Great Horned Owl Scroll Saw Patterns

Wood grain imitates feathers in this realistic scroll saw intarsia portrait

By Kathy Wise


The great horned owl can be found from northern Canada to the tip of South America. This well-known owl can have a four-foot wingspan.

I use seven colors of wood to create the distinctive feather groups; the figure of the wood simulates the overlapping feathers. A suggested wood type is marked on each section of the owl scroll saw pattern.


Intarsia Designed Scroll Saw Owl
Scroll Saw Woodworking Magazine Issue 70

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I enjoy working with wood, with all the different colors of wood, and the grain: it’s a fun medium.
~ Kathy Wise

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 02 - Cutting the pieces.

Cut the pieces. Use a #5 reverse-tooth blade for most of the cutting. Make sure the blade is square with the saw table. Cut carefully and stay on the lines. Use a smaller blade, like a #3, to cut the wing section of the scroll saw pattern apart. Cut the lines on the branch or burn them later, like I did. Number the backs of the cut pieces.

Getting Started With The Scroll Saw Pattern

Make six to eight copies of the pattern. Always keep a master copy of the of the scroll saw pattern. Cut out the pattern pieces, leaving the sections where the color and grain direction are the same together. Tape contact paper flat on a board and apply spray adhesive to the backs of the patterns. Attach the patterns to the contact paper and cut out the patterns.

Next, attach the patterns to the blanks. Make sure the wood is flat—plane as needed. Place the scroll saw pattern pieces on the blanks using the grain direction as a guide to determine which areas you want to use. Remember, the grain direction arrows are a suggestion; if an interesting grain direction or figure will accent your pieces better, use that section. Peel and stick the patterns to the blanks. Cut larger pieces into manageable sizes.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 02

Organize the pieces. Place the cut pieces on a full-size copy of the scroll saw pattern taped to the backing board. Check the fit and flow of the pieces and make any adjustments or changes needed.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 02

Add risers as needed. Adding risers gives the piece a more 3-D look. I use a riser under the wing section and around the beak area. Cut a piece of 1/4″ (6mm)-thick plywood just smaller than the wing section and the beak section. Note: When you are sanding surrounding pieces, do not sand below the bottoms of the pieces and expose the risers.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 04 - Sanding and Shaping Pieces.

Sand the pieces. Use a pencil to mark the levels to sand down to. Start with the lowest pieces first, like the branch and back foot. I use a 6″ (152mm)- diameter pneumatic drum sander with a 150-grit sleeve. Then, mark and gently round the highest pieces. You may have to mark and replace a piece several times. You often need to adjust nearby pieces in relation to the one you just finished. When sanding away a lot of material, such as the branch, sand three sides down to the lines (A) and sand the top flat (B). Then, round the edges (C).

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 05

Adjust the levels of the scroll saw pattern pieces as you go. Moving from top to bottom, rough-sand the feathers. Place them beside the surrounding pieces often and sand a little at a time. I use a pair of forceps or needle-nose pliers to hold the small pieces on the drum sander. When you are pleased with the results, use the 220-grit sleeve in the drum sander to remove the rough scratches.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 06

Sand the tight curves. For small areas or inside cuts where you can’t use a drum sander, I use an oscillating sander with 1/4″ (6mm)- or 1/2″ (13mm)-diameter sanding drums. I use this to sand a small 45° angle on the small feathers. You could also use a rotary tool with the appropriate sanding drums.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 07

Carve the details. For small areas or inside cuts where you can’t use a drum sander, I use a rotary tool or die grinder with a 1/2″ (13mm)-diameter sanding drum or a carving bit. You can also use a carving knife to notch the feathery areas.

TIP: Fresh Eyes

Now is a good time to step away from the project and come back a few hours later or the next day. You will see it in a new light and may decide to make more changes. Lay the board with the owl on the ground and step back, which will help you see the good (and bad) points of your work. If you like the way it looks, move on to the final buffing.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 08

Polish the pieces. Make sure the scroll saw pattern pieces fit tightly and the entire piece is sanded to your satisfaction. I use a 220-grit sanding mop to buff the pieces, but you can use a higher-grit mop if you like. The sanding mop gives a nice polish to the pieces and helps make the finish coat of varnish go on smoothly. It also rounds any edges that you missed or are too small to sand easily.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 09

Glue the pieces together. Fit small sections of pieces together and tack them with cyanoacrylate (CA) glue. To tighten the fit of the pieces, cut along the joint and then re-glue the pieces. Then, use CA glue to tack together major sections, such as the head, wing, and body sections. Glue the sections together and sand the backs of the pieces flat. I use a flat drum sander, such as a Sand-Flee. A flat back produces a better glue joint between the pieces and the backing board.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 10

Cut the backing board. Place the assembled owl on the backing board, trace around it, and cut 1/16″ (2mm) inside the line. Sand and paint the back of the backing board if needed.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 11

Attach the intarsia to the backing board. Apply dots of wood glue (such as Titebond) and CA glue to the back of the intarsia. Spray CA glue accelerator onto the backing board and carefully set the owl in place. Push down for 30 seconds, and then fl ip the assembly over and press hard to make sure all areas are glued tightly. Trim any overhanging backing board and touch up the edges if needed.

Owl Scroll Saw Pattern Step 10

Apply the finish. I use spray polyurethane. Apply the finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the finish to dry overnight. Apply a clear gloss finish to the eye to give it a lifelike look, and attach a hanger to the back. To give the eye an extra sparkle, add a dot of white gloss paint.

Project Tools

  • Blades: #5 and #3 reverse-tooth
  • Pneumatic drum sander with sleeves: 150 grit, 220 grit
  • Spindle sander with drums: 1/4 ” (6mm), 1/2 ” (13mm)
  • Rotary tool or die grinder with bits: 1/4 ” (6mm) or 1/2 ” (13mm) sanding drum; carving bit
  • Flat drum sander, such as Sand-Flee
  • Sanding mop: 220 grit
the author used these products for the project. Substitute your choice of brands, tools, and materials as desired.

Project Materials

  • Black wood, such as ebony, 1″ (25mm) thick: eyes and talons, 2″ x 2″ (51mm x 51mm)
  • Very dark wood, such as wenge, 1″ (25mm) thick: 4″ x 5″ (102mm x 127mm)
  • Dark wood, such as black walnut, 1″ (25mm) thick: branch, 6″ x 9″ (152mm x 229mm)
  • Red wood, such as tiger wood, 1″ (25mm) thick: 4″ x 4″ (102mm x 102mm)
  • Yellow wood, such as yellowheart, 1″ (25mm) thick: 2″ x 2″ (51mm x 51mm)
  • Medium dark wood, such as lacewood, 1″ (25mm) thick: 7″ x 17″ (178mm x 432mm)
  • Medium light wood, such as bird’s-eye maple, 1″ (25mm) thick: 4″ x 7″ (102mm x 178mm)
  • Medium light wood, such as sycamore, 1″ (25mm) thick: 5″ x 7″ (127mm x 178mm)
  • Light wood, such as sycamore, 1″ (25mm) thick: 4″ x 5″ (102mm x 127mm)
  • Plywood or tempered hardboard, 1/4 ” (6mm) thick: 12″ x 18″ (305mm x 457mm)
  • Clear contact paper
  • Spray adhesive
  • Glue: wood, such as Titebond; cyanoacrylate (CA); CA glue accelerator
  • Finish: satin spray polyurethane; clear gloss
  • Hanger
  • Paint (optional): white gloss

Other Scroll Saw & Intarsia Titles

Wildlife Intarsia Woodworking, 2nd Edition

Wildlife Intarsia Woodworking, 2nd Edition

Learn the secrets of creating fascinating 3-D wooden inlay projects, with 14 exciting portraits of popular wildlife. Includes step-by-step intarsia demonstrations for a Bald Eagle, a Wild Mustang, and a Bull Moose.

Creating Wooden Boxes on the Scroll Saw

Creating Wooden Boxes on the Scroll Saw

Uniting form and function without complicated joinery or the need for a shop full of tools this crafting guide offers step-by-step instructions and patterns for 26 unique keepsake boxes, made exclusively with the scroll saw.

Author Kathy Wise

A nationally acclaimed intarsia artist, Kathy Wise has written two books and more than 30 articles. Her new book, Intarsia Birds: Woodworking the Wise Way, has more than 30 beautiful bird patterns, including this owl. Private and semi-private intarsia classes are available. To order the book or request a free catalog, contact Kathy Wise Designs Inc., P.O. Box 60, Yale, Mich. 48097,,

Very Informative

Scroll Saw Woodworking and Crafts magazine is an excellent magazine for all levels. There are simple to complex patterns and a good variety of different types of scrolling–intarsia, fretwork etc.