Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly


I recently completed this commission for the congregation of a California church.  They wished to honor their minister’s ten years of leadership with a bowl featuring their church motto, Micah 6:8.  It is a beautiful verse.  I was happy to play a small role in their celebration, and I was fortunate enough to have a suitable log on hand.

I decided on a design I hadn’t carved before, a large (20″ long and 14″ wide) oval bowl in black walnut with a rim that flares out all around.  This provided room for the lettering, but made for some challenging hewing and carving on the exterior. Below is a slideshow of some more photos of the bowl.

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It is a relief when the last painstaking cut is made on the lettering, and all is spelled correctly and so on.  There’s not much room for error, so the process begins long before the cutting.

It starts with some brainstorming mentally and on paper.  Then I do a small-scale very simple sketch in a straight line, just to determine general halfway and quarter points to help achieve the right spacing.  In this case, I then made a full-scale sketch on paper, after laying out a full size oval matching the bowl.


I sketch lightly in pencil, darkening the lines as the ideas become more firmly established and the spacing shapes up. As I sketch, I keep in mind the common characteristics of the letter form, but I am still free to adjust individual letters with the goal of achieving a more pleasing whole.  Since the bowl rim is not planar (it is angled downward away from the hollow all around), the flat paper can’t be used to transfer the lettering onto the wood without puckering and distortion.  I just mark a few reference points onto the wood, and then draw the inscription with a soft pencil onto the wood.  These pencil lines are the general guidelines for the cutting, but it is the cutting itself that matters.


Cutting the lettering into the bowl rim.

This is v-incised lettering, the sidewalls of the letters form a v profile, creating a nice contrast of light and shadow.  For relatively small letters like this, I rely almost exclusively on my pen knife blade, as I’ve discussed before on the blog.  I sometimes use a very narrow knife point for tight areas.

I find it best to do this with the bowl free to be manipulated with my left hand, legs, etc. to position it in different ways while making various cuts.  I also like a strong directional light.  The window is good during the day, and a clamp light works well at night.

Lettering doesn’t have to be so painstaking, depending on the piece.  More spontaneous lettering with the knife, even with no sketching at all can be a lot of fun and achieve very cool results, especially for smaller pieces like shrink boxes, spoon handles, etc.  For practice, I would encourage the use of a softer wood.  It makes a big difference.




This entry was posted in bowls, holding, Lettering, quotes and excerpts, sketch, Uncategorized, walnut and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

  1. Tad Kepley says:

    Dave, Unbelievably beautiful! Tad

    Tad Kepley


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kalia Kliban says:

    What a treasure!
    I hope that we might be able to find a few minutes at the Greenwood Fest to talk about your lettering technique. I’ve admired it since I first saw your work, and would love to see how you make your cuts.


  3. Eric Goodson says:

    As always, jaw droppingly beautiful. What a wonderful gift. It was interesting to see your lettering on paper and how it matches the lettering of the final result. Looks like you have a sense for what shapes your tool and gestures can create in wood, and can draw those sorts of shapes on paper. Is that right? Oh, and love the “AND” and how the letters run together…


    • Dave Fisher says:

      That’s right, Eric. I design and draw the lettering with the execution of it in mind. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the tools, material, holding, and scale must be considered. There are letter forms that look great on paper, but translate with carving poorly. There are letter forms that I might design at three inches high, that would be unreasonable to achieve at 3/4″ high. And there is always the unique character of the material to consider, how the object might be used, etc.

      Essentially, I try to imagine carving as I’m drawing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Scott Kinsey says:

    A masterwork. Astonishing in every way. My goodness…….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Count me in at Green Wood Fest when do something on your lettering…. I also would love to see you in action and learn more on how to improve on lettering.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The bowl is wonderful, Dave. Really, really well done, in the design of the bowl and the display of the verse – and in the complementarity between the verse and the bowl. That pastor will treasure it. I won’t be able to be at Greenwood, but count me in also as eager for help in learning lettering from you. A full video on lettering, perhaps? Watching you do it would be so very helpful.


  7. pfollansbee says:

    this is the part that makes me laugh “For practice, I would encourage the use of a softer wood. It makes a big difference.” – as he cuts his in walnut! Stunning work, Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mike says:

    Truly amazing. The lettering looks laser engraved.


  9. Renae boyum says:

    As a member of the congregation for which you made this remarkable gift, my thanks and joy beyond belief! Our pastor, who was celebrating his 10th anniversary with us, loved it as did all of us who gave the gift. Our thanks for your wonderful efforts and the gift of this remarkable piece of art


  10. Renae Boyum says:

    As a member of the congregation for whom you did this bowl, a huge thank you! Our pastor, who’s 10 year anniversary we were celebrating, loved it as did all of us who gave the gift. It truly is a work of art!


  11. Pingback: A Revelation | A Riving Home

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