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

Your Daily Bowl


I’m a cereal lover and, although I’ve had to switch from Boo-Berry to Shredded Wheat over the years, I still eat cereal every day — from a wooden bowl.  Cereal or not, it makes for quiet eating, and the wood is insulating so your ice cream won’t melt as fast.  There’s something about the ritual of using the same bowl, then washing it, and putting it back in its place that I like.  The one in the photo above has been washed hundreds of times without being freshened up, but it could use a little oil now I guess.

It’s a pretty straightforward project to make an eating bowl.  For cereal, I like to cradle the bowl in one hand, and I find that a diameter of six or seven inches is ideal, with a height of two inches or so.  So all you need is a seven inch log.  Strike a circle on the upper side of the blank and a smaller one on the bottom (concentric to the one on top), hollow the inside, then hew the outside.  I wrote in more detail about that in this post.


The biggest challenge is fiddling with the size of a small bowl.  Hands can get pretty close to those sharp edges.  The little sketch to the left shows how I handle that — and you end up with two bowls.

Whether hewing or clamping, it just makes it a lot easier to hold, then the two can be separated whenever it makes sense.  Or maybe leave them attached!  Could make for a romantic dinner — or you could have two bowls of ice cream.  Tough call.

Below are a couple examples of small bowls I made recently with rising ends that should clarify what I mean in the lower part of the sketch.


You can see how starting with a peaked blank creates sides that sweep down slightly from the higher ends.  This is very similar to the effect created by using an “upside-down” blank, and the same concept that I discussed in my Roof Top Bowl post — albeit with a larger bowl with some differences in form.


The uppermost flute narrows the rim, creating a lip ideal for drinking — the cereal milk is the best part after all.

Here is another bowl using the same concept — but with a much broader drinking rim.  Again, in cherry.  All of the bowls in this post are cherry.


And here is another “roof top” bowl, this one smaller and more delicate.  Not a great cereal bowl, but nice for something like yogurt.  The texture on the underside feels nice against the fingertips.


With a wooden bowl, you too may even look forward to shredded wheat.


Posted in bowls, cherry, holding, layout, patterns, sketch, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Wander to Wonder


Lettering on “Not all those who wander” bowl II.

I guess I can’t get Tolkien’s words out of my mind.  This is the second time in a few months that I’ve carved the same line onto a bowl: “Not all those who wander are lost.” I wrote a post about the first one in February.  This time, the canvas was a bowl of my more usual form.  Different bowl, same lettering style — just adjusted to fit the new field.  I’ll be taking this one to Greenwood Fest, as I’ll be short on examples as it is.

I guess the line resonates with folks for as many reasons as there are ways to wander.  I often wander on walks through woodlands with my dog, Sam.  We never  tire of making new discoveries along the riverside.


Maybe the magic of these meanderings lies in the rhythms of nature.  Sycamore fruits wait against a clear blue winter sky for the coming of spring, when they will scatter their tiny seeds, each one storing awe-inspiring potential.


The Dickinsons Reach Calendar brings such thoughts to mind this month with a quote from Rachel Carson:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”


It seems to me that much of the allure of wandering centers around mystery.  I think I wander to wonder.


I recently read Peter Wholleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees.  He embraces this sense of wonder:

“Under the canopy of the trees, daily dramas and moving love stories are played out. Here is the last remaining piece of Nature, right on our doorstep, where adventures are to be experienced and secrets discovered. And who knows, perhaps one day the language of trees will eventually be deciphered, giving us the raw material for further amazing stories. Until then, when you take your next walk in the forest, give free rein to your imagination-in many cases, what you imagine is not so far removed from reality, after all!”


The book is full of revelations, and the more that is revealed the more the mystery expands.  I hope you have a chance to wander and wonder a bit this weekend.


Posted in books, Lettering, nature, quotes and excerpts, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Infant of the Sword


“I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one’s pocket; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.”

— G.K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (1917)

I live in pocket knife territory, and I don’t mean where they’re carried — but where some of the best are made.  Probably the most famous of them all is W.R. Case & Sons.  They make their legendary knives in Bradford, Pennsylvania (where they also make Zippo lighters) — a little over a hundred miles north east of me.  Queen Cutlery makes beautiful knives in Titusville, Pennsylvania (that also claims the world’s first oil well in 1859), about 45 miles north east of here.  And Flexcut has added pocket knives to their line of tools.  They’re about an hour’s drive north of me in Erie, Pennsylvania.

I have a pocket knife from each of them, although I’m not a collector.  For me a pocket knife is the ultimate in convenient utility.  It rides along in the bottom of a pocket, just noticeable enough to provide confidence in one’s preparedness.  Open that package, pop out that splinter, shave that marshmallow-roasting stick, cut that cord!  And sharpen that pencil with style — one of life’s little joys, and great practice for knife control.


Although I do most of my knife carving with a fixed-blade sloyd knife, a pocket knife makes an ideal carving companion — and it’s always there when an opportunity presents itself.  I’ve discussed a few times on the blog how I use the pen blade of my pocket knife for lettering, as on the bowl in the above photo earlier this week.  Although other knives, folders and fixed-blade, will do the job, I prefer the pocket knife in the top photo.  It is made by Böker and it’s an old friend of nearly twenty years, so I’ve become used to it.  They still make the pattern, which is the “Whittler.”  Mine has carbon steel blades that take a very keen edge (although, admittedly, I know very little about the technical differences in blade steels), and the slightly serpentine handle nestles right into the web of my hand.


The handle scale material doesn’t effect performance, and you’ll find several options available.  And a search will yield a variety of prices, even for the same exact knife, so if you’re looking to get one you may want to search a bit.  Regardless, it will be a small price to pay for a loyal friend.


Posted in carving, Lettering, tools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bring Your Adze


Just a quick post to say that a spot has opened up in my pre-Fest bowl carving class in Plymouth.  It’s only three weeks away.  If you can squeeze it in, we’ll have a blast making some chips fly together!


Posted in sketch, teaching, tools, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Hold It!


I snapped this photo while carving on this cherry bowl recently.  I’ve used holdfasts for a long while now, but I still marvel at their nimbleness and versatility.  With a scrap of rubber belting under the bottom and a couple rubber pads under the holdfasts, the bowl is held solidly.  The grip of the rubber really makes a difference, and there are odd scraps and such that can be found all over the place; the white circles in the photo are meant to go between a grab-bar and a tile wall.  If you can’t locate any scraps, this stuff at Tractor Supply works well and is super tough.

By the way, if you’ve signed up for my pre-fest bowl carving class in Plymouth, bring a couple holdfasts if you can.  Here’s a post about holdfasts I wrote a while back.  All you need is a bench of some kind with some holes through it.  But what if there are no holes and you aren’t allowed to bore any?

Here’s one idea: try a ratchet strap.  These things are pretty ubiquitous now for securing loads.  Although, I must admit I’m more impressed by the guys, Like Pret Woodburn, who know how to properly secure a load tightly with rope (a.k.a. “pot wop”).  I tried this little experiment below and it really secured the bowl well.  Could flip the bowl over and all that, too.  I much prefer holdfasts, but in a no-holes situation, it’s another option.


I sometimes use these ratchet straps when crosscutting a log.  Most of the time, I just use a chainsaw to cut a log to length or to cut the painted ends off of a stored log. But sometimes I’ll use a one-man crosscut saw that I picked up years ago at a yard sale. Problem is that, with shorter chunks of log, the log just wants to rock and roll with the force of the saw.  A band clamp makes the log one with the sawbuck and works great.




Here are some shots of the finished bowl.


Posted in bowls, cherry, holding, patterns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 8 Comments



IMG_1775I recently had the opportunity to play a part in a very special occasion, the celebration of fifty years of marriage.  The family had decided to honor the occasion with a lovely painting of the family tree by one of the couple’s talented grandchildren.  She creatively features each family member as a bird in the tree.  A son had made the frame — beautifully and solidly built from figured quartersawn cherry, 25″ x 21″.  I was asked to design and carve lettering into the frame and also to incorporate elements related to the tree theme.

After I had played around sketching some ideas, we agreed on a design that focuses on the lettering, but is complemented by a message told by delicate flowing lines of roots and branches — and a couple love birds.  Below is a slideshow of photos.  These are pre-oil, which is why the cherry appears so light.

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I thought I’d also share a really simple project idea that some might find useful.  Projects like this frame call for some full-size drawing on paper, which allows for lots of risk-free sketching and erasing.  An angled drawing board at an appropriate height would be nice, but I don’t have any space at all for one, and it would only be used occasionally anyway.

IMG_2007So I came up with an idea for a drawing board that sets up on my workbench top and can be broken down into a flat panel for easy storage.  I just slide it between a cabinet and the wall when not in use.  It can be built with nothing more than a hand saw and a screwdriver, and with a total of $20 of materials.  It only takes about an hour to build, which is a nice change of pace.

When I need it, it sets up in less than a minute.  I can stand and draw comfortably, or I can sit at my shop stool and extend the drawing board out over the edge of the benchtop.


At most lumberyards and home centers they have sheets of plywood pre-cut into smaller sizes.  I bought a two foot by four foot piece of 1/2 inch birch plywood for $15.  And a pine 1×4 (actual dimensions 3/4″ x 3 1/2″) eight feet long was under $5.  Finishing washers keep the 1 1/4″ screws from poking through the face of the drawing board.

In the photo below, the legs are fitted for storage, held in place by a couple small opposing wedges.  At only an inch and a quarter thick, easy to store.


The legs just friction-fit into place…


…and it’s ready for action.  The edges of the plywood are straight and square to each other, making it convenient for use with a T-square.  The pine boards also act as battens to help keep the top flat.


A couple notches in the back make it easy to secure the assembly to the benchtop with holdfasts if you wish, or hold it cantilevered out over the front of the bench.


Here are a couple sketches that may help if you want to build one.



Posted in holding, layout, Lettering, sketch, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 13 Comments