fan birds are a wonderful traditional craft of eastern Europe. I first became aware of them when my friend Del Stubbs in the US wrote to me about them in the mid 1990’s he carves very fine ones.
I saw lots of them when I visited Russia in 1998 including some huge ones in the Ethnographic museum in St Petersburg, I remembered these as being almost 4 foot wingspan but they could have been a little less. I took photos in poor light and they loose quality through transfer to digital but I shall put them up here anyway because I know folk that will be interested.
Around that time my friend Owen Jones the swill basket maker started making small ones from skip wood, recycled old pine. This is one of his.
I had a brief play about 4 years ago, this is as far as I got, too many other things on the go stopped me having time to play further.
I posted about them on the green woodworkers forum and my friend Sean Hellman followed it up, researching and experimenting until he now makes really very wonderful fan birds. Last weekend I visited him and photographed the process step by step. Sean carves them mostly from ash which is boiled first. The eastern European ones are mostly very slow grown pine. First 2 saw cuts.
smooth out the little hollow with a knife.
Start riving off the feathers less than 1mm each.
most of the way there.
initially the base of the feathers was left at about 7mm or so for strength whilst riving, now it is taken down to about 1mm, Sean judges the thickness by holding it to the light, when it is see through it is thin enough.
This shows the profile you are aiming for well.
Next carve the head of the bird first rough sawing it then carving.
Now if you have done all that right the feathers should twist and pivot back quite happily.
Each one locks into the groove in the one before.
The finished bird
Sean is one of the few green woodworkers I know who really puts the hours in to experimenting and working out new (or old) techniques. It takes a lot of dedication, he is currently working on large shrink pots.
and here are a few more of his finished birds.
I bought one from him a couple of years ago and it hangs above my stairs where I see it every day. This new one will hang from my mirror in the van. You can buy them from Sean mail order here
More on fan carving here
and related but different Japanese fan carving here