How to Build a Giraffe with Wine Corks

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My name is Art Maw and Jerome is the name I gave a 6′ 2″ giraffe (made to scale) I created from various types of wood  and then completely covered in wine corks.  

Before considering this project, it may be a good idea to have your sanity checked. I broke myself in with two earlier projects, Handsome and Ducky, pictured below.

But if you are determined to continue, call everyone you know and ask them to send you all of their wine corks for the next two years.

It could take up to two years to build your Jerome if you have any kind of a life outside of building a giraffe and that is probably how long it will take you to gather up enough corks, unless all your friends are a bunch of … ummm … wine lovers.

 

Figure 1: Jerome is shown with Handsome and Ducky

MATERIALS

All types of wood scraps are useful in building this project. Jerome’s basic frame/skeleton is made of ½” plywood put together in a manner to define the body, shoulders, legs and head. The various pieces are fastened together with glue, wood bracing, gyprock screws and brads from a power nail gun. In most areas carpenters white glue was used however construction glue was used in high stress areas and hot glue from a glue gun was used throughout. All of the corks were attached with a hot glue gun.

You will need about 1500 corks, preferably non- plastic. All types and sizes of corks are used including champagne and wine corks.

GETTING STARTED

SCALING

The first step is to decide how big you want your Jerome to be and then scale a picture of a real giraffe accordingly. My Jerome is about six foot two inches tall, the body is scaled/proportioned to match the height wanted.

I started with a picture of a real giraffe and scaled it to meet the size I wanted. Figure 2  is a copy of the picture I used.

An example of how to scale your Jerome is simple; If your picture is 6 inches tall and you want the end product to be 4 feet tall, you just multiple all the dimensions on the scaling picture by eight.

It is also a good idea to have numerous pictures showing different views of the head, ears, legs feet etc. so you can see the subtle contours and muscle structure better. This makes it easier to determine the contours as you build, especially when you get to the part of putting on the corks. In many areas it is necessary, e.g. on the head, to put on an underneath layer of corks and contour that layer with a knife before putting on the final layer.

I spent a lot of time flushing out the muscle structure while still keeping the overall proportions reasonably accurate.

Look at lots of photos of the head & neck of giraffes to help determine the individual shape, relationship and position of each of the head components of themselves and to each other when building and flushing out a Jerome.


STRUCTURE

FRAME/BONES/SKELETON

It is important to study the body structure to determine the slope of the back, position of the knees and all of the fundamental structural parts before putting together the bones. If the basic structure is not reasonably accurate the end result may resemble some yet to be discovered mythical animal.

Scraps of ½ inch plywood or any other similar material can be used for the basic frame/bones. The important thing to remember is, the bones have to support themselves, the rest of the structure and the outer hide (corks) therefore the frame has to be mechanically sound. It is almost impossible to go back and repair a joint in the frame after everything is completed.

Here in figure 4 is an example of a strong mechanical joint in the basic frame.

Section of the neck showing good mechanical joints.

To begin making the Frame/Bones draw the outline of the legs, body and neck on your sheet material (plywood). Be sure to draw in the subtle little details, example knees, humps and bumps.

The legs including the shoulders and haunches have each to be all from one piece of material for strength, whereas the body and neck can be assembled from two or three pieces overlapped, glued and screwed together. See figure 6 where A is one piece and B is another piece overlapped, glued and screwed to A.

Note: When I was building Jerome there was no thought of writing this, so no effort was made to clean up the shop.

Cut the pieces out with a band saw or jigsaw. Cut out one leg and then use that as the pattern for the opposite leg, that way you can end up with symmetrical legs on both sides.

It is important to splay the legs and have the front ones forward of perpendicular and back legs aft of perpendicular. If you don’t he will fall over once the neck and corks are installed. It may even be necessary to add some weight to the back end.  I didn’t have to, but depending on the weight of the materials used in the neck and head it could be required.

Figures 7 & 8 show the bare bones of Jerome.

PUTTING THE BONES TOGETHER

Fasten the main parts of the legs to the body and get the assembly standing up before attaching the neck and remaining leg parts.

BONE STRUCTURE IN PROGRESS

Once you have your Jerome standing on all fours it is time to give him some feet/hooves.

To make the hooves pick a suitable piece of 2-inch stock depending on the size of the final sculpture 2X4 or 2X6, I used 2X6. Cut grooves in the board before cutting out the shape, to accept the legs, per Fig. 9 & 10.

BONES

Secondary Bone Structure

The secondary bones are the pieces that define the shape or bulk of Jerome e.g. shown in figures 8 and 15. Cut two pieces the same shape and size of each secondary bone, one for each side of the neck, body or legs, again to end up with a relatively symmetrical structure. Fasten the secondary bones securely to the main body etc. as previously shown in figures 4 and 5.

It is important to have secure secondary bones to glue and nail the slats on. In the instance of a transition from the body to the leg or from the neck to the body a piece of ¾ inch stock makes it easier to go from one slat to the next.

In some instances the secondary bones may not be exactly the same from side to side depending on the positioning of the legs, for instance if one leg is a little further forward of the opposite leg.

Slats

The slats are strips of Masonite, paneling or any other thin material that will bend enough to follow the contours of the bones to provide a base for the corks.

The slats on my Jerome are about 1 inch wide but can be any width depending on the size of your Jerome.

In some cases after covering the bones with slats you will end up with cavities that do not lend themselves to being covered with slats. In these instances fill the cavity by gluing in corks and then shape them with a sharp knife to the contour of the area.

CORK COVERING

The outside covering is of corks cut in half lengthwise and glued to the slats with a hot glue gun. I found the best way to begin is to start at the feet and work up the legs to the belly. Turn the sculpture upside down securing it in place with clamps and complete the underside belly before going on.

The corks should be applied in a definite orientation generally in the direction the hair grows on a real giraffe.

Hint: Cut a pile of corks ahead of time. This will allow you the opportunity to select from various sizes, colours and a mixture of corks from different vineyards/cellars as you proceed, in order to add interest to the final product. I cut the corks with an Olfa retractable blade knife, but any sharp knife will do the job. The slats and cavities are filled with corks then contoured before final corks are applied.  See figure 16.

 

 Note: The board on the top of the back was screwed to the main frame to allow Jerome to be clamped upside down in order to work on the underside without doing any damage to the slats etc. Once it was no longer needed I cut it off flush with frame and covered it with corks. See figure 21.

Figure 17  Note the direction of the corks. We will come to the tail shortly.

 

TAIL

The tail is made by cutting the tops off Champagne corks and drilling a hole through the stem portion. The drilled pieces are threaded onto a length off sisal rope, with the end of the rope splayed and stained for colour. The assembly is stapled and glued to the frame and the last cork is glued to the rope. Finally a piece of copper wire is threaded up through the holes in the corks to stiffen the tail up so it can be positioned (curled) in any manner.

  

Figure 18

 

The Head

EARS

The ears are carved from a 2 inch thick piece of pine. I made a pattern of the shape and flipped it over to get the opposite ear. The general shape was cut out on a band saw, leaving a stub to attach the ear to the head and then carving the rest of the ear with various knives. I used craft acrylic paints for the colour.

NOSTRILS

The nostrils are made from the tops of Champagne corks with holes drilled in them and a little black paint smeared around the inside of the hole.

Eyes

The eyes are wood half ovals available from craft stores, coloured with acrylic paint. The eyelids are a piece of leather but cork gasket material would work just as well. The eyelashes are cloth fringe from a sewing materials store.

 

FINAL FINISH

The final finish is two coats of BEHR water based clear satin finish, but any clear coat (varnish) will work just as well.

Have fun and let us know how you do.

Below area couple of photos of some of my other wine cork projects:

This mask hangs on a wall.


This is “Big Bird”.  It is made with plastic corks so that it can stay outside in the summer.  I have since added some feathers I found to the back tail.

Acknowledgements

My darling wife Lawrie for her patience and encouragement. All my drunken friends for supplying such a variety and quantity of corks. My good friend David Laister for his superb editing skills

Copyright © Arthur A Maw

9 Responses

  1. charlie

    I just saw this today. Wonderful! Do you have the same information for making the ducks?

    Reply
  2. Fiona Newton

    Someone just told me about these and they are amazing! I may try creating a wall mask but I’m not sure I’d have the patience for anything bigger 🙂

    Reply
  3. Sasipha

    This is such a good idea! I’ve been seeing a lot of wine cork craft ideas on Pinterest ltaely I really want to make a wine cork rug/mat all in good time, I suppose, haha.

    Reply
  4. Art Maw

    I only used wood corks on Jerome, both solid and composite (pieces of cork glued together). I think the green instrument you are referring to is my Band Saw made in Germany.

    Big Bird is made with plastic corks as he was intended to stay outside, but the warmth of the sun softened the glue and some of the corks fell off, so now he resides in my office.

    Reply
  5. Nataliya.

    WOW! This is so amazing! Every detail is explained. My favourite parts of the Jerome project are scaling, building the skeleton and of course, the head.

    Now, since a lot of countries using ‘fake’ corks, with what kind do you work?

    I also noted that the instruments are GREEN – never see this colour at the regular stores. Love it!

    Thanks for sharing your talent, Art Maw.

    Nataliya.

    Reply
  6. Donna

    I love Jerome too! He reminded me of the Jerome from the old children’s show, “The Friendly Giant”. For those that don’t know, Jerome was the opinionated but kind side-kick of the Friendly Giant.

    Reply
  7. Fannie

    I love Jerome! Are you going to submit plans on how to build Duckie and Handsome, because maybe I should start with something a little smaller (and more liver friendly).

    Reply

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