© 2014 The Berkshire Carousel Photos © 2014 Katy Levesque / All rights reserved Website design by KatyIllustrator
Building the wooden blocks
The first step in construction involves selecting the wood to assemble carving “blanks” or
the seven or eight pieces that will become the finished figure. This includes the head, body,
neck, four legs and the tail. The wood is kiln-dried basswood used primarily because it is
light in weight, very strong and relatively easy to carve. Each figure requires about 120
board feet of wood. We select the wood to be sure grains line up and the flow of grain is
continuous throughout the body. From the sketch of the figure, we cut pieces of wood to
match the size of the legs, tail, head, etc.
The process begins with boards of basswood. They need to be glued
together in order to create the blocks.
Gluing and Sketching the Blanks
To form this body blank, the wood is glued and clamped. Once the body blank has dried, we
transfer the drawing onto the wooden blanks. With a band saw we then do a silhouette cut
of the figure and also drill a hole for the carousel pole. Other holes are made for attachment
of the other wooden blanks, like the legs, tail, neck and head.
The carved pieces are then sanded and attached using wooden dowels and strong glue.
Nails are not used in the construction of carousel horses as the metal invites moisture
contributing to decay and insect damage to the wood.
Ken works with Teri to carefully transfer the full size drawing to the body
Rough Carving begins on the blocks
Our carvers begin with power grinders to remove much of the excess wood before hand
carving begins. Then we start “rough carving,” which involves skillful use of sharp chisels
and gouges to begin to shape the figure.
Care is necessary not to remove too much wood in the detail work. If too much wood is left
on will result in a boxy look and
not reflect the true anatomical appearance of the horse.
Our carving blanks are carved before we join them together. It is less cumbersome to carve
the pieces before joining them. To carve each piece, we secure them in a vise and / or
Phil straps the block down in the carving shop and takes the first chunks of
wood out of Magic.
Our team of experienced carvers help the new carvers in keeping figures in the right
proportions as the carving proceeds. Once the rough carving is completed the detailed
carving begins including the trappings (the detail on and around the saddle), smaller figures
and other items designed to appear on the final figure.
The most intricate parts to be carved by more experienced carvers are the mane and the
face. Carvers gain initial experience in doing flowers and other ornamental designs.
Phyllis and Ed discuss progress on Magic the horse.
Assembly & Fine Sanding
Once the individual parts are carved and individually sanded, they are assembled with
dowels, glue and clamps. The seams are shaped and smoothed, giving the figure a smooth
flawless appearance and preparing it for final sanding phase.
The horses are put together in stages. Usually the head is attached and glued to the neck
first. Then the neck is attached
and glued to the body block. Then when all of that is properly sanded the legs and tail are
glued to the body block.
As Magic moves along in the carving shop the horse also
needs to have sanding.
Priming the wooden horse
The gluing of the horse is completed and the fine sanding is completed. Then the horse is
inspected and if smooth enough the horse is ready to be primed. We paint on an initial
primer right onto the wood. Then we do sanding of the horse with the primer on it. The next
step is a a few more coats of a white primer with additional fine sanding between each coat
that is put onto the horse.
After the horse has been thoroughly inspected by supervisors and is smooth enough it is
handed over to the paint shop for the next step in the process.
Teri begins priming the wooden horse with primer that is
specifically designed to soak into the wood work.
Before our artists begin painting of the horse, we carefully plan out all aspects of the paint
job. A color scheme is chosen and a swatch palette is established.
We use enamel paints on the trappings. Applying three coats and letting the paint dry and
cure between each application. Some of horses we will add jewels to before the final
painting occurs. Body colors are done after trappings. Oil paints are dabbed & stippled to
create soft shading that gives the horse a 3-D look. The more the fine detail, the more
exquisite the horse.
Magic gets a wonderful coat of white in the paint shop before
he gets his body painted.
Clear coating the horse
Following the completed horse painting, we apply by hand with brush the two to three coats
of a clear coat over the finished paint (allowing time for curing and sanding between each
These coats add luster to the horse and protect the paint from wear. More coats are usually
added to the trappings where
the horse will have more contact with the riders. The end result
is a very shiny and beautiful horse.
Magic’s colorful paint job has dried and now he begins the clear
The Workshop is a wonderful place where creation begins for all of our horses.
The horses begin as wooden basswood boards which are cut to size, glued together,
clamped and dried on metal racks. After drying is completed then patterns are
transferred to the blocks and they are ready for carving.