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
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.
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
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.
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.
An alternative to the router table is to drill a 3/8” hole then open the notch with a saw.
Wiggle Snake Tenons
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.
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
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.
Drilling The Danger Noodle
Drill a 1/8” hole through both ends of each wiggle snake body segment. The drill center points are 3/16” from the ends.
Shaping Slithery Serpent Segments
Sand the ends of the wiggle snake body segments to their final shape.
Neck Like A Snake
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
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.
Shaping The Noggin
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.
The Head Bone’s Connected To The Neck Bone
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!
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.
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!
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.
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”.
Assembling The Wiggle Snake
Paint the parts to your liking. I used matte acrylic paints on mine.
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.
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.
A Fang-ulous Finish
Finally, finish the entire snake with clear spray lacquer for that characteristic slippery looking shine.
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!