Creating a Simple Armature

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Creating a Simple Armature

Design your own carvings with the aid of armatures and clay models

by Marv Kaisersatt
Photography by Chipping Away Inc.

This article was first published in issue 47 of Woodcarving Illustrated.

Clay figures can serve as models for those choosing to carve their own creations in wood. Wire skeletons, called armatures, keep the figures from collapsing. Additionally, clay models can be studied and adjusted by bending, twisting, and moving the armature until you achieve the form you desire.

Joe You, a caricature carver from Sacramento, Calif., originally showed me how to put together a simple armature. The measurements listed here are based on my preferences for an 81/2″-tall figure. I almost always make a clay model. It’s my rehearsal before putting knife to wood.

1. Create the body and arms. Bend the two wires representing the arms and the body in half. I use red wire for the arms and green wire for the body and legs. Slip both plastic collars onto the body wire. Position the large collar about 1″ from the bend and the small collar about 4″ from the bend.

2. Connect the arms to the body. Slide the bend of the arm wire down through the large plastic collar. You can adjust the position of the plastic collars. The positions notated indicate my preference for the shoulders and hips. Wrap tape around the collars to lock them in place.

3. Begin to shape the arms and legs. Bend the arms and legs outward. Mark the location of the shoulders and hips. Use the pattern as a guide. I make the marks on the wire with a permanent marker. Bend the wire down 90° at each mark.

4. Locate the remaining joints. Wrap tape between the elbows and wrists and between the knees and ankles. The tape makes it easier to bend the wire at these points later. Bend the feet to shape, and then bend the feet forward 90° at the ankle.

5. Fill out the body and head. Wrap aluminum foil around the body. Drill a hole into a scrap piece of wood and carve a rough head shape. Slide the head onto the wire neck and secure it in place with tape. This allows you to build up the clay figure faster and reduces the amount of clay needed.

Materials & Tools


  • 16″ of #14 electrical wire (body)
  • 8″ of #14 electrical wire (arms)
  • 1/4″-inside diameter plastic collar
  • 1/8″-inside diameter plastic collar
  • Aluminum foil
  • Masking tape
  • Wire staples
  • Scrap wood for head and base


  • Needle nose pliers
  • Permanent marker
  • Drill with 1/4″- diameter drill bit


About the Author

Marv Kaisersatt of Faribault, Minn., is an award-winning carver, author, and instructor.

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