Carving Catalpa

When a friend of mine sent me this big chunk of fresh catalpa wood, some memories came to mind. When I was a kid we had a big catalpa tree in the yard and I had fun playing with the long beans, or cigars as we often called them. Another memorable catalpa tree was a huge specimen that lived in the front yard of my in-laws house. That was the one that ate my sandwich.

Kristin and I, newly dating, pulled into her parent’s house with sandwiches from Subway. For some reason, on my way up the front walk, I started swinging my subway bag in big vertical circles. Before my brain registered my stupidity, the bottom seam of the plastic bag gave way on the upward arc of the swing, slinging my sub high into the gnarly limbs of the catalpa. The paper wrapper burst open and bits of sandwich sifted down through the branches as Kristin’s father watched through the front picture window.

About sixteen years ago, my in-laws had to have that tree taken down and I carved a few things from it, including the bowl above for them. I borrowed it to take the photo. It’s a big bowl, but surprisingly light. Catalpa is ring porous and relatively soft, works well for dry foods and such, but not ideal for salads.

As you can see from the fresh piece, Catalpa has a greyish/greenish tint, but over time it ages to a pleasant shade of brown.

I decided to do a bird/hen bowl sort of like this one but with a longer tail. The hollow is steep and deep. You can see an apple peeking out from the roughed hollow. After the adze and bent gouge, I worked with a swan-kneck gouge (like a spoon bent gouge) and a twca cam to really get down in there.

Now it’s on to the exterior hewing and shaping. I should have that roughed out this weekend. If all goes well, we’ll see this piece of catalpa again looking more like a bowl.

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6 Responses to Carving Catalpa

  1. Skip Florey says:

    Wonderful bowl Dave! I like how the colour has aged. It’s always a plus to have a story behind the wood used in a project. I harvested some walnut from a tree my father-in-law planted, after he passed, to make a knitting box for my mother-in-law.
    Look forward to seeing the bird!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jed Dillard says:

    Wood with stories always makes better objects.

    A couple of catalpa memories. Many catalpas are planted in this part of the country for the sole purpose of using the caterpillars that attack the leaves as fish bait.
    Some even plant them at their fish ponds. The worms can be frozen to save for later expeditions. This has led to many stories of the paper bags containing them being discovered by those not responsible for storing the worms.

    Wood wise, I remember seeing a double oxen yoke made from catalpa in a museum. Its light weight being especially useful.
    Even though photos from that period show oxen to be pretty scrawny, that yoke came from a far larger catalpa than I have ever seen.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I had no idea about the worms, Jed! And. the catalpa ox yolk makes perfect sense. Never would have thought of that. Decay resistant too. I don’t know how big the ox yolk was, but I’ve seen some massive catalpas around here.


  3. Chester Thompson says:

    Great story and great bowl.


  4. Pingback: Catalpa Hen Bowl | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

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