Carving Outside


My craving to be outdoors only seems to be intensifying over the years, as does my love for carving.  It’s a good thing, then, that these two desires are sometimes compatible.  On Sunday afternoon, I found myself carving a walnut bowl under hemlock trees while cardinals called to each other overhead.

Before digging into the walnut, I finished the oak low bench that I wrote about starting during snowy March in this post.


After cutting the legs to length and flattening the top a bit with a plane, I bored some holes for pegs and holdfasts.  I used a 13/16″ bit rather than 3/4″ because the oak is still green and the holes will shrink slightly over time.  Also, the holdfasts work just as well in a 13/16″ hole, especially in material this thick.  I bought an old set of extra long auger bits at a flea market years ago; I popped one into my oatmeal-powered cordless drill and bored the holes.

There’s no special pattern for the holes that works better than another.  I run a center line along the length with holes every six inches, then I mark holes off to the side midway between those holes.  No need to measure for those side holes, just strike some compass arcs from each central hole location and bore where the arcs cross.

I marked all of the side holes the same way, but didn’t actually bore the ones I’m marking in the photos since they were right over the legs.


Then I got to work with the axe on a walnut bowl I had worked on a bit at FWW Live.


Wide steeply-arched handles on this one, sculpted with the adze and the axe.



Then I used the new low bench as I did some further shaping with gouges.  Here’s a slideshow with a few photos:

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I’ll let it dry for awhile, then get back to it.

I’ve been outside in the May weather as much as I can.  Carved lettering and spoons don’t require anything other than a place to sit.  More on these later.  Can you hear the birds calling?




Posted in carving, holding, nature, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Pre-Fest in the Pinewoods


Underside of a fan bird carved from pine by Jane Mickelborough.

Ah, dear nature, the mere remembrance, after a short forgetfulness, of the pine woods!  I come to it as a hungry man to a crust of bread.

— Henry David Thoreau, Journal Entry, 1851

Less than three weeks now until Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest.  The event is really divided into two parts, the Pre-Fest (Tuesday–Thursday) and, well, the Fest (Thursday–Sunday).  The Pre-Fest is like a smaller, more intimate, affair that focuses on specific classes during the day with plenty of time for everyone to share ideas, hang out, swim, carve, or whatever one wishes to do in the evening.  All in the beautiful pinewoods surrounded by crystal clear ponds.


Henry attended the Pre-Fest last year, bringing his enthusiasm, skill, and rose-flavored Turkish delight all the way from Istanbul.

While the Fest proper has sold out, there are just a few spots remaining in a some of the Pre-Fest classes, including Jane Mickelborough’s on carving folding Breton spoons, including wax-inlay technique.  I’d snap it up myself if I weren’t otherwise occupied.  I’ve written about Jane before, most recently in this post about her porte-cuillères.

Maybe one evening, Jane will remind me of how to make the fantastic fan birds.  I didn’t pay close-enough attention last year during one of her impromptu demonstrations.


Jane with a pine fan bird ready to unfold its wings.

I can smell the pines already.

Posted in classes, events, green woodworking, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments



Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.

— Emily Dickinson, from Each Life Converges to some Centre

Whether the flutes of this walnut bowl radiate outward or converge inward may depend upon your point-of-view or mood, but from the perspective of a carving gouge, they converge.  To work into supported fibers, the cutting edge begins at the rim of the bowl and sweeps downward to the center.  I carved the same design not long ago in cherry.  You can see it in this post.  I forgot to take any process shots with this one, but I’ll include various photos of the bowl as I discuss the procedure a bit.


In both cases, the flutes were carved with a long-bent gouge, #5 sweep 16mm wide.  A steeper sweep would make the ridges between flutes a little too pronounced and possibly vulnerable in use.  While a shallower sweep like a #3 makes it more difficult to distinguish the ridges and define the flutes.


I don’t draw any guidelines before carving the flutes.  The width of the gouge itself keeps the width of the flutes at the rim reasonably similar.  I do like to put a little pencil mark in the center of the hollow.  That is my target point as the gouge makes its way downward and toward the center.  As the edge proceeds from rim to center, I ease up on the downward pressure exerted by my left hand on the shank of the tool, allowing the flute to simultaneously decrease in width and become more shallow.  This creates a tapering flute.


I work my way around the bowl in a rough pass, then go back around once again more carefully.  When I see I have around six or seven flutes to go on the first pass, I adjust the spacing for the remaining flutes just a touch to make sure I carve a full flute next to where I began.  After a couple passes, I try to leave it alone.  I want the subtle variations and tool marks from the hand process to remain.


I think on another bowl with converging flutes someday, I may incorporate Emily Dickinson’s thoughts with some carved lettering.  Lot’s of ideas for that and other pieces, I know I haven’t posted much for sale lately, but soon.


Posted in bowls, carving, patterns, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Learning at FWW Live


It’s classic advice to surround yourself with interesting, inspiring, uplifting people.  Sometimes you can create that environment, and sometimes you just get lucky and find yourself in such a situation like I did last weekend.  I had been invited to demonstrate and discuss bowl  carving at Fine Woodworking Live in Southbridge, Massachusetts.  So, I demonstrated and discussed, which was a wonderful experience thanks to the enthusiasm and great questions from the attendees.  However, what I did most at the event was learn.

My education started Friday morning when I assisted Peter Follansbee as he taught fifteen students spoon carving.  At Greenwood Fest, Peter and I are usually presenting simultaneously, so this was a golden opportunity to watch him teach.   I learned a lot from that, as well as from Peter’s auditorium presentation on the “Green Woodworking Renaissance.”  Watch a presentation by Peter and you’ll achieve a deeper understanding, laughing all along the way.  Although he humbly downplayed his significant role in this renaissance, Peter shared his broad and valuable perspective on how we’ve reached a point where adzes are a hot commodity and fresh shavings are falling to the feet of more and more woodworkers.

The trend continued with an intensely thought-provoking keynote address by Peter Galbert, entitled “A Chairmaker’s Journey.”  Pete’s talk was a fascinating story of a voyage of discovery, richly illustrated.  He shared practical wisdom on aesthetics and techniques, as well as insight into the philosophical approach that has made Pete’s journey as a maker so meaningful.

I continued to learn from Pete’s demo on spindle turning.  Although I have no woodturning ambitions, it was a good indication of how transferable knowledge and skills are.  I gained so much perspective from Pete’s demonstration regarding aesthetics, sharpening, material considerations, even courage.  Same goes for my experience with Mary May’s demonstration of carving a ball-and-claw foot.  I don’t anticipate a ball-and-claw footed bowl, but that’s beside the point.  I was able to gain a new perspective on many things from tool choice to methods of layout to envisioning a design.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but that will have to do.  The line-up of presenters was incredible, and I was fortunate to get to talk with many of them.  I was inspired by them as well as the attendees and students.  Just a rich environment of people sharing knowledge, ideas, and laughs with one another.

I was so involved in taking things in that I never thought to take even a single photo.  That’s poor discipline for a guy with a blog.  So I’ve included a couple sketches of  a spoon that Peter Follansbee gave me at the event.  I was compelled to sketch it to learn more about it and because I like it.  Already looking forward to hanging out with Peter again, and a whole host of characters at Greenwood Fest in just over a month.




Posted in carving, classes, events, sketch, spoons, teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Transferred Touch


Things men have made with wakened hands
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely

warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.

— D. H. Lawrence, “Things Men Have Made”, from Pansies (1929)

Not long ago, a person who has been a great influence on my woodworking informed me that I’d be receiving a carved wooden bowl in the mail; had had it for years and was passing it along to me.   I’ll write more about that person in a special post to come.

A couple weeks ago, the package arrived on my porch.  I can’t fully explain what I felt upon opening the box and holding a bowl carved twenty years ago by Bengt Lidstrom, but to say the least, I was thrilled and overwhelmed.


I wrote a post about Bengt Lidstrom over two years ago, including a link to an extensive article about him from a Swedish museum.  Bengt’s work has been inspirational to me.   To now have a piece made by his hands, to hold it and learn from it, is an incredible gift.  As D. H. Lawrence suggests about such objects, this bowl is “warm still” with Bengt’s life and will continue to be for years to come.

I’ve rolled this bowl over in my hands every day, and I thought I’d share a few things I’ve noticed about it, and learned from it.


At about 11 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 5 inches high, it did not require a grand piece of wood, in terms of size or quality.  The birch log he used was far from perfect.  It has a knot running along one end wall, for example.  Don’t let the limitations of available material stop you from making the best of it.  The strength of Bengt’s design just brushes those issues aside.  He considered the unique nature of the piece he was working with and made it sing.


All surfaces of the bowl come alive with Bengt’s confident cuts.  No need to drive yourself crazy with the “perfection” of every facet.  The surface is vigorous yet soft.  The bowl beckons to be touched.  The flow of the form is a feast for the eyes as the light changes throughout the day, but to me the bowl reveals the most by being held.  To feel the texture, the thinness of the undercut sidewall — just enough to allow for the depth of decorative carving on the side panel.  Even the sounds of tapping fingertips resonating through the wood…   Again, to quote Lawrence, this bowl is “awake through years with transferred touch.”


This bowl has many more stories to tell and lessons to teach, but I’ll mention just one more for now.  The bottom of the bowl is carved with “BL 99.”  He was 83 when he carved this bowl, and there’s a lesson and encouragement in that for us all.



Posted in bowls, finding wood, historical reference, patterns, proportions, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 25 Comments

The Three Stages


I’m preparing a couple blanks for my program at Fine Woodworking Live in two weeks.  I noticed I had walnut bowls sitting around in three stages, so I’ll call them Larry, Curly, and Mo.  Larry is a log section — a bowl in waiting.  Curly was roughed out from a green log a couple months ago and is in limbo.  Mo has been through the dry-carving stage, oiled and ready for action.


Here’s Larry after I split off the white sapwood and the angle near the pith with a froe.  I cleaned up what will be the bottom surface with a plane.


Especially on a relatively wide blank for an “upside-down” bowl, it’s not necessary to start with a complete half log and flatten the entire width.  The foot of the bowl won’t be that wide anyway.



Mo’s relatively modest in size and soft-spoken.  13 1/4″ long, 8 3/4″ wide, 4″ high.  I used a subtle texture and no bling on this one.



Posted in bowls, finding wood, green woodworking, holding, layout, Uncategorized, walnut | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Memorial Bowl


This tulip poplar log came to me with a history.  John’s son-in-law explained to me that John watched this tree grow and would often comment on its simple beauty and growth when they were together.  A couple years ago, John passed on.  Since then, John’s humble but special tulip poplar had to come down and I was asked to make a bowl as a reminder that both would be missed.

After some thought, I decided on an asymmetric form that followed the flare of this butt log and the simple meaningful message “John P. D’Apolito loved this tree.”  I never knew John, but I think this short message reveals something of him and mankind’s relationship to nature, and it feels good to know that it will be in his daughter’s home.

I shared the early progress on this bowl at the end of this post.  Here are a couple photos following the post-drying carving stage, but before the lettering.


Interior from the gouge, handle from the drawknife.


Upside down

I worked out the lettering design on paper before drawing on the bowl itself.  I sketched the general shape of the handles in ink, then played around with the lettering in pencil.


Once I liked it, I propped up the sketchbook and drew the idea fresh onto the handle.  Same thing for the “loved this tree” handle.


Even then, they’re only pencil lines — strong suggestions.  The knife has the final word.


When bowls are attacked.

My specific tools and techniques vary depending on the hardness of the wood, size of the letters, and other variables.  For this tulip poplar, I hogged away much of the material with a larger knife.  My left hand would normally be involved as well for control.  I made refinements with the penknife blade.  Slow and steady.


Phew.  Here is one handle finished…


…and the other


I’m always fascinated by how the appearance of v-incised lettering, and a bowl for that matter, changes with the angle of light and point of view:

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Some oil and it’ll be all ready for action.


17 1/4″ long,  8 1/2″ wide, and 5″ high

Posted in bowls, Lettering, nature, trees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments