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 , , | 4 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

Singing in the Shop


The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.

— E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web


I know nothing about crickets, other than there is one hanging out in my workshop and I like the way he sings.  I find his song soothing and the perfect carving accompaniment.

He’s been here the past few evenings.  On the second night, I spotted him on a board leaning against the wall — along with what I’ll assume was his intended audience.  I haven’t seen her since, and to be honest, I am assuming it was a her.  The night after that he sang again, using my pack as a stage.  He didn’t seem to mind me looking closely.  And as I write this, he is perched on a shelf full of odd chunks of wood, chirping away.  He’s helping me finish a bowl from a large maple crook, and I should be able to share the results soon.  I keep the door open, so he must want to see the project through to the end.

So, cheers to crickets.


Posted in carving, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

In a Bowl Care May Not Be

IMG_8888The inspiration for this bowl goes back to the Middle Ages.  It seems that the unpopular English King John (the same that inspired the legend of Robin Hood) planned to build a hunting lodge (another version suggests a royal road) near Gotham, a little village not far from Nottingham.  That was a little too close for comfort as far as the residents of Gotham were concerned, but how to dissuade the King?

The villagers agreed to a plan by which they would, in various ways, act like mad fools engaged in crazy pursuits.  When the royal scouts reported the scene in Gotham to King John, he decided to build elsewhere, frightened and duped by the “Wise Men of Gotham.”


A later version of the Gotham Tales

Although these stories are believed to have existed in the oral tradition as early as the 12th century, they were first published in the 16th century as “The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham.”  Among the tales is that of a man carrying sacks of grain over his shoulders as he rides his horse so as not to overburden the horse.  We also learn of the villagers’ attempts at drowning an eel as punishment for eating so many fish, and the man who lights his smithy on fire to remove a wasp nest from the thatch. Maybe the best known story is that of the failed attempt to fence in the cuckoo bird; it seems they built the fence too low.  The “Cuckoo Bush Mound” can still be visited in modern-day Gotham — population 1800.



These stories have inspired many creative efforts over the centuries since.  In fact they inspired Washington Irving to satirically nickname New York City “Gotham” back in 1807 in the magazine Salmagundi.  And if you want to look more deeply into the Batman connection, you can start here.

Well, I’m no Washington Irving (like Yossarian in Catch 22), but this bowl too was inspired by one of the Men of Gotham tales.

The particular tale is of three wise men of Gotham setting off in a bowl to rake or net the moon from the sea.  But of course, each time they engage their tools the moon scatters into pieces and eludes their grasp, only to reappear whole as before.  This episode led to a simple nursery rhyme in the 1765 edition of Mother Goose, printed below from the 1901 edition:


My daughter’s decade-old Three Men of Gotham toy/bowl.  Complete with dings and stray nail polish, as it should be.  We’ll find the net one day…

The same story seems to have captured the attention of English writer Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866).  He wrote a couple poems based upon it, one beginning with the line, “In a bowl to sea went wise men three, on a brilliant night in June: They carried a net, and their hearts were set on fishing up the moon.”  Years ago, when my daughter was a little girl, I carved and painted a bowl, three figures, and a net for her based on that one. The lines I carved on this walnut bowl, however, came from another, more thoughtful, of his poems titled Three Men of Gotham:


Gotham’s three wise men we be.
Whither in your bowl so free?
To rake the moon from out the sea.
The bowl goes trim. The moon doth shine.
And our ballast is old wine.–
And your ballast is old wine.

Who art thou, so fast adrift?
I am he they call Old Care.
Here on board we will thee lift.
No: I may not enter there.
Wherefore so? ‘Tis Jove’s decree,
In a bowl Care may not be.–
In a bowl Care may not be.

Fear ye not the waves that roll?
No: in charmed bowl we swim.
What the charm that floats the bowl?
Water may not pass the brim.
The bowl goes trim. The moon doth shine.
And our ballast is old wine.–
And your ballast is old wine.

I find it interesting how he has taken this centuries old fun tale of feigned madness, and infused it with deeper meaning.  Captivated with the idea of the bowl as a sort of sanctuary from care and worry, I decided to carve the repeated line, “In a bowl Care may not be.” on the handles of this bowl.


I wanted the bottom of the bowl to provide a hint of context for the excerpt, so I sketched an illustration that captures the scene as I imagine it.  It features a representation of this particular bowl carrying the three wise men of Gotham.  This was then transferred to the bottom of the bowl and v-incised with a knife.

Below are some more photos of the bowl, including the incised carving on the bottom.



The chair provides a sense of scale; this bowl is big and deep: 24 inches long, 13 1/2 inches wide, and 4 3/4 inches high, all heartwood black walnut.


This work was done with the pen knife blade.


A pre-oil shot.  I think I’ve seen a beard like that before.


Letters this size in walnut require some chisel and gouge work, but the knife blade still bears much of the duty.


And a few outside shots after the rain ended to better indicate some of the exterior form, consisting mainly of four sculpted facets.  These outer surfaces were left from the drawknife with a little gouge work just under the handles.

Now that it’s finished, I’ve posted it to my website as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Reflections on the Marsh


The Marshfield Baker’s Dozen:  (Front row L-R): Tom, me, Lucas, Nat (Back row L-R): Gene, David, Jonathan, Matt, Joel, Gordon, Sean, Pret, and Chris – a.k.a. Plymouth’s Paul Bunyan.  Their bowls were already looking great, with a couple more hours left to refine things.  Photo by Marie Pelletier

If you ever are part of a class with Plymouth CRAFT, be prepared to employ all of your senses beyond the work itself.  Between the beautiful venues, the mouthwatering flavors of Paula Marcoux’s hand crafted lunches, and the sense of comradery, the whole experience is one to be savored.

A couple weekends ago, I taught a class in bowlcarving in Marshfield, Massachusetts.  As we were busily setting up for the class Friday evening, I was shaken from my mental to-do list by the unique beauty of my surroundings.   As I walked around the corner from the barn, the fog was rolling in over the river that meanders among the marsh grasslands.  The effect was otherworldly — especially to a guy from Western Pennsylvania.  Heck, I still can’t get over the idea that those rivers keep filling and draining every day; back and forth, up and down, flowing this way then that…!  Where I’m from, the rivers have pretty much made up their minds.


David and Joel with their bowls…and band-aids!

I had a great time reconnecting with a few folks met at Greenwood Fest and spending two days with a great group of guys armed with axes.  If you’ve never experienced the sight and sound of twelve adzes making chips fly through a barn, put it on your list.  By the end of the second day, everyone had transformed a log into a bowl, all in the same general design, but each unique due to choices made by the individual students and the nature of the logs.

I’d like to thank Marie Pelletier (a P.C. board member and all-around big help) for all of the photos in this post.  I am a terrible multi-tasker, so I failed to take a single photo during the class.  But Marie came to the rescue and shared some of her photos with me.  Thanks Marie.  Here’s a few more:


Gordon, Jonathan, Lucas, Nat, and Tom working among the chips.


Me (the guy who learned the most) admiring the lines of Joel’s bowl.


We also had a chance to discuss things like lettering.


Peter Follansbee and his family took time out to visit the class both days, even though Peter was preparing to leave Sunday night for his trip to England and Sweden.  He showed us a quick trick learned from Roy Underhill in making a mask from a fresh piece of bark.  That’s Peter’s daughter, Rose, behind the mask.  Of course, you know it’s not Peter because he doesn’t wear blue nail polish.









Posted in bowls, classes, events, nature, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Aspen/Poplar/Popple Ale Bowl


I’m settling back in after teaching a bowl carving class (not ale bowls) in the Plymouth, Mass. area with Plymouth CRAFT.  More about that great experience in another post before long. Meanwhile, one of the tasks on my list today is to package up this horse head ale bowl and get it on its way to a customer.  This one is another personal size ale bowl, about 11 inches long and holds about 18 ounces.

I carved it before the class, but from the same species of wood that we worked in the class this weekend.  Around here we call it bigtooth aspen, which is one of the poplars — in fact it’s scientific name is Populus grandidentata.  By the way, what we do call poplar here is not a poplar.  Anyway, it seems that this aspen is usually called popple or poplar in Massachusetts. Regardless if I have that all right or not, it is a white-yellow wood with undramatic grain that is nice to carve. Some of the students asked about painting possibilities and one of the options we discussed was artist’s oils.

For this bowl I thinned artist’s oils with flax oil to create a consistency somewhere between a stain and a paint.  The blue-grey color is a mix of a few shades, while the top is titanium white (which is non-toxic if you were wondering.)  After it had dried I did the chip carving.  Then I treated the whole bowl, inside and out, with flax oil, followed by a mix of flax oil and beeswax.  The rubbing and buffing afterwards results, in sharply raised areas, in the subtlest rub-through of the paint, which I liked in this case.

Just one of many options for the twelve new bowls that were carved this past weekend.

Posted in ale bowls, bowls, paint, patterns, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

What’s Wrong with this Edge?


Look at the lines of reflection on the beautiful polished surface.  The polish is good.  The fact that the lines of reflection take a bit of a nosedive as they reach the cutting edge is a problem, and a very common one.  In this case, it is the result of aggressive work on the buffing wheel by the folks at Pfeil Swiss Made (they come pre-sharpened), but all edges eventually develop some rounding.  The wood does fight back somewhat, after all.

It’s no fun to obsess about sharpening.  The idea is to get it right and get to work.  That abrupt rounded bubble of steel behind the edge is like a water heater attached to the underside of your car; it hurts your performance.  Well, I’ve talked about the idea before in some of my other sharpening related posts.  In this one, I want to show how I go about getting an edge like this into shape.


You can take care of it without a grinding wheel, it will just take a much longer time.  There can be a significant amount of metal to remove.  You could use a wet grinder.  I use a dry grinder.  Mine is a simple rig with an arbor and a belt that goes down to an old washing machine motor.  A friend and a hand-cranked grinder would be great.  I can never find any friends when I need to sharpen.  However you do it, just get an abrasive wheel to spin.  Disclaimer: This set up does not follow safety guidelines.  You should have a bunch of guards on yours (I live on the edge), and safety glasses, dust mask…  


I drop my Veritas grinding support out of the way for this.  It will be a freehand operation.  Notice that the left side of the wheel has a slight convex area as the edge drops off.  This can be used to create a slight hollow grind on some tools.


Sight from above so that you can see when the bevel is flat against the wheel.  My right hand steadies the back of the handle and provides rotation.  I start in this position, then…


rotate the gouge while maintaining contact along the bevel…


and finish in this position.  It becomes pretty natural and you can see exactly what’s happening all along the way.  With a light touch, you shouldn’t generate much heat in the tool at all.  If you do feel it starting to heat up, cool it in water before it is hot.  


I wanted to lengthen this bevel to give the tool a lower angle of attack.  Therefore, material is being removed from the heal of the bevel first.


Continue grinding at the same angle, keeping the bevel flat.  Of course, the last shiny area is where the tool was abruptly rounded.  Don’t be tempted to tilt the tool to grind that.  Keep grinding the whole bevel until…


the grinding marks are even and right to the edge.  


Since I lowered the angle of the outer bevel, I add a slight inner bevel that makes sure the edge is durable enough.  I move a slip stone (here a diamond cone) across and back and forth.


another angle


Then sharpen on your stones like always.


When I get to my finest stone, I work both sides of the edge lightly with a very fine ceramic slip.  This takes the most patience — I keep going back and forth from outside bevel to inside bevel until the wire edge is removed.  Sometimes you don’t see it, sometimes you do. Then I strop and get to work.


With practice, it becomes natural.  The gouge will now sing and be much easier to touch up next time.

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