Axe Work


I’ve been roughing out a couple walnut bowls, which means plenty of fun axe work.  One of the more challenging aspects is shaping the end grain area S curve; the bowl will be convex as it leaves the bottom, then return in a concave area beneath the handles.  Essentially, I handle this in three steps:  Hew away the bulk of material in one convex arc from bottom to handle, hollow beneath the handle across the grain with an adze, then hew again with the axe down to the newly created hollow.  You can see these same stages in the series of three photos below, but on an oval bowl that features that returning curve all the way around.


I have hewn a roughly convex surface all around the bowl from the bottom perimeter to the lower edge of the rim.


With the adze, I’ve created a hollow beneath the rim all around.


And here, I’m in the process of merging the convex portion with the new hollow.


Of course, all of this is much more fun with a sharp axe.  It may sound boring, but the ability to get your tools properly sharpened can transform your carving experience and the final product.

Tim Manney

One guy that eat, drinks, and breathes all things related to tool design and sharpening is Tim Manney. I experienced this first-hand in some of the conversations Tim and I enjoyed in Plymouth. Tim has put a lot of time, thought, and unique experience into developing practical sharpening methods that work and don’t require expensive fancy equipment, and I noticed that he’s going to share his skills and ideas with folks at at an upcoming Plymouth CRAFT class in November. Looks like PC has redesigned the website and it looks great. Check out Tim’s class here, as well as other upcoming classes with Peter Follansbee and Amelia Poole.


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If Yinz* are Ever in Pittsburgh


The Cathedral of Learning

Earlier this week, I found myself with a few hours to walk around the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  There was no chance of getting lost; all I had to do to orient myself was look for the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, the Cathedral of Learning.  Towering 535 feet into the air, it can’t be missed.  I’ve admired its Gothic Revival facade on several excursions to Pittsburgh, but it was the chance to see the inside that thrilled me on this trip.

I like museums, but the Cathedral of Learning has its own unique appeal.  Just a block away are the fantastic Carnegie museums of Art and Natural History.  They are gems in their own right and I enjoyed another visit on that day as well, seeing too many things to begin to mention here.  I understand the need to keep certain objects out of reach or behind glass in a public museum setting, but the Cathedral of learning is not behind glass; it is used every day.


A portion of the vaulted ceiling of the main hall


Pitt students were hurrying into classrooms when I went in, classrooms like no others I’ve ever seen.  Surrounding the main hall with its sixty-foot- high vaulted ceilings are the international rooms, a celebration of the city’s rich immigrant heritage.  The ethnic communities were invited to have their skilled craftsmen and craftswomen design and outfit rooms dedicated to their respective homelands.   For nearly 80 years, these rooms have been living tributes and are still used as everyday classrooms at the University.

As I wandered the hallways past open classroom doors, students were taking notes in  carved oak chairs as breezes blew through open leaded glass windows.  Dozens of other students were studying or talking quietly in the main hall, surrounded by hand carved oak and stone, a bit of a surreal scene that might have been imagined by J. K. Rowling.  Every door hinge and latch was unique and created by the hand of a smith — and you could touch them.


The door latch in the Norwegian Room

Off of the main hall, stone passageways lead to all sorts of quiet study or reading nooks.  The limestone stairs in these passages have been beautifully worn by countless steps.  I could have sworn I heard a voice whisper, “Carpe Diem.”


I only had a little point-and-shoot camera with me, but here are a few other assorted photos:

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If you’re interested in seeing and hearing more about the Cathedral of Learning and the International Rooms (of which more continue to be added), I’ll include a few good resources below.  But don’t let that stop you from showing up in-person; just another great reason to visit Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.

This page from the University of Pittsburgh provides some general information and links to more about the Cathedral.  And here is a page from the same site that features a short narrated video tour of each of the International Rooms.

Here’s a tour and story of the Cathedral of Learning hosted by John Ratzenberger (a.k.a. Cliff Clavin).

*Oh — and finally —  if the “yinz” in my title threw you off, this will clear things up.  And if you really want to explore Pittsburghese in more depth, check out this article and have some fun on this website n’at.





Posted in carving, historical reference, patterns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Iron Horse?

It’s been a long time since I followed new products and gadgets in the non-traditional tool world, which is fine with me.   Today there was an email from Woodcraft in my inbox announcing a special on a new product, something called the King Portable Work Station.  Normally, I wouldn’t click, but the picture accompanying the email caught my eye; I noticed that it seemed to be a metal cousin of sorts to the bowl horse — sans seat.  Although it probably developed more along the lines of a saw horse that incorporates a clamp.

The name is a little lackluster, but then I noticed in the related products section at the bottom of the page, that Rockwell had already taken the cool name of “The Jawhorse” with their version (that, I would guess, is pretty new to the market as well), but what do I know.

From what I was able to learn in a few minutes, it seems that you engage the clamp with the foot pedal, then lock it/release it with the switch in front.  Would it be useful for bowls?  Beats me, but I’ll admit I can see some possibilities for certain operations.  I do know I’ll stick with my wooden bowl horse and bench; all that shiny metal scares me.


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Dark Horse


I carved this ale bowl from some more of the red alder I mentioned in my last post.  Then I tried something new for me: I painted (ebonized I suppose) the outside  with waterproof black India ink.  I like how it completely absorbs into the wood, allowing the lines of the grain to still remain evident.


The ink is water-based, but I didn’t notice much grain raising.  I think this is mainly because the surfaces were straight from the knife.  Had it been sanded, all of those torn fibers would have absorbed the water from the ink and raised up on the surface.


I like the contrast between the black and the natural reddish brown interior.  I even like the solid hard black knot area on the interior.


When carving the exterior, I left a series of loose, shallow faceted flutes that merge and fade beneath the neck of the horse.  After the ink dried for a couple days, I treated the entire piece with flax seed oil, followed by a flax oil/beeswax blend.


It feels nice with the web of your hands under the necks, and it’s big enough to share, easily holding 24 ounces of ale.  The dimensions are 12 3/4 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 5 1/2 inches high.


Posted in ale bowls, bowls, green woodworking, paint, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Around the Shop


A look around the shop this morning, beginning with sections of a big walnut log I busted up which should become walnut bowls before too long.  And a requested set of cherry shrink boxes in the rough, drying:


My dogwood froe club finally bit the dust.  It served well for over a decade, but cracked apart yesterday.  I’ve got another waiting in the wings.

Another ale bowl nearly finished.


A drying haft.


Found odds and ends awaiting inspiration.


A just-finished bowl from a log that shouldn’t be around this area — red alder.  I tried a new design idea that brings to mind different things depending on how I view it: a leaf, a boat, or a bird.

And, lastly, a sleeping Sam.  Happy Labor Day.



Posted in ale bowls, bowls, shrink box, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged | 10 Comments

Going with the Flow


Back in June, I wrote a post about splitting a large maple crook.  Here it is again, sitting on a rock in the Little Shenango River.  The arch from head through tail follows the grain of the crook, and the wood revealed an interesting S-curve in the other plane.  I went with that general flow as can be seen in the next two photos, altering the symmetry to account for the movement as well.


IMG_9112The curl through the piece is lovely, but makes for tricky surface carving.  Patience, sharp tools, and light cuts are key.  All surfaces are straight from the gouge and knife.

15 inches long, 4 3/4 inches wide, and 9 inches high.







IMG_9089My buddy, Sam, and I took the photos this morning during a walk along the river.  Today is his ninth birthday.  He enjoyed exploring,…







…although he did look a little surprised that I put the bowl in the river:


The river is so low that we were basically able to take our walk in it.  We saw some cool things, including this clam out for a stroll:


We’re back, and the bowl is on the website.


Posted in bird bowls, bowls, finding wood, green woodworking, nature, photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

This may not Work



I cut off the bit to the right, and the rest was the handle.

The title of this post may have crossed the mind of John Damian in 1507 as he was about to jump from the walls of Scotland’s Sterling Castle fitted with wings made of chicken feathers.  I’m thinking the same thing about this new handle, but I’ve got much less at stake.


As I’ve mentioned before, in carving ale bowls and other forms with hollows that are undercut, hook knives of one form or another are pretty versatile.  With a little skewing and experimentation, it is amazing what areas can be reached  and cut with them. Last night, I took another Kestrel E-bend blade and attached it to one of the strangest handles I’ve ever made.  It started as an extremely bent branch piece that I had saved awhile back.


same blade, different handles

It was a pretty quick and operation, and I’ll see how handy it is for those unusual spots in which the standard handle can get in the way.  It may turn out to be a bad or unnecessary idea, we’ll see as I try it out.  It will be easy to drill out the rivets and make a different handle if it comes to that — I know the blade is good. But maybe it stays; I kind of like the thought of some folks standing around a flea market table someday wondering what it was for and why it exists.  In the meantime it just might work out and it has to be more useful than, say, this:

Image result for fork pizza cutter

This may not Work.






Posted in ale bowls, bowls, carving, tools, trees, Uncategorized | 6 Comments