So you want to carve a cowboy boot? Here’s how I do it. When I carve a cowboy boot, I like to use a wood that is easy to carve but that will not split or break easily, since the boot is fairly small. Basswood satisfies both requirements. My favorite wood for this project is cedar, because cedar looks so nice when finished. Pine or poplar would also work, however, I’ll be using basswood for today’s demonstration. This boot will be 4 1/4 inches high, 3 3/8 inches long (heel to toe), and 1 1/2 inches wide. You can use this cowboy boot pattern to follow along with me and carve a cowboy boot of your own. I’ll use the pattern to cut a blank from a piece of wood this size.
Thinking things through
I’m starting with a basswood block 4 1/4 inches high, 3 3/8 inches long, and 1 1/2 inches wide. You could carve a cowboy boot with the intention that it will just sit on a shelf, in which case I won’t need to drill the 7/8ths inch hole. However, I do like for my carvings to be somewhat functional when they can be. So whenever I carve a cowboy boot I usually carve it to use as either a toothpick or a match holder. You will need to know what you are putting in the holder so that you will know how deep to drill the hole. Otherwise if you drill it too deep, the item will fall down inside and be out of sight. I like to have the contents sticking up out of the top by at least a half inch. This one can be a match stick holder. It will look nice sitting on the mantle above my fire place. Then when I need to light a fire, I’ll have matches handy.
Drilling the hole
I’ll want to drill that 7/8th inch hole with my Forstner bit first, before I start sawing out the shape of the boot. So while I still have nothing but a squared off block of wood I’ll mark and drill the hole. You’ll want to make sure that the grain of the wood runs from top to bottom, not heel to toe. I will be drilling the 7/8th inch hole with the grain. I’m going to measure along the 3 3/8th inch length of the block and make a mark 15/16th of an inch from one end and center it across the 1 1/2 inch width of the block. I’ll secure the block in a vice and drill the hole to the appropriate depth but no deeper than 3 1/4 inches.
Tracing the pattern onto the block of wood
Now that I have the hole drilled, I’ll lay the pattern on the block of wood with a piece of carbon paper under it and trace around the perimeter of the side view of the boot. Another option is to cut the paper around the outline of the boot with a pair of scissors and lay the cut out on the piece of wood, then trace around it with a pencil. Make sure that the shaft of the boot lines up with the hole you drilled or this just won’t work out.
Sawing out the boot blank
Next I’ll use my bandsaw to saw around the lines I have drawn making sure that I saw just on the outside edge of the line. When I’m done sawing this out, if I can still see most of the pencil marks that’s extra good. I don’t want to saw past my marks because the hole I drilled is going to be fairly close to outside walls of the finished cut out. This is important because later when I start carving I don’t want to carve into the hole. But never fear, all is not lost even if this happens. Have you ever seen a worn out boot with a hole worn through!
The completed blank
This is what my completed blank looks like. You might have looked at these photos and thought, “That hole in top of the boot is off center.” You would be right. It is off center at the very top of the shaft. However, it is on center where it matters and that is at the narrowest point which would be further down just above the heel. Don’t worry about the top which appears to be off center. You see why later when I start carving!
Laying out the sole
I have cut out the pattern of the bottom of the boot and laid it on the bottom of the blank. I trace around the pattern and I now have the outline of how the bottom of the boot will be shaped.
Drawing the center line
Next, I draw a center line up the front and back of the boot. Looking at the bottom of the blank, the center line should intersect with the middle of the toe at the front and the middle of the heel at the back.
Laying out the top
Lastly I’ll draw an oval around the top of the blank. The oval will incircle the previously drilled hole. This will represent the outside edges of the shaft of the boot.
Carving around the top
I will next carve around the top of the shaft up to the line I drew.
Carving around the sole
Next I carve around the sole up to the line I drew.
Planning the next cuts
You can see that with the carving done around the top and around the bottom, I still have harsh corners between these two cuttings. The next thing to do is to start joining the top cuts with the bottom cuts by rounding out the shank of the boot and rounding the top of the toe.
Opening up the hole
Inside of the boot here you can see that I have drawn another oval inside the first oval and have opened up the hole with my knife that I had originally drilled. The distance between the two ovals is about 3/16ths inch which will leave the walls of the shaft at that thickness.
I have drawn arrows showing the direction that I intend to carve. I will round out all the corners and blend everything together. I leave the center lines on the front and back of the boot and do not touch them with the knife. After everything else is carved I will just barely nick the marks off with my knife leaving no saw marks whatsoever. I blend the top cuts and bottom cuts together and cut away everything thats not a boot.
Marking up for the V-tool
Here the final shape of the boot is carved. You will see some splinters and roughness that I don’t worry about at this point. I have drawn some lines which denote seams in the leather and creases between the heel/sole and the upper part of the boot.
Using the V-tool
Here I have started using the V-tool. I will make a cut on every mark I made. When I get done the marks will be replaced by a fairly clean V-tool cut!
The completed V-tool cuts
All the V-tool cuts have been made. I added a couple of cuts on the sole and heel to indicate layers of leather. I have also done some light sanding. I’ll sand a little more later. One could actually stop right here and apply a finish to the boot and it would look real nice. However I like to make mine just a little fancier. You will notice I have left the facets made by the knife. I like to leave these which when finished will indicate that this is an authentic woodcarving!
Stitching and tacks
I want to make sure that the bottoms of the sole and heel are sanded smooth. I’ll be doing a little more work here in the next segment. Here I have used a pounce wheel to add stitch marks around the soles. I used a nail set to simulate tacks in the heel.
Wrinkles in the leather
Here I have made random cuts with an gouge and them I use a “V-tool” to make a cut up the middle of each gouge. I just put these marks where I think a wrinkle might be in an old boot.
And this is how I carve a cowboy boot
Here I have finished with the carving and have again sanded the boot all other with fine sandpaper. This also gives a good view of the stitch marks that I added to the upper part of the boot at all the seams.
Here I have added my signature and some other wording. Most of the time when I carve a cowboy boot I just use my initials, “MRL”. After adding that I give the boot several coats of laquer. It can be sprayed or applied with a brush sanding lightly between each coat except for the last two coats.
The completed carving
Now you’re all set. Try to carve your own cowboy boot and let us know how it goes. If you have any comments or questions about this, please leave them in the comments section below. If you like this article please share it using the share buttons on this page. We also have plenty of other projects in our Workshop, so take a look.
Betty Merling says
That cowboy boot is so cute. Beautiful work.
Robert Linton says
Thanks for the write up. Simple to follow and well done. Fun little project with impressive results.
Great ideas and some very helpful hints on how to layout a carving. I hope to start trying to carve soon and appreciate all the help I can get.
Floyd Fisher says
I am new to carving and am going to try the Boot as my first project
Richard Snyder says
I have done Spirit carvings every sense I was a kid. I have learned to carve hummingbirds, and many other things. I have to try this boot, thank you for the instructions! Thanks Mike.
Kelly Klaas says
I love the cowboy boot! I am going to try that.
It is so beautiful and thanks for your kind sharing