“Fish Say…” Shrink Pot


“Fish say…” cherry shrink pot

As I was shaving down the walls of this cherry shrink pot, I couldn’t help but notice a few small tight pin knots, mostly because the swirling grain direction around them was causing me fits.  Then I thought they might be eyes — fish eyes.  And the fish now swim among words from Rupert Brooke’s poem Heaven:

Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;

But is there anything Beyond?

The words flow around the front curve of the pot, so I’ve put a series of four images in the slide show below that show it all, including the oval sassafras bottom.

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The pot is 4 3/4 inches high and 4 1/4 inches wide.

As usual, I cut this small lettering with my penknife, which took much longer than making the pot itself.  If you’re ready to dig in yourself, the bevel on a new penknife won’t be acute enough for effective wood carving.  I took some close-up photos of mine to show how I shape the blade tip — keep it thin.  The left photo shows the back of the blade, followed by a rotation over to a side view.

Posted in cherry, Lettering, quotes and excerpts, sharpening, shrink box, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Winter Window


I like working in front of this window.  The directional light creates shadows that honestly reveal form and surface.  I have a small high bench there, too high for heavy work, but perfect for finer bits like cleaning up the necklace around a walnut bowl this week.  The work is closer to the eye and easier on the back.  Of course, when working in front of a window one runs the risk of distraction.


March Robin

I mean, who can continue carving when this fellow shows up wondering what happened to our early spring?



Curiosity got the best of him, and he fluttered from the chair to the window box for a closer look.  I usually have a board across the top with some sunflower seeds in the winter, but I think he’s more of a worm guy anyway.

Getting no answers from me, he left.  The juncos (I think — help me Plymouth birders), came to see what they were missing….


….and found some seeds that had fallen into the bottom corners of the box.


Red Squirrel Sketch

No curious squirrels this week, but when the seeds are out they sit still long enough for a quick sketch.


delicate tracks in the snow

And the birds are even kind enough to leave behind delicate patterns in the snow.

If you find yourself inside, there are worse places to be than in front of a workshop window.

And here’s another good option: the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts.  This weekend is the opening of their exhibit Living Traditions: The Handwork of Plymouth CRAFT.  There will be many beautiful things to see and explore, including Peter Follansbee’s chest.  It is a real honor for me that they’ve included a couple of my bowls as well.  The exhibit runs through June 25, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it myself in early June.

Posted in bowls, carving, events, holding, nature, patterns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Tradition and Jane Mickelborough


Folding spoon in the Breton tradition by Jane Michelborough

We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors….Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously…

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged….Tradition is a matter of much wider significance.  It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.

— T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from The Sacred Wood (1921).

I think T.S. Eliot might have appreciated the labours of Jane Mickelborough.  Although I’ll be too busy at Greenwood Fest to take her class on making the fantastic folding spoons that she has delved into with hand and mind, I’m excited for the chance to talk with her about them and other things.  She’s coming all the way from Brittany (that French peninsula that seems to be reaching westward), and I hope she’ll be wearing a Bigouden.

Jane’s work is amazing.  If you haven’t seen this recent post by Peter Follansbee featuring an interview with her, check it out.





Posted in classes, historical reference, quotes and excerpts, spoons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Ongoing Journey of Drew and Louise Langsner

img_1058There was a time when I didn’t know an adze from a hoe in the ground, then I found Drew Langsner.  Here was a guy who could make anything from a tree, and explain the process in writing so that even I could understand it.  His Green Woodworking book and this article were my guides as I started really sorting out how to carve bowls.  If you don’t have his books, you’re missing out.

Me (left) talking with Drew and Louise Langsner in Maine, 2015  (photo by Peter Follansbee)

Although Drew and I had corresponded a bit, I had never met him in person.  So I was thrilled to get a chance to talk with him and his wife Louise at a Lie-Nielsen event in Maine a couple years ago.  I’m looking forward to catching up again at Greenwood Fest this year, where they will be Guests of Honor.

Today, Drew and Louise sent out this newsletter informing everyone of the “closing down” process for Country Workshops.  Included are reminders of the past, news of the present, and thoughts on the future.

There is also some exciting news for the many folks out there seeking the quality tools that Drew has supplied through Country Workshops.  Drew provided unique access to only the best quality tools long before they were in the present state of wild demand. Now Kenneth and Angela Kortemeier will be stepping in to supply many of the same tools through their new craft school in Maine.  I enjoyed talking a bit with Kenneth in Maine, and he is a great guy. Hopefully, Drew taught him how to sweet-talk Hans Karlsson.

As you can see in the newsletter, Drew is enjoying his new fantastic explorations in art. He and Louise are sure to continue living lives with the same spirit of adventure and curiosity evident in their first book, Handmade, published in 1974.  In it they travel through Europe, sharing and documenting the lives, homes, food (check out Louise’s Garden Kitchen blog) and traditions of rural villagers.  The Afterword begins with, “Looking back, as well as ahead, we see our year abroad as the beginning of a much longer journey.”  That journey continues and has already touched the lives of many, many people — myself included. Here’s to Drew and Louise and their new adventures.




Posted in books, green woodworking, historical reference, quotes and excerpts, tools, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Rainbow Dolphin and Whale Shark


There is nothing that reminds me of the magic of creating more than having a kid or two in the shop, as with my niece and nephew this weekend.  They encourage fast and uninhibited work full of wild imagination.  No fancy tools required; with a coping saw, pocket knife, a little sandpaper, and some cheap craft paint, we brought into existence a most colorful dolphin and an eerily realistic whale shark — all while wearing paper hats.

These projects were in-the-round, but I wrote another post awhile back with some ideas about relief carving and working with young kids in general.  And if you’d like to make one of these cool workman’s paper caps, I found the directions some time ago at this blog post from Joel at Tools For Working Wood.


Posted in carving, paint, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Hot Oil Treatment


If you’ve seen my noggin, you know this post won’t be about hair care.  Over the weekend, I finished the dry-stage carving of an ale bowl I had roughed out a couple months ago.  I thought it might be a good opportunity to briefly discuss my oiling procedure.


The most important factor in finishing is the quality of the final cuts.  A properly sharpened edge will leave a cleanly cut, almost burnished, surface behind.


Once the carving is done, I pour some flax seed (linseed) oil into the bowl, then dip my fingers right in and slather oil all over the bowl.


I’ve explored many rabbit holes regarding oil choice and all of that, and I know it is a subject with a depth and breadth beyond this post.  One thing these natural oils have in common is a long curing time — potentially months.  Time to turn up the heat.


I have found that heat drastically reduces the drying time of these oils.  In the heat of summer, I place a newly oiled bowl in direct sunlight.  We were treated to a beautifully sunny weekend but the sunlight is not intense enough now.


At other times of year, I’ll place a bowl in front of the fireplace or in a little light bulb kiln that I made for drying chair rungs years ago and I still use it for that occasionally.  Based on a design by Jennie Alexander, It is simply a plywood box lined with foil-faced insulation board.  There’s a sheet metal baffle above two porcelain fixtures.  It is essentially an Easy-bake oven and the temperature can be controlled by varying the wattage of the bulbs.  My wife even uses it for making yogurt.  With two forty watt bulbs, it maintains a temperature of about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

After a couple hours, I rub off or rub in any excess surface oil.  Then, after a day or so in the box, I’ll begin with other coats, moving on to a blend of flax oil and beeswax.


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Not All Those Who Wander…


All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

img_0713“Let’s see where this road goes,” my dad would  say as he turned the car onto an unknown route.  We’d wander around back roads, unencumbered by any sweetly demanding GPS voice.  We would see old farms that were new to us, and stop to look down into an unknown stream.  I often assumed we were completely lost. Yet we always, magically it seemed, found the way home, richer from the adventure.

I know that’s a long way from Middle-earth, and Tolkien’s verse has a much deeper and broader meaning.  Still,  when I focus on that second line, riding around as a kid with my dad is a memory that comes to mind.  I also think of Thoreau and his ideas about “sauntering” in his essay Walking.  Tolkien and Thoreau knew, and my dad knows, that there is much to be gained from what may seem to be aimless wandering, and exploration extends to realms beyond a walk or a drive.

I thought the free flowing form of this cherry bowl shared a bit of the same spirit.  When it came to designing the lettering, I did my wandering on paper.  There, I can play with different ideas while marking and erasing freely.  After I’ve worked things out, I can redraw the idea onto the wood.  Sometimes, I’ll experiment with ideas by drawing directly on the wood before paring the final surface.  I can take a photo of the design, surface the bowl, then redraw the lettering using the photo as a reminder.


Navigating the curly figure with carving tools was certainly an adventure.  This vertical grain blank came from the central area of a log — to one side of the pith.  The bowl is 21 inches long, 8 1/2 inches wide, and just under 2 inches high.


For this bowl, I found it best to do the lettering while holding the bowl in one hand and the pocket knife in the other, as can be seen in the second photo near the top of the post.  Raking light helps to see edges and facets clearly when working.


While on the subject of lettering, I want to include another lettered bowl I completed recently in this post.


This walnut bowl represents the second time I’ve used the same Robert Frost verse, this time on a 20 1/2″ x 12 3/8″ elliptical ring.


As with the cherry bowl, I used the pen knife to cut these letters, but I found it best to secure the bowl with a couple holdfasts to enable me to use both hands.


I’ve written several other posts that relate to lettering.  Just look under “lettering” in the category list on the right side.



Posted in cherry, holding, Lettering, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments