How To Make Angelfish Decor – I Swear It Was THIS Big

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If you’ve ever had a goldfish you know how quickly they can flounder. But don’t be too hard on yourself; they love being flushed down the toilet! It’s like a day spa for the soul (see what I did there?)! These low maintenance aquatic “pets” are shore to please: no water changes; no feedings to forget. Best of all, they make beautiful decor items. This just may be the greatest thing to ever come down the pike. Will you take the bait on this fun woodworking project?

How To Make Angelfish Decor – It’s the Catch Of the Day

Download this PDF file to print off the Angelfish Patterns for this project.

Get Off Your Bass And Carp Diem

Patterns for fish
Print these patterns from the PDF file.

Each fish consists of three layers of 3/16” craft store plywood. Print my patterns – or create your own – and attach them to the wood. I use medium tack spray glue. Spray the adhesive onto the backs of your patterns and let it rest about 20 seconds before sticking them to the wood.

Spray Adhesive
This is the perfect adhesive for applying paper patterns to wood.

Allowing the glue to dry for a bit before attaching your patterns makes them much easier to peel off afterwards and leaves virtually no residue on the workpiece. That may sound fishy – but trust me – I’m angling to make this as snag-free as possible. Avoid spraying the glue directly onto the wood. It makes an annoying mess you’ll have to deal with later.

How Do You Stack Up?

Patterns on wood
I stacked four pieces to cut out four fish at once at the scroll saw.

“Stack cutting”: The scroll sawyer’s secret weapon. If you do much scroll saw work, you’re probably already familiar with this time-saving technique. When I make multiples of a given part out of thin wood I stack several pieces and tape them together.

Taping stack
If you stack cut pieces, hold them together with clear packing tape.

Stack cutting not only saves time but it also ensures that each piece will come out exactly the same. In this case, I am making a total of four fish. So I need four middles and eight sides. If you make a single fish you need only one middle and two sides. To speed up the process, I’m cutting four pieces at once. Granted, each cut has to be made more slowly – because of the increased thickness of the material – but stack cutting four takes less time than cutting them individually. The sea turtle wins the race.

Dive On In

Scrolling main body
When cutting this part, stay on the outside of the bold line.

I filet my fish with a scroll saw but you can use a jig saw, band saw, coping saw, jeweler’s saw, etc… Whatever you have that’s up to the task. Woodworking is all about problem solving and making the best of the tools you have. Just be safe and don’t get shark-bitten.

Cutting sides
With the side pieces, cut through the bold line. But stick to the outside of the line at the mouth.

You’ll notice that my pattern lines are pretty thick. The idea is to cut the main body on the outside edge of the line and cut the sides somewhere in the middle of the lines to give a nicer contour to the assembled fish bodies. I learned, however, to stay closer to the outside edge of the line when cutting the mouth region of the side pieces. Otherwise, the mouth openings might not quite line up.

If you make the same mistake I did, don’t worry. You’ll be able to touch it up after gluing the fish together.

Fish parts
If your patterns don’t peel off easily, use a heat gun or hair dryer to soften the adhesive.

Fish Of A Feather Stick Together. Wait, That’s Not Right.

Gluing the fish. Make sure the parts don’t shift around when the clamps are tightened.

OK, so maybe I need to go back to school for a biology refresher (holy mackerel, my fish puns are really tipping the scales today!) Before I matriculate, let’s glue together the flaky layers of these finned fellas. Match up the sides in the proper orientation then glue them to the main body section using wood glue.

I glued all of mine together then stacked them up so that I could clamp them all at once. Note that the more layers you try to glue at once, the more prone things are to slipping and sliding around before the glue starts to tack up. After tightening the clamps, monitor for a bit to make sure everything stays put.

Badmouth Bass

Mouth: before and after
Left: I messed up cutting the mouth. Right: I easily fixed the problem by trimming the middle layer at the scroll saw.

Not to carp on this point but, as mentioned earlier – when I cut the sides – I got hooked in the mouth area, causing the openings to be misaligned. I was able to jack the jawfish with a tiny bit of touch-up at the scroll saw. No need for catch and release here.

The Sand Bar

Cleaning up with 120 grit sandpaper.

The craft plywood requires very little sanding. But there will be little fuzzies around the cut edges. 120 grit sandpaper cleans it up nicely.

Fish(ing) Rod

Fish post
4-1/4″ stiff wires to support the fish.

I mounted my fish on a piece of stiff metal wire: A “perch” – or “fish stick” – if you will. Mine is aluminum. Coat hanger wire works as well too.

Drilling the fish
Drill a hole for the support wire.

Next, drill an appropriately-sized hole in the bottom of the fish to accept the metal wire.

Red Herring

Base coat
Give your fish a solid base coat of acrylic paint.

Give each fish a colored base coat of acrylic paint. Once the base coat has dried use other colors to bring your fish to life.

Adding detail
For painting ideas, Google Image search “angelfish”. You’ll be amazed at the colorful variety.
Painted fish
Painted fish

Not Bass, But Base

Cutting out the base
The patterns for the bases are included in the PDF file above

The base is cut from a 3/4” pine board, which is too thick to stack cut on a scroll saw. Unless you’re using a band saw, they should be cut one at a time. I drew up patterns for two different bases: a small and a large, for one fish or two, respectively. Use whichever you prefer. Cut out the base, sand it, then paint it a nice sandy brown color.

Sanding the base
Sanding the base
Painted posts
Each fish requires one green painted support.

While you’re messing with the acrylics, color the metal wire green, leaving about 3/8” unpainted at each end. For best results, first roughen the surface of the wire with sandpaper.

Spray lacquer
Clear spray lacquer makes the perfect glossy top coat for acrylic paints.

Stick In The Mud

Depth of hole
Drill the holes in the fish and the base 3/8″ to 1/2″ deep

Both base patterns indicate where to drill for the metal support wires. Now is a good time to drill those holes and Super Glue the wires in place.

Super Glue
Use Super Glue to install the support wire and plants.


Plastic grass
I found this plastic grass in the clearance bin at a local craft supply store.

And now, the finishing touches: rocks, shells and artificial fish tank plants. I found some plastic grass at my local Michaels Arts and Crafts Store and fake water plants at a pet store. I used some of each to conceal the wires that support the fish. Most plastic aquarium plants are a little too flimsy to stand on their own without the buoyancy water would provide. But when cut into short lengths they support their own weight well enough. Here’s the Grass mat from Michael’s.

Post through grass
The tufts of the plastic grass have a hole that fits over the wire support post.
Wrapped post
Another good way to conceal the support post is to wrap it with plastic fish tank vegetation.

I drilled holes into the base for the stemmed plants and Super Glued all of them in place.

Plants on base
Base decorated with artificial fish tank plants.

Rock Bottom

Rocks and shells
For the finishing touches, glue rocks and shells to the base.

Finally, we arrive at the tail end. To glue the rocks and shells in place, I used Titebond Quick & Thick Multi-Surface Glue from the local home center. A lot of glues don’t adhere very well to rocks. But this stuff holds onto the smooth rocks with an iron grip.

Multi-Surface Glue
This glue is perfect for sticking the rocks and shells to the base.

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Here’s a photo gallery to provide some inspiration. Don’t be koi, have fun with it and make it your own!

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

Gallery 4

Gallery 5

Gallery 6

Gallery 7

Gallery 8

Gallery 9

Not Gonna Win An Oscar

If you’d like to see this build in action, you can view my video here:


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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