Bent Bowl

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I’m the guy that orders vanilla ice cream at Baskin Robbins, so you can imagine how wild I felt carving this asymmetrical bowl.  The silver maple log flared out wider at one end and also had a slight twist.  Going with the flow, I just let my hair down and laid out the bowl by drawing freehand onto the blank.

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There are many logs available that are less than ideal for making symmetrical bowls, but can still become beautiful and useful pieces as unique as the log itself.

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One common example is the flared log from the base of a tree where the trunk transitions into the root buttress.  With such a piece split in half, you’re left with a blank that is wider and higher on one end, but with the grain simultaneously running true along the split surface and under the bark.  The growth rings simply thicken to create the flare.  You can’t recreate that situation with a straight log.

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With the log for this bowl, there was only a slight flare, still, the right side with the wider handle is a bit higher than the other end.

 

By extending the lower corners of the handles across the underside, I hoped to emphasize the subtle bending along the length of the bowl.  The natural staining within the wood also contributes to the effect.

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I was glad for the opportunity to make this funky bowl, because it was an ideal canvas for an excerpt from Harriet Monroe’s poem “The Pine at Timberline.”

What has bent you,
Warped and twisted you?

This is the second time I’ve used this line; I wrote about the first time here.

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I’ve just posted this one to my website.

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Posted in bowls, finding wood, layout, Lettering, sketch, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Learning from Lettering

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Box elder board carved with William Morris’ quote: “Have Nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Every project is another opportunity to learn, and I’ve learned a lot while lettering.  Carving this large box elder, a.k.a. ash-leaved maple, board (30 5/8″ x 12 1/4″ x 1″), just finished, reminded me of some of the differences between carving large pieces and relatively small pieces.  The most noticeable distinction is that smaller pieces can be manipulated with the non-knife hand (I’ve written some posts about my pen-knife lettering, including this one).  In fact, I’m usually rotating the bowl or spoon more than the knife.  That doesn’t work with a big board like this.

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The size of the letters and the hardness of the wood can also call for me to adjust my methods.  The letters in “useful” are roughly three inches high.  Unless the wood is very soft, letters this large require more than a penknife.  So I excavate most of the material with carving chisels, then refine the sidewalls with the pen knife and skew chisel, among other tools.

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As with bowl carving, the refinement stage takes me much longer than the roughing stage.  I’ve learned to take off my watch and put the clock out of sight during these sessions.

I want to use some other recent lettering projects to share a few things I’ve learned:

On most pieces I letter, I can’t transfer a sketch directly from paper to wood, because the surfaces I’m lettering aren’t flat.  The handles of bowls, for example, are usually convex in both directions.  Paper would just wrinkle and bunch.  I often work out some planning sketches on paper, then draw the letter outlines directly onto the wood.

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Lettering on sculptural pieces usually requires drawing of the lettering directly onto the wood.

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For lettering on a flat surface, I’m able to work out the final design through a series of sketches on paper, then transfer to the wood with graphite paper.  Still, I’ll make some final adjustments on the board itself.

Going through the designing and carving process has also taught me to keep the eventual execution in mind while I’m drawing.  I know very little about names for fonts and typefaces and all that, but I know that some are better suited for carving than others.  Design with the medium and method in mind.

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Here’s a very different application of lines and lettering.  For relatively thin lines like those carved on this cherry bowl bottom, the knife alone does the job, even in woods that are pretty hard.  Same idea with lettering on spoon handles and such.

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And the penknife still works well directly with somewhat larger letters in relatively soft timber.  The letters of this fun nameplate were carved in basswood with the knife.

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Just make sure, at this stage, that you’ve spelled the name correctly.  It’s Dr. Kuchta!  Oops.  I learned that’s it’s easier to erase pencil than carved lines.

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Another example is the lettering on this shrink-book.  It’s a rectangular shrink pot in the shape of a book with a sliding lid.  Made for my daughter, the line is from one of her favorite movies, the film version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

It would have been much more challenging to carve all that lettering directly with the knife in a harder wood, but it worked well in this aspen.

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The carving on the underside of the small lid would have been very difficult to complete if the lid was secured to a bench.  It’s the dance between the off hand and the knife hand that makes the carving a pleasure to execute.

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Of course, letter carving in wood offers constant lessons in adjusting to the grain of the wood.  Not necessary with stone.  I’ve only done a few experiments in stone, including this one in remembrance of a friend’s dog.

My brief experience has taught me that executing a carving in stone is different from working with wood in many ways, but the design considerations are much the same.  In fact, some of the best books about letter carving focus on work in stone — but can teach a lot even if wood is your medium.  One of my favorites is The Art of Letter Carving in Stone by Tom Perkins — packed with insight and inspiration.

I’ve got a lot of exciting things to learn — back to carving…

 

 

Posted in carving, Lettering, sketch, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A Walk Among the Leaves

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I woke early this morning to the light rumble of distant thunder and the tap of raindrops on the window sill.  As I ate my oatmeal, the rain softened and the woods beckoned.  Few moments are as peaceful as a walk among the trees after a rain.  There is a serenity that begs me to walk slowly, to tread softly and to notice.

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From the leaves on the ground to the goldenrod in the neighboring fields, all was soaked and steeping.  The smell was rich and sweet, like the earth was brewing tea.

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The beech leaves, thin and papery, were gradually fading to brown.

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The light was magical from below.

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Some leaves were dusted with droplets…

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While others collected private pools.

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And still others were brilliantly overwhelmed.

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American Sycamore.

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The rain enhanced the color of more than leaves.

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Some leaves, like those of this holly tree, will remain evergreen.

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And it never hurts to have a gentle friend like Sam along for a walk,

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especially if he’s a spoon dog.

Posted in nature, spoons, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Mark the Calendar

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Bowl Carving Pre-Fest Class, Greenwood Fest 2017

A little follow up to my most recent post:  Peter Follansbee announced the dates for Greenwood Fest 2018 on his blog today.  The Pre-Fest and the Fest will be June 5-10.  I can smell the pines already.  Check out Peter’s post here.

Posted in classes, events, green woodworking, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

More Massachusetts

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Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center, originally the home of American Optical Company and the venue for Fine Woodworking Live 2018.

I don’t get out much, but when I do, it seems like I find myself in Massachusetts.  The last couple years, I’ve been in Plymouth in June for Greenwood Fest.  Watch for announcements and updates for the 2018 fest at the Greenwood Fest website.  It probably won’t be long until the plans start to come together.  And this year I’ll be in south central Mass. a couple months earlier as well.

The folks at Fine Woodworking Magazine invited me to be a part of Fine Woodworking Live 2018 in Southbridge.   I’ll be demonstrating and presenting, as will some friends from Greenwood Fest, like Peter Follansbee and Peter Galbert.  I’m also looking forward to the chance to meet and talk to many of the other presenters, including woodcarver Mary May.  The best part will just be the chance to interact with, and learn from, the dozens of woodworkers coming together in one place.  Registration is now open, so I thought I’d mention it here on the blog for those who might want to attend.

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And, if you’re in the mood for reading, the upcoming issue of Fine Woodworking — “Tools and Shops” — includes an article about my humble little workshop.   I received a copy and noticed an update on the bowl carving instructional video I mentioned awhile back.  Ben, Jeff, and the team — which may just be Ben and Jeff because they’re that good — have been working hard and it looks like it’s about ready!

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Just a heads-up in case you might be interested.  I don’t know how long the final video will be, but there’s no length limit with the streaming service.  The few short videos I’ve posted to Youtube over the years have just been made by me and an ipad.  In this case with two really good cameras rolling throughout, I was able to discuss and demonstrate the process from log to bowl while leaving the filming and editing to the experts.  I won’t be polished, but the video quality is sure to be.  And the Fine Woodworking video library overall is diverse and impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in classes, events, teaching, Uncategorized, video | Tagged | 8 Comments

It Took a Crook

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An oak crook, more specifically, was the origin of this rooster-inspired bowl that I’ve just finished.  The flow of the grain is evident in the top photo in the line between the light sapwood and the darker heartwood.  I first saw him months ago in a big oak branch left behind after a nearby woodlot had been timbered.  After some tough splitting along the pith, his half was freed from the lower portion.

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There he is, waiting in the upper half of the branch crook, tail to the left, head to the right.

I also went with the flow of the grain laterally, so his head is, well, cocked a bit to the right.  Reminds me of how a robin will tilt its head slightly while on the hunt for worms.  That can be seen in the slide show below showing a few more views of this guy:

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He is 14 inches long, 5 1/2 inches wide, and 8 1/4 inches high.

While on the subject, here are a couple other smaller pieces I’ve recently finished that are also crook-dependent.  Starting with a big cherry ladle (14 3/4″ long and 3 1/8″ wide).

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It came from the lower half of this cherry crook.

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It’s the front piece in the photo below.

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A branch headed from the right to the bottom had broken off years ago and the tree had grown over and around it, leaving beautiful and strong grain through the bowl of the ladle.

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Exploring and shaping the split surface a bit by working cross-grain with an adze.  Turned out there was enough wood at the bottom of that hole.

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And this next piece definitely relies on crooked grain.  I must not have photographed the crook, but I carved this pie server from a red maple crook that had a unique shape just right for this.  11 1/4″ long and 2 5/8″ wide.

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Posted in bird bowls, bowls, cherry, finding wood, green woodworking, paint, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Emil Milan

Emil Milan standing in the barn door of his Thompson, PA studio, 1983. Photo: Leighton Johnson

Emil Milan standing in the barn door of his Thompson, PA studio, 1983. Photo: Leighton Johnson

The decade-long efforts of wood artists Norm Sartorius, Phil Jurus, Barry Gordon, and Craig Edelbrock to tell the story of Emil Milan have come to fruition with this Kickstarter campaign that just kicked off today.  Regrettably, I know very little about Emil Milan, but this project is sure to change that for me and many others. I’m excited to get my copy of the book and other materials in the spring to learn more about him, his beautiful work and love for wood.   The Kickstarter page itself provides much information and inspiration, a great place to begin to uncover the story of Emil Milan.

 

 

Posted in books, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments