Monday, December 11, 2017


Winter affords the carver a range of pleasures: the joy of carving by the fire on a long winter night, giving away craft during the holidays, and scoring that new tool.  But it also comes with challenges.  In the northeastern U.S., winter means substantially drier air in the workshop.  Drying times suddenly shorten, and what once took days or even weeks to settle into its final shape now snaps to form in a matter of hours.  For the bowl turner this means treating all but the thinnest work very carefully, wrapping it up in cloth or paper bags, burying it in shavings, etc...   Add to this the fact that some of us lucky souls have a wood stove or fireplace in our workshop.  I moved into a new home recently, and my new shop has a working fireplace.  I can not tell you how awesome this is.  Just sweep the shavings into the fireplace, toss a match, and viola--a clean and warm shop.  But this wonderful feature is not so wonderful when you find a batch of bowls ruined by overly hot and dry air.

If this has happened to you, and you don't know what to do with the bowls with the checked rims, you might try building a "mbira."

These African instruments are pretty easy to make.  Flatten the rim of the bowl (which lets you carve out the cracked lip where the rings were tight).  Plane a thin top (I used pine here, but I am told that the material used for the top of an instrument has a big impact on the sound quality.  Koa? Spruce? Mahogany?)  Glue a block of wood to the underside of the top and put t nuts into the block, into which you can anchor the screws that hold the aluminum rod above.  Glue the top onto the bowl, trim to shape, and bore a sound hole.  The silver bar is aluminum (easy to machine), smaller bar is brass (looks nice and matches the brass screws), and the tines are made from a sewer rod (a new one!)  You tune the instrument by pushing the tines in and out to get the right tones.  Lots of different tunings--I tuned mine to the C-scale, diatonic--good for jingle bells.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I need to make a reamer and tenon cutter

I am writing this as a reminder to myself: I have wanted to make stronger legs for benches and stools, and I now realize that I need to make a reamer (and an accompanying tenon cutter).  Dave Fisher's recent post got me started on this.
Here is an article from

Here is an article from Tim Manney on making a matching tenon cutter.

Eric, do this!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Spoon "tattooing"

Been on a kolrosing kick these days.

Kolrosing is a scandinavian technique whereby the carver makes shallow cuts into the surface of the wood and drives a pigment into the cuts.  It is similar to scrimshaw designs in ivory and even tattooing in skin.  While the wood does not "heal" as a tattoo would, the fibers can be burnished to lay over the cut, and once a drying oil like flaxseed is applied and dries, the pigment is pretty well held in place.
There are lots of great resources on the web to get you started.  Del Stubbs at Pinewood Forge has a great intro to kolrosing page and sells really nice kolrosing knives, though you can use most any knife.  His are nice because the blade has a sweeping radius, which allows for tight turns without the blade "jumping" out of the piece, and the angle of the blade lets the edge enter gradually, compressing/cutting the fibers neatly even if you are cutting against the grain.  I also like the width of the blade, which forces the wood fibers apart and creates a good pocket for the pigment. Finally, the round handle reminds me of a pencil, and as such can be spun to achieve tight turns (if you are careful!)
No need for deep cuts!  They will be marginally darker and wider than shallow cuts, but only barely, and if you really auger down into the wood you will have a hard time making smooth lines.  Watch the grain direction as your lines come together.  You can inadvertently dislodge a chip under certain circumstances (see the stem of the leaf on the right in the image below.)  Use really fine powder.  Well ground coffee works great, but I like taking the powder that remains at the bottom of the grinder.  Powdered coffee like Nescafe works well too.  I have also experimented with milk paint powder for a colored effect, though the tone is hard to distinguish.  You don't necessarily have to sand the wood surface before hand, but treating the wood with a rub of beeswax or another sealant can keep the coffee from staining the surrounding wood and hiding your design.  Lots of people like basketweave designs, but I prefer more freehand and flowing lines.  It is challenging to get fluid curves.  Sometimes it works out, like here:

Other times it does not...
The stamen got a bit mauled.  That is a really tight curve.  You can also see how small lines, cross hatching, even stippling can give volume and detail to the piece.  The lines are really narrow, so use lots of them.

Here, in an earlier post on some of my work, the spoon third from the left has some cross hatching to indicate shadow.  The one on the right was done with green milk paint.  It also lost some of its coloration, as I did not burnish the surface enough.  You can also sand the surface lightly to close the fibers.

I find that the hardest part of kolrosing is letting go.  After finishing a spoon that you feel proud of, it can be hard to take a risk and scratch it all up.  Like getting your first tattoo, or your first "visible" tattoo, it can be hard to get your head around permanently altering a pristine surface.  But once you cross that threshold, it can be hard to stop!

After my pal Oliver came to stay for week, we traded spoons.  He chose one of my more heavily kolrosed spoons to take with him, saying something like, "Well, I have to take that one, because it is rad!"  His comment got me thinking.  What is "radical" about that spoon?

Is it the spoon's design?  Probably not.  There is nothing extraordinary about this spoon.  It is a nice spoon, but the design is not out of the ordinary.  Even some of the more particular elements of this spoon, like the asymmetrical bowl or the tiny finial, are in fact inspired by Oliver's spoons.  He would not find them radical.  Was the floral design itself radical?  Not so much.  Flowers, especially made up ones like this, are not "radical."  So what was "rad" about this spoon?  I think Oliver's response to the spoon is akin to the response many of us have to tattoos.  When we meet a tattooed person, we seldom explore the subject of the tattoos, or admire linework, shading or coloring.  Instead, one of the first and most prominent feelings many have is that the commitment of the tattoo, the commitment to permanently alter a pristine surface, is in itself radical, regardless of the subject or execution.  Kolrosing is rad, in itself.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Der Letzte seines Standes? - Der Mollenhauer

Dave Fisher just wrote about this.  Must watch.  Another bit for this digital scrapbook. Thanks Dave.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A visit from Oliver

Over the past week my pal Oliver Pratt has come to stay with us in Massachusetts while he takes a class.  We have both been busy, basically catching up in the evenings after hectic days, but what a joy it has been.  Oliver is working at Lie Nielsen Toolworks now, and they are lucky to have him.  He is super thoughtful and knowledgable about green woodworking.  He produces some mighty fine spoons himself--very refined, with delicate necks, fine cuts, and with finials so tiny you just might miss them.  Here are two examples: the one on the bottom he traded to me two years ago during his last spoon gathering, and the one on the top he brought this week as a gift.
Cherry eaters by Oliver

Oliver also laid down some sharpening wisdom during our week together.  I have struggled to get my hook knives as sharp and nick-free as my straight knives, and he showed me a method that works amazingly well.  Sandpaper!?  After all I have put into water stones and diamond stones, simple sandpaper works amazingly well on the curved blades.  Scary sharp, and not a nick in sight.

So many of us work in solitude, especially in the winter.  It was a real shot in the arm to have some creative feedback and inspiration.  Thanks Oliver.

Gave this one to Oliver.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Figuring beauty

I have been turning on a treadle lathe for three years now, mostly over the summers and holidays, with periods of intense production followed by weeks (if not months) away from turning.  I would prefer to turn more consistently.  I often have to make a few "old" mistakes before getting back on my game.  That said, the time away does allow for reflection--to handle the bowls, to put them through their paces, to see what works, what doesn't, how they look and function with age and use.  My home is now full of bowls, of all shapes and sizes, and they get a lot of use.  My girls grab them for cereal in the mornings and ice cream in the evenings, invariably giving them back full of dried residue that needs to be scrubbed clean.  The bowls are taking on character, and I am learning more and more about what I like and what I don't.  I am starting to build an aesthetic.

Having a firm idea of what you think is beautiful, of what form you are chasing, is vital when you step up to the lathe.  Wille Sundqvist says that carving involves removing all material that is not part of the spoon, but that of course implies that you have a pretty good sense of what you are after.

In thinking about what makes something beautiful, it is tempting to look for formulas that explain beauty.  After reading "By Hand and Eye" by George Walker and Jim Tolpin I began to wonder about proportion and beauty in my bowls and spoons.  Are forms more beautiful when there is a proportional relationship between the dimensions?  Is one proportion more beautiful than another?  Euclid offers up one proportion, the Golden Mean (1:1.618), and Fibonacci's sequence arrives at a similar relationship.  Are these the proportions that I find beautiful?

As a simple exercise, I decided to study two of my bowls that I find beautiful. I purposely chose bowls that have very different forms.

I love the way the rim comes in slightly, giving a sense of "protection" or "privacy."

I love the way this rim flares out,  giving this bowl an open feel, and yet the inner chamfer lends a sort of mystery or privateness to the bowl.
The Fibonacci Sequence sheds no light on this bowl.

And not here either.

No Golden Mean here...

...or here.

For a while I tried using dividers that might help me envision perfect proportions between the base, the height and the rim of the bowls, and found that the results did not look right at all.

So I am back to square one, which is fine by me...
I would be sad if it all came down to a formula.

For a much more interesting reflection on a similar subject, see Dave Fisher's post on "Measuring Beauty."

Friday, September 30, 2016

First days of Autumn. Update.

Summer has come and gone, and I have not posted in a while.  I did get a chance to turn some bowls though.
Newly oiled bowls drying in the garden

Experiments with lettering and surface decoration.

A biggie.  11.5".  Given to my pal John on his wedding day.

Since the summer has ended I have not accomplished much in the way of craft. Some of my fellow educators seems to continue on with craft like nothing changed in their lives. I don't know how they do it. That said, I did build a second lathe to keep near work.  Hopefully in the coming afternoons I will be able to pop out and turn a bowl now and again during the workweek. I will post pics of it sometime...
In the meantime, the following video was shared on the Greenwoodworking facebook group, and I thought it charming. Enjoy.