Small Side Panel Cherry Bowl

A few days ago I finished this cherry bowl for a local fundraiser. It features a relatively narrow side panel below the edge of the rim that makes an ideal spot for some chip carving. I took a few shots along the way with this bowl, beginning with the log.

This bowl came from a fallen cherry tree that had been on the ground in a friend’s woodlot for three years. Cherry heartwood is resistant to decay, so while the sapwood had completely rotted, the heartwood was still completely solid and full of moisture.

After the first twelve years or so, the tree’s growth rate slowed dramatically.

I wanted the inner surface of this one to have a very subtle tooled surface which is nice for serving and cleaning. At this stage, the bowl had dried and the cuts leave a crisp burnished surface. A couple holdfasts secure the bowl solidly and simply.

Partly because of the overall proportions of this blank, and partly because of the effect of the side panel on the interior shape, the hollow was too steep for the bent gouge to negotiate alone, so I also used a spoon bent gouge with a similar sweep that allowed the cuts to blend together well. The bent gouge is a Hans Karlsson 90 sweep 40mm. The spoon bent gouge is a Pfeil #5 25mm.

The sketch below indicates how the side-panel, by extending the rim/sidwall down and out to a point, calls for a steeper hollow to avoid a thick wall section. With relatively narrow side panels, as in this bowl, the effect is limited. It is much more pronounced in bowls with larger side panels like the Bengt Lidstrom bowl in this post. To accommodate those side panels, Bengt cut the interior sidewalls very steeply, undercutting the rim before returning in a curve toward the bottom.

The sketch also provides the basic order of operations when working a side panel into the exterior of the bowl. First, through hewing, then shaving, create the facet for the side panel. It’s upper edge will be the line representing the outer rim that you laid out on the top side of the bowl blank. The lower edge of the surface you’ve just cut will be irregular and may extend far beyond your intended width of side panel. Draw a nice curve representing the lower edge of the side panel, then shape the rest of the exterior between that line and the edge of the foot. If you want to assure symmetry for larger side panels, this post offers some ideas.

I went with a simple but effective line of chip carving on this side panel. It allows for the size of the chips to gradually diminish as the side panel narrows toward the handles. I use the coping blade of my pocket knife, but any straight-edged sharp knife will work. I sketch lightly in pencil first which allows me to make all of the cuts in a series in one direction first, the point of the knife goes in deeper and the edge of the blade just touches the base line. With cuts made on both sides, I remove the chip by sliding the blade forward at a low angle, working progressively from the center of the bowl toward the handle in order to cut with the grain cleanly. I’ve got a series of shots in the slide show below. The slideshow may not be visible in your email browser.

After all of the carving was finished, I slathered on some pure linseed oil, and set the bowl out for the afternoon in the intense sunshine. I have some photos of that in the slideshow below. I checked on the bowl periodically to make sure all of the surface oil was being absorbed, rubbing it around. If a puddle cures on the surface, you’re cooked! Then, when the sun went down, it went into the kiln at around 130 degrees overnight.

I should add, and emphasize, that I do NOT dry the bowls in the kiln! The bowls are dried relatively slowly. The bowls aren’t oiled until they are completely dry, then heat can be used to help cure the oil faster. This can dry the bowl just a bit more as well, so the foot may need to be flattened slightly afterward.

What a joy. Happy carving!

This entry was posted in bowls, carving, cherry, finding wood, holding, layout, patterns, sketch, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Small Side Panel Cherry Bowl

  1. Clifford Logan says:

    Your work is beautiful. Actually, stunning work really. I would love to attend a class taught by you. Marc Adams school of wood working would be the perfect spot to pass on your knowledge and talent. I’d be first in line to learn.
    Check it out, it’s a spiritual, lovely spot, in the middle of a corn field in Indiana.


  2. Steve Downs says:

    David, I really appreciate your blog. I’m learning so much about carving from you! I was curious about the kiln. What are its uses? Is it something you built? How is it situated with your shop?
    Steve Downs
    Ashton, Maryland


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Steve. I have some information and a photo of my kiln in this post:
      Lot’s of ways to go about it with resourcefulness. Just the other day, my Dad suggested using a discarded mini-fridge. You just need to make an insulated box of some sort and install a porcelain light bulb fixture or two. I made mine maybe twenty years ago, originally for drying chair rungs, based on information in Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree. Still works great, fur curing oil and for chair rungs.

      I should add, and emphasize, that I do NOT dry the bowls in the kiln! The bowls are dried relatively slowly. The bowls aren’t oiled until they are completely dry, then heat can be used to help cure the oil faster. This does dry the bowl just a bit more as well, so the foot may need to be flattened slightly afterward.
      I’ll update the post to mention this there too.


  3. Bob Easton says:

    Fabulous! Even more so with the instructional tips. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Paula Marcoux says:

    Dave: You mention that this is for a local fundraiser… would just anyone be able to bid on it, or purchase a raffle ticket or whatever? Asking for a friend…


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks very much for inquiring, Paula, but following a recent unexpected death, this fundraiser was organized and conducted in a short amount of time. Several other local artists donated original paintings as prizes for the raffle, and the community generously bought up tickets like hotcakes. The drawing took place Monday and this bowl is already in the home of a nice family nearby, hopefully serving up something! It was sort of a whirlwind. Next time a raffle or something comes up, I’ll drop you a line for your friend.


  5. Pete Magoon says:

    As always, Thanks! Great instructions.
    3 years on the ground, is this greenwood, or has the wood cured? How much harder is it to carve than green? I see only one crack on one end, did you have to cut back very much? The crack that is visible you seem to treat it as a “feature”-did you rub in super glue (I am watching you and Elia’s wonderful videos!).
    I cut down a “Wild Black Cherry”-so the locals call it. Some rot in the lower center, but I have sections for cereal bowls, one or two Scandinavian bowls, 11 boards 1-2 inches thick x 15-17″ wide by 8′ 4″ long, 6 2″ x 5″ for benches. I also rived some 18″ sections, hope to use for the panels in a frame and panel chest (hewing is a learned skill!).
    The 8′ boards are laying on my shop floor, stickered and heavily weighted. I hope they give me enough bd. ft. to justify stepping around them for at least a year!
    Would you tell me the brand of pure linseed oil you use. Elia showed “Allback”..
    Nice community you live in-I remember neighbors coming to the door with a coffee can or shoebox to collect money for housefires, illnesses, long before Medicare, etc.
    Sorry this is so long.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi Pete,
      When we started to cut up the tree, the bark was still intact, but quickly fell off when we started handling the pieces. And the tree was still full length. So, the wood still maintained a lot of moisture. Green as far as I’m concerned. Easy to carve. Had this been maple or poplar or something like that, it would have decayed beyond use I think.
      I think much depends on specific circumstances and conditions, regardless of species, but in this case, it was fine to carve. I’m going by the landowner’s recollection of how long the tree had been down in the woods.
      Cracks like that one coming from the pith can be avoided by the time the wood is hewn away from the pith side, or by some creativity in bowl orientation. I’ve got a few blanks from this tree going and, as always, it’s just some creative problem solving.
      That dark line on the handle of this bowl is not a crack, just a little color streak in the wood.
      Lately, I’ve been using this oil: I have more information on oils at this page of my website:
      Have fun with that cherry wood you’ve got, and thanks for the comment!


  6. Karl says:

    This bowl is just breathtaking, and so beautifully photographed too. You may find this an odd reaction, but I’m glad that my own woodcrafting efforts are in a different avenue than yours. Otherwise I’d find looking at your work discouraging — an example of a level of artistry I know I’ll never reach, or even approach. As it is, I can look at your work as an inspiration and a joy to behold. 🙂


    • Alison says:

      I hang a picture of the first bowl I ever saw of his years ago in Fine Woodworking in my studio and when my back and shoulders hurt and my bowls are ugly that picture inspires me to keep plugging away.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Alison says:

    You are such a generous person to do this. Beautiful!


  8. Steve Gardner says:

    Thank you so much for these continuing posts. They are so interactive and inspiring!


  9. Joe says:

    As always, thank you for sharing. I very much enjoy your work. Out of curiosity, have you ever made any furniture? Would love to see some pictures if you have. Your bowls have a certain style, wondering if your furniture would as well.


  10. John Kellas says:

    Hello David,

    Are you planning doing in-person classes again?

    And if, hopefully you don’t mind me asking.

    What is your opinion on the attached picture of this “Japanese Hand Axe” for carving the outside of bowls and the like.  I think I read it’s about 2 lbs and is 13″ long.

    I have been using a yard sale vintage “camping hatchet” W/3.25″ blade about the same weight but with the traditional curved handle which I find tiring on the wrist after extended use.  (well sharpened though)

    Thank you,  John Kellas


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi John,
      I don’t mind you asking at all. I appreciate the interest. Right now, I’m evaluating the balance of making, writing, teaching/traveling going forward. I can tell you that at this moment, I have no teaching engagements booked. With the school year recently having come to a close, I’ve been catching up on several projects here in the shop. I’ll make sure to mention something on the blog as I sort out what will work best.
      Regarding the hand axe, I couldn’t see any picture, but maybe this is the one you’re considering?
      From what I can see, it might work fine. I can’t see much, though. I do have some concern for the handle behind the beard of the axe. You’ll want to hold there quite a lot, and there is that metal piece with screws on the back of the handle. My Gransfors Bruks Swedish Carving axe has a curved handle as do most of the carving axes available. Julia Kalthoff makes a really great axe that is a little lighter that you might find less tiring. I think your wrist pain is unlikely to be caused by the fact that the handle is curved. Could be from poor balance of the tool, technique, overuse, too tight of a grip (very common), or other things.


    • Pete Magoon says:

      I am trying to learn green woodworking-splitting, riving, hewing, bowls (Dave F.), boxes (Peter Follansbee). I have the Julia Kalthoff hatchet-really outstanding, as is the Gransfor Bruks Dave recommends.
      I have very limited experience, but do recommend a single bevel hatchet. I found one at in Knox, PA. Really nice guy-Ted Ferringer-to talk to. His hewing/kent hatchet is great.
      Enjoy the journey!


  11. Pete Magoon says:

    Dave, Do you allow readers to recommend / not recommend products, such as hatchets for John Kellas, etc,?


  12. Alan Ferrency says:

    I appreciate seeing how your process changes compared to the steps you taught with Elia, to handle the side panels.
    Do you do anything special on a bowl like this that has a round outside profile, compared to the squarer outer corners of the bowl you taught with Elia? After shaping the side panels, do you still shape the sides and ends separately, or do you do it all at once since it’s a continuous curve all the way around the outside of the bowl?


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi Alan. Sorry I somehow overlooked your comment until now. I pretty much shape the sides and ends as a continuous surface, all at once in the case of an oval bottom. Other than that, the rest is basically the same as with the “inflated rectangle” foot of the bowl I taught with Elia.


  13. Pingback: Carving American Chestnut 3: Foot Shape | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

  14. Pingback: Chip Layout | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

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