I 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.
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!
I 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.
These 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.
To 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.
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.