When I have demonstrated at festivals, I have noticed several different types of reactions and comments among observers. By far, the most common reaction is sincere interest and curiosity that elicits good questions from open minds and enjoyable conversation. However, a few scoff openly with suggestions of chainsaws and routers. Others view it as an exercise in extreme patience or penance. These look upon me either in odd wonder as they might view a disciplined monk, or with pity as upon a kind of Sisyphus charged with an endless task. Still others simply think it’s quaint.
They misunderstand. They look upon the great mass of wood to be removed as the main challenge of carving a bowl. In reality, the bulk of the material is removed relatively quickly. I spend much more time on subtle refinements of form and surface, as well as on design. I probably spend no more than ten percent of my time removing ninety percent of the material, and the other ninety percent of my time on the final ten percent. The folks that watch long enough, develop an appreciation for what an adze can do. It ain’t quaint. It is both powerful and sensitive. When it comes to hollowing bowls, chainsaws and routers lie awake at night wishing they were adzes.
I shot some video while I hollowed this white 0ak bowl. Lot’s of talking in this one too, but accompanied by flying chips:
In this increasingly automated world we live in too many people forget what hand tools are for. And that’s for making things with the organic machines called haands.
I enjoy your philosophy more than your pictures and I really like the pictures!
I have found my shop shrinking over the years. Where there were the saws, routers, cordless drills there appeared draw knives hand saws and Spofford braces. Now there are even fewer draw knives, spoke shaves and hand tools as I settle down to a few favorites. My friends likewise ask me why go back to these tools and why use so few when modern tools are so much faster easier and precise. I don’t think I can lead them to understand. Like all truth, each of us must find it ourselves. But I think my fascination comes from the feeling that the tool is an extension of myself. It becomes familiar as a friend. The tool does what I wish and sometimes what it wishes, and it leaves my mark in the work. Strange as it may sound, the tool unites the maker and the made object into one thing.
Now I am down to less than 10 tools that I use almost exclusively. I know them well. They require my care to stay healthy. Most are much older than I and they teach me new things every day. They will all outlive me. I love them and hope someday to pass them along to someone else that shares the understanding.
I don’t want to live in the past and I appreciate the modern tools for what they can do.
But I can’t love a router as much as a gouge, or a table saw as much as a drawknife.
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Awesome stuff, David! I agree that carving with hand tools is something completely different than using power tools. Nothing old fashioned about using hand tools, just different and different possibilities.
I’m currently making a white oak bowl myself, the wood is beautiful!
Thank you for doing this video series David. Such a visual reference helps the learning curve of guys like me immensely. Smoothes it out and eases it somewhat, I guess you’d say. Looking forward to a few more on this bowl so we can see a bit more of you process.
Thank you again. Terrific.
Thanks, Keith. I’m glad it has been helpful.
Grant, John, and Rudy — Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I’m glad that I didn’t come across as bashing power tools, but rather celebrating what hand tools like the adze can do. Creating is the key, however one decides to go about it. Both types of tools have their advantages and limits. I couldn’t carve one of my bowls with a chainsaw, but for crosscutting a big log or cutting a couple inches off it’s end, I’ll put up with it thankfully.
It’s got to be a fair bit more trouble to take video and provide (extremely) helpful commentary while you work, so thanks for the extra effort. Really enlightening!
The white oak looks like it’s going to be a beautiful finished piece.
Thanks, Earl. It’s quite a setup: an ipad resting in a folding bookstand, the bookstand up on a step stool on the bench… Just like Spielberg.
Whoa! One of your best postings I think. I have to admit I’m not a purest in the purest sense. I approach new things with a beginner’s mind if I can, but in the back of my mind I know one of my power tools might ease the workload. I’m carving spoons lately and I have no problem roughing things out with a bandsaw. It’s probably obscuring knowledge. Many times it steers me back the simplest route which “Barn the Spoon” would approve of. I guess it’s just part MY Journey.
Thanks so much, David
David…I don’t know how I missed the ‘Layout’ and the ‘Adze work’ videos? I’ve now caught up. Thank you so much. You know I’m ‘new’ to bowl carving and to be able to watch the process in action is worth it’s weight in gold. Can’t thank you enough for being so generous with your time and knowledge. Oak, is not the most figured wood in the world. It’s also harder than Woodpecker lips! But, is plentiful here in Fla., which gives me hope of finding sufficient material to work with. I’m still collecting tools in preparation for my ‘Spoon and Bowl Carving’ class in November. I have just about everything in my starter kit either in-hand or in the Forge (Hans Karlsson) to be delivered in September. Things are coming together nicely.
Glad to hear it, James. Good luck with the carving.
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Hello David, I carved a Red Oak bowl down to the drying stage but every time I unwrapped it to continue throughout the process dark purple-ish bluish mold looking spots appeared. Could this be just oxidation? Taken about 6 days from de-barking and at nights it was in plastic bag outside on cement in -1 – +3 C. Now she’s inside wrapped in a towel for the first day of drying. Did you get such mold lookingh spots on Oak through your experiences?
Thank you much David,
Hi Andras. based on the color in your description, I’m pretty sure what you are describing is surface staining that results from the interaction with the iron in the tools and the tannins in the wood. Oak has a lot of tannins. I experienced the same thing, and especially when working green chestnut. The blue/purple color should just be a surface stain, so when you do the finishing cuts after drying, you will be shaving it away and you won’t get the same reaction again when working the dry wood. Best wishes with the bowl!
Phew… Thank you David 😀