Canadian Woodworking

Circus elephant

Author: Garnet Hall
Published: August September 2003

Everyone loves a circus, especially when the elephants make their entrance.

Circus elephant
circus elephant
circus elephant
circus elephant

I have always enjoyed watching those huge animals do their act with such intelligence and grace.

This circus elephant is my idea of a playful elephant, about to go through his routine. It is sure to capture the imagination of children, of all ages. It is a straightforward intarsia project without too many surprises.

I used ¾” material and raised and lowered as required.

Select the material

Suggestions for LT or DK shades are relative to each other. Just find cedar that is DK, MD or LT compared to each other. Choose the woods carefully, as this is a very creative step, and the woods you choose will make the project uniquely yours.

Transfer the pattern

Transfer the pattern to the wood, by whichever method you prefer: carbon paper, template, or photocopy and cut and paste.

Cut out the pieces

Cut carefully. Be sure to cut right on the line.

I like a #7. P/S style blade or a DT/R. Lately I have been using a #5 Hook Tooth blade. The smaller kerf gives a better fit and the aggressive Hook Tooth blade cuts as fast as the P/S blades.

Assemble the pieces

When assembling, check for fit. The pieces should fit reasonably well but don’t have to be airtight. I am happy if I am within a saw kerf or 1/16″. Fitting can be tedious but patience will be rewarded. I usually start with one of the larger pieces and fit surrounding pieces to it one at a time.

Raise or lower the pieces

Once the pieces are fitted to your liking, raise and lower any pieces that the pattern, or your imagination, suggests.

Raise in increments of ⅛” by gluing scrape plywood to the bottom of the pieces. Lower by cutting, or sanding, the pieces thinner.

Re-assemble the project and draw on reference lines

These lines will help with the shaping.


Before you do anything, take care of the dust problem. Your tools should be hooked up to a dust collector. An air filtration device is important to remove air borne dust and, as a final line of defense, wear a good dust mask. Now shape the pieces to achieve as much dimension as possible. This step, like the woods you choose, is a very creative step. The more shaping you do, the better your project will look.

Try to achieve a smooth transition form one level to the next with your shaping.


A number of tools can be adapted to the shaping; I prefer to use a small pneumatic sander in a flex shaft.
A sanding tool like the “Flex Sander” compliments the Sandstorm sander. The tension can be adjusted by turning the tension knob.

Sand the pieces

I don’t sand past 220 grit anymore, mainly for dust reasons. Two tools will speed up the process: a flap sander, or a Star Twister

Apply backing

I use ¼” plywood. The best is Baltic birch, but ordinary oak or birch plywood will work fine. Keep it flat.

Glue it up

Assemble the project on the backing board and trace around it. Cut out the back, reassemble the project on the back, and then start the glue up. Ordinary white carpenter’s glue will work fine. I usually glue up the pieces around the outside of the project first, and then work to the middle.


Once the glue has dried, apply the finish of your choice. I like a satin clear coat.

Three coats on the front and one on the back are ideal.

Attach a hanger and … “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the ever popular circus elephant!”

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