Cleave the Wood

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When a friend asked me to carve this short line from Saying 77 of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, I spent a lot of time thinking.  There were a lot of decisions to make, from choosing among various translations to the setting for the inscription.  In the end, I used this cleft chunk of walnut and carved the letters into the bookmatched faces.  For a sense of scale, the uprights are about ten inches high.

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It was a bit of challenge carving into the undulating riven surface, but it worked out.  The backsides are split surfaces as well, so with nothing flat it was good to hold the piece in one hand and cut with the knife in the other.  A gouge also came in handy here and there.

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To get the pieces to sit perfectly flat was a matter of hand sawing, then planing the end grain with a finely set block plane.  This was done while the pieces were sandwiched together.  My friend wanted them to be able to go back together on occasion, rather than be permanently fixed to the base.  Although the pieces would stand up on their own, I made things more secure with a series of rare earth (neodymium) magnets inset into the bottom of the uprights and matched their locations with magnets fit into the base from beneath, leaving an 1/8″ or so of wood above them.  Once close, the uprights are pulled into their proper positions.  They remain steady, but can still easily be removed from the base.

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Catching up with the Bowl Horse

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There are many ways to get to a bowl horse.  If you’re still thinking about adding one to your shop, I’ll recap some of the options, including some new possibilities.

My first bowl horse concept, seen in the photo above, was a simple adaptation of my Jennie Alexander English style shaving horse.  It achieved the key principal I had in mind — holding end to end.  I detailed that story in a post a few years ago.  With a little ingenuity, many standard shaving horses can be adapted to function as bowl horses.  Here’s another example:

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For Plymouth CRAFT classes we adapted Pret Woodburn’s shave horses by adding a sled of sorts (blue) above the folded flat work surface.  Only requires one screw to attach that also achieves the length adjustment.  In the end we constructed the body of the sled a bit differently due to the materials on hand, but it doesn’t really matter.  The only other thing required was to screw a board between the two swing arms.

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But let’s back up a bit before the Plymouth adaptations.  In 2004 I designed and made the log-on-legs bowl horse that still serves in my workshop today.  Last year, I wrote a post about how I made it.

Shortly after making the log horse, I designed this more portable bowl horse and made it from dimensional lumber.  I wrote an article about it that was published in 2008.  The article and plans are still available on my website here.

What has been so wonderful since then is to see how other carvers have adapted the concept to the materials they have on hand and/or to their unique situations.  Many of these creative solutions can be seen at the “Other’s Horses” page of my website.  A recent example is a horse made by Dwight Beebe, who was in my bowl class in Plymouth last June.

Dwight Beebe Bowl Horse

Dwight Beebe’s bowl horse, adapted to a Tim Manney style base.

Dwight’s base is inspired by Tim Manney‘s design and can host a regular shave horse, or Dwight can pop that off and put on the bowl horse attachment as in the photo above.

Dwight Beebe Bowl Horse with Spoon Mule

Dwight can also attach a spoon mule based on plans by Dawson Moore.

Of course, a lot of folks are short on space and Mike Loeffler has been keeping me posted on a handy folding bowl horse design he’s been developing.  The whole thing hangs on the wall until you need it:

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Then it comes off the wall and you’ve got a bowl horse.  Mike said it will hold up to a 18″ long bowl, but the plans can easily be modified to stretch the horse if you want more range.

Mike L horse plans

Mike has worked hard to make high quality clear plans for his horse and has them available now on his website.

And if you’d rather have a bowl horse built for you, Mark Hicks of Plate 11 Bench Co.  has added that to his services offered.

Just to be clear, I have no deals or partnerships at all with either Mike or Mark, and I have not used their plans or horses.  I’m just trying to inform folks of some possibilities.  So if you have any questions about their services or products, contact them.  I’m sure they’ll be happy to talk with you, they’re really nice guys.

You can carve bowls without a bowl horse, but if you want one, there are plenty of options.

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Roy and Russ

I am one among many who have fond memories of watching Roy Underhill on his long-running PBS series “The Woodwright’s Shop.”  Nothing beats Roy in the flesh, but you can at least join him live online this evening.  The Center for Art in Wood is hosting a talk with Roy live on ZOOM at 6:30 pm EDT today, July 28.  So many people, including myself, have been influenced and inspired by Roy, and he’s not slowing down.

And speaking of inspiration, Fine Woodworking’s Ben Strano just posted a wonderful interview he conducted with an amazing craftsman and person, Russ Filbeck.  I found Russ’ story fascinating and his attitude uplifting.  I think you’ll enjoy it: https://www.finewoodworking.com/2020/07/22/russ-fillbeck-gives-back-through-woodworking

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Breakfast for Five

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About two years ago, I wrote a post about busting up a big cherry log into various bowl blanks.  This experimental piece came from either the billet labeled A or B, so it has vertical grain (had I sawn it instead of splitting it, it could be called quarter sawn).  I had the general idea for this bowl back then and roughed it out.  Finally got around to the rest of the carving recently.

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The first step in making it is to hew and plane the upper and lower surfaces into a plank with no twist.   In fact, you could make one from a 2 x 6 — sort of.  The final dimensions of this piece are 26″ long, 4 3/4″ wide, and 1 3/8″ high.  The hollows are 4 1/4″ in diameter.

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The exterior surfaces are flat except for the sculpted handles.

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I used a small gouge to detail the edges of the hollows.  Depending on the light and perspective it can create the effect of a rope twist.

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I just put the apples in there for a sense of scale.  I imagine the piece being used to serve things at supper or a dinner party.  Maybe ice cream toppings, or salad accoutrements, or taco toppers.  And if you have five kids, they could eat their cereal side by side each morning!  I’m sure you’ll have more ideas.

This one is for sale.  If you’d like it, send me an email at dandkfish@gmail.com.  $400 includes shipping to you.  Update: SOLD

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Live with Mary this Thursday

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I’ve had the good fortune of hanging out with Mary May at a couple Fine Woodworking events.  Not only is she an incredibly talented and accomplished carver, she’s a wonderful person too.  This Thursday, July 23rd, at 1:00 pm (Eastern Daylight Time), I’m going to get the chance to spend some time with Mary online, as she has kindly asked me to be a guest on her Twitch live stream broadcast.

Mary started the live stream back in the spring with the beginning of the quarantine restrictions and has also had special guests on, including Peter Follansbee and Roy Underhill, who was last week’s guest.  That’s right, I’m following Roy Underhill.  And as if that weren’t hopeless enough, I have to manage an ipad.  This should be good.

Basically, the idea is that anyone can go the website and watch live as I talk and demonstrate for an hour or an hour and a half or so.  You can type in questions and comments, and Mary will supervise the screens and relay the questions and such to me.  You can get the idea by watching Peter’s appearance (< that’s a link) which I think mine will resemble, but for the beard.

Many of Mary’s regular viewers may be unfamiliar with the idea of greenwood carving, so the plan is for me to introduce the idea of carving a bowl from green wood — a log.  Obviously, given the time limit, I’ll work small and/or jump around to some pieces at various stages, demonstrating some tools and techniques.  I’ll sort it out over the next few days and fit in what I can.  It’s free, so you’ll get your money’s worth.

If you can’t make it Thursday afternoon, the whole thing will be available on Mary’s Twitch channel for viewing later.  Whether you’re joining in live or you want to check out old broadcasts of Mary and/or her guests, here is the link to use.

Mary was way ahead of the curve with online carving instruction.  For years, she has had an online carving school called Mary May’s School of Traditional Woodcarving.  There’s access to tons of instructional videos, a store for carving materials, and lots more.  Oh, and she also wrote a great book called Carving the Acanthus Leaf!

See you Thursday.

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Take a Whiff

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Yesterday, I was carving the flutes in a walnut bowl and I started thinking about what a big role smell plays among the pleasures of working with wood.  As I savored the rich aroma of the walnut, I thought of a photo I stumbled upon a few months ago while leafing through an old Time-Life book.  The photo was of a man taking simple delight in the odor of a truffle.  It struck me enough that I made a little sketch of it then.

I don’t know about truffles, but I can identify with that guy when I’m carving.   Most species have a distinct odor, and woodworkers come to recognize them and, often, associate them with memories.  Whether it’s the sweet almond extract scent of fresh cherry, the tangy vanilla of white oak, the spiciness of sassafras, or some other wonder, I hope you get to take a whiff this weekend.

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An Egg Today

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“Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow.”

 –traditional proverb

Each piece of tree comes with it’s own history and quirks.  I look closely and start thinking about possibilities.  Usually this will result in a variation on some design I’ve carved before, but this cherry log directed me toward something a little more different.  I neglected to take photos of the log, but it was the location of a few big knots that led me to this asymmetrical egg-shaped bowl with the flat split-side up.

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I had a call for a big family salad bowl and this design would fit the bill.  This is a relatively deep bowl steeply rising on the wide end…

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…with a more gradual slope at the narrow end.  Like it swallowed an egg.

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For most of my bowls, a bent gouge can negotiate the entire hollow, but on the steep end of this one, the bent gouge — a Hans Karlsson in this case, but it would be the same for others as well — reaches its limits partway down.  The handle begins to hit the inner edge of the rim, preventing the cutting edge from following the contour any further.

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So, I finish the rest with a spoon bent gouge with a similar sweep.  (A “swan-neck” or “dog-leg” gouge would do it as well.  Different names, same idea.)  The darker surface to the left is still waiting for these after-drying paring cuts.

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After sketching out the pattern of graduated chips around the rim, I begin by stabbing the vertical sidewalls of the chips with a chisel.  Same idea as chip carving with a knife, but with this many chips in dry cherry, the chisel makes sense.  The deepest part is at the apex of the triangle toward the inside of the bowl, so I’ve angled the chisel that way and will stop the downward pressure when the cutting edge just kisses the outer edge of the rim.

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Then the same chisel can cut the bottom and remove the chip.  The corner of the chisel rides along one sidewall.  When the cutting edge meets the other sidewall, out pops the chip.

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There’s an apple down in there for scale in the photo below.  Plenty of room for a big salad.

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Letter Carving Close-Ups

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When I was carving the lettering on a recent spoon, I paused to set up the camera behind my shoulder.  I used the timer to take a few photos as I worked a section, and they show some of my typical hand positioning.

When working a spoon handle, there’s not a lot of support on the piece itself for your hand, so the leg becomes an additional support.  The spoon needs to move as much as the knife, so the left hand participates in the dance as well.

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Here’s another shot of the same grip seen in the first photo.  The knife is stable in the hand with three points of pressure and can be handled nimbly and with good visibility.  Feels a bit like carving with a fingernail.  Notice that in all of the photos, there is at least one finger in contact with the spoon and/or my leg.  That is critical for control.  These points of contact act as pivot points or fulcrums or a combination of the two.

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Above, I’ve come to the upper end of the left side of the A and am carefully slicing to touch up the root of the v channel and the junction at the apex of the A.  It takes time and is good training in patience and focus.

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Here’s a version of the grip I typically use for the first side of the v-groove.   It’s a more powerful grip.  Leverage and downward pressure into the wood are critical in order to have control.  That’s important for both executing the cut well, and also for safety.  The blade remains firmly engaged in the wood as it makes deliberate progress.  It wouldn’t hurt anything to have a thick piece of leather over my leg I guess, but control is even more important.

Whatever the letter, it’s these same sort of cuts.  And it’s about considering various sizes, situations, and materials.  In the little video below, I’m working at a bit of a larger scale (so that it’s easier for the viewer to see) and in basswood.  If I wanted to carve at that larger scale in the same maple as the spoon above, it would make more sense to remove some material from the central portion of the letters with a v-tool before using the knife.

Tom Hepworth shot this video during Spoonfest last August.  Hard to believe that eleven months ago we were all gathered in England.   I’ve referred to the video before, but in case you missed it:

Isn’t it refreshing to see that British-American cooperation 244 years after the breakup letter was signed?

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Some Spoons

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The spoons are spoken for now, but I’ll keep the photos and information up for reference:

#1: Cherry.  13 1/4″ x 3 1/4″.  This is the one in the top photo and the next two photos below.  This is a large ladle or serving spoon with a significant bend from handle to bowl.  The lateral bend in the crook also makes it particularly ideal for left handers, but righties can still manage fine.

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#2: Rhododendron.  10″ x 3″.  This sculptural serving spoon follows the curves of a Rhododendron branch.  This is another lateral bend that is ideal for left-handed use.  In fact, I almost lettered it with “Lefty” like those scissors when I was in kindergarten.  In the end I went with “Rassasy,”  I’m still a lot unsure about this word, but it seems that it’s an old word meaning to satisfy a hunger.  While the etymology remains a mystery to me, I do like the way it fits onto the spoon handle, and I’m not changing it now.  I added a bit of texture to the field by tapping a nail repeatedly into the wood.

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#3: Rhododendron.  8″ x 2 5/16″.  This one has a right hand twist and a good bit of figure through the bowl.  An average sized serving spoon.

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#4: Cherry.  12″ x 3″.  This cherry spoon has an octagonal handle and would be a versatile spoon for everything from cooking to serving.

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#5: Cherry.  12″ x 3″.  A versatile spoon like the one above with enough crank to feel comfortable as a serving spoon, but useful for lots more.  This one is mostly sapwood, thus the lighter color.

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#6: Maple.  11 1/2″ x 3 1/4″.  This one has steep bend to make it a comfortable server ready to reach deep.

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#7: Norway Maple.  11 1/2″ x 2 7/8″.  I returned to a Latin phrase I’ve used before meaning “Hunger sweetens the beans.”

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#8: Norway maple.  17 1/2 x 3 1/8.  This one got lost in the shuffle at the end of last year, a leftover, so I thought I’d add it to this group now.  This is a very long, slender, slotted ladle.  If you’ve got a use for it, it will serve well.  I don’t think there is an extra unnecessary tiny bit of wood on this spoon.  Light and strong with the fibers running true.

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Late June

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“If man is ever going to admit that he belongs to the earth, not the other way round, it probably will be in late June.

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The incalculable energy of chlorophyll, the green leaf itself, dominates the earth, and the root in the soil is the inescapable fact.

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–Hal Borland, “The Urgency” (1961).  Collected in Sundial of the Seasons (1964)

Posted in nature, quotes and excerpts, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 9 Comments