Canadian Woodworking

Porcupine Toothpick Holder

Author: Cal Isaacson
Illustration: James Provost
Published: October November 2007

Sharpen your carving skills with this fun, little project.


The idea for this carving project came to me while cleaning up broken caragana branches (see Sidebar) in my mother-in-law’s garden a number of years ago. I wanted the design to be simple as I had just started carving a short time earlier, and my tools consisted of a V-tool and two gouges.

This is a relatively easy piece to carve if you follow the instructions. You should end up with a well-armed conversation piece whose tail makes a neat handle.

  • Cut your stock to size. I began with a piece of wood that was 2 ½” diameter by 6″. If you don’t have a single large block to start with, you can glue up pieces of ¾” stock to make the blank. However, the glue lines will be visible in your finished piece.
  • If you are using round stock, orient the blank so that any knots or concave spots are at the bottom. Use the band saw to take ½” off the bottom. The Little Ripper (see our review in Canadian Woodworking magazine, Feb/Mar ‘04, Issue #28) is ideal for ripping. If you make this cut with a fence only, insert a wedge on the table against the stock to help stabilize it.
  • Use the band saw to cut ¼” off each side.
  • Draw the side profile onto the wood. Pick the side with the most sawn surface exposed.
  • Cut out the side profile on the band saw. The tail can be curved up slightly or straight, whichever shows the best grain.
  • Draw the top profile onto the wood and cut with the band saw. Make sure the head end is 1 ¼” wide to allow the front feet to show on either side of the head.
  • Using the V-tool, cut in the flank outline. Use the carving knife to round out the body, tail, etc. The nose is slightly blunt and the eyes are set ½” back from the tip of the nose. The neck is about 1″ wide behind the eyes and just over the front feet.
  • Use a gouge to hollow out a strip between the feet on the bottom side, leaving each foot about ⅜” wide.
  • Use a pencil to mark the points to drill for the quill sockets. Start ½” above the tail and space the points ⅜” apart. Mark holes in a line along the side, extending to one mark in front of the flank. The next row is ⅜” above and halfway between the first row markings.
  • Drill holes about 1″ deep, starting at an angle of 20º in the first row. All quills should point up and back, somewhat parallel. The angle at the top is more than 45º from the base. Don’t fret if the holes don’t work out evenly. (I’ve never seen a nicely groomed porcupine yet.)
  • Sand lightly with 120 grit sandpaper.
  • Put in markings for eyes, nose, toes, and fur either using a wood burning tool, or a black Micron pen. Don’t forget to sign your piece.
  • A coat of spray lacquer finishes the surface.

When the porcupine is dry, add the toothpicks and set it on the kitchen table.

Caragana Wood

If you are not from the prairies it is unlikely that you will be familiar with caragana wood, as it is not native to Canada. The caragana shrub is native to the steppes of central Russia and, therefore, is well adapted to the extremes of a central continental climate like the prairies. It was brought by Russian immigrants that came to homestead on the prairies. The shrub’s hardiness was taken advantage of by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act to provide windbreaks and to prevent soil erosion. In the past it was common to see neatly trimmed caragana hedges around farm yards as well as in urban settings. In the fields, or as windbreaks, they grow to approximately 15 feet high, with trunks commonly 2″ to 3″ at the base, and occasionally up to 5″. Its weakness is that it rots readily when the stem gets large and old. When harvesting it for carving, the bottom foot or two has to be discarded as it will have rotten heartwood. The sapwood is off-white with a tinge of yellow, while the heartwood can vary from bright reds on the outside to shades of brown inside, or it can be the same color as the sapwood if it has grown in a sheltered place.


Carving Tools

Finishing Supplies

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