The Return of the Swallows


This little guy was in the pear tree yesterday morning.  I hadn’t made any in awhile, which is a shame because they are a lot of fun to make.  I based the design on the swallow and their graceful curves in body and in flight.  I sometimes lay in the yard in the evening and watch the show above as they loop and dive for supper.  The neighbors don’t call 911… anymore.

IMG_3241As I was carving this one, I was thinking about how similar it is to spoon carving.  For those who have done some spoon carving, it will be a natural transition to carve little sculptural bowls like these — sort of a gateway drug.  Just think of the tail as the spoon handle and stick a bird head in the front.  Unlike a typical spoon bowl, the hollow is deepest in the front, even a bit undercut.

I prefer to carve these from branch crooks.  This one is from a cherry crook, and the grain goes straight along the thin tail, down through the body, then rises up toward the beak.  It’s an engaging challenge for working with contour, line, and grain direction.


At the end of the green-stage of carving.

Size can vary greatly depending on the branch, but little one’s like these (8 1/2″ x 2 1/2″) don’t require any tools beyond a spoon carving kit of axe, knife, and hook knife.

This one has flown away, but others are sure to show up.


Posted in bird bowls, bowls, carving, cherry, patterns, spoons, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Carving like Caron


My version/copy, in basswood, of a carved figure by Paul Emile Caron

I often listen to audio books while carving in the shop, and I recently finished Irving Stone’s 1934 book Lust for Life, a biographical novel about the life and work of Vincent van Gogh.  Early on, as learning exercises, Vincent copied works that he admired and, as Stone writes, “Vincent learned that it is always the simplest piece of art which has practiced the most rigid elimination, and is therefore the most difficult to duplicate.”

I tried something similar a couple weeks ago when I carved the little (5 1/2 inches tall) figure to the left, my copy of a piece that I picked up several years ago by, I believe, Paul-Emile Caron (1915-1987).  He lived and worked in St.-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec and most of his carvings were done in the 1950s and 60s.  I admire his figures and am fascinated by how much can be expressed with the cuts of the knife, a long tradition that can be seen in the work of famous Swedish carver Axel Petersson Döderhultarn and modern master Harley Refsal, among many others.


Original carving by Paul-Emile Caron in pine

I’ve seen many of Caron’s pieces through photographs, and, as would be expected, he hit the sweet spot on some more than others.  I’ve been captivated by this one.  In fact, I made a sketch of it which I used in a post a couple years ago.

I had no desire for a duplicate, but I did want to learn from Caron by careful study and observation of this piece.  Making a copy forced me to look and consider much more deeply than I had in terms of both design and technique.    For every minute of cutting I, necessarily, spent at least three minutes studying the original.  In making it, I learned and developed a deeper appreciation.  As a bonus, I’ll have a reminder of the exercise in my shop, a sort of twin brother to the original, but with a somewhat different expression.  I documented on the bottom that it was a copied version of Caron’s design.

Here are just a couple detailed examples of things observed on Caron’s carving:


The sweeping knife overcut indicates Caron’s method for removing the wedge of wood between the arm and body.


The chatter marks resulting from the knife blade twisting through the tight cut are left strategically and purposely to enhance the shadows of the folds in the cloth.


The top of the shoe (end grain) was reduced through a series of thin cuts, as indicated by the knife marks on the bottom of the pant leg.

I found that the blades on this pocket knife served well to make all of the cuts other than a couple gouge cuts on the back that Caron used to indicate folds in the jacket.  Pleasant work while sitting outside.



I’ll never carve this particular piece again, but the realizations and lessons will last and be applied in who-knows-what ways.  And since this little guy, it’s been back to the adze for me; I have several bowls underway in various stages.  More on those later…


Posted in carving, figure, historical reference, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Barn’s Spōn

IMG_3166“In carving fresh, green wood for spoons I hope that the reader will discover trees; I hope they will discover that carving with basic edge tools, the knife and the axe, is a beautiful thing.  This book will suggest that spoons are really sculptural forms, with complex angles and facets requiring both measured and instinctive cuts — and often illusions of perspective — and that spoons are as subtle, varied and valid as any other type of sculpture.”

— Barn the Spoon, Spōn: A Guide to Spoon Carving and the New Wood Culture

One of the joys of Greenwood Fest was meeting Barn the Spoon. You’ll never meet a more authentic guy.  Barn has lived a fascinating life and approaches spoon carving with a great deal of thought and sensitivity.  Barn’s story, philosophy, and practical tutelage can all be found in his book, Spōn.  Spōn is the ancient Anglo-Saxon word for a chip of wood.

The book takes the reader through the philosophical side of working from nature, through the tools, grasps, and procedures of making a spoon, and on through sixteen designs of spoons to carve.  It will help anyone, carver or not, to develop an appreciation for the subtle beauty of these little utilitarian sculptures.

While on a trip with my family last week, I took some time away from bowls, but was still able to take a couple knives and some roughed-out blanks and get in some spoon carving.


No workbench or heavy tools required — very peaceful, calming work.  At a relatively small scale, it is fun to play around with designs and subtle differences in form.


After a few more touches here and there, these will be ready to take a swim in some flax-seed oil.


Then the real journey begins.  As Barn writes, “This deep sense you get is almost analogous to listening to a song, where the effect may not be that obvious to begin with but, when meeting it every day, a feeling builds up over time.”

Posted in books, green woodworking, spoons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Learning from Fred Astaire


Seeing this ale bowl basking in the sun, my wife asked my daughter what she thought of the new dragon bowl.  Emma replied, “What dragon bowl?”  Wonderful.


What Emma noticed were the flowing lines and the form, and only after looking more closely did she discover the dragons in their midst.  I like that.  Details and dragons are secondary.  I find the same can be true with calligraphy; regardless of the meaning, or if we even know the language, we appreciate the beauty of the form, the sweep of the line.

Japanese calligraphy “Love”.  I’m still trying to find the name of the calligrapher.

The overall question of what we find beautiful is full of fascination and mystery, and my wonder surrounding it grows all the time.  But we’ll leave that larger question for another time.  One thing that seems clear is that our eyes are drawn to beautiful lines and contours.  We appreciate the graceful lines of everything from cars to dancers.  Fred and Ginger certainly understood that idea.

Image result for fred astaire lines dancing

Now I’m entering dangerous territory.  Me writing about dancing is akin to a cat writing about canoeing.  Yet, I can still intuitively be awestruck by the beauty and flow of the lines, even if I can’t strike the pose.

Beatrix Stix-Brunell of The Royal Ballet Photo by Nathan Sayers ballet dance

Al Hirschfeld was known for dancing his pen across paper, speaking volumes and expressing beauty with the flow of line and subtle variations in its width.  Brilliant:

Image result for fred astaire lines dancing

Another Hirschfeld, just for Follansbee:

Related image

So I strive for the beauty of the line, the flow of the form.  And I’m drawn to the graceful lines in the works of other designer/makers I admire.  All the better if I can touch as well as see.  Our fingertips can tell us as much as our eyes, and, although I sometimes understand the necessity, a “Do Not Touch” sign is often a heavy blow.


You can not only touch this bowl, you can drink from it.  This is my second exploration of this design, again in black cherry, with a bit of the lighter sapwood running through the heads.  This design is challenging; maintaining the flow of the flutes through the grain along the heads is just one example.  Below is a slideshow with a few additional photos.

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13 1/4″ long, 6 1/4″ wide and 5″ high, and would hold 20 ounces.  I’ve just posted it to my website as well.



Posted in ale bowls, bowls, cherry, patterns, proportions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Tree Branch Holdfasts

IMG_2707As I’ve mentioned  before, I use holdfasts a lot.  A few weeks ago, I started wondering about the possibility of wooden holdfasts, and I think I will experiment more with making some from two pieces of wood joined with a round mortise and tenon, as in chairs.  Hickory or ash should work very well.  Much lighter weight than steel, and maybe less holding power.  But maybe plenty strong enough.

I started with a quick experiment using branch junctions, utilizing their natural strength and flexibility.  As can be seen in the photo, very little work was done on them — just a bit of rough shaving to bring the shank down to something a bit under 3/4″.

They’ve dried for a couple weeks, and they work!  I’d like to make some more, a bit more carefully and with more consideration for the branch angles and so on.  It’s a fun and useful green woodworking project.  They’d also be ideal for some carved decoration; I can’t help picturing a bird with a long beak, like a heron.

I shot a quick bit of video showing them in action:

As I was patting myself on the back for my inventiveness, I thought I’d do a net search to see if I could find any references to wooden holdfasts.  Sure enough, somebody wrote about the idea in Popular Mechanics Magazine back in 1930.  Check it out here.  Note that S.E. MacNair suggests using a much larger diameter branch and hole (1 1/2″).  They work in the 3/4″ holes of my bench as well.

Posted in green woodworking, holding, tools, Uncategorized, video | Tagged | 13 Comments

It’s the People


Pre-Fest Bowl Carving Class 2017. Bottom l-r: Tom, Joe, Yours Truly, Andrew, Bob, and Riley. Top l-r: Stoyan, Mike, Travis, Gene, Bill, Andy, and Henry.

Those three words are still resonating in my mind as I settle back into my workshop after returning from Greenwood Fest 2017.  During one of his addresses to the crowd, Peter Follansbee used those words to describe what he values most when reflecting on his years in woodworking.  It’s the people.  Words of wisdom.

The highlight among the pines and wood chips of the Fest is meeting and reconnecting with so many interesting and wonderful people.  The atmosphere of friendliness and comradery is like a tonic, soothing and warming.

I didn’t take many photos during the Fest itself, but there are many special moments locked in my memory, as clear and joyful as Barn’s laugh.

I was able to snap a few photos during the Pre-Fest bowl carving class, during which twelve great guys carved birch logs into bowls.  We celebrated on the final day by sharing Turkish Delight brought by class participant Henry from his home in Istanbul!

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As you might be able to tell in the slideshow above, every bowl was based on the same general design, yet each was also unique.  The individuality of the logs, carvers, design decisions, and tools resulted in twelve special bowls ready for drying and further refinements.  As a perfect example of unique tools, notice the photo of Stoyan’s adze, made from a broken gouge and a yew branch.  It was an inspiring example of resourcefulness — and it was sharp!

At the Fest and beyond, making wood chips has connected me with many wonderful people, and I’m grateful.


Posted in classes, events, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Woodblock Prints


There’s a lot to like about woodblock prints; the centuries-old tradition, the direct nature of the process, the simplicity of the equipment, and the magic of pulling the print from the block.  I decided to give it a try a couple years ago,  I already had boards and carving tools after all.  Still, I’ve only made a few since then, but the upcoming Greenwood Fest inspired me to make this print that is hot off the block.

There are lots of technique and equipment options for making relief prints, and my explorations are very limited.  But the basic process is straightforward.  Here’s how I went about it.


I started by flattening a 5″ x 5″ piece of wood (tulip poplar in this case) with a hand plane, then sanding that surface just with some very fine sandpaper and a block.  I painted on a light blue washcoat of artist oils that still allowed the drawing lines to show over it, but also provided some contrast once the cutting begins.


After lots of carving, oil-based printing ink is rolled onto a brayer (rubber roller) then over the block.  This applies ink only to the uncarved portions on the surface.  With a couple dabs of glue, I’ve attached the block to a piece of cardboard along with two registration sticks.


The paper is laid onto the inked block.  For this print, I used acid-free unbleached mulberry (kozo) and bamboo fiber paper.  The paper is lightly textured and strong, but thin.  As I burnish the back side of the paper with my baren, an old wooden knob, the impression is visible through the paper.


Steadily pull the paper from the block, and, if all went well, a finished print is revealed.


The oil-based ink can take a couple days to dry.  Due to the hand process there are often very subtle differences between the prints.


I and the prints are just about ready to head to the Fest.





Posted in events, sketch, spoons, tools, Uncategorized, woodblock prints | Tagged | 16 Comments