Canadian Woodworking

Haida-inspired eagle

Author: Garnet Hall
Published: December January 2003

I have always admired the art of the West Coast Indians. It is out of respect for their art and culture that I offer this interpretation of their wonderful art form.


It is a basic intarsia project, which involves a bit of raising, and lowering. The first one I made was 11 in. x 11 in. It might look better in an even larger size, perhaps 16 in. x 16 in., but I will leave that up to you.


Different colours and textures of wood provide the palette for the intarsia artist.

The most common wood used is western red cedar, because it has the greatest variety of colour, shade and texture, is readily available, easy to cut and shape and not too expensive.

Transfer the pattern to the wood

Use any of the following methods:

• trace directly onto the wood with carbon paper.

• make a template of the pattern from 1/8” plywood, MDF board or plexi-glass.

Trace carefully, holding your pencil or pen at a 45 degree angle and cut the pieces with a small blade such as #1 or #3 double tooth.

• cut out the pieces from the pattern and spray glue them onto the wood. Use whichever method you prefer. I like to make a template of the pattern.

Cut out the pieces

Use either a scroll saw or a band saw. I prefer a #7 P/S scroll blade or a #7 DT/R. If you prefer to use a band saw a ⅛ in. blade 14-15TPI will work well.

Assemble the project and check for fit:

Fitting can be a slow process. The pieces should fit within a saw kerf, for sure. Any closer and you are just showing off. A light box can be helpful. Look down between the pieces and mark any spots that impede a close fit. Sand them off with a spindle sander, or use your scroll saw to trim off these places.

Once the pieces fit to your liking, raise or lower pieces as the pattern suggests. I raise by gluing some scrap plywood to the bottom of the pieces and lower by cutting the pieces thinner or by sanding them thinner.

Safety Tip

Before you start the next step I would like to say a word about dust control. Make sure you have some way of collecting the dust you will be creating. It’s best to have your tools hooked up to a dust collector, to have an air filtration device that takes the dust out of the air and to wear a good quality dust mask.

Shape and sand

Reassemble the project and mark on reference lines. These lines will give you a guide to sand down to and help with the shaping. The shaping can be done with just about any sanding tool. I prefer to use a small pneumatic sander in a flex shaft. Try to achieve a smooth transition from one level to the next.

Next sand the various pieces either by hand or with a flap sander. I don’t sand  past 220 grit any more. I don’t like creating any more dust than I have to.

Back and glue up

Now reassemble the pieces onto the backing material. ¼ in. Baltic Birch plywood is the best. For smaller projects ⅛ in. Baltic Birch is ample. I have been using ⅛ in. painted hardboard with good results. The painted surface leaves a good looking back and it is more rigid than plywood.

Trace around the completed and assembled pieces and cut out the back. A #7 blade is likely to be too aggressive to cut out such thin material. A #3 DT/R or F/R blade works well.


If you want to use a gel type finish, apply it now. Or, if you prefer to brush on a varnish type finish, glue the project up and apply the finish later. I just use ordinary white carpenters glue.

That’s about all there is to it: A few basic wood working skills and a lot of patience.

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