Make Your Own Wooden Wiggle Snake

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Wiggle Snake

Who hasn’t gleefully fondled a wiggle snake at some point in their life? I sure have! This wooden version of the classic articulated wiggle snake was added to my project wish list several years ago. I recently participated in a toy-themed charity collaboration, giving me the perfect excuse to cross it off of my list. Let me show you how I brought this slithery serpent to life, and maybe even inspire you to make your own.

Getting Jiggy With It – But Only If You Really Want To

Jig fest
Don’t panic; I promise you don’t have to make any of these jigs! I built them for production purposes.

This project isn’t nearly as difficult as the jig-a-licious visage above might suggest. This is a friendly snake; not one to fear. I created the collection of specialty jigs to allow me to churn out a bunch of body segments quickly, safely and accurately. However, none of them are necessary to get the job done and, as such, I won’t go into the process of making them.

Band saw and router jigs
My band saw and router jigs. The three brown hardboard jigs attach magnetically to the custom band saw sled on the lower left-hand. The underside of the sled has runners that ride in the band saw’s miter slots. There’s also a zeroing adjustment to accommodate different size blades.

Every hole and cut I made in the wiggle snake project can be accomplished by other means. My jigs might give you hints of ways to safely hold and cut the round dowel pieces, but I’ll also suggest some alternate methods as we go. All the jigs really do is hold the wood in the right position while making a cut. As with any woodworking project here at HomeFixated, duplicate the steps the best you can with the tools you have. As long as you work carefully and safely, you’re probably doing it right.

To be honest, I spent more time designing and building my jigs than it took to make this wiggle snake. But it wasn’t time wasted; quite the opposite. I was able to rough out tons more body segments (enough for over 12 snakes) in the same amount of time; safely, with high accuracy and no layout time. A good jig is a huge time saver when batching out projects.

From Dowel To Wow

Each wiggle snake body segment needs a 3/8” wide, 7/16” deep notch on one end.

My wiggle snake is made of 12 wooden parts – hinged together with bamboo shish kabob skewers – for an overall length of 16-1/2”. Feel free to make yours shorter if you’d like. They come in many different lengths; it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The tail, the 9 body segments (most of the wiggle snakes I make in the future will have only 6) and the “neck” are made from 5/8” pine dowel.

Notching jig
This jig allows me to cut a perfectly centered notch on the router table.

The first step is to cut a notch on both ends of the dowel; this is the beginning of the first two body segments. I streamlined the build process by working with a handful of dowels, which allowed me to have more segments in progress at once. I cut the notches with a 3/8” straight router bit and a jig that holds the dowel firmly while guiding it perfectly centered into the bit. The notch is 7/16” deep.

Or you can drill a 3/8” hole.

An alternative to the router table is to drill a 3/8” hole then open the notch with a saw.

The dowel can be held between a pair of scrap blocks with a cove or V-notch

Cutting slot
Then cut open the notch with a scroll saw or band saw.

Wiggle Snake Tenons

Body segments
A load of body segments ready to go.
Tenon shoulders
These cuts start 1-1/4” from the end of the dowel.
45° jig
This simple jig is just holding the dowel at 45° to the blade. The notch in the workpiece fits over a vertically aligned 3/8” dowel in the jig, giving me perfect alignment and depth every time.

The other end of the wiggle snake body segments is a square tenon that fits into the notch we just cut. The tenon can be shaped with a knife, handsaw, chisel, file, whatever. Make two 45° cuts, 1/8” deep, as seen above. Then turn the piece 90 and repeat. This defines the tenon shoulders.

Cutting last 2 shoulders
This jig is also holding the workpiece at 45° to the blade. This time, with the notch orientated horizontally.
4 shoulder cuts
4 cuts, 45°, 1/8” deep.
Cutting to length
Cutting to length

Go ahead and cut off the body segment to a length of 1-3/4”. However, if you’re going to cut the tenon cheeks with a chisel or carve them with a knife, you may find it easier to cut the piece to length afterwards.

Cutting The Tenon Cheeks

The first two cheeks

In case you didn’t know, the difference between snake cheeks and tenon cheeks is a pair of fangs. The tenon cheeks are cuts that run along the length of the dowel, from shoulders to end. You can actually skip the blades completely and shape the entire tenon with a vertical belt sander or file. In my case, the band saw made quick work of the task.

Tenoning jig
This is my wiggle snake tenoning jig. It has two inserts that attach with neodymium magnets. The various knobs let me fine tune the positioning of the X and Y axes during the initial setup.
Insert 1
A simple jig like this makes it easy to hold the dowel in the right orientation.
Cutting cheeks
Cutting cheeks.
Insert 2
This jig aids in cutting the other two cheeks.
Cutting the other cheeks
Cutting the other cheeks.

Drilling The Danger Noodle

Drilled body segment
Drilled body segment.

Drill a 1/8” hole through both ends of each wiggle snake body segment. The drill center points are 3/16” from the ends.

Drilling the tenon
Drilling the tenon.
Drilling the slotted end
Drilling the slotted end.
Drilling jig
Overview of my drilling jig. Magnets in the bottom hold it in place.

Shaping Slithery Serpent Segments

Shaping the segments
The stages of shaping the wiggle snake body segments. You can skip the second stage.

Sand the ends of the wiggle snake body segments to their final shape.

Sanding with dowel
The third sanding stage in the picture above was done with sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. The rest was done with sandpaper on a flat surface.

Neck Like A Snake

I know, I know… a snake’s neck is called a “body”. But I needed some way to refer to this part.

The overall length of the snake’s “neck” is 3/4” long. I trust you can figure out how it was made.

Compound Cutting Constrictor Craniums

A bunch of snake heads laid out and ready to be cut.

Compound cutting is the process of cutting two profiles – side view and top/bottom view – on adjacent sides of a blank. In this case, my blank is a piece of pine that measures 1” wide by 3/4” tall and long enough that there’s something to hold onto while cutting. I free-handed my snake pattern. However, you could just as easily find and print line art from the internet and glue it to your wood to act as a pattern.

I cut mine out with a scroll saw. A coping or jeweler’s saw would work as well. Or the entire head could be carved with a knife.

First cuts
I first cut my profile lines, leaving a small area attached to the blank.
Next cuts
Then I cut the top view from each side, meeting in the middle.
Compound cuts
Here, you can see how the compound cuts look before being cut completely free.
Cut free
The top view is now cut completely free from the blank. See the profile cuts in there?
Roughed out head blank
I’ve pulled the rest of the waste wood away, revealing the compound cut head blank.
A little perspective to show how the head emerges from the compound cuts.

Shaping The Noggin

Carving the head
Carving to head to shape.

The wiggle snake head has been cut out, but there’s some refining to do. Use a knife and/or sand paper to round off all of the edges and corners and hone in on the final shape. Leave a circular 5/8” flat spot to install a magnet on the back of the head.

Ready for sanding
Just needs a little sanding.
Flat spot
A magnet will go in the flat spot.

The Head Bone’s Connected To The Neck Bone

Snake head
Many snake lives end this way. This time, it’s just about to begin.

Join the head and neck with a pair of 5/16” neodymium disc magnets. The magnets allow the head to swivel, giving you a lot more possible poses than traditional wiggle snakes permit. He’s a sneaky little sidewinder!

Magnetic mount
There sure are a lot of cool uses for neodymiums. Be sure to observe polarity when installing.

Use a 5/16” Forstner bit to drill a flat bottomed hole – deep enough for your magnets – in both the head and neck pieces. Super glue (CA glue) the magnets into the holes, press the magnets flush with the surface and set them aside – separated from each other – to dry. Otherwise, you may find them stuck together permanently.

Turning Tail

Ring of rattles
A radial ring of “rattle” wiggle snake tails. [Try saying that 5 times fast!]

Finally, we’re approaching the tail end of this project. Only one more part to make: the tail. The snake will not be painted to resemble a rattle snake. But still, it’s getting a rattle tail; I just think it looks cooler. If you have a wood lathe, turning a tail is a piece of cake (or you can carve it with a knife). I don’t own a lathe, but I do have this NOVA Voyager DVR drill press standing right here (the one we recently reviewed), and its chuck is actually large enough to hold a 5/8” dowel. Yay!

"Tail stock"
A heavy nail sticking through a board served as my “tail stock”, in more ways than one.

For my turning tools, a wood rasp was used to taper the end of the dowel. Then a triangular file was used to shape the “beads”, followed by a foam sanding block to smooth everything out. If you use my method, just be sure to hold your tools firmly. The spinning wood may try to pull them from you.

Turning the tail
Turning the tail on a drill press.
Parting the tail
Cutting off the tail with a back saw. Make sure to hold the saw firmly with both hands so it doesn’t get thrown.

When you’re done shaping the tail, cut a tenon like those on the body segments. It’s going to be more difficult to hold it this time, however, so I’d suggest using abrasives – rather than blades – to shape the tenon. In the end, the overall length of my tails range from 2-1/8” to 2-1/2”.

Tail tenon
I made this tenon with my vertical belt sander.
Drill that tail
Drill a 1/8” hole in the tenon.
Heads or Tails?
Heads or Tails?

Assembling The Wiggle Snake

Wiggle snake parts
Snake nuggets, sanded and ready for paint.

Paint the parts to your liking. I used matte acrylic paints on mine.

Coloring the parts with acrylic paint.
Hung out to dry
Hung out to dry.

Snake Hinge

Enlarging hole
Enlarge the hole a tiny bit.

Once the paint has dried, use a small round file to slightly enlarge the hole in each tenon. It doesn’t take much. I found it easiest to chuck the file in a hand drill and run it in and out of the hole a few times while the motor is spinning.

Coat a 1/8” bamboo shish kabob skewer with paraffin wax. Then use that to lubricate the insides of the tenon holes.
Wax the holes
Run the skewer in and out of the hole a bunch of times to transfer wax to the hole.

Wax the holes in the tenons then assemble the wiggle snake using 5/8” lengths (well, a hair shorter) of bamboo skewer as hinge pins. Don’t use the waxy skewer. Finally, glue the bamboo pins in place with CA glue then touch up the paint after the glue has dried.

Hinge pin
Cut the hinge pins from a clean skewer, NOT the waxy one.
Gluing pin in place
Apply a drop of CA glue to this point on both sides of the joint to bond the pin in place.
All assembled
After paint touch-up.
Assembled wiggle snake
Assembled wiggle snake

A Fang-ulous Finish

Lacquered for a shiny finish.

Finally, finish the entire snake with clear spray lacquer for that characteristic slippery looking shine.

Swivel the head for a vertical pose.
Snake in boot
There’s a snake in my boot!

And just like that, the wiggle snake is complete. See, that wasn’t so scary. You now have an awesome wooden wiggle snake you’ll love playing with and showing off for many years to come. In case it’s not obvious, this is intended to be a decorative item, not a young child’s toy. Babies and toddlers may not have the appreciation to handle it with the delicate care it deserves. Plus, the head poses a choking hazard. Choking is bad.

If you’d like to watch this build in action – and see the jigs in use – check out my video here:

Now get out into your workshop and make your own wiggle snake. You can bet your asp you’ll be glad you did!

Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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