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How to Make a Driftwood Sculpture

C.S. Alexis is an artist who specializes in painting, jewelry making, pyrographics (wood burning), and mixed media art.

Three Fish Holding

Three Fish Holding

Creating a One of a Kind Driftwood Sculpture

It must be determined exactly what you want to accomplish before you begin. The decisions you come to should be jotted down on a piece of paper along with a list of necessary tools needed. The example in this article can not be exactly duplicated because each piece of driftwood is unique. Keeping that in mind it is possible to closely simulate the sculpture portrayed here. Your project will be one of a kind.

Adapt the information given here to the work in front of you. You might have to do more or less cutting and sanding, Toward the end you may decide not to paint your work at all. With that said, be open to exploring and inventing, and having fun with the creative process.

Project Materials

Driftwood is the basic ingredient. The selection might be based on the natural shape of an existing piece or maybe you will just use what is on hand.

Find a few pieces to work with and give them some creative thought. You will want to have one piece that is going to be used as a base.

Suggested Tools

  • pencil
  • sandpaper
  • drill
  • small drill bit
  • scroll saw
  • acrylic paint
  • paintbrush
  • glue
  • ¼" wooden dowel rod
  • paper for a pattern

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Driftwood Sculpture

Here is how to create a completely unique sculpture from driftwood. Find more information on each step along with photos below.

  1. Envision the finished sculpture.
  2. Draw the pattern.
  3. Cut the sculptural elements.
  4. Sand the cuts.
  5. Prepare the work to mount.
  6. Decide whether or not to paint it.
  7. Finish it with glue.
Turn pieces of driftwood into a sculpture.

Turn pieces of driftwood into a sculpture.

1. Envision the Finished Sculpture

This is where your creative forces come to play. Play is the keyword. Do a little mental visualization. Imagine what you want to achieve. Think about the finished product before you make a single cut.

Consider the final steps you must implement to make your idea work. You will have to plan where to drill and glue the pieces of driftwood together. Make sure that it is feasible to do what you Have envisioned.

Make a sketch. Write down any ideas or tools you will need to reach your goal. Measure in your mind's eye or use a ruler to make exact decisions before you do anything.

2. Draw the Pattern

Use the paper to draw your design pattern. Use scissors to cut the paper pattern out. Trace around the pattern onto the driftwood. Now you are ready to start cutting.

3. Cut the Sculptural Elements

Using a fish-shaped pattern, all three fish were designed about the same. This was done to create harmony within the composition of the sculpture. Think ahead here. Make sure the pattern is the right size for your wood. Check the wood to make sure it is solid enough to cut. Some driftwood is very soft and will crumble. Soft driftwood will not hold a glued dowel. The wood you use needs to be sturdy enough to work.

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Some driftwood is very hard. Aged wood might not be easily cut. Knots and dense grains can be difficult. Keep an open mind to these considerations before you get too far into this project. You do not want to get almost finished only to discover the wood is crumbling or a knot is in the way of your mark.

4. Sand the Cuts

The fish were finished with a sander to smooth edges and create a rustic appearance. This step will depend on where you want to go with your design. The object is to give a finished look to your work. It is not necessary to sand any more than you desire.

5. Prepare the Work to Mount

This is the trickiest part of the project. Drill holes in the base and in the pieces to be mounted. The holes have to line up so measure and mark each hole with accuracy. For strong support make two holes for each piece to be mounted.

Use a wood dowel to attach the pieces to the base. The dowel can be carefully sanded to a smaller size if necessary. The fish were too thin to use a ¼" dowel so the dowel was made to fit the holes. It took 6 holes in the base and two holes in each fish to mount the pieces.

Do not glue but put it all together.

Do not glue but put it all together.

6. Decide Whether or Not to Paint

Before the piece is glued together it should be painted. Do this after you check to make sure it will all fit. Make sure the pegs fit the holes but are not too tight. Do not force the pieces, just fit them together good enough to find out if it all lines up.

Take everything apart. Paint or stain the driftwood pieces before gluing. This will allow for reaching all sides of the pieces. The pieces can be painted however you desire. You can leave them natural if you prefer that look. It is your call at this point.

7. Finish With Glue

When all of the pieces of the sculpture are ready to assemble you can start gluing it all together. The fish were each painted a different shade of green for this driftwood sculpture. A color stain wash was used to do the job.

It was all sanded down to give a rustic appearance when the color wash was dry. This is a matter of choice and does not have to be part of your project.

Remember to Glue Each Hole

Glue was applied to each hole working with one fish at a time. I put the dowels into the fish first and lightly tapped them with a hammer. Take caution here. Tap very lightly so you do not break anything.

Next, line the dowels up with the holes on the base and repeat tapping until the piece is resting where you want it. You can use the dowels as a part of the overall design or they can be cut to short lengths and driven deep enough to be used only as an anchor.

Three Fish Holding, inspired by Mother Nature (a finished driftwood sculpture).

Three Fish Holding, inspired by Mother Nature (a finished driftwood sculpture).

DIY Outdoor Garden Sculpture

A piece like this would make a nice garden artwork. Just be sure to use glue that is waterproof if you intend for it to go outside. This will hold in damp weather and ensure the enjoyment of the sculpture for years to come. You might want to add an additional coating of clear sealer to all of the pieces too. It depends on your personal taste and where you plan to display your Driftwood Sculpture.

Driftwood Turned Sculpture Safety

This is a fun lesson in creating artwork from driftwood. This project is not recommended for a beginner. It is suggested for someone who knows how to use basic power tools. One might attempt this if they have guidance or supervision from a knowledgeable source. Make sure to follow safety precautions when working with power tools. Always wear safety glasses. Work in a well-ventilated area. Wear a mask when sanding.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments on November 30, 2017:

very good

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on November 03, 2014:

Very interesting! I pick up pieces of driftwood whenever I find interesting pieces on the beach, and then look for inspiration on how to use them.

Jason from Indianapolis, IN. USA on July 19, 2014:

Not only is this extremely interesting but very detail oriented. I appreciate and applaud your diligent hard work!

Dan Lema from Tanzania on June 21, 2014:

very educational...

Lizam1 on January 14, 2014:

I have just started working with driftwood and have found a piece I need to cut, but probably by hand at this stage. Thanks for the tips when I progress to more serious cutting though.

Natasha from Hawaii on May 13, 2012:

This is really cool. I see driftwood all the time (I live near the beach and work on a tidal creek), but I have no confidence in my ability to turn it in to something cool.

Paul Cronin from Winnipeg on August 01, 2011:

When we go to the coast, we always bring back some driftwood, I'll make sure I flag this page for reference. Thanks for the info!

C.S.Alexis (author) from NW Indiana on April 02, 2011:

Happy to have all of the positive feedback. Thanks everyone for reading. I enjoy all the comments and am thankful for each of yours.

tnderhrt23 on April 02, 2011:

I have done some decorative work with driftwood but not sculpting because i never had the tools. This is an interesting hub, well written and appealing to me! Good job!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 02, 2011:

Very interesting. I love driftwood, but have never 'done' anything with it but collect it. We are experienced woodworkers, and have all the requisite tools--it's just that we've never ventured into sculpture from driftwood.

Personally, I think I prefer the natural finish given my Mom Nature...but that's mere subjective would be a boring world if we were all alike.

(I had to chuckle at your opening...all the 'standard CYA precautions we must post--which many, if not most, professionals calmly ignore. .. snicker)

Great hub--voted up!

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on April 02, 2011:

You published this at just the right time. I was looking around for something new (for me) to try with the wood medium. Voted up and useful.

GNelson from Florida on April 02, 2011:

Some of the best wood I use is found wood. Great Hub!

Skellie from Adelaide on April 02, 2011:

Very useful hub. I craft wood myself but with the most basic of tools. Slowly building my power tool collection now. Will have to bookmark this, for when i am powered up and ready to go lol. :)

useful and up

LeisureLife from USA on April 01, 2011:

Nice hub, thanks !