Carving American Chestnut 4: Two Finished Bowls

Here are the two bowls I made from the American Chestnut I started with in a post in June. The one on the left is the one I highlighted through the series of posts, so I’ll start with a few shots of that one.

The pith-down orientation results in a growth ring pattern roughly parallel to the arch of the handles and in harmony with the upswept rim of the bowl. The effect is pretty pronounced given the color variations in this piece of chestnut.

Same with the concentric oval pattern in the hollow.

Here’s an overhead shot of that. Those color variations were relatively subtle until the oil hit the wood, then the chestnut really started to speak up.

The shot above shows the various facets of the exterior surface before oiling.

Once the oil hit, I decided to leave the character of the wood speak for itself rather than do any additional decorative carving on that upper side panel. Might have been a bit like writing a letter onto a sheet of the morning newspaper.

The design for the second chestnut bowl is mainly a result of trying to make the most of the given blank. The log had some defects that led me to this broad, relatively shallow, more-rectangular bowl. The widely spaced growth rings and the pith-up orientation created a sort of mottled pattern in the hollow. I ran the gouge cuts with the grain from handle to handle.

On the exterior, the large foot is a reflection of the broad shallowly-sloped bowl hollow.

I had some fun with bold crisp paring cuts with a 8 gouge.

This stand of majestic American chestnut trees escaped the blight for well over a century, but it found them eventually. The bowls are now out of my hands and will soon be with some folks who were part of the team that assured these trees will have a second life.

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Make a Book Box

A few years ago, I made a shrink pot for my daughter in the the form of a book (photo below). I think I had first seen an example made by Jögge Sundqvist. It is simply a shrink pot with a rectangular bottom and a sliding dovetailed lid. Wonderful fun.

Wanting to make one for my son, I experimented with a different construction technique using dry wood and multiple pieces.

Emma’s shrink book made from three pieces.

Here are the six pieces for Noah’s book. The wood is butternut. The joinery is a simply a combination of dadoes and rabbets cut with a knife, chisel, and rabbet plane. I made sure all was square and such by following the sawing with some work with a sharp plane and a shooting board. The overall finished box dimensions are 9 3/4″ x 7 1/2″ x 2 3/8″, but anything is possible. The dadoes are 3/16″ wide and the bottom panel is trapped in them. I made the front and back covers 7/16″ thick to allow for the depth of carving. The spine is 3/4″ thick and the opposite side is 3/8″.

I made tapered square pegs to secure the glued rabbet joints, first splitting square pieces from dry walnut stock, then shaving them down with a chisel against a stop. Something like 3/16 square at the fat end.

I drilled holes — maybe 5/32″ diameter — through the rabbet joint and hammered in the pins along with some glue. The corners of the pegs had no problem cutting into the softer butternut wood.

Of course, the sky’s the limit as for decoration. I was inspired by a photograph of Noah from a hike we had taken. After outlining the foreground silhouette in black India ink with a brush, I cut grooves around the border with a V-tool.

I also did some carved texturing of the background and sky. In the photo above, I had begun to add some color to the background fields with thinned artist oil paint.

Then I went nuts. Color is daunting for me, but why not give it a shot? Play around. Experiment. Make mistakes and learn. There are advantages to being a woodworker rather than a heart surgeon.

One of Noah’s favorite authors is Hermann Hesse. Hesse’s book Wandering: Notes and Sketches is a commentary on the author’s re-exploration of a land from his youth. Considering Noah’s love for the book, I carved a quote emphasized in Wandering into the back cover.

Here’s a shot of the spine.

I used a toothing plane iron like a scraper to make grooves in this surface to suggest pages.

The rabbeted lid slides in grooves made up of dadoes cut into the covers and spine. After all of the carving was finished, I put a coat of linseed oil over the book box, paint and all.

Whether made like a shrink pot or through joinery, these book boxes are a lot of fun to make and provide a special place to stash special stuff.

Trees have long thoughts, long—breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.

Hermann Hesse, Wandering: Notes and Sketches (1920), [translation by James Wright, 1972]

Posted in books, Lettering, quotes and excerpts, shrink box, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Carving Book for Kids of All Ages

There’s a great kid in my neighborhood, Conner, who pops over to play with Chip, help stack wood, or look for fishing worms under logs. He’s also taken an interest in carving and was excited when I showed him Frank Egholm’s book Easy Wood Carving for Children: Fun Whittling Projects for Adventurous Kids.

I met Frank at Täljfest in 2019, and he gave me a gift of his wonderful book. Conner now has his own copy and he stopped over a couple days ago asking about a paper towel holder he saw in the book. He liked it and thought it would make a good holder for his spools of fishing line. We hunted around the woodpile and went into the shop.

It was a fun little project that introduced Conner to sawing and drilling a hole with a brace and auger bit in addition to knifework. He’s still thinking about carving a little face on the top, and that little twig might be good for hanging a favorite fishing lure. He even made a second one for his mom — for paper towels.

Conner shaped the tenon to size with the knife. Frank has some great suggestions in the book for making the knife a little more safe, such as grinding back the sharp tip. We’ll do that on another knife sometime.

Many of the projects in the book take little time. Frank does a great job of considering the perspective of a child, and the book is written in a welcoming and fun tone that provides lots of encouragement.

As skills expand, there are more challenging projects that will engage and satisfy minds and hands.

You probably know some creative and crafty kids….

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Carving American Chestnut 3: Foot Shape

Onto another stage with the chestnut bowl. Although a little bigger and deeper, the design of this bowl has much in common with the cherry bowl on the left. Same general upper outline, narrow side panel, arched top. But the cherry one has an oval foot and the chestnut one has a sort of rectangular foot, but with all four sides curved. (Anyone know a proper name for that shape?) The point is that it has corners, and that makes the difference.

Unlike the continuous exterior surface of the cherry bowl, the chestnut bowl has distinct side (B) and end surfaces (C), a natural extension of the foot shape. The narrow side panel (A) is just an option. The junction of surfaces B and C form a ridge that runs from the lower corner of the handle to the corner of the foot.

Here it is from a different angle.

Shaping surface B with the drawknife.

Working across the grain with the adze forms most of the concave area beneath the handles.

After working more on the ends with axe and spokeshave, I’m paring under the handles with a gouge. Even though I’ll come back to it for more work after it’s dry, I remove all I can while it’s green.

Shaping the top of the handle with the drawknife. That’s the last thing I did before setting it aside to dry. I wrapped it in an old sheet, but with the current humidity, it probably wasn’t necessary.

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Bird Bowl from Straight Grain

Most of the bird bowls I make come from crooks, with the form following the flow of the fibers. In designing and making this bowl, I tried to achieve similar lines and a sense of movement within the constraints of a straight-grained blank. There were limits of course; no sharply raised tail allowed on this birdy. I began with a butternut log. Beautiful wood and a little on the softer side which made the deeply undercut hollow a little less daunting.

In future examples, I’ll refine my process for this design, but I’ll try to provide the basic idea here, beginning with the sketch below showing the initial shaping of the blank:

In step two, the blank is sort of a truncated version of a rooftop bowl blank. The more I think about it, to save material, you could start with a 1/4 section of a log and simply split off the inner corner. Either way, once you hew away the red sections in step three, much of the bulk is gone and you can sculpt the flowing curves into the upper surface like the photo below.

I started with an axe, then moved to a drawknife.

I also had marked the foot and hewed away the general bulk from the underside, redrawing the centerline above and below.

In the photo above, the upper surface has been refined a bit with a spokeshave and the outline sketched on. I just aim for some flowing, interesting curves and imagine how they will translate in three dimensions. I work it out on one side, then transfer a few key spots to the other side using compass techniques, then sketch out the other side. Then start chopping wood away and see how things take shape

While I was waiting for the butternut bowl to dry, with the process was fresh on my mind, I started another one in white pine. The top half of a pine tree snapped off a couple blocks up the street and I was able to grab a beautiful clear chunk. So the photo above is the same general design, but in pine. You can see that I’ve begun to carve the hollow with a bent gouge, but that’s about as far as it can go. The combination of small opening, deep blank, and wide rim/wings, called for a steep and deeply undercut hollow.

I moved to spoon gouges. In the photo above, I’m using a gouge I bought at Lie-Nielsen several years ago made my Nic Westerman. I think he calls it a “swan neck.” To begin the cut the gouge is nearly upside down, then the gouge moves in a tight arc under the rim…

…finishing in the position above. But even the spoon bent gouges will only get so far.

I was able to reach way back under with some creative manipulation of hook knives. Just a whole lot of fun problem solving and discovering new capabilities for tools and adapting techniques.

Here are a few more photos of the finished butternut bowl:

Centering the bowl withe the growth rings revealed a nice pattern on the top surface.

Undercutting the wings on the outside also contributed to keeping the walls of the bowl from being too thick. A bit of a keel where the tail rises lengthens the grain there. The tail can get thinner in the back half as it gets more in line with the fibers. All of the surfaces on this bowl were left from the edge of the tools. Overall length is about 16 inches (40cm).

Has anyone seen my apple?

The recipient of this bowl appreciates the writing of Thomas Merton, so I cut an excerpt from Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude onto the wings.

Posted in bird bowls, figure, finding wood, layout, patterns, quotes and excerpts, sketch, tools, trees, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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!

Posted in bowls, carving, cherry, finding wood, holding, layout, patterns, sketch, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 23 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.

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 2: A Full Hollow

Following up on this post about carving a bowl in American chestnut, I’ll share some photos and thoughts on the hollowing process. That cross grain trench in the photo above is something I’ve discussed in more detail before. It establishes the contours through the deepest and widest part of the bowl and severs the fibers from one side to the other so that all of the remaining chips release cleanly.

As the major trend-setter for the rest of the hollow, it’s ideal to establish a trench with a nice full U shape like the left side of the drawing above. Of course, every bowl has its own proportions, so the drawing isn’t meant to indicate a specific pattern. The same general principle applies to just about any bowl form.

This particular bowl I’m working on is a little too steep and deep for my adze to form the cross-grain trench effectively — too tight of an arc, so I’m using a bent gouge. Above, I’m beginning the cut with the “Psycho” grip. Notice the angle of the tool. I imagine the intended arc of the hollow rising right up out of the bowl and into the space above (refer back to that arrow in the drawing), and I place the bevel on that imaginary extended surface. I’m controlling the edge in space by securing the side of my left hand against the bowl and holding the shaft in my fingers. After the tool cuts a little, the bevel will register against the new surface it is cutting.

To move the edge forward I bend at the knees, allowing my descending body weight to propel the gouge while steadily pulling the handle back to lever off the back of the bevel and form the arc. In the photo above, the cutting edge has reached the center of the bowl. The fingers of my left hand are putting pressure down on the shaft of the tool to keep the edge engaged in cutting the wood.

An adze or gouge can then remove the remaining material from the rim down to this “landing zone” at the bottom of the trench. Maybe it was the rhythmic beat of the adze that put Chip to sleep. Doesn’t take much on a hot humid day.

Adze work in American Chestnut

Above, the adze has done it’s work. The gouge will clean up whatever the adze has left. The bottom of the cross-grain trench is still there.

Then I refine the hollow by paring with a bent gouge before moving on to the exterior.

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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!

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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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