Roughing Spoons from Straight Blanks


Spoons are cranky.  Take a close look at just about any spoon, whatever the material, and you’ll find that the rim of the bowl of the spoon is not in the same plane as the handle.  The angle between them is not typically a flat 180°.  It’s more ergonomic to have the handle raised up to some degree relative to the bowl.  The angle varies depending on the intended purpose of the spoon.  A stirring/cooking spoon might have a handle raised up just 10°-15°.  Most eating spoons are a bit higher, in the neighborhood of 15°-20°.  Servers can vary all the way up to a deep ladle approaching 90°.  Don’t get caught up in the numbers, though.  Curves through the handle and bowl rim make measuring any actual angle pleasantly fuzzy, and I don’t measure when I’m making them.  Trust the feedback that comes from your hands and eyes as the spoon takes shape.


Not an exact plan as much as a general idea of orientation.

Crooked branches establish much of their own crank when they are split, and they often allow for significant bend while still maintaining strength through the long fibers of the wood.  And even when the bend in the spoon is relatively shallow, if carved from a crook, it can be carved thinner than the same spoon from a straight-grained blank.  While crank can still be achieved from straight-grained blanks,  I don’t push the bend too far or make the bowls too deep.


While roughing out a spoon yesterday from a straight piece of cherry, I took some photos through the process, this slideshow shows how I go about it, including achieving the crank in a straight-grained blank.

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The procedure is similar for crooks, while taking into consideration the unique flow of the grain in each one.  Here’s a serving spoon from a cherry crook that I just finished.  14″ long, 3″ wide.  I’ll be boxing it up to send to North House Folk School for the auction coming up soon.  I know there will be lots of others as well.  Still time to carve yours!



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Spoons for Wille and Bill



My central concern is encouragement — encouraging people to seek, to experiment, to design, to create, and to dream.

–Bill Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life

There are plenty of reasons to carve a spoon, and here’s a special one.  North House Folk School will be hosting an online auction in early September to raise funds for the Wille Sundqvist and Bill Coperthwaite Slöjd Fellowship Fund.  You are invited to carve a spoon in honor of Wille and Bill and send it to North House.  Direct monetary donations to the fund are also welcome.  More information can be found in this letter from Bill’s friend Peter Lamb, who, along with Jögge Sundqvist, will be at North House in September.  Just click on the link right below:

2018 Fellowship letter



When a spoon shows the care and skill necessary to carve it, it gives back each day it’s used the spirit that went into making it.

–Wille Sundqvist, Swedish Carving Techniques

Both Bill and Wille were dedicated to sharing with others the simple joy and profound sense of fulfillment that comes from making things quietly with one’s hands.  Their influence continues to grow for the benefit of many around the world.  I hope that Peter and Jögge find a tall pile of spoons for the auction when they arrive at North House Folk School next month.

IMG_7317I’ll have mine in the mail before long.  Beautiful cool day today, perfect for carving.

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Busting Out



I want to say there is nothing

like the sudden opening of wood,

but it is like so many other things —

Billy Collins, Splitting Wood

A few days ago I split a cherry log into rough blanks for future bowls.  I snapped some photos of the process.


This black cherry log was about twenty inches in diameter and four feet long.  Not wanting to make any four-foot-long bowls, I crosscut the log into two sections, a shorter piece (to the right) for some ale bowls and a longer piece to the left for various others.  I also cut a couple inches off the painted ends of the whole log to get to fresh wood and get past any end checks.


The dark spot in the middle of the log is decayed wood, present while the tree was still standing.  I have a few ale bowls to make, so I struck some circles with a compass after studying the end grain carefully for both pattern and any checks.


Scoring a line by tapping a wedge down a line into the end grain helps ensure that the split will run where intended.


Then a few wedges driven in along the line start to open things up.  Short lengths like this (14″) are usually no problem at all.  I really need to grind back the splayed tops of some of those wedges.  Those extended bits of metal can fly off when struck with a sledge and go who-knows-where.


The sections for each ale bowl are isolated.


Then I split away excess with a froe.


Some of those split away pieces become spoon blanks.


On this shot of the longer log section, an existing split is visible running left to right, so a decision has been made for me.


Wedges get it going…


…but these fibers crossing the gap are holding the long halves together.


An axe can get in there and sever them, allowing things to open up.


Sections A and B could be used for some small bowls with quarter-split vertical grain.  Section C will be a long, wide bowl with a flat rim.  Bowls from sections D and E will be carved with the bark side up and crosscut again.  That’s the plan anyway.


Here they are all separated.


I removed excess with a froe from D and E.  The flat area created by the froe roughly forms the bottom surface of the future bowls.


Here I’ve split away the future bottom side of section C.  With much more mass on one side, those splits will run out, but working from both sides helps to even things up a bit, leaving less wood to hew away later.

It will take some time to get to all of those chunks of cherry, so they’re all in plastic bags until then.

Returning to Billy Collins… enjoy this hilarious and wonderful presentation he delivered on Ted, and this one too!

Posted in cherry, finding wood, green woodworking, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Bird Inspiration


The birds are singing in the rain about the small pond in front, the inquisitive chickadee that has flown at once to the alders to reconnoitre us, the blackbirds, the song sparrow, telling of expanding buds.

Henry David Thoreau, journal entry for April 21, 1852.

Thoreau’s journals are brimming with his observations of birds.  How could it be otherwise?  Their songs, movement, and mere presence bring joy.  As I look up from writing, a pair of chickadees are flitting in and out of the little birdhouse where they are raising their brood.  I  was able to get a few photos of them last evening.


Making sure the coast is clear, then off to gather some food.


Back with the loot.


Close enough.


Here we go again…


It’s also been fun to watch the finches raise a family in the hanging fern on the front porch.  In the photos above and below, the female is perched above her chicks hidden in the foliage beneath her.


With all of this bird inspiration around the house, it makes sense that I’m inclined to carve crooks into bird forms.  Here’s one I just finished carving from black cherry.



I like the movement of the lines, which is, in part, a result of working with the asymmetric flow of fibers within the particular crook.

Below is the crook from which this bird was carved.  The lower half has been split away and I’ve scribbled a rough idea of a center line.  Much more about the flow of the wood inside is revealed as the carving proceeds from this point.


The deep and undercut hollow is chunked out a bit with gouges, then completed with hook knives.  The exterior is shaped with an axe and finished with a sloyd knife.  12 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 7 inches high.

Here’s a couple more views:




Posted in bird bowls, cherry, finding wood, nature, photography, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Greenwoodworking in White Oak


“One word, no spaces,” specified Jennie Alexander when she requested this sign.  Not only was I not going to argue with the one who coined the term, I was thrilled for the opportunity to make something so meaningful for someone so influential on my greenwoodworking journey.  Talking with Jennie and getting to know her better recently has been a joy.   An example of her kindness is  the gift of the Bengt Lidstrom bowl that I wrote about back in April.

In the top photo, the sign sits on a chair I made fifteen years ago after discovering Alexander’s book and video “Make a Chair from a Tree.” I still have the pages of notes I made as I prepared to dive in as well as the print-outs of Jennie’s encouraging email response to my questions.  Most importantly, I still have the creative excitement that I felt when riving and shaving those first greenwood rungs.  Jennie’s website tells a bit of her story and still has a lot of helpful information.

SAM_3951When I mentioned the sign project to Peter Follansbee, he said without hesitation “Well, it has to be carved in riven oak.”  The relationship and collaboration between Follansbee and Alexander goes back decades, beginning at Drew and Louise Langsner’s Country Workshops.  Fortunately, I had already riven a board for the sign from a white oak log back when snow was still on the ground.

After planing, I set the board aside and returned to it recently.  I planed a fresh surface and transferred the design I had worked out after making lots of thumbnail sketches and a full-scale drawing.

Rather than make the baseline for the lettering flat, I made it follow the subtle curve of the grain through the board.


To hold the board (29 1/2″ x 8″) for carving, I used holdfasts to cantilever it beyond the edge of the workbench, allowing me to work from either side of the board without repositioning it.


Different situations and different wood species call for different cutting techniques.  This white oak is too hard to just dive in with a knife, especially for letters this large.  I removed much of the wood with a v-tool, but no matter how carefully it is used, it does not leave the letters nearly as crisp and clean as they can be.


So gouges and chisels jump into action.



I did use some knives at times, and I’ve been experimenting with mill knives from Hyde Tools.


These mill knives are purchased with handles and blades as separate components.  The blades come with various grinds, but can be reground into whatever shape one wants.  The handles are a bit rough, but a little work with sandpaper and oil makes them more comfortable, like the bottom one (which is a smaller size as well) in the photo below.  The set screw allows for blade removal or for the present blade to be extended or withdrawn, even completely into the handle for travel.


I’ve found the steel to be good, taking and holding an edge well.


Below is a blank I reground to mimic my pen knife blade.  Some of the original factory grind is visible on the now rounded-over upper side.


Here are some more photos of the sign — finished, except for a coat of oil that it may get.


I planed the backside as well, but not so much as to remove all evidence of the riving.


The view from the end reveals the tapered shape from the riving as well.


Jennie’s enthusiasm, research and greenwoodworking continue to be a special influence for many people.  As she has often said, “Wood is wonderful!”


Posted in books, green woodworking, layout, sketch, teaching, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign


“Please, do not touch.”  There are certain posted signs that disappoint me, but perhaps none more than that.  I can deal with “Stay off the Grass.”  In fact, I may have had no desire to walk on the grass, at least until I saw the sign.  “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”  Well, that’s just enforcing what everyone’s thinking if they find me shirtless.  I can happily endure the flashing of a “Don’t Walk” signal, even when no traffic is coming.  But a “Do not touch” sign hits me like a ton of bricks.

Several years ago, I was visiting a small art museum with my family.  Outside on the museum grounds was a large abstract granite sculpture.  Outside.  Granite.  Birds poop on it.  My instinct was to touch it, to sense its texture as a way of understanding it and appreciating it.  And there was no sign.

Please understand, I’m not completely out of control.  I don’t go running my fingers over paintings nor do I advocate allowing thousands of people to run their hands over the carvings of a curated piece of furniture.  But I did touch this outdoor granite sculpture.  Sure enough, as if I had sprung a trap, a museum docent stepped outside and admonished me.  “No sign…” I whimpered.  Sign implied, moron.  They reluctantly and watchfully allowed us to explore the museum.

IMG_6641I’d like to include a sign with each bowl that reads, “Please touch.”  Then again, I hope that the invitation is implied and the wish to do so is instinctive.  The warmth of wood and the varying textures left from the tools tend to draw the hand.


On this just-finished poplar bowl, I used the gouge on the interior in a way that is meant to create a sense of flow and movement.  The slick slicing of the gouge also makes the bowl easy to clean and use.  No scratched wood fibers to fuzz up and rise with water, as can occur with a sanded surface.



The exterior of the bowl was worked with the gouge in a different way, leaving a different texture.


Bowls are meant to be picked up, and fingertips will sense the bowl as well as eyes can see the striking pattern of growth rings in this tulip poplar.


This one was carved from another piece of the same log as the memorial bowl I wrote about in this post, so it is off to the same family.  No signs attached.

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Raise Your Handles


The handles on this just-finished walnut bowl really grab me.  They rise up from the edge of the hollow and extend broadly in a sweeping arc.


Here’s a sketch to explain how I create a waist in the arched blank to allow for the rise at the back of the handles relative to the edge of the hollow.





Posted in bowls, layout, sketch, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged | 5 Comments