  • #12 V-tool: 5/16″ (8mm) 60°

                  • #15 V-tool: 1/4″ (6mm) 45°

                  • Paintbrushes: assorted


About the Author

Jim Feather lives in Landisville, Pa., with his wife Gloria. A woodworker and caricature carver for many years, he teaches an adult carving class and demonstrates the craft at his local elementary school during its annual Pennsylvania Heritage Day event. View more of Jim’s work at


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