Yup’ik Bentwood Bowls

Among the many traditions of bowl carving is the Yup’ik method of bending a separate length of wood that attaches to the hollowed base and serves as a higher rim.  The interaction between material, hands, eyes — and teeth — to create the form and a tight connection is simply wonderful.  I stumbled onto the short video above that features Yup’ik traditional scholars sharing memories of how these objects were made.  The video also includes some close ups of the bowls.

I’m still pretty clueless, but one thing I notice is the thickening of the rims along the straighter portions of the bowl.  Seems to me that the wood has been made thinner where they want a tighter bend and vice versa.  This would facilitate controlling the curvature at various points along the rim while bending without a form.  Much to learn just from the short video and the accompanying information, drawings, and photos at this website through the Smithsonian Institution.

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Dragon Orthodontics


I roughed out this cherry ale bowl during the green stage months ago, and now I’ve gotten around to refining it in the dry stage, including carving a set of choppers, a point of pride for any dragon.


After sketching on a zig-zag guideline, I begin to make the triangular chip cuts that create the shadows beneath and between the teeth.  In dry cherry, I typically remove some of the bulk with a v-tool before turning to the knife.


I use the “coping” blade on my pocket knife that is thin and noses down to the straight edge.


Considering the grain direction, I clip the bottom of the triangle first, using my left thumb as a fulcrum and levering the blade along the cut.


Changing grips, I cut the forward walls behind each tooth.


Then the back wall in front of each tooth.  I’m aiming for crisp walls with sharp junctions to catch distinct shadows.


To add some simple form to each tooth, I grab a small gouge with a medium sweep.


I run it from the point of each tooth to the upper lip.


Blurry photo, but I then delicately slice off the chips still attached to each tooth at the upper lip with the pen blade.


I’ve still got a lot of carving to do on this bowl; some surfaces, chamfers, refining junctions, and the teeth that wrap around the front.  In the meantime, he’s at least ready to chew.

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I’m more adept with light and shadow than with color.  I wonder, in fact, if I haven’t carved away more paint than I’ve put on.  But I can be stubborn perseverant.

The top photo shows a bowl shortly after I had re-carved the exterior surfaces.  Below, is the same bowl as it had been.


I carved it mainly as a sample bowl to take to classes, but as it turned out, I didn’t like the carving pattern on the end surfaces, and it was a pain to carve — an unnatural fit for the tools and flow of the piece.  I didn’t like the paint job either.  There was too little contrast with the poplar wood and I hadn’t thinned the artist oils enough.

Worst of all, it occupied a shelf in my workshop.  Once in awhile it would call to me, “Psst… hey, you… dummy.  Thanks a lot.”  I felt like a barber who’d given a guy a bad haircut then ended up sitting behind him at the theater.  But hair grows back and wood doesn’t.  I tried to cover things up with different (red) paint, but it was about as effective as that Ronco hair paint stuff:

Still, maybe there was enough wood there to set things right.  One day, after one too many taunts, I seized the bowl from the shelf and gleefully went to work with a gouge.  As blonde curls of wood fell to the shop floor, a fresh surface and a new pattern emerged.  The redemption was complete except for a few bits of color that had been pulled more deeply into the end grain.


Undaunted, I mixed up a red color with some artist oils, adding a little flax oil and citrus thinner.  I wanted the consistency, in this case, of a strong wood stain that would allow the grain to read through, but still have an intense color.



That’s better.  I like the flow of the flutes, and the gouge wants to make this pattern — it’s a natural fit.

I like it.  The paint is back in the drawer for awhile, and the bowl has stopped calling me names.

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A Couple Shrink Pots and Spoons


I made a couple shrink posts from sections of birch with personality that I just couldn’t resist.  The bark seems so alive and dynamic — warts and all.  The bending nature of these pieces added just a bit of extra challenge to the  hollowing.  The irregular shape just requires the carving of a matching bottom.

Here are a couple slideshows of them (To see the slideshow, you need to view the blog post in your web browser):

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I finished some eating spoons.  These were all carved from black cherry crooks and it really shows how much difference there can be not only from heartwood to sapwood, but also between individual trees.


And here’s a long slender serving ladle carved from a good maple crook.  The thin handle flows with the grain off to the side.



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And here’s one last spoon that is much more curvaceous.  This short, broad server was carved from a wide cherry crook.  I think it really emphasizes how chamfers are more than just a way to knock off sharp corners; they’re an important part of the design.  Dimensions are 9 1/4″ x 3 1/2″.



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That’s it for now.  Any spoons I make over the next couple months will probably head to Buzzard’s Bay with me in June.  And I’ve also got some bowl and lettering projects on my mind.

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Let Follansbee be Your Guide


About a decade ago, my mind was blown by the boxes and furniture that Peter Follansbee was talking about on his blog.  There he was splitting up oak logs into boards and joining them together.  Well, how do you not go ahead and try that?!


What a joy it is to rive and plane green oak and stand amid the fragrant shavings.  And on top of that, you get incredible, stable stock.  Then there’s those stunning  patterns to carve boldly.  I devoured information from Peter’s posts in order to make several pieces.  Some of these became gifts, and others still serve in our home, like the toolbox above.

And now Peter has put everything together, the patterns, the methods, the tools, the classic designs, and the decades of experience and research into a new book published by Lost Art Press — Joiner’s Work.  Here’s a photo of it below.  Has there ever been a better dust jacket?

Joiner's Work dust jacket

This book is truly a treasure trove of inspiration and information.  It reads as if Peter is right there in your shop guiding you with Follansbee wit and hard-won wisdom and knowledge.

Although Peter leads you step by step, the projects don’t require you to follow a rigid set of measurements and orders, rather they encourage you to loosen up and work with what the tree offers and adapt accordingly.  Peter focuses on the concepts and attitudes that empower you — although he’d never put it that way.   You can adapt to your preferences: start with sawn boards, or just carve panels if you don’t want to build pieces, or build the furniture and nix the carving, or use walnut instead of oak.

Read Peter’s blog post here to learn more about his road to this book.  And there’s more information about the book here at Lost Art Press.  Buying books can be like buying tools — better to buy one great one than two mediocre ones.

Posted in books, carving, green woodworking, historical reference, publications, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Beaver Connections

Three Beavers

Three Beavers Building a Dam, J. H. W. Tischbein, German, c. 1800.  Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Since sharing some photos of beaver activity in a blog post a couple weeks ago I’ve made a few more beaver connections.  One goes way back to Aesop.

A703, 39

“Aesop’s Fables with His Life: in English, French and Latin,” 1687. Folger Digital Image Collection

If, like me, you weren’t familiar with that unsettling story, this should help to explain the illustration.

Now for a  much more inspiring beaver connection.  Barry Gordon shared a couple photos of spoons he made in collaboration with beavers:

Barry Gordon beaver spoonBarry Gordon beaver spoon 2

Barry has been carving spoons for a long time, and has a gift for finding potential in unusual pieces of wood.  Check out his beautiful work here.

Drew Langsner is busy with many creative endeavors, including one that I think you’ll hear more about before long.  He shared this photo of the pattern left behind on some beaver-eaten sticks Louise had collected:

Langsner Beaver Sticks

This Northwest Coast bowl, carved around the turn of the 20th century, captures a bark-eater in the act

Beaver Bowl Cleveland MA

Beaver-shaped Bowl, c. 1890-1920, courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art

It all inspired me to texture this big cherry hanger with my hook knife.  My teeth wouldn’t cut it.


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Spoonfest and Täljfest, Summer 2019


In between other projects, I was able to spend some time roughing some spoons from a bunch of crooks I’ve gathered this winter.  I already mentioned that I’ll be doing some of that at the Plymouth CRAFT’s big Spoon Day in Buzzards Bay in June.  Now I’m excited to say I’ll be making chips August 1-4 across the Pond in England at Spoonfest 2019.  What an incredible experience it is sure to be.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, learning, teaching, demonstrating, and walking those Edale hills.  Having never been out of the States other than a couple excursions into nearby Canada, this alone would have been a thrilling adventure.  But then there’s more…


I’ll also be taking my adze to Sweden.  A few days after Spoonfest, I’ll be at Sweden’s Sätergläntan school for Täljfest 2019.  I’ll be teaching some workshops and demonstrating, along with trying to take in all that I can from the other presenters and the inspiring surroundings, including pieces by Bengt Lidström and Wille Sundqvist.


In the meantime, I’ll pick away at the spoons.  Old Man Winter is cooperating with plenty of cold storage for them outside.  In like a lion…

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