Bookplates: Ex Libris

IMG_5702Digital media has it’s place, but there’s just something about a book.  Much of that something is a book’s appeal to our senses: the smell of a book, the heft of a book, the feel of the paper against the fingertips and the soft swishing sound of turning the page.  A book is more than the ideas or the story inside.

When I pick up and open a book that we read to our kids, a flood of warm memories rushes out of it.  When I take down a woodworking book from the high shelf in my shop and notice the bits of wood shavings lodged inside and my notes written in the margins, it’s a reminder of an exciting journey.

People have felt this way about books for a long time.  Beginning in the fifteenth century, book owners began commissioning bookplates to be pasted inside the covers of their treasures.  These early bookplates were most often coats of arms and highly decorative.  Albrecht Dürer created at least twenty bookplate designs.


Bookplate by Albrecht Dürer from the The Art of the Bookplate by James P. Keenan

By the mid nineteenth century, books had become widely available to the middle classes and many began commissioning bookplates that reflected their lives, character, and/or passions.  This interest continued into the twentieth century, and artists such as Eric Gill and Rockwell Kent designed many bookplates.  Ex libris is Latin for “from the books of” or “from the library of.”


Bookplates by Eric Gill from Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates by Martin Hopkinson.

In addition to custom designs for individuals, book lovers could select one of the many general designs, often with a space for the owner’s signature.


Bookplates by Rockwell Kent from Rockwell Kent: The Art of the Bookplate by Don Roberts.

Inspired by the tradition, I designed a bookplate for those of us who have a love of greenwood carving.  The heart of the design is the woodcut that I did last year and wrote about in this post.  All of the prints in that limited edition are gone, but now I have the bookplates.


I found a really nice self-adhesive paper made in Ohio in a natural cream color.  The paper, the adhesive, and the ink are all acid-free.  To go along with the image, I drew ex libris in the style of incised carved lettering.


I took the special paper, the print, and the lettering drawing to the independently-owned print shop about 1/2 mile down the road.  Their printing expert, Ben, and I sorted out all of the details, and now I have the bookplates, ready to mail.  They are 4″ x 3″.  If you don’t want to use it for a bookplate, just snip off the ex libris part.


If you’d like to purchase some, here’s how to go about it.   I want to keep the logistics on this as simple as possible, for my wife, Kristin, especially, since she’ll be handling a lot of this.

  • Bookplates are $1 each.  Minimum order 10, but beyond that you can request as many as you wish, no particular increments.
  • Pop an envelope in the mail with a check or cash.  If you send a check for $17, we’ll send you 17 bookplates.  No need for order forms or invoices.  Just make sure you include your address on the outside or within the envelope.  No need to send a return envelope; you’ll receive your bookplates in a clear protective sleeve inside a padded envelope.  Shipping is free.
  • My address is: Dave Fisher, 395 S Main St, Greenville, PA 16125
  • We will take international orders, but that involves extra fiddling and fees; add $5 per order.  For international requests, we’ll use Paypal for payment.  Email me with how many bookplates you’d like and your address, and we’ll go from there.




Posted in books, Lettering, sketch, Uncategorized, woodblock prints | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Walnut Necklace


I just finished the carving on this walnut bowl.  I snapped a few photos while carving the “necklace” around the rim.  But first, a point about gouges:


One gouge can be pretty versatile, depending on how you use it.  You can vary textures by changing the length or width of cuts.  This gouge is 30mm wide with about a #6 sweep.  But this relatively subtle texture was created with it by only using a small portion of the edge with each cut.  Another way to think about it is to remember that in the standard system, gouge sweep is relative to the width of the gouge, so, for example, using a small portion of a #8 25 mm gouge will result in the same cuts as a #3 8mm gouge; they are based on the same radius of curvature and will inscribe approximately the same circle.

This series of photos follows the necklace carving, but this time rather than arched side walls, the side walls are straight.


After layout, I get some material out of the way by coming in to the center from each corner with a v-tool.


Then I continue to use the v-tool, tipping it over to remove more excess closer to the edges.


I stab into each junction with a skew chisel.


Working on the side walls first, I pare with the skew chisel.


Once I get further around the rim, I need to switch directions to work with the grain for clean cutting.


The end walls are sliced in a continuous movement that follows the curvature of the outer sweep of the necklace.


Tidy up the junctions as necessary.  Take your time.  The outer wall of the chips should appear to be continuous.


Ready for oil.


Posted in carving, patterns, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , | 17 Comments

“When I am Among the Trees”


Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

Mary Oliver, from the poem “When I am Among the Trees”


Posted in nature, quotes and excerpts, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged | 7 Comments

Adze Adjustments


I’ve been getting a lot of good questions from people that, unable to find a good bowl adze, wish to make the most out of a less-than-ideal adze or refurbish an antique adze head.  I’ve written about adzes in several posts, but I thought it would be helpful to pull some ideas together here in this post.  With that in mind, I sketched some ideas above based on the first adze I bought over fifteen years ago, made by Pfeil, that I’ve reworked.

Here are some references that might also help if you’re looking to adjust or tune your adze:

  • Although one adze is versatile enough to many different things, there is no one perfect adze head shape, inner/outer bevel relationship, or set of angles.  Having a general understanding of how adze geometry and bevels work allows you to determine what will work best for you.  Although far from comprehensive, This post should help, and there is a lot of good information in the comment section as well.
  • In the sketch above, I have a simple diagram on grinding a new bevel.  It can involve a lot of work, which requires patience and frequent cooling of the edge.  To grind the outer bevel, I would essentially use the same technique for grinding a gouge bevel described in this post.  And once the grinding is done, this post shows how I go about honing the edge of an adze.
  • Dictum is a tool supplier in Germany, and they have some excellent information on adze geometry, bevels, and handles at this page (scroll down too).  I would qualify some of the statements there, but that would muddy the water unnecessarily.
  • Some more good news:  Blacksmith Jason Lonon plans to focus on lots of adze production this year, so hang in there.
  • There’s other stuff about adzes on the blog here.  Check under the “adze” category to the right.



Posted in adze, sharpening, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Three Minute Bowl

Ben Strano at Fine Woodworking just posted a video condensing my FWW bowlcarving video into three minutes, so if you want it in a nutshell here it is:

Less than two months until the Fine Woodworking Live event in Southbridge, Mass.  I’ll have the axe and adze swinging in a couple demonstrations, and I’ll probably have a chance to throw the drawknife in there as well.  But I’ll start off assisting Peter Follansbee in a hands-on spoon carving class.  I’m really looking forward to catching up with Peter again.  They don’t make ’em any better.  If you haven’t seen his blog post today featuring a beautiful video by Jögge Sundqvist, check it out here.  Pure poetic inspiration as only Jögge can deliver.

Jogge and Peter sketch_NEW

They’ll be together again at Greenwood Fest in June.



Posted in events, sketch, Uncategorized, video | 11 Comments

Putting the Wood in the Driver’s Seat


One of the things I enjoy most about greenwood carving is the challenge of making the most out of the wood that becomes available.  The individual characteristics of the log or branch drive the design, while I navigate among the possible directions and destinations.


Even for pieces that don’t require a special crook or bend, the position of the growth rings and the shape of the log enter the equation.  This big walnut bowl (20 inches long, 13 inches wide, and almost 7 inches high) I just finished is a good example.  I don’t come across ideal logs for that design every day; a very big clear one with nice regular features.


Once I’ve busted up a log for a bowl blank, I often try to get other usable blanks within the log roughed out for drying as well.  Then they can be set aside for as long as it takes to get back to them for the after-drying carving stages.  A lot easier than storing a wet log in some ways, and it eliminates any storage time constraints altogether.  The bowl above is one of the walnut ones waiting in the wings.


Normally, I make spoons from crooks, but with a deadline that was looming and no crooks handy, I used this straight-grained radially-split cherry blank, adapting the design to the attributes of the wood.



Here’s the handle after carving some lettering.


Then some great crooks in cherry and maple came my way.  Crooks allow for different curves and thicknesses, while still maintaining strength following the fibers.


These three still need a little work and oil.  Some even bigger crooks are outside in bags waiting to be bird bowls.  With spring around the corner, I can hear them singing.


Some pieces of tree get me thinking about shrink pots.  I get them hollowed out, and a bottom fitted, then I can get back to them eventually after drying.  More on these and others down the road.


Tulip poplar or the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a very traditional wood for bowl carving, and it’s not uncommon in my neck of the woods.  Somehow, I don’t think I’ve made a single bowl out of it until now.  I guess I wasn’t seeking it out much if cherry and other woods were available, but I was pleasantly surprised when I dug into this tulip tree log.

In board-form, some of the best characteristics of this species are lost, I think.  It grows at a rapid rate, thus the widely spaced distinct growth rings that stand out purplish against the creamy light green in between.   For better or worse, this distinction will mellow to an extent over time.


The strong pattern of the growth rings in this log was just one thing to consider.  It was from the butt of the tree, so the lower end of the log flared out more widely as it transitioned into the root buttress.  Going with the flow, I decided on an asymmetrical bowl with one broader, taller, and steeper end.


Roughed out for now, and I’ll return to it some day after drying.  Anyone got a shovel?

Posted in bowls, carving, drying, finding wood, Lettering, spoons, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Revisiting the Ale Duck


It had been a while since I carved an ale bowl, so it was fun to make another recently, in this case an ale duck.  I’ve written several posts about ale bowls, including some that go into my carving process, but  this one inspired a couple more thoughts about making these things.


The form is complex enough that I still have to think about how it all will come together.  For example, it’s difficult to visualize the final curves around the tail in the early stages of roughing.  Then I remember not to think of such details until much later in the process; to cross certain bridges when I get to them — whether it’s a new design idea or a version of one I’ve done before.  Take care of the overall form before any details; don’t worry about where Broadway is until I’ve found my way to New York.


Once the form is established and 95% of the wood to be removed is already on the shop floor, a whole new phase begins.  The wood is dry and the form itself is there, but that last handful of fine chips can make a big difference.  Time slows down a bit and I focus on the final flow of the lines and the surface cuts.  In his 1945 book How I Make Woodcuts and Wood Engravings, Hans Alexander Mueller expresses working in a “delirium of concentration.”  That describes this stage well.


This one was 10 1/2 inches long and 6 1/2 inches wide, in black cherry.  Lots of fun.  One of several bowls I’ve been working on that are already spoken for, then I’m ready for some freestyling.



Posted in ale bowls, bird bowls, carving, cherry, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments