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

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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.

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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!

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Spoons with Beaks

This year, the arrival of spring weather seems perfectly synchronized with the calendar. I’ve got lots of projects to do, but with the sun is shining and that mourning dove calling to its mate from the maple tree, I get birds on the brain. One nice thing about these small bird bowls is that most of the work can be done outside with a couple knives, like spoon carving. You could even think of these as spoons with beaks.

Starting with a crook gives a natural lift to the head and tail. This piece was a little different sort of crook. This young birch curved up from the ground before straightening out and had some interesting burl figure at the base. I split it in half, then cleaned up the bark side.

After sketching some lines on the upper side, I roughly hewed away the majority of the excess from the exterior. After removing some bulk from the hollow with a gouge and mallet, I went outside with the birds for the knife work. I put some shots together in a slideshow below (the slideshow probably won’t show up in your email browser).

As you can see from the photos, I use the same knife grasps that I use for spoon carving. If you’ve already got the tools for spoon carving, little bird bowls like this can be fun to explore.

I’ve set this one aside to dry. I’ll return to it another day to see what I have to work with for round two.

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Elia’s Class Complete

Last Saturday, Elia Bizzarri and I finished up our live online bowl carving class with the third session, resulting in over 9 hours of bowl carving instruction.

The sessions follow the process, step-by-step from a half log. My resulting sample bowl (seen above and below) began with a cherry log about 8 inches in diameter and 15 1/2″ long. If you lack greenwood, you could follow along and do just fine with a dry length of 4×6 timber, say 14-16 inches long — ideally something like basswood or poplar if you’re working dry wood. While this bowl design is accessible for beginners, the class isn’t just about making a particular bowl. It focuses on the concepts and skills that can be used and adapted for a variety of styles and designs.

Although I did plenty of fumbling around, especially with my web cam, and the whole thing is obviously unscripted, there are some interesting advantages to this format. For one, folks were able to join in from far away. Also, the participants could interject with impromptu questions mid-process, meant that clarifications could be made for the benefit of all. And there were tons of excellent questions! After I demonstrated each step, Elia — accompanied by his high-quality cameras and camerapersons — carried out that step on his bowl while adapting to the equipment and tools available in his shop.

Although the classes have ended, every minute was recorded. If you’d like to access an episode or all three, they are available through Elia’s website, where you’ll find more information including a description of each episode.

Thanks to all of you who participated, and to Elia and his team!

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Gouge Versatility

Early one April morning when we were twelve, my buddy, Scott, and I met on the bank of the Little Shenango River, excited to use our shiny new spinners on the first day of trout season. Our reels were full of fresh line, and we did our best to extend every foot of it with each unrewarded cast. Soon, an old-timer, equipped with the generally the same tools as us, waded to a spot just downstream. He gave us a smile, a kindly nod, and a lesson in versatility. With maybe a dozen pinpoint casts to a spot not ten feet away he plucked three trout out of the stream.

The moral, obviously, is that there is more than one way to use a gouge.

Since last Saturday’s second session of the online bowl carving class that Elia Bizzarri and I have embarked upon, I’ve been working on some stages of my now-dry sample bowls in preparation for next Saturday’s finale. Thanks to so many good questions from participants, I think we’re all learning a lot, and it has been great fun.

I used the #8 30mm bent gouge to cut the final surface of the hollow of the cherry bowl in the lead photo. By using the full capacity of this wide and deep gouge, one can hog away lots of wood quickly to form the hollow itself. But it can also be used differently, more delicately, to leave a subtly textured surface.

We tend to think of a steep sweep like a #8 as leaving a pronounced texture, which makes sense if the entire edge is used in the cut. Above on the left is the edge of a #8 30mm wide, and on the right is a #5 16mm wide. The gouge on the right is the natural choice to leave a more subtly textured surface.

But, because the sweep is, in the standard system of gouge numbering, relative to the width of the tool, the actual curvature of the #8 30mm and the #5 16mm are pretty close in comparison.

By using a little restraint like I witnessed streamside, we can get a #5 performance from a #8 when the situation is right.

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Gouge Article and Thumbnail Cuts

In the current issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine, #288 Mar/Apr 2021, is an article in which I suggest seven or eight gouges that form a solid kit for greenwood carving. One of them is a #8 10mm gouge that can be used to add a variety of patterns to your bowls, spoons, shrink pots, boxes, or anything else.

Given the limited space in the magazine, they weren’t able to include this sample board I put together of just some of the patterns that can be created using just one #8 gouge, although a couple of the patterns include some cuts from a narrower gouge, or some nail taps. So I’m sharing it here. The vertical plunge cut is followed by an angled back cut that meets it and removes a chip. Varying the distance between those two cuts and the arrangement of the chips provides for all sorts of possibilities.

Of course, various widths of gouges can create chips from tiny to large, but, regardless of width, I find that a #8 or #9 sweep works best for most patterns. Simple, fun technique, and if executed crisply, really catches light and shadow to great effect. You might easily get carried away and be running around with your gouge like Charlie Chaplin with his wrenches.

Now I’m off for some final preparations for today’s online bowl carving class. Elia and I are excited to get started. Looking forward to seeing some of you there.

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