Revisiting the Ale Duck


It had been a while since I carved an ale bowl, so it was fun to make another recently, in this case an ale duck.  I’ve written several posts about ale bowls, including some that go into my carving process, but  this one inspired a couple more thoughts about making these things.


The form is complex enough that I still have to think about how it all will come together.  For example, it’s difficult to visualize the final curves around the tail in the early stages of roughing.  Then I remember not to think of such details until much later in the process; to cross certain bridges when I get to them — whether it’s a new design idea or a version of one I’ve done before.  Take care of the overall form before any details; don’t worry about where Broadway is until I’ve found my way to New York.


Once the form is established and 95% of the wood to be removed is already on the shop floor, a whole new phase begins.  The wood is dry and the form itself is there, but that last handful of fine chips can make a big difference.  Time slows down a bit and I focus on the final flow of the lines and the surface cuts.  In his 1945 book How I Make Woodcuts and Wood Engravings, Hans Alexander Mueller expresses working in a “delirium of concentration.”  That describes this stage well.


This one was 10 1/2 inches long and 6 1/2 inches wide, in black cherry.  Lots of fun.  One of several bowls I’ve been working on that are already spoken for, then I’m ready for some freestyling.



This entry was posted in ale bowls, bird bowls, carving, cherry, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Revisiting the Ale Duck

  1. onerubbersoul says:

    The tail feathers are amazing. Even Elvis would be proud to wear that DA.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. nrhiller says:

    Holy cow. What glorious work! It’s so crisp and so evocative of animal life. I also love the suggestion of a heart on this day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael Race says:

    That “handful of fine chips” is a nice way to describe the chasm that separates your work from everyone else’s. Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Scott Thomas says:

    Beautiful. David, as always you have provided an un-intentional gift by sharing your pleasure with your craft. Today being my 60th I’m thrilled to see such creation continue to come out of your neck of the woods. And not all that far from me in eastern Indiana. Looking forward to meeting you at Fine Woodworking Live.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hiscarpentry says:

    Thinking of how the roughing out effects the finish can certainly bog one down. I have sometimes been all but paralyzed in thought of how I’m going to accomplish the finish before I even start the project.

    Just something to overcome.

    I’m looking forward to the fest in Plymouth! I’ll actually be able to participate this year instead of making sure everyone and everything is all set.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I understand that, Nathan. I guess a certain amount of trust is involved; knowing that you’ll figure out the next step when you get there, but get going. And there’s not much real risk involved — many more bits of wood out there.

      Glad to hear about your role in the upcoming Fest — you’ve certainly earned it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Tom Stedner says:

    Love your duck bowls. I’m primary a decoy caver with a few spoons and small bowls thrown in every now and then. The styling of your duck bowls reminds me of Ruddy Ducks with their stout wide bills and round bodies. With the spring thaw about to start i’m looking forward to seeing some these little comedians of the duck world passing through.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. treenworks says:

    Beautiful as always Dave. I have a question about the inside of the bowl. I’ve seen a few bowls with what I refer to as an internal keel, rather than a full bowl. I hope I’m describing that well. Is there a purpose, or is it a design feature? I’ve been working on keeping my walls and base from 3/8ths” to 1/2″ to minimize the chances of cracking, and because I think it makes a more usable bowl. Just wondering. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to each of your new posts.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I would call it mainly a design feature, but it does have some practical value in a design like this. Unlike many bowls with end walls that slope very gradually, this bowl has end grain surfaces that rise relatively vertically. The internal ridge lengthens, and therefore strengthens, the end grain at what would otherwise be it’s weakest areas. The ridge becomes more subtle as it approaches the bottom of the bowl where there is plenty of long-grain strength. That said, in most cases all would probably be fine without it, but it is a design feature that flows with the rest of the design. And very importantly, it doesn’t detract at all from the usability of the bowl as an ale bowl. It would be a bit of a pain in a cereal bowl, for example, where it would impede the movement of the spoon.

      Those measurements you mentioned sound good in general, but it can vary a lot depending on the design of a bowl. And the measurements will vary in different areas of a bowl. The sides of a bowl running with the fibers can be quite thin and still very strong. Areas of end grain should be thicker, depending on the slope. There’s plenty of wiggle room there, though!

      Liked by 1 person

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