I was working a couple different cherry ale bowls over the weekend and was struck again by how different they are to carve compared to “regular” bowls. First of all, especially in this roughing-out stage, I find myself staring a lot more, wrapping my head around the complex form and where everything is in there.
Another difference is the use of a saw. Other than for cutting the log to length, I normally don’t use a saw for any part of a bowl. However, ale bowls are different animals. In the early stages, it makes the most sense to split away some large portions of the blank by making several relief cuts (I use a larger folding saw), then splitting off these chunks with a chisel and mallet.
In the photos above you can see a couple points along this “chunking away” stage. In the one on the left, I’ve sawn and split away the ends, leaving the general area for the heads. On the right, I’ve continued by relieving the area between the heads. Although there is still much to visualize and sculpt, the major masses and proportions are established at this point. I then hew the outer form with and axe and hollow what I can with an adze.
After the chopping, I move on to lots of focused shaping with gouges and knives. As with other bowls, I remove all I can while the wood is still green leaving less to carve away after drying. I’ll revisit these when I get a chance (after waiting at least a week or two) and complete the carving.
Do the ale bowls start out as a half of a log blank with the pith removed like a regular bowl?
Yes, or maybe a third or a fourth of a log, depending on its size. In any case, I don’t include the pith.
Is there a particular brand or brands of flax seed oil you could recommend? I doesn’t seem like we can get any pre-oxidized oil in the states, do you know of any?
Someday, I need to write a blog post dedicated to oil, but it can be such a rabbit hole that I haven’t done it yet. Over the years, I have read and tried a lot on the subject, and the bottom line is that many brands/varieties of flaxseed/linseed oil work well. For now, I’ll refer you to my reply to a question on a previous post here https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/aspenpoplarpopple-ale-bowl/ which includes some thoughts on methods. I’ll also copy part of the reply below which includes links to some good suppliers:
This one is simple, and works fine in my experience. Drying may be a little slower. https://www.soapgoods.com/Flaxseed-Oil-p-580.html
Allback has both raw and boiled linseed oil, but it is truly boiled in the old sense of the definition — no heavy metal dryers. They also have a linseed oil and beeswax mix. http://www.solventfreepaint.com/cleaned_linseed_oil.htm This is where you can find one that is “pre-oxidized.”
Tried and True makes great stuff, and they provide lots of information about how and why polymerized linseed oil works. They have straight oil, and their original finish is a blend of polymerized linseed oil and beeswax. http://www.triedandtruewoodfinish.com/products/
But don’t get overburdened by the details. All of these flax/linseed products will work fine. But it can be a deep subject if one wishes to explore.
And, if you ever find yourself in need of a small quantity or something particularly special, you could go to a good art supply store and check out an incredible variety of linseed (and other oil) variations: http://www.dickblick.com/categories/oilmediums/linseedanddryingoils/details/ Mind boggling!
Thank you for such a detailed answer. What is funny is Maurice at the Woodsmith Experience in the U.K. seems to have just what Willie ordered, organic cold pressed pre-oxidized raw linseed oil, but he cannot ship outside the country.
Did you design the shape of your horse head ale bowls or do they follow a traditional pattern? What are some good resources for traditional bowl patterns? I think I mean Swedish / Viking patterns but I would be interested in other traditional patterns.
The best patterns I have now are yours. I was very happy to discover your work.
Thanks again David
I believe the “Purified Boiled Linseed Oil” available at the Allback link is exactly what you are looking for and it is available in the U.S. Terms and labels can be confusing, but based on their information, I think it is indeed cold pressed pre-oxidized linseed oil. I have tried it, and it works well.
There are many traditional designs for ale bowls. One is the horse head design, but their are many variations within that category. Some of my designs for ale bowls, like the horse head ones, are more closely related to the traditional designs but not copies of any one in particular. For much more information and links to museum examples, check out a blog post I wrote awhile back here https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/ale-bowls/
Ask and you shall receive. Fantastic article and a wonderful collection of bowls. It interesting that so many are painted I think.
I’m going to go with Allback. And I am looking forward to watching you letter carving video.
Dave, I am trying one of these, thanks to you. It is quite a challenge!
I found a way to clamp and shape the outside and largely hollow the inside, but have not tackled the heads yet (because I used them in the clamping process). I am just looking at it again and again, trying to figure out how everything will come together.
I’ve looked at the photos here carefully and wonder if they tell the story of your own sequence. Would that be right? If so, would the sequence be: First – second photo that looks like a log; Second – third photo on left; Third – fourth photo on right; Fourth – first photo left, with horse necks unrounded and pointed giving you center lines that you take through the inside of the bowl; Fifth – first photo right, with back of necks rounded down to top of bowl giving you crisp symmetry where the neck meets the bowl. Is this right? The last photo seems to be when the rounding of the horse necks begins/final rough carving of the inside is completed?
What caught my attention in your photos was the temporary pointed rear of the horse necks (first photo, left) as a possible intermediate step to give you a design point for the center ridge of the inside of the bowl and the intersection of the facias of the neck and head.
Of course these photos could be two or three bowls with different final designs, and I could have just imagined this whole sequence. I seem to be able to do that!!
So… I thought I would check.
Hey Geoff, glad to hear you’re giving it a try. These things can be a bit mind bending.
First of all, I suppose there would be many ways and procedures possible, I only know how I’ve gone about it. You are essentially correct with the general sequence you surmised. One point of clarification is that the two bowls in the top photo are indeed two different designs. On the right is a roughed-out horse head ale bowl, while the one on the left is at least planned to be a dragon head ale bowl (at least my idea of a dragon!).
To break down the entire procedure I’ve been developing for these into a blog post is just too much, but I think it would make a great class or a chapter in a book someday. We’ll see.
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