Red-legged partridge

Things you will need…

The red-legged partridge is a gamebird in the pheasant family, and is also known as the French partridge to distinguish from the English and Grey partridge species. It has a light brown back, grey breast and buff belly. It has a white face with a black gorget, rufous-streaked flanks and, of course, red legs. When disturbed it is more likely to run than fly, but will fly a short distance on its rounded wings if necessary. It is primarily a seed eating species, although the young take insects as an essential protein supply. Its call is a three syllable ‘ka-cbu-chu’.


• Jelutong (Dimensions: 200 x 110 x 100mm Lime Dimensions; 60 x 40 x 60mm


• Cone taper

• Rotary power unit

• Sanding drum

• A variety of abrasives

• High-speed grinder

• Ruby taper

• Small diamond point burr

• Artificial eyes

• Plastic wood

• Steel rod

• A piece of driftwood for the base

• Copper tubing

• Artificial feet

• Medium skew

• Pyrography machine

• Gesso

• Airbrush

• Acrylic paints: black, burnt sienna, raw umber, white, orange and red

1. Here’s the blank. The head is made of lime and the body from jelutong. The body measures 200mm long x 110mm wide x 100mm high, and the head 60mm long x 40mm wide x 60mm high.

2. The next step is to shape the bird with a cone taper in a rotary hand-piece.

3. Using a rotary tool and sanding drum, sand the bird all over using different grits of sanding cloth.

4. Now draw in all the wing feathers ready for carving, and carve them with a high-speed grinder with a ruby taper.

Top tips

When joining two pieces of wood together consider the orientation of the grain. It is important to have the grain aligned so there is minimal risk of short grain and thereby a weakness occurring in the wood, which could fracture. This of course has to be balanced with how it will cut too.

5. Next, draw in the side pocket, and with the same high-speed grinder and taper, lightly carve in these feathers.

6. Using a suitable drill bit, you are now ready to drill the holes for the eyes.

7. Now you can start to put detail in the bill of the bird using a diamond taper in a rotary power carver.

8. Using a high-speed grinder and a small diamond point, put in some ‘splits’ on the back of the bird. Make sure you pay attention to reference material and get these details as close as possible to the real thing.

9. With a small round diamond point fitted to the high-speed grinder, soften all the edges of the feathers. When you have done this, you can then do the same for the belly and rump.

10. Next, using a high-speed grinder and ruby taper, carve in the tail feathers of the bird.

11. You are now ready to fit the eyes into the head of the bird using plastic wood.

Top tips

The process of creation is much the same for each bird you create, but that does not mean you will not face challenges. The timber choice affects the workability and jelutong is very forgiving and holds detail well. It is ideal for this project. It can easily be worked by hand or with power tools, but not all timbers are so forgiving. If you are not into colouring wood and want to create a non-coloured piece then this timber may not be the best for you.

Walnut is a good choice as it cuts well. It is a denser harder wood but holds detail well.

Timber choice is a big part of carving, but anatomy is a vital part, too. If you want something to be identifiable, it is the shape of the thing that will tell people what it is. Close observation of proportions and accuracy is vital to carving. These are of primary importance in terms of getting things right.

12. With a small diamond point, you are now ready to finish putting detail on the bill and nostril area.

13. You are now ready to assemble the feet, which are cast and the legs are made out of copper tubing with a steel rod passing through it; this enables fixing to the body of the bird and the base. The base is a piece of driftwood.

14. It is now time to burn the side pocket feathers, then blend the head into the body using a medium skew.

15. You can then burn shafts on to the secondaries and primaries.

16. Once you have completed all of the pyrography, the partridge should look something like this.

17. Now coat the entire bird with gesso, ready for painting.

18. Now to airbrush the colours on to the side pockets. The colours used are black and burnt sienna.

19. Paint the back of the bird a greyish brown, which is made using raw umber, white and a small amount of burnt umber. Airbrush the edges of the feathers on the back using the same colour as on the back, with a small amount of black added.

Top tips

Pyrography is something that is used a lot in bird carving. It allows the incising of precise fine lines to mimic feathers and such like, which is not only detail but fine texture. If you go down the route of not colouring a bird, pyrographed detail can look harsh — as you can see in step 16. It looks rather unfinished. The trick with leaving a bird ‘au nature!’ so to speak is what definition you include and what you decide to leave out. The balance of both is critical to create an immediate suggestion without necessarily putting in every detail. This is not an easy balancing act, I know. As with all things, practice makes perfect, and whilst I choose to colour work, I know it is not for everyone.

20. Give the back a thin glaze of raw umber. Paint the chest in light grey by mixing grey and white, and highlight some of the feathers with white. The rump of the bird is painted using red oxide, orange and a small amount of yellow ochre and white.

21. Paint the edges of the primaries in cream.

22. Paint the outer tail feathers using some orange mixed with burnt umber.

23. Paint the eye ring and bill red. The eye ring is made while fitting the eye with plastic wood. Paint in the fine lines at the side of the eye.

24. You can now paint the neck using a rigger to speckle with black and white, making sure you go all round the neck.

25. Once completed, the head of the bird should look something like this.

26. The finished red-legged partridge needs to be mounted on to a piece of driftwood, and then it is ready for displaying..

Top tips

If you do use colour then be careful to get the thickness right. By that I mean many mistakes are made by using too thick a paint and it looking gloopy when dry. Paints vary in viscosity and it is important that you thin it if required. Usually it is better to build up co/our in multiple layers than in one thick coat, but experience will tell you what is best and that experience is usually gained through trial and error. If you get a colour wrong you can usually backtrack, by recoating with a base coating and redoing the area.

Be prepared to mix colours. It is rare to have something usable straight out of a tube.

Depending on what type and make of paint/coloured medium used; you may need to apply a coat of something over it to create the lustre you are after. Observation is again key to success when working on projects such as this.

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