My limited photography knowledge and equipment means that I simply focus on taking advantage of good light when it’s available. Most of the shots I take are in the workshop, just from whatever light is coming through the south-facing windows. If there’s no good natural light at the moment, I wait for another moment.
A couple days ago, we had a bright winter day. This time of year, the sun is low in the sky and casts lovely shadows. The birds were singing, calling me outside to take some shots of a bird bowl I just finished. I had some fun propping it up in trees and such; seeing how the light played on it in different situations.
Before we return to that, here are a few shots of the early stages of this bowl. The sapwood on the cherry tree had begun to decay while still standing, but the heartwood was still solid and fresh.
Above is what it looked like when I split out a big crook. This is all above the pith, and the missing upper portion became a spoon.
A little further along. The split surface was naturally hollow toward the middle, with the “wings” raised up more at the widest part of the body.
There it is at the end of the green carving stage.
I could have come back to it a week or two later, but other things intervened and it ended up being well over a year until I finally returned to it. I refined the shape and surfaces, which took much longer than the green carving stage. There it is finished, above, perched on a branch. Here are a few more photos of this one from my time outside playing with light and shadow:
Lots of creatures were soaking up the winter sun that day. Here’s my buddy just outside the shop window enjoying some seeds.
My friend, Scott, sent me this old spoon to check out. An antique dealer in Pittsburgh told him that he comes across a lot of these spoons in the area. He knew nothing beyond that. Could it be a form common to a particular region or even family? I also have some questions about the possible technique used in making it. I thought I’d display some photos here to see if anyone has any suggestions or knowledge to share.
I guess the thing that has Scott and I scratching our heads the most is the handle. The upper surface seems to indicate that it was made from straight-grained wood, but the underside has the appearance of figured wood. Could the handle have been bent over a hot pipe, resulting in the compressed and scorched look of the underside?
Scott also pointed out that the arrangement of stopped chamfers on the handle may have facilitated strapping the spoon under a belt.
I don’t know what the wood species is, but the dark streaks are raised and the lighter areas are low.
The one side of the bowl is pretty rotten. Maybe it sat in water or on the ground for a long time. I’ll just pop a few more photos below. If you have any thoughts about this spoon, I’d love to hear them.
I just finished four new spoons. All are from crooks with a surface straight from the knife. Flaxseed oil finish. Ready for action. If you see one you’d like, send me an email at email@example.com or leave a comment. I’ll get back to you to confirm. A check in the mail or paypal works fine for me. All prices include shipping.
The first one features “Esurio” carved into the handle. That’s Latin for “I’m hungry.” I thought it was appropriate for this big serving spoon carved from a rhododendron crook. 11 1/2″ long and 3 1/2″ wide. $200 includes shipping. Update: SOLD
The second one is a from a cherry tree that had developed some deep coloring before it fell. I decided to let this wood speak for itself. This one is especially comfortable for left-handers to use. 9 3/4″ x 3″. $125 includes shipping. Update: SOLD
The third one is a slotted serving spoon. Sap pockets are sometimes present in cherry, and a long one ended up right through the bowl. Rather that tossing it, I opened up two more spots and now it will drain your beans. 10 3/4″ x 2 3/4″. $100 includes shipping. Update: SOLD
And the fourth one is a sharply bent Norway maple server. 10″ x 2 3/4″. $180 includes shipping. Update: SOLD
Now that the Super Bowl of American football is over, feast your eyes on some amazing feats of coordination and teamwork in Hungary. I believe the narration is in Hungarian, but the video is multi-lingual. Huge bowls like this seem to have been used in many cultures across the world, for animal processing and other tasks.
A friend drew my attention to the film last week, and I notice something new each time I watch it. Some brief observations:
- The immensity and weight of the bowl itself keeps it in place with little need for work-holding considerations. It also makes it practical to cut the two cross-grain trenches followed by the splitting out of the wood in between.
- The skill and accuracy of the axe work is notable, along with the ease and fluidity of the practiced motions. Check out the slow-motion shot of the axe rotation between strokes about six and a half minutes in.
- Their practiced hands and eyes, accustomed to this particular form, achieve the shape with very few guidelines it seems; just a few checks here and there with an axe handle.
- That wide adze with the sharply drooped head and short handle can rotate around across the grain in the wide hollow. Lovely to watch the work with the adze on the exterior ends and handles as well. Kept sharp with quick skillful strokes of a simple slipstone.
- I wonder if the carved wooden breast bib is intended to protect their clothes from the drawknife at least as much as their flesh. The one drawknife is missing a wooden handle. Maybe he prefers it that way; regardless, it doesn’t hold him back.
- The justified pride shown by the man lifting the complete bowl to the wall next to the others is timeless. I love how he taps on the surfaces, I presume to demonstrate the evenness of tone or the simple fact that the wood has been carved thin enough to resonate to some degree. I felt a connection to him, as I often find myself tapping finished bowls to hear the tone.
- Family/community members of all ages are around during the work, and join in, especially during the spoon carving session during the last part of the film. My best guess, based on the credits at the end, is that this was filmed in 1962.
And that’s just scratching the surface…
As I cut the letters into this small panel earlier this month, I was thinking back to Mr. Howard Sokoloff, my 8th grade woodshop teacher. Here was a man near retirement tasked with teaching every single thirteen-year-old in the school some hand skills. A lettered sign was one way to do it. I stumbled upon the one I made then while cleaning up recently. The memory of making this thing 35 years ago was strong, probably due to the thrill I felt at the time.
Mr. Sokoloff was a kind man. I remember his white hair Brylcreemed straight back above his horn-rimmed glasses as he guided us in the use of our main tools: coping saw, rasp, and sandpaper. After many class periods of shaping and smoothing our boards, we penciled on some lettering. There were a lot of names, house numbers, and pop bands. I liked fishing.
One by one, we’d take our boards to Mr. Sokoloff who fired up the router and did his best to follow our drawn lines as we surrounded him in amazement. It was a router, not a knife, but there were no computer programs or 3-D printers involved. Even though I didn’t cut the letters , I still had the satisfaction of designing them just by hand and eye with a pencil. Now I get the joy of drawing and cutting them.
Mr. Sokoloff never mentioned the word sloyd, but his instruction was indeed a remnant of a movement that had begun long before. This video provides a concise history from slöjd to sloyd:
P.S. — Here’s another recent lettering project that’s a bit different: a pottery stamp for a clay-working couple that sometimes collaborates on pieces. Something like 3/8″ high and 5/8″ wide. End-grain boxwood can hold some detail.
Some spoon handles next…
What is produced by a free stroke charms us, like the forms of lichens and leaves. There is a certain perfection in accidents which we never consciously attain.
— Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
A delightful side effect of spoon carving is a walk through the woods. Not that an excuse for a walk is needed, but it’s a good one nonetheless. On a walk after a windstorm earlier this month, I found a big cherry tree lying on the ground, a victim of the gale. I was able to collect a few crooks from among the branches and carry them home in my pack.
The branches of that cherry tree were teeming with life, life so common and quiet that I usually overlook it. But as I prepared to split the few pieces I brought home that day, I took a moment to appreciate it up close. That was followed by a moment of realization that I didn’t know squat about this (a feeling I’ve become familiar with). Thankfully, there are lichen people. Here are a couple videos featuring them and fascinating information about lichens to add even more interest to your next stroll and/or spoon foray:
The link to the other one is here. There are lots of lichen people in Scotland.
I was eventually able to return to the crooks themselves, getting a few cherry blanks ready for the axe. These are much further along now, and soon I’ll have them and some other spoons finished.
Some, however, didn’t make it. Who put that open knot there?!
These aren’t the sort of accidents Thoreau wrote about.
A little bread—a crust—a crumb—
A little trust—a demijohn—
Can keep the soul alive—
— Emily Dickinson, from Poem 159 (1896)
Looking back, I was surprised at how long it had been since I’d carved a lettered bowl like this. Felt great to make another. This one was carved from a silver maple tree that had been visited by ambrosia beetles, leaving the telltale streaks of color in the wood.
I revisited Emily Dickinson for the poem excerpt. Here are a few more photos:
This one is available for purchase. Just shy of 16 inches long, 7 1/4 inches wide, and 3 1/2″ high. $650 includes insured shipping. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Update: SOLD