I’ve had some ale bowl requests on the backburner for far too long now, so while I had some cooperative cherry around I decided to rough out three at once. That makes it sound much more straightforward than it is. I’ve already written over a dozen posts about ale bowls, including some featuring these dragon and horse designs, but maybe there are a couple fresh thoughts to share from this latest exploration.
As can be seen in the top photo, these three are just in the rough right now, at the end of the green carving stage. It’s always a relief to get them to this point where I can confirm the resolution of the design. There’s still plenty of room for refinement, but the various curves and surfaces are established. At this point, I can sense that it may actually all come together harmoniously.
It makes me think of an excerpt from the book Emil Milan: Midcentury Master:
“Don’t make a potato” was a design mantra that Emil repeated throughout his courses. The curves, bumps, and hollows of a potato are resolved too, Emil would say, just not in an aesthetically pleasing way. It is just an amorphous lump. The difference between a potato and a work of sculpture lies in the areas where the curves and planes come together. Properly resolved, two intersecting areas of a three-dimensional work will create a line that is visually prominent in the final piece. If that line creates a pleasing curve, the piece will look aesthetically refined and “sculptural.” If not, it will look like a potato.
Who wants to make an ale potato? Avoiding it, begins with removing big bits of wood in the right places early on. I saw shoulder cuts across the grain of the cylindrical blank (with no pith remaining), then split away material on both sides of the central bit for the head — like forming a tenon.
Then after some more chopping and sawing things start to become slightly recognizable, but still quite blocky.
After shaping the outside some more, I start removing material to form the deep hollow of the bowl. I hack out a little bit with an adze, but quickly have to switch to gouges. A standard long-bent gouge won’t reach in there, so much of the hollowing is done with a spoon-bent gouge. This one is a #8 sweep.
Here’s one way to hold the bowl for hollowing. Hand screw clamp held upright in the vise. The bottom of the bowl can be supported on the bench itself or, as in the photo below, by a stick extending beyond the bench. It’s many cuts and thin chips. I’ll finish the hollowing with hook knives.
After some drying, it will be time for lots of refinement and finishing cuts and, hopefully, they won’t look like potatoes.