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.

What a joy. Happy carving!

Posted in bowls, carving, cherry, finding wood, holding, layout, patterns, sketch, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Handcarved Bowl by Danielle Rose Byrd

Danielle Rose Byrd has created a helpful and insightful resource for bowl carvers of any experience level. The Handcarved Bowl covers everything from finding material, sharpening, carving, decorating, and more. Much more detail about the book, including the Table of Contents, can be found at Danielle’s website.

Danielle obviously has dedicated the same attention to this book as she does to her wonderful bowls. The text and photos, along with illustrations by Mattie Hinkley, clearly explain processes and techniques. Most important, however, is the authentic attitude of caring that permeates the entire book. Danielle helps and encourages the reader through anticipated pitfalls and includes an extensive section on stretches and caring for one’s body.

I’ve never met Danielle in person, but I look forward to the time when we can sit down together and talk bowl carving. I admire her design sense, craftsmanship, and dedication. Her book will lead many people into the pleasures of bowl carving. Danielle should be extremely proud of this book, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

While you’re waiting for your book to arrive, listen to Danielle discuss the book and her carving journey in this episode of Amy Umbel and Brien Biedler’s Cut the Craft Podcast.

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Carving American Chestnut

The solstice may still be a couple weeks away, but the first day of summer for me was yesterday. I celebrated by digging in to a special log. American chestnut. Big, green, American chestnut. I carved some chestnut a few years ago, but not this stuff.

Many readers of this blog are likely aware of the devastating blight that began killing the majestic American chestnut (Castanea dentata) trees in the early 1900s. In the 19th century, these mighty trees filled the woods in my area. Now they’re gone. But a rare stand planted in 1890 survived in Wisconsin until recently, when they too were hit by the blight. Details of that story can be found here. My understanding is that most of the hundreds of trees harvested last year from that stand were milled into lumber in Wisconsin. However, some of the trees were trucked to a veneer processing facility about a half-hour from my house here in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another, and I was asked to make a couple bowls from the cutoff ends of the veneer logs.

These chunks were massive, so even with the serious case of ring shake midway through the log, I was able to get usable material. You can see the fault line along the growth ring clearly on the left side, then a few rings away from it on the right side.

I was able to easily split out the central section, and that’s the blank I started with for this bowl. Notice, in the photo above, that the log was sawed at the plant. The cathedrals of the growth rings on the sawn face indicate that the sawcut runs at an angle to the growth rings, crossing five or so from one end to the other.

I hewed and planed that surface parallel to the growth rings and marked my longitudinal centerline along the bottom surface right through the center of them.

By the way, I recently discovered these pencils from the Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee. They’ve been making pencils there since 1916. I like their pencils and the 600 NEWS model has a nice soft lead that marks really well on green wood without being so soluble that it bleeds into the fibers.

Once I marked the arc on both ends, I started in with the drawknife to remove the material beyond the line.

I love the drawknife work — especially.

Surprise. When I got close to the line, there was a bit of ring shake still present. I shaved past it, then marked new arcs just a little inside the originals.

I sight down as I go and a quick check with a straightedge verifies close-enough.

This chestnut bowl is well beyond layout now, but that’s enough for one post. More soon!

Posted in bowls, finding wood, historical reference, layout, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Pennsylvania Birds

Birds are a frequent subject in just about every folk art tradition in the world. I’m interested in the common threads that weave through the work of different cultures. A couple books I picked up, used, have inspired me to take a closer look at Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived my entire life, albeit over here on the western edge.

Pennsylvania was a common choice for German immigrants to America especially following William Penn’s recruiting efforts beginning in 1677. Many of the examples in the book Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania (1991) are flavored by that German influence.

And many of the pieces feature birds, like these fantastic bird trees opposite the title page. I may write a separate post about these sometime. Here are a few more peeks at the book:

Many of the birds are decked out with chip carving.

Whimsical patterns and color combinations abound.

The work of well-known carvers such as Wilhelm Schimmel is included, of course, like the eagle and rooster above. A wanderer, Schimmel typically carved in white pine while sitting beside Conodoquinet Creek.

American Folk Sculpture by Robert Bishop features a wide variety of pieces, including a section on “Pennsylvania Whittlers.”

Here’s an example of a spread with Schimmel and some of his work.

And there are lots of birds. Why not?

This summer, maybe I’ll make it over the mountains to the exotic lands to the east to explore some of these things in person. Meanwhile, I’ve got some Pennsylvania birds of my own underway, including this one:

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Six Spoons

I’ve finished a few spoons that are available for purchase. All are carved from crooks, surfaces from the knife, treated with flaxseed/linseed oil, cured and ready to serve. Another batch shouldn’t be too far off. All prices include shipping. If you’d like to purchase, please email me at Update: All of the spoons in this post have sold now. Thank you.

I’ll start with the painted one of this bunch.

#1: Red Maple, 9″ x 2 5/8″. This play on the common expression “Once in a blue moon” came into my head and made its way onto this maple spoon. The paint is two different coats of artists’ oils — so just a mix of pigment and pure linseed oil. I stay away from any toxic pigments, solvents, or drying agents. Photos above and below. $220 includes shipping. SOLD

#2: Red Maple, 14″ x 3″. You can see this one in the rough near the bottom of this post. You really get the sense in that shot how the grain of the crook makes the spoon. Relatively deep bowl and significant bend on this long spoon make it a great serving ladle. $170 includes shipping. SOLD

#3: Border Privet, 11 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. Border privet has a dense, fine grain that not only makes a durable spoon, but also takes lettering detail well. The inscription is part of Julian of Norwich‘s 14th century prayer “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Good form for serving and general kitchen use. $210 includes shipping. SOLD

#4: American Sycamore, 8″ x 2 1/4″. A sharply bent serving spoon. $90 includes shipping. SOLD

#5: Sugar Maple, 11 1/2″ x 2 3/4″. Lettering inspired by the knot at the end of the handle. A good form for serving and general kitchen use. $200 includes shipping. SOLD

#6: Black Cherry, 11 1/4″ x 2 1/2″. Chip-carved handle. $130 includes shipping. SOLD

Posted in Lettering, paint, quotes and excerpts, spoons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Mother’s Day Flowers

I was the luckiest five-year-old in the trailer park, with all of those magical dandelion flowers in our yard. No matter how many I picked, their number never seemed to diminish. I’d pluck them and jamb the round stems into my little hand, forming a tightly packed bouquet of plush gold. And I would give my treasure to the most lovely woman, my mother. And she would gush over my thoughtfulness and place the bundle into a drinking glass on the kitchen table, so beautiful.

“To see things clothed in their fullest beauty it is imperative to approach them with an open-hearted receptivity; to jettison all negative and selfish feelings and the prejudice of unfeeling habit. And always, always, to try to see things as if for the first time.”

John Lane, Timeless Beauty in the Arts and Everyday Life (2003)

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Measuring Up

5/16″ (8mm)

Other than the bottom, I normally don’t measure the thickness of bowls. I just feel with my hands until it’s “about right.” Understandably, beginners have good questions about how thick the sidewalls, endwalls, and bottom should be, so that they have a frame of reference. Having just completed this cherry bowl by my usual hand-and-eye approach to thickness, I took a moment to measure these three areas to see what I ended up with. (By the way, this is the bowl I had started in this post last month.)

There’s room for variation, and what may be “ideal” will differ depending on bowl design, wood species, bowl size, and other factors. This particular bowl is about 19 inches (48cm) long, 12 inches (30.5cm) wide, and just under 5 inches (12.5 cm) high. In the top photo, I’m using double-ended calipers to measure the bottom thickness at the center of the hollow. It measured 5/16″ (8mm).

The calipers I’m using are ones I’ve had around for a while. I think they’re made by Robert Sorby, but there are many different forms around to accomplish the same thing. A search under “double-ended calipers” will yield many possibilities, or a shop-made version could serve well too. What they all have in common is that the gap between the points at one end will equal the gap at the other end. Therefore, thickness can be measured from the back end.

1/4″ (6mm)

The sidewall thickness as seen in the photo just above is 1/4″ (6mm). The sidewall gets gradually thicker as it descends toward the bottom and also as it rises toward the rim. The width of the rim at its narrowest (halfway along the length of the bowl) is 3/8″ (9.5mm)

1/2″ (12.5mm)

The thickness of the endwall as seen above is 1/2″ (12.5mm). The sidewalls can be thinner than the endwalls due to the differences in strength between the long-grain fibers and the end-grain. And endwalls with a shallower slope can be relatively thin compared to those that are more vertical.

For most bowls in general, I’d suggest a bottom thickness of 1/4″–1/2″ (6-12mm), a side wall thickness — at the thinnest point — of 3/16″–3/8″ (3-10mm), and an endwall thickness of 1/2″–3/4″ (12-20mm). I say for most bowls, because there are situations where I might violate those guidelines on purpose. And, since this isn’t a rectangular box made from flat stock, those measurements only provide so much design input. The thicknesses are tapering and blending all over the place. Your eyes and hands will guide you toward the form and feel you’re after, so don’t obsess over numbers.

Here’s a closer shot of the foot of this one — a little design variation. It’s pretty simple to lay out. Draw a couple freehand S curves within the oval, then a C curve for the central vein of each leaf. Trace those lines with some shallow (only about 1/16″ deep) V-tool work, then some strokes with a gouge on the leaf surfaces. I used a #5 8mm for that, but it could be almost anything.

Time to get some oil on it and send it off to its new home.

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The Spoon, the Bowl and the Knife

I can’t carve a spoon without thinking of Wille Sundqvist. His 1990 book, Swedish Carving Techniques, opened up a whole new world of carving possibilities to me. From cover to cover, I soaked it in. Bowl carving, sharpening, spoon carving and the magic of knife grasps. I love his attention to even the smallest of carving practices, such as the section on sharpening a pencil.

Wille was filmed in 2013, at the age of 87, carving a ladle, turning a bowl, sharpening, carving decoration… I learn something every time I watch it. Wille’s words are encouraging and his instruction, based on a lifetime of carving and immersion in handcrafts, is empowering.

Wille’s son, Jögge Sundqvist, recently produced a newly-packaged version of The Spoon, the Bowl and the Knife. The nifty card folder protects the DVD and includes background information. Best of all, this version includes a great little booklet with clear illustrations and explanations of ten knife grasps. It’s a masterfully done reference that complements the film and can be tucked easily into a spoon carving kit.

All of the profits go to the Wille Sundqvist and Bill Coperthwaite Slöjd Fellowship. Del Stubbs sells them at his site here. Del Also has a combo deal for the DVD and Swedish Carving Techniques. If you’d prefer streaming, then Lie-Nielsen has it here.

Two great books, by father and son. Jögge’s book is here.

I’ll finish up a few more of those spoons and post them soon.

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Spring Birds

Suddenly the sun is there on the horizon and the wait is over. Every bird in every tree begins to sing. The earlier chorus was only a preliminary. This is the main event. The birds sing as though it were the first dawn that ever was and they must celebrate.

Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons, 9 April 1961

What would April be without birds? They seem to be all over, including on the back cover of the latest Fine Woodworking (#289). Editor Jon Binzen honored me by featuring one of my bird bowls there, trimmed in spring green. I had previously shared the making of that maple bowl in a blog post.

Looking back through that post, I think I should emphasize an important step. Just like with my non-bird bowls, I begin with a flat bottom. I’ve been sneaking in work on some little birds between some larger projects, so I have a couple photos.

The tighter the crook the better for these. This one is from a staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) trunk. It grows like a weed around here. I split it along the pith, then used part of it for the bird that is furthest to the right in the lead photo for this post.

I set the crook on its side and try to envision the way the bird will “sit”. Then I sketch a line for the bottom and hew away the roundness of the split surface by hewing across the grain.

I usually following the axe with a block plane to get the bottom really flat so that it will sit consistently as I consider the rest. I went through much of the general procedure in this recent post as well as the one linked in the first paragraph.

Carolina chickadee, photo by Mike O’Brien

With birds already on my mind, in my ears, and on my bench, I received an email from my friend Mike O’Brien with some close-up bird photos. Mike was able to observe a bird banding event in Chattanooga, Tennessee over the weekend and took some great photos that he allowed me to share here. That’s a Carolina Chickadee above. Here are a few more from Mike. I find it fascinating to consider the differences in the lines, form, and angles in each bird; a wonderful display of form and function.

common grackle, photo by Mike O’Brien
killdeer on her clutch of three speckled eggs, photo by Mike O’Brien
female red-winged blackbird, photo by Mike O’Brien
evening grosbeak, photo by Mike O’Brien.

And one more spring bird that often goes overlooked. Every spring I look forward to the return of the turkey vultures. This year, Kristin and I first saw them on March 6th settling in to roost in a tall stand of hemlocks on our evening walk. I don’t have a lens that can reach for a close-up photo, so this odd ballpoint-pen sketch based on a photo I found will have to do for this post. Too bad Mike and his friends didn’t band one!

Close up, Turkey vultures aren’t likely to win a beauty contest, but, in flight, they are poetry in motion. They offer free group performances all spring.

Posted in bird bowls, finding wood, nature, publications, quotes and excerpts, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Another Bowl Beginning

Why does this never get old? As I was roughing out this big cherry bowl, I thought about how I’ve gone through this process so many times over the years, and yet it remains completely engaging, even thrilling. I suppose there are many factors that contribute to this: the multi-sensory stimulation, the physicality and movement, the constant challenges to one’s skill, the focused attention, the joy of using these tools, and much more.

I took some shots during the early stages with this one to share the experience all over again.

I think much of the fascination lies in beginning with such raw, elemental material and responding to what it offers. This cherry log had natural splits already forming an x pattern centered on the pith, so I had to follow the log’s lead. One of the resulting billets is above. Wanting to work with an arched top, but with the pith side up on this one, I sketched a rough idea of the end-on proportions of the bowl within the heartwood. This would yield a bowl about 13 inches wide. Then I started riving away what excess I could.

There goes the chunk from the bottom side. I had already split off the sapwood on the sides.

After marking, hewing, and hand planing, the bottom is flat, the prime reference surface.

Such a pleasure hewing with a sharp axe, in this case to remove excess from the top.

This cherry has some curly, unruly grain, so after the axe and drawknife work, I went over the arch across the grain with a handplane to finish before layout.

Here’s a shot of some of the final light cuts with the adze. A blank like this is still heavy enough at this point that it stays pretty steady for the adze work.

The hollow after the adze has had its fun.

Then it’s on to the exterior. The curves are in there somewhere. Almost finished!

Posted in adze, cherry, green woodworking, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 12 Comments