Back in 2019, I ventured to England (Spoonfest) and Sweden (Täljfest) and had an amazing experience of learning, teaching, and sharing. I had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people, including Owen Thomas and Anja Sundberg. I was very happy to learn that, at Täljfest last week, Jögge Sundqvist presented Owen and Anja with the 2022 Fellowships.
Here is a little general information about both of these folks who have done so much to spread the joy and satisfaction of handwork:
Owen Thomas Owen is a master pole lathe turner, tool maker, spoon carver, and is a full-time green woodworker and teacher. He was mentored by MikeAbbott and Robin Wood and he apprenticed under Barnaby Carder. In addition, he teaches green woodwork as therapy in social care. He is inspired by historical work and contemporary design. He lives in Herefordshire, UK. More on Owen at OwenThomasWoodcraft.com Instagram: OwenThomasWoodCraft
Anja Sundberg Anja was educated as a slöjder at the premier craft school, Sätergläntan. She is one of Sweden’s most talented woodworkers inspired by traditional work using axes and knives. Her playful and colorful spoons, knives, bowls and figures are well known amongst the slöjd field. She is a frequent and sought after teacher including gatherings such as SpoonFest and Täljfest. She lives in Orsa in Dalarna, Sweden. More on Anja at Instagram: sundberganja
There have now been eleven recipients of the award since it was established in 2015. You can learn more about it here.
Like many places, we have a lot of maple trees around here. Such wonderful trees for shade, syrup, or playing with the samaras, or “propellors.” And the wood is ideal for spoons. I seemed to be on a lucky roll for finding good maple crooks and carved a group of spoons, each one different in response to the character of the piece of wood. I’ll list them below, going left to right in the photo above. If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices include shipping.
#1: 12 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. This large serving spoon came from a nice big crook, so I utilized all I could. The bowl is 3 1/2″ wide, so, in spite of the suggestion carved into the handle, this is not an eating spoon. $230 includes shipping. SOLD
#2: 12″ x 2 5/8″. A good all-around spoon in the kitchen. Stir, cook, serve. Chip-carved handle. Probably from red maple, which is a little yellower than the rest when oiled. $140 includes shipping. SOLD
#3: 13 1/4″ x 2 1/2″. This one had a tight dark knot that I was able to position in the center of the handle. A little deeper bowl and longer than #2. NFS
#4: 13 1/2″ x 2″. This spatula is thin and nimble, but very strong. The balance worked out so that it rests naturally in such a way that the blade stays off the table. A lucky feature that might keep the counter clean. Chip-carved handle. $130 includes shipping. SOLD
#5: 13 1/2″ x 2 1/4″. This long multi-tasker had a little perfectly round knot in the bowl. On a whim, when the spoon was finished, I added the smile with a wood-burning tool. $150 includes shipping. SOLD
When I lay out the “rectoval” bowls like the walnut bowls featured in my most recent post, I usually simply sketch in the long side curves by hand. On those two bowls, I experimented with a technique using an improvised drawing bow.
The side rim of the bowl is defined by two non-parallel arcs. In the photo above, the outer arc needs to pass through the three points indicated by the blue arrows, and the inner arc by the red arrows. Notice that the distance between the arrows is narrowest at the widest point of the bowl, in this case about 8 or 9mm (5/16″ or so). The degree of curvature itself is a matter of taste, and I usually just say to myself, “Right about there looks good for this one.” A good starting point is to make the ends of the bowls about 80% (4/5) as wide as the middle. Then I transfer that point on the end wall to the other three quadrants (with a compass, for symmetry’s sake) and connect these three points with a continuous curve. I’ve done that, in the photo above as indicated by the pencil line connecting the three blue arrows. Now for the inner arc ending at my fingertips.
You can connect the dots by arranging the bowl on the bench with reference lines and making a giant compass to reach over the arch of the top. Or you can just draw by eye (sighting down the line can reveal irregularities in the curve). But this drawing bow turned out to be a good option too.
There are all sorts of commercially available drawing bows. I’ve never tried them, but I suppose they would work well. You could take a thin slat of wood or many other things and accomplish the same idea, but I just grabbed my trusty 18″ steel ruler off the wall and ripped a strip of duct tape. By folding the duct tape over the ends, the ruler was held in an even bend that could be adjusted easily by lifting and repositioning one end of the tape in a second. Any tape that doesn’t stretch would work as well. After a little fiddling, the arc passed through all three red points and could be traced.
Here’s the layout filled in with white pencil on one quadrant. A bowl could be carved based on that with inner corners, but I rounded them.
These two walnut bowls are very much alike in all aspects of their design except for the shape of the upper surface. I split both blanks from the same log. After hewing and planing both bottom surfaces flat, I gave the one an arched top and the other a flat top.
Above are both blanks. It may be more intuitive to create an arched blank when working in the “bark-up” orientation, since the arch is already there the natural form. But it can also be done with a “bark-down” (or “pith-up”?) blank, and may be a good choice for certain logs and circumstances.
Realizing that the growth rings were difficult to see on the blanks and having just discovered the feature that lets me mark on photos, I’ve indicated the growth ring pattern with the yellow lines.
Both bowls were laid out in the same way on the upper surface, in a “rectoval” shape. From the angle above, you can see the same sort of grain pattern on the inside of the hollows.
Drop down a bit and the difference made by the blank form becomes more apparent. Neither is inherently better; it’s a matter of taste, setting, and/or purpose. It’s good to have both options to be able to make the best use of a particular log.
I chose to finish the interior of both bowls with a subtle texture by paring the surface with a relatively shallow gouge. In the case of this bowl, I’m using a Hans Karlsson bent gouge 150 sweep (the edge represents an arc of a circle 150mm in diameter) 45mm wide, equivalent to a #4 sweep or so, I’d say. The specific gouge doesn’t matter, but sharp does, especially when pushing an edge that wide through dry (at this stage) walnut. Even with all that pushing, two holdfasts and some rubber pads are all that’s needed. Simple and effective. I don’t know what I’d do without holdfasts.
The side panels of both bowls were finished at the bowl horse with a drawknife. I carved flutes on the end panels but I varied the number. Flat top got 12 flutes, and arch top got 9, slightly wider.
There’s a knot in the end wall of flat top. It carved easily, and I like the way the grain swirls around it.
I’ve been designing some new lettering projects, for myself to carve, but also with the idea of offering some lettering patterns for sale. As I sat drawing, my mind went back to a trip to Cleveland last month and the protective spirit I encountered.
My mom and I spent part of the day at the Cleveland Museum of Art. When we walked into the Ancient Near East room, we were met by a larger-than-life Assyrian spirit, impressive in his own right, beautifully carved and over seven feet tall.
A closer look revealed a pattern of cuneiform script carved right across the hand, body, and feathered wings. A translation of the message brings to light the typical report of a king’s conquests, power, and palatial details. That last bit is interesting if only for the types of wood used in the construction of the palace. A complete translation of the inscription, background information about the piece, and an image that can be explored in detail are all at The CMA website, here.
In addition to the way that the carver inscribed the text right over the details of the background carving, I was fascinated by the subtle arcs making up the walls of each symbol and the way the walls of neighboring shapes are linked to form continuous lines and wonderful curves. This is evident in my photos, but can be seen especially well by zooming in at the link above.
We may think of cuneiform as simply different combinations of wedge shapes, but it seems to me that this carver delighted in the possibilities and the carving of them. I understand relatively little about that carver’s world or language, but when it comes to beauty and the joy of creating, of watching a shape emerge at the cutting edge, what’s three thousand years? But some things do change; I suppose he’d be surprised to learn that his carving is on a wall in Cleveland.
Driving eastward home through rural Ohio that evening, I pulled off the road to walk through a couple small cemeteries. There are interesting things to see even among the sandblasted letters, but I mainly look for older, hand carved stones. I discovered the work of a letter carver from only two centuries ago, which are about the oldest gravestones you’ll tend to find in this part of the country.
The style and carving designs led me to believe that many of these stones in two cemeteries in close proximity were carved by the same person. For example, notice the zig-zag element at the side borders of the stones above and below. This was a fine-grained local sandstone of some sort that has held up pretty well.
I won’t bother pointing out all of the elements I noticed, but I’ll just share some photos of the stones. The shadows weren’t falling right to get good shots. Next time I can visit, I’ll try to remember to take some big paper and make some rubbings. These stones scratch the surface of stories that go much deeper than the carving.
One stone had the initials “P.W.” carved at the bottom. Possibly the carver. More to explore another time. Now it’s back to the drawing board.
Although I rarely use it, I do have a hollowing adze meant to be swung with two hands. For large bowls, it can help to hog out material a little faster. It was looking lonely, so I pulled it off the wall to begin hollowing the walnut bowl that led my last post. In his book Country Woodcraft Then and Now, Drew Langsner has an extensive bowl carving section that includes a low base for securing a blank while using an adze with two hands. That would be better, but I haven’t gotten around to making one, so I just took a seat on a convenient log and set the heavy bowl blank in front of me. With my elbows on my legs, I swung the adze by pivoting at my elbows and rotating my wrists. The hardest part was concentrating, what with the neighborhood kids laughing at my pants, asking where the flood was.
In the shot above, it may look like the handle is breaking at that sharp bend, but it’s not.
When I bought this adze, I expected I would have to change the handle. The geometry of the head and the handle were not in harmony. In the photo above, I’ve used a yardstick to represent the original handle. It came straight out of the eye. When swung naturally, the cutting edge was tucked at an inward angle and the area behind the edge just slammed into the wood. So it was either reforge the head to open it up with less of a tucked profile, or make a new handle that brought the geometry of the head into harmony with the swing arc. I’m not a blacksmith, so I went to the woods.
I found a limb in a fallen oak with an appropriate bend in it, split it, and made this handle from it. Drew Langsner used to offer a similar handle design for an adze in his Country Workshops catalog. He steam bent the handles from straight grained wood, which makes more sense when you have multiples of the same thing to make.
In the detail photo, you can see the flow of the fibers through the handle.
I looked around this morning online, and I don’t see this exact one available any more. The cutting edge is deeply curved and nearly 3″ across. I found some Biber adzes, but it looks like they’ve been radically redesigned. They have a short-handled one now with a design that seems to have been modeled closely on Hans Karlsonn’s adze. Anyway, whatever adze you use, keep that geometry in mind. I’ve written about it on the blog before. This post is a good place to start, and it includes links to others on the topic. I also wrote an article for Fine Woodworking #285 (December 2020).
Like I mentioned, I tend to use this only rarely, but some folks rely more on a long handled adze. I find that the short one hogs away nearly as fast and I have to go to to it for more precision anyway as I near the line. The photo above shows about as close as I want to get with the big one. That one cut almost required a bowl re-design.
Earlier this week, I was preparing to take some photos in the shop of two recently-finished walnut bowls, but the light filtering into the shop wasn’t really bringing out the color variations in the wood. I looked into the back yard and saw the light hitting the hosta flowers, and took the bowls out there.
This first one is a long open form in a style that I’ve done many times, but it had been a little while.
I was reminded of the time required to carve the complex exterior form and to get the flow of the lines just so. And I think you can see what I mean about the right light revealing the color variations in the walnut.
And then it’s on to the necklace. I wrote an article for Fine Woodworking Magazine (Issue #263) five years ago about carving this bowl form as well as the necklace. It’s still a fun challenge, and I learn some subtle thing every time I make it.
The proportions (usually determined by the particular piece of wood) within the design can vary widely and still work well. This iteration is 19 1/2″ long, 9 1/2″ wide, and about 4″ high.
I weighed the finished bowl out of curiosity; 1 lb., 9 3/8 oz.
And the shot above is for all of you using that newfangled system.
Chip was patiently waiting as I snapped the photos. He read that hostas are poisonous to dogs, so he doesn’t eat them. He lays on them instead.
I already have a home for that first walnut bowl, but his little brother is available:
Still walnut, but many different elements to the form and detail that make it more straightforward to carve. Smaller too, at 13″ long, 6 1/2″ wide, and 3 1/2″ high. Three more shots below.
Hosta flowers weren’t the only ones on display. The first rose of Sharon flower bloomed at the edge of the yard. The bumble bees will be happy, like the one I showed in this post a few years ago.
The wood for most of what I make comes from trees that grow within a few miles of my house, which is more than enough to make me happy. I’m fortunate to live in an area with so many diverse species flourishing all around me. Acacia Koa isn’t one of them. In fact, Koa only grows in one place far away: Hawaii.
One day two unexpected boxes showed up on my porch, each containing a block of green koa wood wrapped tightly in trash bags. I did some research on koa lumber and realized I must have been a better boy than I had thought.
There is an interesting chapter about koa in the book Around the World in 80 Trees, by Jonathan Drori, a beautifully crafted book with lovely illustrations by Lucille Clerc. Drori discusses the rich history of koa in Hawaiian culture. It was the wood of choice for the ocean-going canoes that could be 100 feet (30 meters) long. Chiefs would commission a team led by an expert canoe-builder called the kahuna, to carve the vessel with stone adzes from a single trunk. This bowl doesn’t even make me a tiny kahuna.
Since I had, essentially, a 14″ x 8″ x 3″ plank to work with, I decided to make the most of it and keep the top flat. I have been calling this shape a “rectoval,” and I assumed that wasn’t a “real” term. But I just googled it, and what do you know — cookie cutters. Turns out, it’s even a hashtag on Instagram with five posts! (Yes, I know what an Instagram is.) But I digress. The hollowing went well. Working with koa seemed similar to cherry or walnut to me, although there were some areas of reversing grain and figure to deal with.
To maximize the hollow, I went with no extended handles. Care must be taken to avoid blowout at the rim especially when hewing any handle-less bowl. A sharp axe makes a big difference, but the main thing is to avoid chopping all the way to the upper rim of the bowl (which is face down on the chopping block in the photo above). With no wood below it for support, especially if part of the bowl is lifted off the block, a chunk of wood can split off along the short grain near the rim. To avoid that, I begin by rough hewing the sides first, then I chop away most of the end material, leaving maybe a 1/2″ of the end grain below the rim untouched.
Above, you can see the results. The rounded final form of the end is under there somewhere, but that is not my concern right now. Removing the bulk of that wood makes the next step, shaping the curve of the end of the bowl, possible.
A sharp axe handles this well. Once you get the cut going, the left bevel just continues to register against the newly cut surface, stroke after stroke, making it easier than it may look. Stop at the center line, then flip the bowl up to do the other side. Cutting like this keeps the fibers supported and prevents blowout. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this with an axe, you can get close with a saw, then trim to the line with a spokeshave.
Now that the final end surface is established, I’m marking a line below the rim where I want the lower end wall to stop. This leaves me a narrow band below the rim for some chip carving, but I could go right up to edge of the top surface with no problems now. A drawknife and/or spokeshave can do the final shaping of the exterior walls.
Above is a shot of the final end wall. The surface texture and chip carving were executed after drying.
I had just enough thickness at the foot to do this fun little tree in shallow relief.
When I first encountered Martin Wenham’s work several years ago, it expanded my awareness of the wonderful possibilities that letter carving offers. Martin’s pieces are testaments to his attentive sensitivity to wood and language. Many of his works can be explored here. Better yet, start with this video in which Martin tells his story and discusses his approach to lettering. You also get a few peeks at his methods and see a lot of his finished pieces:
I’ve mentioned Martin on the blog before, and now because, just a few months ago, Martin’s book The Art of Letter Carving in Wood was published. I purchased mine from Blackwell’s here, and the price includes shipping to the USA. Here is a link to a print interview in which Martin discusses the book. And you can see a few more shots of the book, including the table of contents, at the Crowood Press site, here.
The book is a culmination of what Martin has learned since he began carving letters in 1967. He explains, in clear detail, the methods he uses, including the shape of his tool edges and the way he sharpens them. There are many possible ways to carve letters, or to carve, period. Martin’s approach has proven to be effective through his work and his methods are accessible and achievable even if one is just beginning to explore. Note that Martin uses no knives and the methods are most suitable for letters larger than, say, those on spoon handles and such.
Far more important than the carving method, Martin offers great insight into letter design, spacing, variations, and much more. The back cover gives you an idea of the topics covered as will the links provided above. Throughout the book, Martin illustrates his points with examples of his own wonderful work. Highly recommended.
The five-year-old said he loves his dad’s hugs and fly fishing together, so I came up with this pair of merging shrink pots carved with a line from Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. The larger pot is about 10″ (255mm) tall with the finial, 7″ (180mm) without. Diameter is a little over 4″ (115mm).
After lots of sketchbook sketching and head scratching, I cut a fresh cherry log into two sections and drilled a hole through each with a 2″ T-handle auger. (I’ve written many other posts about making shrink pots; check out the “shrink box” category from the menu to the right.) Notice the fresher cut on the piece to the right where I had just sawed the one length into two. On the piece to the left, I have marked my plan for shaping the base of the larger pot to accept the circumference of the smaller pot. I sized the outer circle of the larger pot to maximize the heartwood while eliminating the sapwood.
There’s the view from the bottom of the finished pots nestled together.
Matching the shape at the bottom was easy compared to the rest of the way up, especially considering that both pots are hand shaped. It came down to shaving a bit more here and there with a gouge, checking the fit, repeat….
Following the 2″ hole, the rest of the material was removed from both pots with a gouge. The larger pot’s interior was shaped to reflect the form of the exterior.
After I cut and trimmed the top surfaces level, it was time to make tight-fitting lids. You can make rabbets on this type of lid by carving from a single piece, or turning on a lathe. In this instance, I laminated two pieces together to form the rabbet. Here’s a captioned slide show (below) that details that process:
The finials were carved from walnut, for contrast and as a nod to the dark brown hair of the father and son.
The finials are fit to the lid with a shouldered tenon, wedged from below. The interior side of the lid and pots were left unfinished so that nothing might effect the taste of the oats, tea, or whatever stored inside.
The lettering was cut with a knife, along with a couple small gouges for the tighter outer curves.