Almost Ready for Ale

IMG_7275I finished carving a couple personal-size ale bowls over the weekend.  These are the two I mentioned having roughed out in my recent post about ale bowls.  I haven’t oiled them yet, but I thought I’d share some photos of them in the raw.

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Neither is an exact copy of any particular historical piece.  The horse-head bowl is based much more closely on the most common design among the original examples, while the specific design of the “ale-duck” is more of a departure.  Honestly, the design for the ale-duck came about after a roughly-hewn horse head broke off of that bowl during the very early stages.  Indeed, hewing small bowls of this shape is a real challenge with axe, adze and gouge!  I was dreaming of band saws!

IMG_6693I was too focused on the hewing to take many photos, and the process would be difficult to explain here anyway.  But the photo to the left shows how I initially hewed the blanks.  It might be tempting to start with a whole round log, but you have to split it first to eliminate the pith from the piece.

Both of these bowls were carved from black cherry (Prunus serotina).  For one, I oriented the bowl with the sapwood (bark side) down, and the other with the heartwood down.  The horse head bowl has the sapwood at the top, a color difference that will show much more strongly when I oil the bowls.  The horse heads will be much lighter than the rest of the bowl, as will the lower half of the duck.


IMG_7130These are difficult to clamp or hold in a device of any kind, especially after the rough carving.  Much of the shaping must be done while holding the bowl using a variety of knife grasps.  In the photo to the right, I am using a hook knife to shape the hollowed outer rim.

These bowls would hold around 14 ounces of ale.  The horse head one is 9 1/2″ long and 5 1/4″ wide.

IMG_7117To guard against the future breakage of the horse heads, I drilled a hole and glued a length of bamboo skewer in each.  Now that the wood is dry, the neck areas seem quite strong in spite of the grain orientation.  The thickness of the raised center ridge helps in that regard as well.

The inner hollow is deep and undercut; plus the horse heads always seem to be getting in the way while carving the hollow.  I found that a couple bent knives from Kestrel Tool near Seattle, Washington came in very handy here.  I bought the blades and made my own handles, an easy and straightforward job.  They send instructions and rivets as well.  Unlike most carving hooks, Kestrel normally puts the bevel on the inside of the curve.  This worked well in these limited access areas, since the very sharp edge bit instantly, yet was still thin enough to rotate through the cut.  Below are a few shots of these tools.  Kestrel sends a little length of radiator hose as a blade guard, and it works pretty well.  The particular blades that I have from Kestrel are the E and the #3.  Kestrel makes a number of other tools as well, including adzes, which I will have to try someday.

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I really enjoyed the challenge of these two little bowls, and there are lots of design possibilities.  I think I’ll carve some more in the future, including some large enough for passing around.



This entry was posted in bird bowls, bowls, carving, cherry, historical reference, holding, layout, tools, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Almost Ready for Ale

  1. Rudy says:

    Your bowls look great, David! I’m glad to see you’re using some bent knives as well, I have used the ones from North Bay Forge (not far from Kestrel Tools, on Waldron Island WA), excellent tools and I have been extremely happy with their versatility. I also have an adze from him, that I handled myself with a natural crook branch.

    I especially like the bent knives as they allow me to work outdoors without needing a big workbench, as opposed to working with chisels and needing to clamp the workpiece to be able to work with two hands.
    I actually do most of the carving on the inside of my bowls with bent knives. It gives them a nice scalloped surface.

    I really like your idea of making animal bowls, and your workmanship is excellent as always. Compliments!


  2. Eric Goodson says:

    Hey Dave. Amazing work, as always. I love the bisected interior in the duck bowl. I was also especially interested to hear about your use of the Kestrel knives. I have thought about getting a few. Good to know you can get just the blade and rivet. Did you follow their instructions for the shape of the handle, or did you vary it somewhat? Did you find yourself holding it like a mocotaugan?


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Eric. I really like the Kestrel knives, and I will have to work more with them. I did follow their instructions basically for the handles, but a lot of variation is possible. The recommended handle shape worked very well, though. Actually, the instruction literature that comes with their products is like a small book full of valuable information, very well explained. Yes, I did find that I held it like a crooked knife — mocotaugan — with thumb away from the blade. I really like the fact that it is double-edged. I could instantly change direction according to the grain inside the bowl. The aggressive edge geometry takes a bit of getting used to, and there are still circumstances where I would prefer to use a hook knife with an outer bevel — Kestrel even offers that option in some of the blades.


  3. Beauties. I hope you bring them to Greenwood Fest so I can see one up close!

    I absolutely love my Kestrel adze, but I’m a bit hesitant to speak too glowingly about it since I’ve never used a Western-style bowl adze. I think the inner bevel lends itself very well to aggressive hollowing of shallow depressions, but I believe it would run into trouble on a deeper bowl with a tight radius. It’s perfect for what I use it for (Windsor chair seats), but one of these days I’ll try another bowl, and then I’ll know for sure!


  4. Tom Stedner says:


    The first thing I thought of when I saw the duck bowl is a Ruddy duck.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Ruddy ducks are very cool looking. I wasn’t thinking of any particular duck species, but I like that connection. The curving chip cut behind the eye reminds me a little of the markings on a wood duck, another beautiful bird.


  5. Dave Fisher says:

    Yep, I plan on bringing them. Won’t be long now!
    Glad to hear the information about the Kestrel adze. I suspect the same thing about hollowing tighter forms. I’ll look forward to hearing what you find out when you try it on a bowl.


    • Rudy says:

      I use my North Bay Forge adze (which is very similar to the Kestrel tool adze) mainly on the outside of bowls, as a variation on using my axe. It is a little different but it works well, you get a different perspective on your bowl as you are not looking from the side but directly at it (it that makes sense?).
      However for hollowing out I prefer my Swedish adze (Djärv) because it gets into tighter areas than the North Bay Forge one.

      Do try North Bay Forge once if you get around to it, Jim Wester is a very nice guy and his tools are excellent (I own several of them). Somehow they stay sharp forever!


  6. gildedrain says:

    I can’t find the right words for how awestruck I am. Those are two of the most beautifully carved bowls I’ve ever seen! I’ve been following your blog for awhile now and am always impressed, but the curves and carvings on these two bowls are so perfect. Congratulations, fantastic work… wow. I couldn’t make it to the inaugural Greenwood Fest, but I hope to attend one someday when I have the time to focus on developing these skills. I can feel the greenwood bug seeping into my bones. It’s inevitable. Thank you for posting your work and thoughts. It’s been a real inspiration.


  7. Kade says:

    you are inspiring … absolutely.


  8. Pingback: Norwegian Nuptials | A Riving Home

  9. Pingback: This may not Work | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

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