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Fan birds, blackbirds and traditional 4 piece birds

I have been developing and making some new birds. I have managed to make a decent blackbird and a way of quickly making the tail longer than the bottom  wing feathers. I love watching the blackbird and listening to them. The shape and colour of the male blackbird is beautiful, and the way it flies low to the ground and twitches its tail is typical of this species.

I have also been making 4 part birds, doves, similar to ones I  saw in the Pinto collection at the Birmingham Museum (sorry no photos, as I do not have permissions to publish the ones I took). These have 3 holes drilled into the tail and body, and separately made feathers are glued into these holes. I find this a hassle to do and so far prefer to keep the feathers attached to a small plug of wood which is then glued into the holes; but, aware that wood shrinks as it dries, I can not put these together straight away.

I had one of the best shows selling fan birds, at Exeter Craft Fair, and nearly sold out. This is heartening because I have had a year of bad shows, because of the rain and the economy and my van dying, etc. I met a Swiss woman there, who said that people hung birds in their houses to bring peace into the family home.
I have been talking to Sally Nye who with her husband David, has done some amazing research throughout Russia, Europe and the USA on fan birds.
A story from the comments section of an article they wrote:

We had heard many times that the lumberjacks, or woodsmen, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, would make these birds in the evening while gathered around a fire for warmth and companionship. Once completed the birds would be tossed into a box to be used as kindling by the cook come morning to get the wood stove started. Many of these men were of Finnish or Scandinavian descent. They are beautiful that mass production can’t compare.”(sic)

I would never dream of doing such a thing, but I have burnt many failed ones myself, and I have had a fair few failures, or ones that get broken. This attitude reminds me that there is great joy in doing, and that it is not always the outcome that is important, but the making. Anyway David and Sally’s website is

On another note I just want to show how the feathers are rived, i.e. split, just like splitting firewood but more controlled. Often I have noticed how the wood split follows the grain; the photo below is not the most extreme example of this but look at the bottom 10 feathers and you will see the kink.

 This photo is taken in raking light and is typical of a split surface. I use a very sharp riving knife, but it goes to show that the cutting edge is only important when starting. I have also come across a guy on a bushcraft forum who uses a kitchen knife, especially because it it is thin in cross section.

1 thought on “Fan birds, blackbirds and traditional 4 piece birds

  1. Those birds are outstanding! it looks like a hard thing to do. My great grandfather came from what now is the Czech Republic. He was a lumberjack in northern Michigan in the early 1900's. I wonder if he ever made any fan birds.

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