Bottlestopper Corks

Sometime this month a Facebook post asked about methods for attaching corks to carved bottle stoppers. I didn’t comment because, as you will see, a simple reply would not provide all the details some people would like. This post will describe my method, which is far from the only way to make a bottle stopper. You can also purchase pre-drilled corks with dowels from carving supply vendors.

I use #8 corks. These are 1 1/8 inches long with the top being 7/8 of an inch in diameter and the bottom 3/4 of an inch in diameter. I visit the local wine-making supply store to buy them. There are many sizes to choose from. Here you can buy them by the piece so you can choose the ones you like. Avoid corks with cracks, large openings or missing sections. You can find corks at hobby stores but they will be more expensive and packaged in assorted sizes. The ones I’ve seen in hobby stores are usually in good condition so if you only need a couple, that might be the way to go.

Block in drilling position.

Block in drilling position.

I have a drill press and recommend using one for drilling corks. I learned the hard way that you should not hold a cork by hand when drilling. Using a clamp to hold a cork will compress the sides and cause the hole to be distorted. I made a simple holding devise that will minimize pressure and not apply pressure unequally. Remember mine is for #8 corks but you can modify the dimensions if you use another size. I cut a block of wood 2 inches by 2 inches and about 2 and 3/8 inches long. Basswood scraps are great for this. Locate the center of the top and bottom surfaces of the block. Secure the block in a clamp for drilling a 13/16 inch hole in the center of the top. The hole should be 1 inch deep. I used a Forstner bit to keep it neat. Mark that end so you know it’s the top. If you’re going to use more than one size cork, mark this end with “#8”.

Block, push stick and corks.

Block, push stick and corks.


Brad-point bit on left. Forstner bit on right.

Brad-point bit on left. Forstner bit on right.

At the center point on the bottom end, drill a 13/16 hole 3/4 of an inch deep. If you plan to use a second sized cork, change the drill size for the bottom hole. Experiment to determine the size. Mark that end with the cork size. Don’t worry about the alignment of the top and bottom holes they shouldn’t meet anyway.  To create a passage between the top and bottom holes, switch to a 3/8 inch drill bit. The bottom of each of the larger holes will have a mark for the center left by the bit. Drill the passage hole at that mark.

I smoothed the sharp edge of the top hole so it doesn’t leave a mark on the cork.  Test fit the cork. It should fit snugly in the top hole. If the cork is wedged tightly in the hole, there probably won’t be enough cork to protruding to work it loose.  Now it will become clear for the need of the passage hole. I whittled a scrap to look like a dowel with a handle so I could push the cork free. It should be a loose fit in the 3/8 passage hole, just don’t put a sharp point on the end.

Cork in drilling position.

Cork in drilling position.

To prepare the cork for drilling, locate the center of the top surface. There are several tools made for finding the center of a dowel or cut a paper template. Secure the cork in the block. Make sure the top of the cork is parallel to the bottom of the block. Hold the block with a clamp and position a 3/8 inch brad-point drill bit at the center point of the cork. Slowly drill into the cork. It’s been my experience that drilling fast tears the cork. I like to drill this hole 5/8 of an inch deep. I use a 3/8 inch hardwood dowel to connect the cork to the carving. The length of the dowel should be slightly shorter than the combined depths of the holes in the cork and the carving. This allows space for glue trapped at the ends of the dowel.

As for the hole in the carving, my advice is to drill it before the carving is shaped. If you’re using a rough-out or a completed carving that has no hole, the drilling will be trickier. I would discourage holding the wood in your hand when drilling. Find a soft material or two sandbags, something that would conform to the carved shape. When held with a clamp, it should immobilize the carving for drilling. You will have to do your best to adjust the carving so the hole will be perpendicular to the surface that will meet the cork.

Predrill hole for dowel

I test-fit the cork, dowel and carving before using glue. I use a two-part epoxy. Oh, don’t glue the cork before you carve your masterpiece.

Knife cover

Swedish Mora Knife

Swedish Mora Knife

I just purchased a knife that comes from Sweden. A Mora. It’s blade is 3 1/8 inches (80 mm) long. I first saw this knife in use when I took a one week class in March led by Harley Refsal, a CCA member. During that week Harley showed us how he uses it for a special purpose, which isn’t carving. Actually he doesn’t cut with it at all. You’ll have to ask Harley if you want to know more. Anyway, being a person who always needs a new tool, I ordered two. One for myself and one for a friend.

To my surprise, it arrived with an extremely sharp edge. Considering my friend’s safety, I  decided to make a blade cover for him. There have been several articles in carving magazines for making wooden covers and then cleverly carving them into keepsakes. In case you missed the articles, here are the steps I used to make the cover.

I started with two scraps of basswood 2 1/4 by 5 3/4 inches (58mm by 122mm). The pieces were about 3/8 inches (9mm) thick. Because the blade was extra large, the wood was large, too. I added the extra inches to the length to allow more room for creativity. The surfaces that will be glued should be smooth and flat so no gaps occur.


I traced the profile of the blade onto the middle of one piece of wood. Then I used a carving knife to make a “stop” cut just inside the profile lines. A #3 gouge was perfect for relieving the wood inside the “stop” cuts. I tapered the area so the “cutting edge” side was very shallow and the depth of the other side matched the thickness of the back of the blade.


Many test fittings were made before the recess was perfect. Test the progress by placing the blade into the recess and covering it with the second piece of wood. If the second piece rocks on the blade, more wood must be removed. The goal is to have the blade squeezed slightly between the two pieces of wood, specifically at the thickest part of the blade. The final test should be made by clamping the pieces together as if they were glued. Insert the blade into the opening; too tight and the force required to remove the blade may cause an accident, too loose and the cover could fall off or become loose after sharpening several times.
Carefully spread a thin coat of wood glue on the surface with the recess. Because the glue may squeeze into the recessed area, don’t spread glue too close to it. Clamp the two pieces. Before the glue dries, insert the blade and remove it immediately. Check for glue on the blade. CAREFULLY remove any glue and repeat this step until no glue appears on the blade. Allow the glue to dry. Do NOT leave the blade in the cover while the glue drys.
Before adding your design, you have to reserve the area that contains the blade. Position the blade on the outside surface of the wood by aligning it with the opening. Once again trace the blade profile onto the wood. Because my design was the same on both sides of the cover, I just did my sketch on one side. Make sure your design does not come too close the the profile line. You can remove the scrap with a scroll saw, band saw or simply carve it away. Please don’t leave the knife in the cover while you shape the cover.

I’ll point out a couple of design considerations I used for my cover. I wanted a “push point” in my design so it was more natural to hold the knife with the sharp edge downward and the thumb could push the cover to loosen it. I created this with the boot on the figure. Of course the obvious position of the figure suggests the sharp edge is toward it’s bottom. The other precaution I took was to protect the hat on the figure. Because of it’s shape, and it’s location at the end of the cover, I wanted to add some protection. I used the extra length of the wood to carve some stones that would more than likely receive the impact from a fall.


Someone asked me why the figure is lying on stones. Must be for drainage.




Here are a few more examples of wooden knife covers.


I hope you understood this and are able to put it to good use.

Dim Bulbs

A friend of mine, Rod Beamish from Indiana, showed a bunch of really cute carved ornaments to me a few years ago. I’ve carved a couple dozen of them myself since then and thought I would pass along some tips to encourage others to try carving “Dim Bulbs”.

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The following description will not be carving instructions as much as tips and shortcuts for those who already know how to carve a corner face. Most corner faces are done for practice or demonstration. When finished, you just have a face on the corner of a scrap of wood. This project will allow you to practice and have something “useful” when you’re done. I’m going to describe the process to prepare the wood and offer some tips to shape the wood before actually carving a face.

I used Rod’s blank to create my own cardboard pattern. The pattern is for 4 ornaments. That’s done to allow more wood to grasp while working on each small ornament. You could increase the number of ornaments on the blank but at some point you’ll cause a problem for yourself. If you have ever carved a walking stick or cane, you know how unwieldy a long stick can be.  Click here to link to a PDF for Dim Bulb Pattern.

Cardboard pattern

Cardboard pattern

Take special care when making this pattern so each ornament is the same width and the edges fall in straight line. This will help when it’s time to draw a center line. Trace the pattern onto two adjacent sides of a piece of wood. Allow about a quarter of an inch of scrap wood on both sides of the pattern. Make sure the pattern is centered on both sides of the wood.

Pattern on one side

Pattern on one side

Pattern on adjacent sides

Use a band saw or scroll saw to cut the pattern on one side of the wood. Make one cut on each side of the pattern so you have three pieces of wood after this step.

First side after cutting

First side after cutting

Some people will leave a small section of the line uncut on each side of the blank. That way the scrap will remain attached to the blank for cutting the adjacent side. I prefer to use a one-inch piece of double-sided carpet tape to hold each scrap piece onto the blank while I cut the adjacent side.

After first cut on adjacent side

After first cut on adjacent side

Making the cuts on the adjacent side will produce the completed blank. If you used the “incomplete cut” method on the first side, return to the that side and carefully finish removing the scrap pieces. If you use the tape method, pull the scrap from the original side and remove any tape still sticking to the blank. You will have a blank with 4 corners.

Blank with all scrap pieces

Now is the time to mark a center line on all four sides of the blank. I have a useful tool made by Dave Rushlo. It holds a pencil and is adjustable. It’s great for drawing a center line on blocks of wood or anything where you need a line drawn parallel to a flat surface.

Blank with center line

Blank with center line

The center line defines the widest point of each ornament so as you round three of the four corners to form the back, you’ll leave the line and follow the directions below. The center lines, to the left and right of the fourth corner, define the boundaries for the face. The center line also helps when transforming the square area at the top of each ornament into a cylinder in preparation for the “threads”.

A line should also be drawn between each ornament. This serves as a reminder to reserve enough wood for the “threaded” cylinder as you form the bottom of the ornament above it.

Line at top of each ornament. Bottom of ornament drawn for visual aid

You can start with any of the ornaments but I recommend shaping the backs and tops of all of them before carving the faces.  I choose a corner of the blank that I think has the strongest grain for the noses or a corner free from blemishes. I like to remove some wood from each of the three corners I intend to round over. That way I don’t remove a nose by mistake.

Another tip I can offer is when rounding a corner, remove the center third of the area between it’s left and right center lines.  Note the red lines in the photo. Then remove the ridges (the red lines) formed by those cuts trying to use the “thirds” method again.

Using the “thirds” method to help with symmetry.

This should create a balanced and more rounded area. You’ll still need to make many more smaller cuts to smooth the rounded quarter before repeating the process on the other corners.

Back corner rounded.

Top view of back corner rounded.

You’ll have to carefully cut off the center lines on the back of each ornament to remove the original saw cuts and make the adjacent quarters blend. Remember, the center lines are located on the widest dimension of the ornament so the more wood you remove at that line, the thinner your ornament will become.

Front view of top ornament after rounding back three corners.

Front view after rounding back three corners.

The area for the “threads” should just be roughed out. Remember there is a small bit of wood in the center of the top of each ornament. It represents the contact point between the ornament and the circuit in a real light socket.

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Faces and cylinders carved


Adding “contact” point to top of cylinder


Lines drawn for “threads”

Add the “threads” after the ornaments have been separated. To do this, I draw a lite pencil line for guidance.  I like to start at the top of the cylinder above the center of the face. It would be great to finish the thread-cut right below the starting point but that doesn’t always happen. The threads would never work for real but the suggestion of real threads is more convincing if you see the beginning and the end of them as you view the face.  On the back my threads are almost horizontal. I use a 3mm # 11 or  #9 to cut the threads. I have a Dockyard brand tool that size.


Cutting the

Cutting the “threads”

After painting, use a small awl or large needle to make a pilot hole in the center of the contact point.


Add a small screw eye to allow hanging.


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Click here to view more Dim Bulbs in my Flicker account.

I hope this provides enough detail to get your creative juices flowing. Happy carving.

Man in the Moon

Recently I was given a copy of a current special issue of Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. It’s title is Whittling, 30 Easy Patterns. Even as an experienced carver, several projects caught my attention. One in particular was a scrap wood crescent moon with a face. The article was prepared by Dave Stetson (CCA). I liked it for it’s simplicity and the way Dave broke the project into ten simple steps. If you get a copy of your own, you might notice the printing error. Some of the steps are pictured upside down. A casual glance would miss that fact. You can see the corrected article at  Look for the Man In The Moon article.

Anyway I used the picture in step one to create a cardboard template and cut out 8 copies. I made mine 3/8 ” thick. The work went fast and I soon had six finished moons. I started to think about different faces with different expressions. I lightly traced around my template on a tablet sheet. Then I started enlarging noses, mouths and eyes. I left simplicity with Dave and just tried lots of variations. Dave’s moon didn’t have ears so mine were without ears. I could have created more variations if I used mustaches and beards but everybody knows the man in the moon doesn’t have hair except when he’s a Santa lookalike. I’ve painted them Turners Yellow with Gold Oxide shading, White for the teeth and eyes and Red for lips.     Here is Dave’s original and my variations.

Moon 1 Moon 2 Moon 3 Moon 4 Moon 5 Moon 6 Moon 7 Moon 8

My Largest Project

I began a project 12 years ago that took about 10 years to complete. Following a visit to the Pacific Northwest, I wanted to carve a totem pole. I approached the director of a church camp north of Pittsburgh and presented the idea. With his approval the search began for a suitable log and a pattern. After several years a poplar log was acquired and by then I had a design and a prototype carved. It wasn’t exactly a traditional design so I began referring to it as a theme pole. The theme was Noah’s Ark. The work site was 90 minutes from home and I was still working full time so progress was slow. You see here the finished project but for the full photo documentation of the project, click here. There captions and comments for each of the pictures.