Bird Inspiration


The birds are singing in the rain about the small pond in front, the inquisitive chickadee that has flown at once to the alders to reconnoitre us, the blackbirds, the song sparrow, telling of expanding buds.

Henry David Thoreau, journal entry for April 21, 1852.

Thoreau’s journals are brimming with his observations of birds.  How could it be otherwise?  Their songs, movement, and mere presence bring joy.  As I look up from writing, a pair of chickadees are flitting in and out of the little birdhouse where they are raising their brood.  I  was able to get a few photos of them last evening.


Making sure the coast is clear, then off to gather some food.


Back with the loot.


Close enough.


Here we go again…


It’s also been fun to watch the finches raise a family in the hanging fern on the front porch.  In the photos above and below, the female is perched above her chicks hidden in the foliage beneath her.


With all of this bird inspiration around the house, it makes sense that I’m inclined to carve crooks into bird forms.  Here’s one I just finished carving from black cherry.



I like the movement of the lines, which is, in part, a result of working with the asymmetric flow of fibers within the particular crook.

Below is the crook from which this bird was carved.  The lower half has been split away and I’ve scribbled a rough idea of a center line.  Much more about the flow of the wood inside is revealed as the carving proceeds from this point.


The deep and undercut hollow is chunked out a bit with gouges, then completed with hook knives.  The exterior is shaped with an axe and finished with a sloyd knife.  12 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 7 inches high.

Here’s a couple more views:




Posted in bird bowls, cherry, finding wood, nature, photography, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Greenwoodworking in White Oak


“One word, no spaces,” specified Jennie Alexander when she requested this sign.  Not only was I not going to argue with the one who coined the term, I was thrilled for the opportunity to make something so meaningful for someone so influential on my greenwoodworking journey.  Talking with Jennie and getting to know her better recently has been a joy.   An example of her kindness is  the gift of the Bengt Lidstrom bowl that I wrote about back in April.

In the top photo, the sign sits on a chair I made fifteen years ago after discovering Alexander’s book and video “Make a Chair from a Tree.” I still have the pages of notes I made as I prepared to dive in as well as the print-outs of Jennie’s encouraging email response to my questions.  Most importantly, I still have the creative excitement that I felt when riving and shaving those first greenwood rungs.  Jennie’s website tells a bit of her story and still has a lot of helpful information.

SAM_3951When I mentioned the sign project to Peter Follansbee, he said without hesitation “Well, it has to be carved in riven oak.”  The relationship and collaboration between Follansbee and Alexander goes back decades, beginning at Drew and Louise Langsner’s Country Workshops.  Fortunately, I had already riven a board for the sign from a white oak log back when snow was still on the ground.

After planing, I set the board aside and returned to it recently.  I planed a fresh surface and transferred the design I had worked out after making lots of thumbnail sketches and a full-scale drawing.

Rather than make the baseline for the lettering flat, I made it follow the subtle curve of the grain through the board.


To hold the board (29 1/2″ x 8″) for carving, I used holdfasts to cantilever it beyond the edge of the workbench, allowing me to work from either side of the board without repositioning it.


Different situations and different wood species call for different cutting techniques.  This white oak is too hard to just dive in with a knife, especially for letters this large.  I removed much of the wood with a v-tool, but no matter how carefully it is used, it does not leave the letters nearly as crisp and clean as they can be.


So gouges and chisels jump into action.



I did use some knives at times, and I’ve been experimenting with mill knives from Hyde Tools.


These mill knives are purchased with handles and blades as separate components.  The blades come with various grinds, but can be reground into whatever shape one wants.  The handles are a bit rough, but a little work with sandpaper and oil makes them more comfortable, like the bottom one (which is a smaller size as well) in the photo below.  The set screw allows for blade removal or for the present blade to be extended or withdrawn, even completely into the handle for travel.


I’ve found the steel to be good, taking and holding an edge well.


Below is a blank I reground to mimic my pen knife blade.  Some of the original factory grind is visible on the now rounded-over upper side.


Here are some more photos of the sign — finished, except for a coat of oil that it may get.


I planed the backside as well, but not so much as to remove all evidence of the riving.


The view from the end reveals the tapered shape from the riving as well.


Jennie’s enthusiasm, research and greenwoodworking continue to be a special influence for many people.  As she has often said, “Wood is wonderful!”


Posted in books, green woodworking, layout, sketch, teaching, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign


“Please, do not touch.”  There are certain posted signs that disappoint me, but perhaps none more than that.  I can deal with “Stay off the Grass.”  In fact, I may have had no desire to walk on the grass, at least until I saw the sign.  “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”  Well, that’s just enforcing what everyone’s thinking if they find me shirtless.  I can happily endure the flashing of a “Don’t Walk” signal, even when no traffic is coming.  But a “Do not touch” sign hits me like a ton of bricks.

Several years ago, I was visiting a small art museum with my family.  Outside on the museum grounds was a large abstract granite sculpture.  Outside.  Granite.  Birds poop on it.  My instinct was to touch it, to sense its texture as a way of understanding it and appreciating it.  And there was no sign.

Please understand, I’m not completely out of control.  I don’t go running my fingers over paintings nor do I advocate allowing thousands of people to run their hands over the carvings of a curated piece of furniture.  But I did touch this outdoor granite sculpture.  Sure enough, as if I had sprung a trap, a museum docent stepped outside and admonished me.  “No sign…” I whimpered.  Sign implied, moron.  They reluctantly and watchfully allowed us to explore the museum.

IMG_6641I’d like to include a sign with each bowl that reads, “Please touch.”  Then again, I hope that the invitation is implied and the wish to do so is instinctive.  The warmth of wood and the varying textures left from the tools tend to draw the hand.


On this just-finished poplar bowl, I used the gouge on the interior in a way that is meant to create a sense of flow and movement.  The slick slicing of the gouge also makes the bowl easy to clean and use.  No scratched wood fibers to fuzz up and rise with water, as can occur with a sanded surface.



The exterior of the bowl was worked with the gouge in a different way, leaving a different texture.


Bowls are meant to be picked up, and fingertips will sense the bowl as well as eyes can see the striking pattern of growth rings in this tulip poplar.


This one was carved from another piece of the same log as the memorial bowl I wrote about in this post, so it is off to the same family.  No signs attached.

Posted in bowls, figure, patterns, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Raise Your Handles


The handles on this just-finished walnut bowl really grab me.  They rise up from the edge of the hollow and extend broadly in a sweeping arc.


Here’s a sketch to explain how I create a waist in the arched blank to allow for the rise at the back of the handles relative to the edge of the hollow.


The upper surface of the handles is subtly facetted from the drawknife, while the hollow and the exterior have a dappled gouged texture.



Posted in bowls, layout, sketch, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged | 5 Comments

Five Spoons


I’ve finished five big spoons from big crooks, three in black cherry, two in hard (sugar) maple.  I’ll post them here below.  They’re all straight from the knife and treated with flaxseed (linseed) oil.  I had fun experimenting with some different designs on these.  They’re all serving/cooking spoons, way too big for eating spoons.  I’ll mention each spoon’s unique characteristics with the photos below.  Rather than listing them separately on my website, I’ll offer them right here in the blog post.  If you’d like to purchase one, send me an email at  All prices include shipping in the U.S.  Orders outside of the U.S. will require an additional shipping charge, but it’s not usually too high for spoons.  I’ll get back to you to confirm, and you can pay by mailing a check or through paypal.

Spoon #1 (below):  Black Cherry, 13″ x 3″.  This spoon would be great for general use — cooking, stirring, serving.  The facets of the octagonal handle each flow onto and around the bowl of the spoon. $135 includes shipping.  SOLD


Spoon #2 (below): Sugar Maple, 14″ x 4″.  This spoon came from a large sugar maple crook that was a bear to carve, but will make an incredibly long-lasting serving spoon.  With a bowl that is 4″ x 5″, your grandchildren will still be serving their grandchildren mountains of mashed potatoes!  I cut across the handle with my hook knife to create the irregular pattern, and finished with a ball finial.  $165 includes shipping.  SOLD


Spoon #3 (below): Black Cherry, 12 1/4″ x 2 1/4″.  This cherry cooking/stirring spoon will reach deep into the pot.  The heartwood runs along the back side of the octagonal handle and up through the center of the bowl.  $85 includes shipping.  SOLD


Spoon #4 (below): Sugar Maple, 12 3/4″ x 2 7/8″.  Carved from the upper portion of the same crook as the maple spoon above, this is a hardy cooking and stirring spoon with lovely figure through the bowl.  After carving the handle pattern with cuts from a gouge, I painted it with thinned artist-oil paint that allows the grain to read through.  With a little use, the paint will naturally begin to rub off on the edges and raised areas creating a beautiful patina of use.  $130 includes shipping.  SOLD


Spoon #5 (below): Black Cherry, 13 1/2″ x 3 1/4″.  I just love this big spoon from a crook that was curved in both directions.  The fibers flow unbroken through the handle and up through the bottom of the bowl.  Very comfortable to use as a serving spoon — for righties anyway.  Again, I carved across the handle with my hook knife, but more regularly in this case.  That little sap pocket in the bowl of the spoon actually has a little opening that passes through, but you won’t lose much food!  $180 includes shipping.  SOLD


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Greenwood Fest 2018


Pre-Fest bowl class 2018. Seated L-R: Jane, Drew, me, Ron.  Standing L-R: Joe, Phil, Steve, Josh, Katie, Martin, Jack, Ed, and Brian.

Carved utensils and other objects are a joy to use and to live with.  They are the lasting result of meaningful work.  Beyond this, carving is a way to have fun together…. I am optimistic that there is still a chance to pass the art of carving on to future generations.

Wille Sunqvist, Swedish Carving Techniques(1990)

Wille Sundqvist passed away earlier this month.  His vision and influence lives on, and was celebrated at the 2018 Greenwood Fest last week, which was dedicated to Wille.  Peter Follansbee posted some group photos on his blog today, and he posted a nice dedication to Wille in this post previously.

As seen in the top photo, twelve carvers and I had a lot of fun together as we shaped birch logs into bowls during the Pre-Fest.  Not even a downpour dampened their spirits.

During my free session, I was able to wander around and learn from the presentations of some of the other instructors and snap a few photos.


In fifteen minutes of watching Curtis Buchanan and Tim Manney (third from right), I learned more about riving with a froe than I had in twenty five years. 


Darrick Sanderson opened my eyes to the subtleties of bowl turning through his skilled demonstration and clear explanations. 


Peter Galbert wowed the crowd with feats of strength, a.k.a. steam-bending white oak chair parts.


Jane Mickelborough and Barn “the spoon” Carder were overseeing a relaxing group spoon carving session.


And I was also able to catch much of Robin Wood’s fascinating talk and slide-show about the many woodworking projects he’s been involved in around the world.

I didn’t have a chance to photograph all of the instructors, but I got a few other shots through the event.


Part of the crowd gathers in hopes of winning one of the many donated items in the fundraising raffle.


Brian and Nathan at the chopping blocks in the central carving area.


During the Fest, I demonstrated bowl carving and led a couple short workshops, including this one on letter carving. 

For me, the biggest surprise of the Fest came Saturday night when Peter Lamb presented me with one of the two Wille Sundqvist and Bill Coperthwaite Slöjd Fellowships for 2018.  The other was awarded to Robin Wood, one of my woodworking heroes and a fantastic guy.  What a pleasure to get to know him. It was all a bit surreal to receive such an honor.  Or maybe it was the disco lights behind me.

Wille Sundqvist Bill Coperthwaite Fellowship

Peter Follansbee is to my left.  Without his influence, I’d still be under my rock.

I have tremendous respect for Peter Lamb and Jögge Sundqvist, and I look forward to the opportunity to further learn, explore, and share the joy of handwork.  What a journey it has already been, one guided by many whom I’ve never directly met, including Wille and Bill.


Their books continue to be a strong influence.  And If you haven’t seen the video The Spoon, the Bowl and the Knife, treat yourself to an inspiring exploration of Wille’s life, work and techniques.

In his book, A Handmade Life, Bill Coperthwaite wrote, “I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”  There are more and more people sharing that vision, and I had the privilege of being with many of them at Greenwood Fest.

It was Bill that first arranged for Wille to come to the United States back in 1978.  At the Fest and many other gatherings, large and small around the world, the efforts of both men continue to bear fruit.


Sixteen-year-old Gabriel and his father, Geoff, at the Fest for the second time — all the way from Vancouver.


Posted in books, classes, events, teaching, Uncategorized, video | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Lettering on Flat Boards


Cutting lettering into a bowl or spoon can be daunting.  You’ve already invested a lot of time and effort into a project and it could all go down the tubes with one slip of the knife during the lettering.  Even if all goes as planned, what if the design doesn’t look like you thought it would?  Grab some flatwood and dig in.


Risky Business: If the lettering goes wrong here, there’s a lot more at stake than with a board. The curved, irregular surface is also an added challenge.

Small flat boards and scraps are an ideal platform for working on your lettering designs and techniques.  This is low risk; if things aren’t working out, you don’t have to scrap a bowl or other project, just grab another hunk of wood.  A relatively soft cooperative wood like basswood is ideal for the situation.


These boards aren’t just for practice.  They can be fun projects in their own right.  I enjoy making little name signs and things like that.  The “Stephen” sign above was carved in butternut.

The photo at the top of this post is a 6 1/2″ x 10″ sign freshly carved to take with me to Plymouth tomorrow.  I’ll use it as an example for my lettering workshop and then it will be raffled off in the Greenwood Fest fundraising raffle.  I just planed the surface of a basswood board, then painted it with some thinned artist’s oil paints.  After the paint dried, I sketched on the letters and cut them with my pen knife.  The two photos below show two of the most common grips I use with the knife.



When I have a choice, I prefer to work with light coming from my left, but the light filtering through the pines in Plymouth will suit me fine.

Posted in finding wood, Lettering, paint, patterns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 28 Comments