This past winter I made a couple rocking chairs from white oak. An extra bolt from the white oak log had been sitting around since then, and I decided to carve a bowl from it. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.
After studying what the piece had to offer, I decided upon an overall form with some side panels that serve as a canvas for some decorative carving. I’ve done some bowls similar to this before, such as the one, in cherry, to the left. Depending on the log and/or preference, the form can be altered in many ways.
I also thought it might be a good opportunity to discuss some options for bowl layout. And who doesn’t love to discuss bowl layout?! Okay, you can put down your hand now.
Granted, there are more exciting aspects to hewing a bowl. No chips are flying around during layout. And the best layout can certainly go astray. But carefully considered aesthetic judgement at the beginning of the process usually pays off in the end. In other words, there is a lot that goes on between the lines, but good lines are an important start.
My first step is to establish the bottom and top surfaces of the future bowl. In the case of any bowl, the bottom is a flat plane, and the top can be as well. But on this bowl, the upper surface is an arc, which creates a sweeping rim. I’ve discussed this at greater length at this previous post. On this piece, I wanted to remove the sapwood that the bugs had been enjoying.
I extend the vertical center lines across the top and bottom of the blank, then begin layout on the upper surface. I rely on a compass or two during this process. The series of circles represent my playing around with possible widths of the bowl to allow for the depth of the side panels. Ultimately the two lines surrounding the green area, representing the upper rim of the bowl are all I need before carving.
However, to help with visualization, I added an illustration on the end grain of this log. The green area represents the upper surface of the rim and the handles that will drop down to the purple area at the ends. The blue area represents a cross-section of the bowl at it’s widest point. The red area represents the side panel surface when viewed from the end. Due to the shape of this bolt, the vertical depth of these side panels was limited. Different logs will allow for many other variations.
After the bowl cavity has been hollowed, I will hew the surface of these side panels. Upon that new surface, I can then draw the bottom edge of the side panels (represented by the lower line) and sculpt the underside of the bowl.
Dave – thanks for going to all that trouble shooting that & thinking it through. Very nice. White oak? Will you stop at nothing?! Mine are always seat-of-the-pants layout, & it shows…did you hew a bunch of bowls before you got involved in the careful layout, or did you start off working with the compasses and arcs?
I guess I started using compasses more and more as I played around with ideas. Just a result of some creative problem solving. For many of the bowls I will just freehand draw one quadrant of the top outline, then use the compasses as tools to provide some reference points to help in making the other three match. I started doing careful layout pretty early on when I realized how much more time was involved to straighten things up later in the process. But the way I tend to go about it is just one option. I love the results of a more loose approach as well.
As you know, those layout lines will only take one so far anyway. A good basic map to guide a richer journey. We’re sculpting complex forms, and much of the work just relies on responding to the senses to achieve the form between the lines. I like that about this work. It is impossible, really, to draw “plans” for one of these bowls. I’ve never much liked specific plans anyway.
As far as the white oak, I had to give it a shot! Actually, the green stage of carving is done now. I also shot some video of me hollowing it with the adze while I blather on. But at least there is some action in that one to go with the blathering! I’ll have it ready to post soon.
I loved the shots from your England trip on your recent blog post. Thanks.
Truly amazing!!! After stepping into your classroom this helps put it all together. There is so much you presented I can continue to add to what I have learned from you already. I really like that side picture on the blank which shows angles of inside walls. I’m just beginning to learn the power of the compass.
Thanks, Paul. Glad it helped.
Thank you, thank you, David. Exactly what I was hoping you would do, giving careful and detailed information about the complexities of good layout. Very helpful! You have helped me learn that careful layout greatly minimises future problems, and this post gives me much needed guidance.
Thanks, Geoff. Tough carving in this heat, huh?
I learned woodworking in an open garage in Shreveport, La, Dave! Down there, there was no avoiding the heat and humidity. After 2 years Of staying inside, I conceded to the heat, bought my first table saw and a big fan to keep the air moving. This summer in Pittsburgh reminds me of those summers!
Another very nice verbal & pictorial explanation. From the top view the ruler shows the size of the bottom surface of the bowl interior or the bottom of the bowl ? Sorry do not understand the comments about white oak, assume its very hard when dry ? Looking forward to your next posts on this project, especially how you lay out the side panels, if possible. Thanks for taking the time to share with us your knowledge.
Rick, the ruler is just sitting there as a scale reference. It is not indicating anything in particular. The outline for the bottom of the bowl will be drawn directly on the bottom surface before hewing the exterior. There is no indication at all on the upper surface as to how large the bottom will be.
Sorry about not being more clear about the white oak. Yes, the comments are just referring to it being hard stuff. All woods are harder when dry, and white oak is, indeed, especially tough stuff when dry. I, as usual, am carving it when it still contains a high moisture level, but it is still hard relative to other species of wood when green. White oak would not be a classic choice for bowl carving, but it is do-able as you’ll see when I post the video of the adze hollowing process.
I’ll try to post something about the side panels. The overall shape itself is actually pretty straightforward. The upper line of the side panel is the rim of the bowl. For the lower line, I just freehand draw a pleasing curved line that dips down from the handles. I keep sketching over it until I get a line that I like.
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