I have received some emails lately asking for book recommendations, both for bowl/spoon carving and for the decorative carving that I do on some bowls. Bear with me, and I’ll get around to some recommendations regarding bowl carving as well as relief/decorative carving.
As the years have gone by, I’ve gathered together quite a few books related to various arts, crafts, and other subjects that interest me. You can see some of them in the photo — up near the nine-foot ceiling. There’s stuff up there on everything from timber framing to making woodcut prints. Not exactly a convenient location, but the house is small and the shop is smaller, so it is a good use of space. By the way, my workshop is a one-car attached garage that hasn’t had a car in it since we bought the old place nearly twenty years ago.
Part of my remodeling of the old garage was installing that upper shelf around much of the perimeter. When I want a book, I climb up and teeter around on the workbench or the sink like a drunk mountain goat; and I won’t find many books on bowl carving there. The books available about bowl and spoon carving are few and far between, especially when compared to the number of titles dedicated to other aspects of woodworking.
Robin Wood wrote a good, thorough book about the history of the traditional turned wooden bowl several years back, but there is no book that I know of that does a great overview of the history of bowl carving, especially across cultures. Most of what is available now seems to be centered around the Scandinavian tradition. A book that explored bowl carving across time and traditions would be fascinating. Until we see that, I’ll list a few, most of which many folks are already aware:
Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist — in print again and a must-read for anyone wishing to carve spoons and bowls.
Carving and Whittling: The Swedish Style by Gert Ljungberg — this one is definitely worth having. Some good history and design ideas.
Green Woodworking by Drew Langsner — great overall, and a section on bowls
Celebrating Birch by North House Folk School — lots of good craft ideas with birch, includes a chapter on bowl carving
Boxes and Bowls; Smithsonian Institution Press — a beautiful collection of images with some text. Work is in the Northwest Coast Indian tradition of North America.
If you’ve got any other good recommendations, post a comment and share with others.
Most of the decorative carving on bowls is one form or another of relief carving. I was buying books on that before I got into bowls. When I got my first job and first apartment (no more easy access to Dad’s basement workshop) over twenty years ago, I bought a couple books on beginning carving and five Pfeil Swiss Made tools. I carved at the coffee table in the evenings and just kept going. There are hundreds of books available on carving. Many are very good, but I’ll keep this simple and recommend the books that, in my experience, are the best out there for general carving instruction. They are by Chris Pye.
Chris is extremely thorough in explaining why he does things in a certain way. Everything from sharpening to certain grips. There are also specific exercises. I carved this high-relief fish years ago based on one exercise in Chris’ relief carving book. One can learn a lot from one fish. Chris also has a great book on carved lettering.
Another great source is Peter Follansbee’s blog, books, and videos. When I saw Peter’s carvings for the first time, I was blown away. The boldness, the geometric nature, the logic of the layout, the sharp contrast of shadow and light — well, I loved it all. Peter has provided a golden resource of technique and patterns through his blog, books, and videos. It is a different, wonderful approach to carving, and Peter has done more than anyone to keep it going. These are ideas that can be adapted to bowl decoration as well.
If it is pattern books you’re looking for, there are lots out there, depending on what style you’re seeking. You could start by searching the thin books published by Dover with lots of images.
I like sculpting the bowls themselves best, so I’ll grab my axe…