Coffee Pot

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For many folks, the morning cup of coffee is one of life’s great joys, a sacred ritual and/or an absolute necessity.  I’m happy that this big shrink pot will become a part of the morning routine for one coffee lover.


For a larger pot like this in cherry (6″ diamer a the base and 7″ high, excluding the finial), I hollow the interior with a gouge and mallet after boring a 2″ hole through with a T-handle auger.  Should hold a lot of ground or whole coffee beans for her.


A good lid will keep that coffee fresh.  Making it can take as long as making the pot.  I made this lid from a radially-split billet of dry cherry.  The “quarter-sawn” grain orientation should keep seasonal movement to a minimum.


I carved a rabbet into the underside of the lid.  The wall of the rabbet is tapered to match the taper carved inside the rim of the pot.  This allows the lid to settle in with no wiggle room as the heavy lid seats.  The finial was carved from cherry burl and through-tenoned into the lid.  The interior was left unfinished.



I couldn’t resist a little carved sketch on the basswood bottom.  I’ve written several posts on shrink pots.  Check out the “shrink box” category from the pull-down menu to the right, and have some fun making a new partner for your morning ritual.

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I’ve briefly mentioned the idea of using a travisher on bowls, in this post for example.  The travisher in that post was one I had made years before using a blade that I purchased from Country workshops. I used it for the occasional chair seat and for other tasks.  It’s the one at the top of the photo below:


The travisher below it in the photo is one that I purchased from James Mursell’s website.  I found that it had some great features.  Two deeply recessed set-screws hold the blade firmly in position.  The shavings exit the top rather than the back, allowing for thumbs to be placed on the solid wood behind the blade, great for control and comfort.   The tighter radius (about a 4 1/2″ radius) made it more versatile than my other travisher.

Still, there were some aspects of the design that made it difficult to use for bowls — which is no surprise, since it wasn’t designed for that use.  I experimented and made some important modifications to the body that made it more ideal for bowl shaving.  I’ll show you what I did below.  Pretty simple, really.  By the way, I have absolutely no connection with James Mursell.

Notice the red line I drew on the travisher in the photo above.  Trim the sole back to the red line, leaving about 1/2″ of sole in front of the blade.  The set screws are recessed deeply enough that they’re not affected at all.  In the photo below, that has been done.


Above and below are two different views of the handles after I shaved recesses to either side of the blade.  This allowed my ring and pinky fingertips to fit under the handles which also helps with control.


The last step is to round the sole in front of the blade down to a line about 1/8″ or so above the existing toe (see the pencil line in the photo below).


You want a gentle arc from the existing wood right in front of the blade down to the pencil line.


I used a finely set spokeshave, but a rasp or block plane would work as well.


Here’s how I hold it in general.  My thumbs are pressing on the wood behind the blade.


You certainly don’t need a travisher for carving bowls, and it’s really off limits for some bowl designs and sizes, but for general medium to large bowls it can be useful for fairing the hollow.  The compact size makes it pretty nimble and versatile.  I’ve used it occasionally as an intermediate step, but I suppose one could choose to leave the surface directly from the travisher.

Here’s one final shot with a ruler for reference.




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Noah’s Bowl


After his first few days home from college for Christmas break, my son told me he wanted to carve a bowl.  Being in the workshop with him was nice and reminded me of many moments in the workshop when the kids were growing up.  Usually, the projects were spur-of-the-moment ideas that struck them; bows and arrows, boats, wooden swords, miniature stages for little ponies and the like.

And every so often, they’d pop in and help me with a project I was working on.  Attention spans tend to be short at that age — there are so many things to explore — so I never made the shop into a detention center.  Over the years, they’ve continued to investigate and discover their own interests and talents, from drawing to guitar playing.  Once in awhile they pop back in to the workshop as Noah did to really carve his first bowl, a gift for his mother.


We worked with green tulip poplar, one good option for a first bowl.  We stuck to a form that allowed him to get used to the feel of the tools and the response of the material rather than become overwhelmed with a really complex design.  Still, the bowl has a nicely arched top and some undercutting beneath the handles.  He enjoyed it and made a lovely bowl that will see lots of use in our house over the years.  This tulip poplar log had a cool purple streak running through it that was a nice bonus.  The bowl is 16 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 3 inches high.


IMG_8732The photos were taken after the bowl had dried in the open for over a week and had lost nearly half of its weight through water loss.  Now Noah will have to decide if he wants to go over all of the surfaces again with fresh cuts to refine the form and leave a more burnished surface, as I do. But he really took the time to leave nice cuts during the green stage and there was really no discoloration or anything during drying, so maybe he’ll just flatten the bottom with a hand plane and oil it.  IMG_8736

IMG_8542Wishing you all a 2019 filled with memorable moments in and out of the workshop.

Posted in bowls, drying, patterns, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Feline Inspiration


You can learn a lot by watching cats.  They are studies in elegant movement and sinuous lines.

Our cat, Mavis (named after a Thomas-the-Train engine), is sixteen years old.  Quick sketches of him appear here and there through my sketchbooks.  He always seems to be in a good pose that creates a miniature landscape of curves.  I suppose their natural fascination as subjects is one of the reasons cats appear in the art of many cultures going back to the earliest civilizations and that they continue to be popular models.


Mavis doing his best “Sphinx” pose.



Buttternut cat viewed from above.

As a gift for my daughter, I carved a small representation of Mavis (or any cat) curled up sleeping.  I tried to simplify the form and translate it into a combination of curving lines and surfaces — a sculptural form much like a carved bowl or spoon.

At four inches long, this piece was sized well for holding in a hand while carving.  I used many of the same knife grasps that I use for spoon carving.  Most of the carving of this piece of butternut was done with a sloyd knife and pocket knife, and the surface is left directly from the knife cuts.  No oil had been applied yet when the photos were taken.

Just as with a spoon or a bowl, distinct facets catch the light or hold shadows.  And the effect changes when the piece is seen from different viewpoints.


It seems to me that automobile designers consider these same things, putting a lot of thought into the lines formed where two surfaces meet and the effect of light.  Engines and horsepower aren’t really my thing, but I’ve always loved the image of the designer scraping away the clay from the car model, checking the surface with hand and eye.  A process that continues today as you can see in this short video.

I find it interesting how the tapeline is established on one surface as the important junction, then the adjoining surface is faired by judgement to the line.  I suspect that Charles Douglas carves spoons and bowls.

Anyway, this little diversion got me thinking, and, like every project, taught me a thing or two.  Mavis, by the way, couldn’t care less.


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Norman Stevens

Norman Stevens

I received word last night that Norman Stevens died yesterday after a short bout with pneumonia.  Norman’s love and support for carved spoons began decades ago and continued right on through the current surge of interest in spoon carving.

Norman's Big Spoon

Norman Stevens.  Thanks to Norm Sartorius for both photos.

Norman joined us at Greenwood Fest 2017 to share some of the spoons from his collection, a collection that he continued to build upon, reaching his goal of 400 spoons not even a month ago.  Norman meticulously catalogued each spoon in his collection and valued the craftsmanship of each of the carvers to whom he reached out over many years.

In this post from 2016, I wrote about how Norman’s affection for wooden spoons began and how he had made arrangements to bequeath his collection to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Norman continued to quietly support and encourage handcrafts in many ways, including his recent donation of many personal treasures to the September 2018 fundraising auction organized by North House Folk School to benefit the Wille Sundqvist and Bill Coperthwaite Slöjd Fellowship Fund.  Norm went on to work with North House this fall in order to make copies of Dan Dustin’s book Spoon Tales available.

So, here’s to a man whose passion and kindness touched so many others.  I and many others are grateful.

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Back to Basics Bowls


I’ve been wanting to have some bowls to keep around as examples of forms that are aesthetically pleasing, yet more straightforward in execution than other bowls I make.  One consideration is size.  These bowls range from 14-18 inches long, 7-9 inches wide, and 3-4 inches high.  That size and proportion is ideal for starting out with an axe and an adze.

From left to right, these bowls were carved from tulip poplar, red maple, and sassafras.  Through a few other photos, I’ll share some thoughts on some of the design elements.  And the paint is just an option you could easily forego, but I had fun with it.  That’s just one example of the endless variations possible.



Using a relatively soft hardwood encourages bold, yet crisply cut surfaces.  The hollow was finished with paring cuts with a sharp bent gouge.

The open pores of sassafras aren’t ideal for a bowl used with liquids, but it would serve well as a fruit or bread bowl.


The shape of the exterior tapering down to the narrow handles makes for relatively simple axe work.  Decisive cuts with a gouge refine the surface and leave a distinct ridge flowing from the points at the end of the foot through the ends of the handles.  Very few tools are needed; Even the leaf design on the foot was carved with just a knife.


The sides of this blue bowl flow to the corners of the handles without flaring back out in an s-curve, and the end walls slope simply in a slightly convex curve mirroring the interior hollow.  A lip under the handles adds a little more challenge.  If the handles were extended the form of the end walls could be adjusted, resulting in a shallower slope, easier to cut.

The surface was painted with artists oils, a base coat of brighter blue, followed by a much thinner coat of very dark blue which was rubbed back.



The form of the yellow bowl is a bit more complex.  The end walls are s curves from foot to handle and scooped out beneath the curved handles, but still not as dramatically as they are in other designs.  The exterior surface is fluted, but in this case they are carved relatively loosely and freely with the gouge.  Again, painted with artists oils.


The necklace around the rim really catches light and shadow.  It’s made up of smaller chip cuts from a knife, rather than the more demanding design I’ve done many times, most recently on this just-finished walnut bowl:


It makes a lot of sense to start with a relatively simple design and strive to execute it well.  Even if you’re beyond starting out, there’s plenty of challenge, beauty, and joy to be found in these forms.

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The Nimble Fishtail


Having just finished carving “necklaces” on a couple bowls, I thought I’d explain a bit more about the tool I use for the carving of the large triangular recesses that make up the design.  In the FWW  article and video, I refer to the tool as a skew chisel, but, the more I think of it, it’s the fishtail aspect of the tool that’s at least as important as the skew.

IMG_8299Here’s a shot of the necklace I just finished on a cherry bowl.  I briefly outlined the procedure in a blog post a couple years ago.  And in another post, I showed the fishtail skew in action on a straight-walled version of the necklace.

The fishtail shape excels in these tight quarters, as the shank of the tool doesn’t interfere or mar the surrounding wood.  By grinding away the sharp corners on the sides of the tool behind the cutting edge, the tool can be made even more stealthy and nimble.

Technically speaking, the tool is a double-bevel fishtail carving chisel.  As it is straight, it is a #1 sweep (sweepless).  I’ve not been able to find one that also comes with a skewed edge, but no matter.  The fishtail aspect is the most important, and if you wish to make a skew of it, it’s a simple procedure (see the top sketch) and you can create as much or little skew as you wish.

The particular brand doesn’t matter, so long as it is by a good reliable maker.  How wide the edge should be depends on the size of work you’ll be doing, but mine is 20mm (3/4″) wide and serves me well.  Here are some links to a few options and no doubt more can be found: (looks like single bevel, but could easily be reground to a double-bevel)

You’ll find such a chisel useful for all sorts of situations, including lettering.



Posted in Lettering, patterns, sketch, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments