Daily Bowl Article

DF photos cherry eating bowl texture fluted 2

There’s a new issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine just out (August 2020, Issue #283) with a slew of good articles.  I’ve also got an article in there on carving an eating bowl like the one above.  With just a few tools, and no adze, you can have the fun of making a bowl that will become a part of your daily life as much as the food you eat from it.  You hold the bowl, the bowl holds your oatmeal — a wonderful relationship.


As are the relationships between the enthusiastic staff members at Fine Woodworking; not that they hold each other, necessarily.  To put it simply, these are really good people that are dedicated to doing great work together.  It has been a real privilege for me to get to know them and work with the team from time to time.

Back in 2017, Ben Strano and Jeff Roos were even able to film a couple days of me talking to myself while making wood chips and transform it in to a series of videos on carving a bowl that turned out fantastic.

This latest article features a bowl with a much more simple form, but this can be deceptive.   While there are fewer complex curves than many of my bowls and no flaring undercut sculpted handles, getting the subtleties of a seemingly straightforward breakfast bowl like this just right is an engaging challenge even for experienced carvers.  Jon Binzen’s clear photos break it down beautifully.


That said, this form is not overwhelming for a beginner and doesn’t require many tools or much material.  And the concepts involved carry over to other bowl forms.

DF photos cherry bowl interior

While the inside should ideally be cleanly cut with a gentle texture for ease of eating and washing…

DF photos cherry eating bowl texture fluted

…,the outside offers up a blank canvas with all sorts of possibilities.  In the article, I go into detail about laying out and carving a fluted exterior like the one above.

DF photos cherry eating bowl texture spiral

And there will be additional possibilities discussed at FWW online, including the spiral texture above that is trickier than it looks due to grain direction.

DF photos cherry eating bowl texture dappled

Also, this dappled texture as well as some information on painting.

I also have a couple more articles in the works.  Meanwhile if you want to check out some of my previous articles here is a link to the links.

One last thing.  The material for the eating bowl in this article is easily obtained and handled, a small diameter log, about 8 inches across.  I typically don’t mind the movement, the crowning, that takes place as the piece dries, but if you want to avoid it you might consider splitting your next big log to get some vertical grain blanks for bowls like in the second example of this little sketch.


The movement may be a bit exaggerated, but it should give you the idea.  By splitting a large enough log twice, you can get two long sections of vertical grain to both sides of the pith and still have plenty of wood above and below for other bowls.  There will be much less movement in a bowl carved from such a blank.  That central band doesn’t need to be more than three inches thick.



Posted in finding wood, green woodworking, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Musical Shrink Pot


Between juggling this last month of a strange school year and a bout with sciatica, my carving time has been limited lately, but I was able to get a different sort of shrink pot finished before Mother’s Day.  Keeping in mind that my mother’s favorite movie is The Sound of Music, I made a shrink pot music box.  That’s a simple representation of an Edelweiss flower on the pot, to match the song.  I mounted the musical movement to the bottom board before popping it into the groove to be permanently squeezed.


I put a couple sound holes in the bottom, but I don’t know that it was necessary.


The tapering of the pot produces some cathedral grain patterns that may bring hills to mind, along with the carved top edge.


I didn’t want whatever is put into the pot to make contact with the musical movement, so this pot has a divider and a bottom, with the musical movement in its own space between.  That’s the divider you can see in the photo above.  The walls shrink around the divider and the bottom simultaneously.


So I needed two grooves on the inside of the pot.  I used a cutter that I made a while back.  With a dowel (a length of broomstick in this case) and an old marking gauge fence carved to fit over it.  I was able to adjust the fence and cut both grooves.


The cutter was taken from a Powergrip 60° 6mm V-tool.  It pulls out of the handle pretty easily with a pair of pliers.  I just drilled a 1/4″ hole from the front part way through then finished all the way through with an 1/8″ hole.  That arrangement jams the cutter in there tightly but still allows for easy removal.  For smaller diameter pots, I would want to shorten it a bit to better negotiate a tight curve.  Here are a couple more shots:



I prefer to make the bottoms for shrink pots out of a relatively soft wood like basswood or pine.  Not only is it easier to work, but I think it gives a little bit as the pot walls shrink around it, maybe making it less likely that the walls will crack if they shrink in a tighter squeeze than expected.


Of course, the bottom board must be dry.  My bottoms are typically around a quarter inch thick.  One simple way to get stock like this is to just take some standard 3/4″ thick pine stock and resaw it down the middle.  I mark a pencil line down the middle just using my fingers as a gauge, then arrange it as above.  With a sharp rip saw, it is fast enjoyable work in this pine (or maybe it’s spruce).


I flip it back and forth a few times, then, as I get close to the bottom, I flip it over and finish the cut.  After a couple passes with a plane, it will be stock for a few shrink pot bottoms.

Even if you’re not into music boxes, I think there are some fun possibilities for this closed chamber idea.  How about a mystery object sealed in between to drive people crazy?  Or a time capsule closed up at both ends?

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More Fun with Shrink Tubes


Sometimes you just have to get an odd idea out of your system.  This one involved shrink pots, or more specifically, shrink tube bottoms.  I’ve written several posts about shrink pots/boxes/tubes with procedures and all that.  Here is a link to a list of those posts.

The whole idea of a shrink pot relies on the concept of a green dynamic ring of wood shrinking around a dry stable bottom.   And shrink tube interiors are perfectly round, straight from the auger.  The wheels started turning and I started measuring coins.  Turns out, a U.S. dollar coin is 1.043 inches in diameter, perfect for popping into the bottom of a shrink tube drilled with a 1 inch auger.  That exact measurement came from the U.S. Mint, here’s a link to their chart with all of the coin measurements.


I noticed that a half-dollar coin is 1.205 inches and I have a 1 3/16 auger (1.19 inches)… so, now inspired by President Kennedy, I needed to figure out how to make the perfect groove to fit the coins.  Both coins are very close to 2mm thick, so that was at least consistent.


I cut off the end of an old broomstick which was about 7/8″ in diameter and took a gouge to the inside of an old yard sale marking gauge to go around it as a fence.  There would be lots of ways to achieve the same idea.


I simply drilled two holes in line with each other across the width of the broomstick and inserted two wood screws until the threads were below the surface.  Then I hacksawed the heads off, leaving just over 1/16″ rising above the surface of the wood.  I filed them to the width of the coins (2mm), then made a groove in one with a triangular file.  I refined the upper edges with a slipstone without reducing the width.  The other nub was simply filed flat at the front and an angle on top to form a bit of a chisel.


I put the back end of the broomstick in a vice, slipped the tube over the front end until it was up against the fence and rotated the tube to the right while pressing down on the cutters.  The first cutter scores both sides of the groove and the second cutter clears the wood between.  I used light cuts going around several times, clearing the wet wood bits from the cutters often.  The result was a square groove that would fit over the edges of the coin.  The screws aren’t heat treated tool steel or anything, but they’re still steel cutting green wood; worked fine for this light duty.

Anyway, Noah and I had fun working out the procedures that worked best together.  We found that cutting a bit of a relief angle on the inner edge of the tube between the groove and the bottom edge of the tube allowed the coin to be funneled right down into the groove with a little pressure, then “pop,” it was in there.  It could move side to side in the groove until a couple days later when all of the play was gone and the groove had squeezed over the edges of the coin permanently.


Noah and I painted them, then cut through the paint with a simple pattern of gouge chips.  The wood beneath was light in color.  Birch, cherry sapwood, and one aspen I think.  We used thinned artist oil paint to create more of a glazed effect.  On the third and fifth ones from the left, another different color after the carving.  We tapered the interior of the top a bit with the tapered reamer and found some nice natural corks straight from the bark that seal the deal.


I like to use these things for pencil holders; the small ones hold about seven.  The tubes are easy to pop into a pocket, a pack, or even a tool roll.   They could also be handy for all sorts of things I suppose: tools, snacks, cigars?  Regardless, they’re a blast to make and would be a fun project to do with kids as well.  The possibilities for wood species and decoration are endless, and it’s a good use for straight small diameter pieces.


Above are three small ones in blue, red, and green.  These are about 9 inches long.


The half-dollar size are about 10 1/2″ long.  Gold over blue, India ink, and white over blue.


We also made a shrink tube with the 2″ T-handle auger, the one in the middle there.  It’s 8 1/2″ long and has a wood bottom.

I hope you try making some of your own.  Leave a question in the comments if I can help clarify the process for you.  I see on the chart that a penny is 3/4″ and I’ll throw out the dime challenge.   And how big is a two pence?

Posted in green woodworking, paint, patterns, shrink box, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Elbow Adze


I intended to do this over three years ago — make an elbow adze.  My intentions were so sincere that I purchased the iron from Kestrel Tool.  I even found a branch junction that would work well for the haft and roughed it out of the green white oak, thinking I’d leave it to dry for a couple months, then finish up.  Then other things kept intervening.  45 months later, it’s done, and I like it.


The crook moved around a good bit as it dried, so it was a good thing that I had left a fair amount of extra material.  I was able to flatten both sides and get things trued up.  I could have just purchased a finished adze from Kestrel, but thought making one would be more fun and better help me to understand this animal that is different in many ways from the adze style I’m used to.


Kestrel refers to this iron as a “Baby Adze Iron.” The haft I made is about 13 inches long.

Doing it this way forced me to really concentrate on the literature packet that came with the iron that went into great detail on northwest coast elbow adzes and what makes them tick.  In the photo above, the major shaping has been done.  I used a drawknife and sloyd knife, but a rasp came in especially handy with all of that convoluted grain around the tight bend.  My handle is oval in form overall, but more like a squished octagon, with eight facets that merge into the head.  I refined everything with a sharp card scraper.


I also used a bench chisel on the surface where the iron rests.  Good contact is important there.  I just noticed in the photo of the haft that it makes me think of a horse.


I temporarily attached the iron with some electrical tape.  This temporary binding allowed me to try out the action of the adze.   I could still make adjustments, including shaving the neck to adjust the action.  There is a liveliness, a slight springiness, to the haft that you can feel as the tool takes a chip.


After I finished shaping and oiling the handle, I secured the iron to the haft with tight wraps of cord.


I textured the grip area with cross-grain cuts from a small gouge…


Then softened the sharp corners between facets with some very fine sandpaper.


As you can tell most obviously by the straight iron, this isn’t an adze for hollowing bowls but rather for shaping and texturing (although there are also specialized texturing adzes with extra springy hafts).  I’ve spent a total of about 15 minutes using my finished elbow adze now, so we still have to get to know each other.  But we had a great time in our first play session with this chunk of pine.


Swinging this tool is quite different from my bowl adze (above).  For one thing, the pivot point on my bowl adze swing is near the base of the short handle.  The significant swell and kick at the bottom of the handle encourages this full rotation that can reach well into a hollow.  Whereas the pivot point on this elbow adze is right above the index finger almost halfway up the haft.  There is more of a rocking motion in the hand, a steady rhythm of back and forth.  At least that’s my initial impression.

Both have their strengths and particular uses, but I’ve got a lot more exploring to do to even begin to understand or comment much more.  Whether you buy an iron or make one from an old car spring or lawnmower blade, an elbow adze is a great project and there’s no need to wait a few years!


Posted in adze, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 19 Comments

Back to the Hens


I remember first seeing The Serenity Prayer on a trivet that hung on my grandmother’s kitchen wall:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

I remember, even as a boy, being struck by it — the wisdom, not the trivet — and I find that it returns to my mind from time to time and brings perspective and encouragement.

It has been inspiring to see how so many people have changed things to work within our new set of circumstances.  Among them are those teachers of craft that rely to a large extent on traveling and teaching.  Peter Follansbee, to name one, has begun to expand his video offerings, as he explained  in this post.  I mention it here, for your benefit.  Peter began sharing incredible amounts of information through his blog back in 2008, and has just kept on going, with well over a thousand posts.  I was learning from Peter years before I met him, and still am.

After spending some time with Peter, you can have a go at a hen bowl.  I was able to get back to my rooftop hens I had started in this post last month.  I’ll pick up where I left off for those of you interested in tons of photos of a chunk of walnut getting smaller:


The adze can’t reach effectively into this tight undercut hollow, at least mine can’t.  So I continued to excavate and shape with a bent gouge.  I also cleaned up the surface of the inner rim and drew a line for the final edge of the hollow.


The tool will tell you when it has reached its limits.  For the deepest third or so of the hollow, I switched to a spoon bent gouge.  Between both gouges, it’s lots and lots of shavings and assessing with fingertips and eyes until the form of the hollow is nice and full.


Before I started swinging my axe at the exterior, I took some measures to reduce the chances of knocking off that tail.  I made a few crosscuts, then progressively split off chunks of wood down to them.


Leaves something like a Lego look to the back end.


On the front end, I just start in with the axe, knocking off the ridges in distinct planes, which creates new ridges…


…that are taken down, and so on.


Eventually, the planes become narrower, more numerous, and curved.


The tail end is a little more complicated.  I use an adze to go across the grain between the body and the flared tail.  I did some more shaping with the axe after taking the photo above.


Then I faired the axed surfaces with a spokeshave.


Then it’s time for a gouge and mallet to create a large channel under the wings.


Here it is from above.  You’ve got to work downhill with the grain.  I just flipped to the other side of the pegs for the opposite two corners.


Now it was time to reshape that wide body.


I marked a rough line on the lower side of the channel.


Then removed much of the material with the axe…


…and cleaned up with the spokeshave.



Pegs and holdfasts, you can do just about anything with them.  Here I was shaping the tail a bit more and scooping beneath it.


There’s two of these going now, with slightly different proportions.  They’ve been drying for a few days.  I’ll get back to them for some flute carving and lots more fun,  heading toward something like this:


A good way to start is with a smaller version in a softer wood.  The one below is only about eight or nine inches long and can be carved mainly with the same kit you’d use for spoon carving.

It might give your mind a break from those things you can’t change.

Posted in bird bowls, bowls, holding, layout, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Easter Eggs


Turns out you don’t need little mystery tablets to color Easter eggs.  My wife Kristin and daughter Emma had some fun experimenting with what we had around the house to dye eggs yesterday.  I was like a little kid when they showed me the results, so I had to pop them into a good nest and take a photo.


The yellows are from turmeric, the pinks from beets.  The purplish blues were from blueberries and the sky blue in the foreground is from red cabbage.  They simmered each ingredient with some water, strained out the solids, then added some vinegar.  There was some wrapping with string and other preliminaries, then the eggs were popped into the dye in mason jars and put into the fridge overnight.  Now they’re ready for delivery.

Which reminds me . . . look who I spied earlier today relaxing beside the hosta shoots.


Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Making the Best of It


Limits encourage creativity.  This is evident in many aspects of life, such as when a resourceful home cook manages to create a splendid meal from the few things left in the cupboard.  Or when an aging athlete expertly adapts his game in consideration of new physical realities.


The limits in this case were established by a rough walnut log from my neighbor.  Good neighbors are important.  And we’ve been fortunate to have really good ones since we moved into this house nearly a quarter century ago.  So a couple weeks ago, when neighbor Mark Cianci brought me some walnut logs from a tree that had stood behind his motel, the motel built by his father over fifty years ago, I wanted to make the best of it for a little gift.


The two photos above are actually the other side of the log from which I carved the bowl, or I guess it’s more of a tray.  The tree had been standing dead.  The sapwood had rotted in many spots, the wood was dry and cracks had been migrating in from the outside.


Once I hewed out the bit of twist and got down to some sound wood, it was clear this was going to be a long slender bowl.  I shaved the blank with a gentle arch across the top and started to lay out the shape of the bowl with some long arcs forming the sides.  I drew these by flexing a metal yardstick and tracing along it.  Forgot to take photos of that.


With a bottom this long, I had to make extra sure it was truly flat, so as I progressed with a hand plane, I checked for twist with winding sticks, sighting across the edges from a kneeling position to check for parallel.  Mine are just a couple leftover lengths of stock molding with the edge of one darkened with a sharpie for contrast.


I hogged away most of the material from the interior with an adze, then started to form the corners of the interior.  To chop the dry end grain, I dusted off a heavy 1/2″ mortise chisel I had rescued years ago.


Nothing fancy here, just trying to get the bulk of the material out of the corners.


The same for the junction of the interior side walls and bottom.  You can see the marks resulting from working with the #8 or 9 gouge (keeps the corners from digging in) downward from the line above, then across the grain from the side to eventually meet and form the corner running the length of the interior.  After the general shape was there, I switched to a gouge of a more gentle sweep and continued paring all of these surfaces and tidying up the junctions, leaving a bottom of a 1/4 inch thickness, or so.


After laying out lines on the bottom reflecting the shape of the top and the taper of the interior side walls, it was pretty simple to remove the material from the outer walls with a drawknife.  The smooth surface contrasts with the textured interior.


I made two sawcuts at each end to remove the majority of the wood from beneath the handles (sort of making a chunky rabbet), then finished by sculpting with a gouge.


After carving some chamfers to ease the edges, I played around on a practice board with a few gouges, then quickly added the family name on the handles.  This is just a combination of some simple gouge chips; straight down for the initial cut, then follow with an angled back cut to take out a crescent chip.  The Cs are from a #8 20mm gouge.  The A and N are from a #6 20mm gouge.  The I’s are from a #6 14mm, dotted with a little #9.


Here are a few more photos of the finished piece:


The dimensions are 24 1/2″ long, 5 1/2″ wide, and 1 5/8″ high.  The size of those giant apples makes the scale a bit deceptive.  Finish is pure linseed (flaxseed) oil.


After I was done and measured everything, it struck me that you could make this same piece from a two foot chunk of 2×6.  So, if you have one laying around, have at it.  you don’t need an adze, and you can easily adapt what tools you have available.


Posted in bowls, carving, finding wood, layout, Lettering, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged | 26 Comments