Monday, February 24, 2014

Presto chango!

While working with Dave Fisher last summer I got to try out his Bowl Horse.  It pinches the workpiece rather than clamping it like a traditional shave horse, and I saw its benefits immediately.  I especially liked the ability to work the entire length of a piece.

So, between grading batches of tests this weekend I buckled down and built this:

Dave Fisher's website has plans for a bowl horse from dimensional lumber, so I went with that.  I wish I had the time to make it from green wood, but I don't, and I already had much of the lumber in my basement.   
Now, recently Jarrod StoneDahl posted some videos of his spoon-making process, including one of his "Spoon Mule."  This device makes a ton of sense to me, especially since my wrists have been hurting lately from carving lots of hard apple.  So, I decided to make a spoon mule attachment for the bowl horse.

Slide the dumb head out of the way, insert the spoon mule attachment...
...and presto chango: a spoon mule!
I like the idea of reconfiguring one horse for different jobs.  Saves space.  I am also considering how to reposition the dumb head and add a slanted work surface to transform it into a traditional shave horse.  

Anyway, I have not really put them through their paces yet.  Can't wait to see how they work.  But first, I really need to finish grading those tests...

Many thanks to Dave and Jarrod for the inspiration. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Copycats and craft

I came across a provocative article on the American Craft Council's website recently by Harriete Estel Berman.  Here are a few choice bits:

"Our [the craft community's] collective reluctance to mention or openly discuss the issue [intellectual property infringement] emboldens a thriving pirate industry and weakens any individual resolve to expose copycats or to protest copycat practices. With globalization, the craft market is being exploited by opportunistic international manufacturers through online exchanges like Profit-minded companies, unfettered by any respect for IP rights, overtly copy work shown by makers at major shows or on personal websites. Corporations with large distribution channels pirate ideas from isolated artists and makers.

The wonders of the Internet have also fostered a culture of copying where less creative individuals copy and sell work based on tutorials, instructional materials, or Pinterest images. Let’s be truly honest: Ethical boundaries are crossed when amateur and casual makers rationalize copying with na├»ve compliments like, “I love your work so I made my own copy” or “I want to make something just like this.”

I respect her frustration.  Must be hard to see your novel idea mass produced by foreign industrialists for their profit.  But I don't agree with her.

Intellectual property law pretty plainly states that "styles" and "ideas" can't be copyrighted.  Here are a few examples of things that you can't copyright (according to page three of this pdf from the US Copyright Office):

Also, there is an amazing renaissance in green woodworking going on now that is in large part due to the internet.  I got my start looking at videos of Robin Wood turning bowls, of Dave Fisher carving amazing vessels, of Peter Follansbee carving spoons.  I have learned a ton from the Bodgers site and from the Spoon Carving, Green Woodworking and Sloyd facebook group.  The whole "makers" movement in general is beholden to the connectivity of the internet, the sharing of ideas and how-to manuals and advice.  Just the other day Jarrod StoneDahl promoted a new hashtag: #woodculturerenaissance.  Inspiration found on the internet is driving craft in some pretty exciting directions. (Still, I might change my tune if I was making a living with craft...)

What I find more interesting is that Ms. Berman's comments point back to the art/craft divide.  For her, copycats are stealing "ideas" unfairly, but what role do "ideas" really play in craft?  Craft, as I have written elsewhere, tends to privilege skill over ideas.  If I copied one of Wille Sundqvist's spoons, I KNOW it would not be of the same quality as one he might produce.  His skill far outstrips mine, and it would show, even if the spoon had the same style or "idea."  So skill counts a lot in craft, maybe more than style or ideas.  Craft also relies on replication, whereas art tends to privilege a singular execution.  As Barn proclaims, "I believe in replication."  Making copies again and again is how we build craft skill, and copying the best examples is a great way to develop that skill and appreciation for certain styles. Finally, craft tends to follow traditional forms passed down by a whole culture, whereas art tends to value innovation.  Isn't "traditional" another way of saying that everyone is copying everyone else?

In the end, I wonder if Ms. Berman's definition of craft isn't really conflating craft with art.

Or, maybe, she is really on to something.

Maybe craftspeople need to stop thinking of themselves as making "craft," because that definition is not serving their interests well at all.  Maybe the craft/art divide is a sort of hegemony, where the "oppressed" buy into their own inferiority and therefore serve as their own oppressors.  Just as colonizers established cultures that valued whiteness over color in their colonies, just as women are convinced that they look good in clothes and high heels that in truth sexually objectify them, have craftspeople been convinced of a definition of their work that is in truth hurting them?   If "craft" is by nature repeatable and not unique, are craftspeople really saying that anyone can do what they do, that they can't "own" their innovation, and that they can't claim "authorship/artistanship?"  Do craftspeople hold onto a definition of their work that in the end is hurting them?  Are they inadvertently supporting a system that oppresses them and in turn elevates artists?

I don't know.  Honestly, that hegemony idea above feels a bit bullshitty.  But I do think craftspeople should lay claim to their well-crafted crafts and sign them with their makers marks, showing everyone what their skills are, even if the styles are "traditional."


I am struggling a bit with oil finishes these days.

I have been experimenting for a while with warm oil baths.  I have two crock pots (not pressure cookers!), one filled with flax oil and beeswax, and the other with walnut oil and beeswax.  I heat them up to about 160 and soak spoons and bowls for about five hours, until they won't bob to the surface when I remove the rocks that hold them under.  I like the results from an aesthetic standpoint.  The appearance is lovely, and the soaking adds a bit of weight to the object, which is especially nice in a spoon (they are so light normally!).

The problem I am having now is the taste that the process imparts to the food or drink it holds, especially anything hot.  I like the taste of flax and walnut oils and beeswax, but not all the time.  My wife loves her kuksa and the "nutty" taste it gives her coffee.  But I want to make a cup for myself that does not impart such taste.

I have some salad bowl finish, and might try that.  It is supposed to be food safe, though I think it has some additives that aid in penetration that are not so natural...  I read on the bodgers site, (under ask and answer, materials knowledge, what wood is best used for hot liquids,) that Paul Atkin in the UK uses "six coats of Junkers worktop oil then treated again with several coats of chestnut food safe finish".
I am always worried about how food safe commercial products are, but maybe I need to get over it.

Maybe I need to let everything cure longer, let it polymerize? Maybe the wax is slowing that process?  Maybe I should try the boiled milk method?

Wonderful questions to ponder.  So much to learn...

Monday, February 17, 2014

A productive weekend

From left to right, apple, apple and rhododendron.

The apple is getting pretty tough to carve, and splits are opening up at inopportune moments, which explains the squat, fat bowls and the strangely short handle on the center spoon.  Rhododendron is a dream to carve though.  Freshly cut this fall, it is green and lovely, a welcome break from the rather dry apple.  
Here are a few more shots.  

Thinking about painting the one with the finial and then chip carving.  All will get an oil bath when good and dry.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Handle Diameter Shape

I have found a lot written about axe handles on the internet these days, especially posts about grain orientation.  For example, British blacksmith Nick Westermann recently wrote a great series on axe handle grain orientation on his blog.  What is less available, it seems, is information on handle geometry, and specifically handle diameter shape.

Last summer I bought a beautiful adze blade from Kestrel Tools, and decided to make my own haft.

Part of the trick with these adzes is they need to be thin in the upper portion of the handle to lend a "springy" feeling to the adze.  In order to thin out the upper portion of handle, I removed material on the "leading edge," or "x axis", ie. the edge just below the acute angle.  To be clear, when swinging the adze the direction of travel is the "x axis" of the handle's diameter.  At a right angle to this is the "y axis."  So, what I was removing was material from the x axis, making the diameter along the x axis shorter than the diameter along the y axis.

Clear as mud?

Once finished with the adze, I merrily tied the iron on and went about chopping at some wood.  But the experience was positively scary.  The adze wanted to "wiggle" as I swung it.  Yikes!  Because the handle diameter was wider in the y than the x axis, it wanted to pivot in mid stroke to bring the long edge in line with the travel of the blow.  Not sure if I have described that clearly, but boy did the principle become plain as day when I swung the darn thing.

So, handle diameters have to be wider in the x axis than in the y if you want to control the flight of the blade.

Unfortunately, this lesson did not sink in until recently.

A week ago I was doing something awful with my Gransfors carving axe (using it as a wedge to split a round of apple wood that was way too large).  The axe head augured in and would not budge.  I had to beat on the head with a log to dislodge it, and after a while the handle broke.  DOH!  So stupid.  Lesson: use wedges!  Anyway, while making a new handle for the axe I ran across the same problem as my first adze haft described above.  I was shaping the curve of the handle and removing material largely from the x axis so that the handle ended up with a basically round diameter shape.  And wouldn't you know it, on the first swing I could feel the axe wiggle in space just like my adze had!  Double DOH!  It takes me a while to learn these lessons.

But this all got me thinking that, if an axe or adze loses control if it is too large in the y axis, does it gain control the longer the x axis is?  Maybe on my next handle I will leave it a bit longer in the x axis than the original Gransfors handle and see if it improves handling and accuracy.

Oh, and one more thing I have noted: As you swing a tool, the centrifugal force wants to make your hand slip toward the end of the handle.  Thus, if a handle diameter decreases down toward the butt end of the handle, your hand will want to slip down the handle faster than you (I?) would like.  Thus the total diameter of a handle has to increase slightly (or at least remain the same) as you approach the butt end of the handle.  This mistake is pretty easy to make when you are refining the handle so that it feels "right" in your hand, not realizing that in doing so you are effectively shrinking the final diameter of the end of the handle.

This may be obvious to many of you, but since this is a novice's notebook, so I hope some will benefit.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mae's new eating spoon

Here is my my youngest daughter's new eating spoon.  Maple, tooled finish, chip carved and kolrosed, soaked in warm walnut oil and beeswax.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spoon tragedy

My daughter Hannah said something wise while learning to snowboard this winter: "Dad," she said, "sometimes when you fall down, you learn something."
Spot on, little one!

I carved this little eating spoon from apple wood this week, and I was pleased with the results.  Smooth finish, nice shape and transitions, and did some new things with the kolrosing: experimenting with heavier and lighter lines; a sort of cross hatching to create volume in the trunk; and leaving some of the coffee staining in the grain behind to indicate the leaves of the tree wile carving away the rest to get nice contrast between the trunk and the background.  I like the way it turned out.

Here is another shot, this time with the flash off.   My mistake is now pretty plain.

I pushed the thinness too far, and a crack has now opened up.  Such hubris.

So there is my little spoon tragedy.  I am sure you can relate.

Aristotle defined a tragedy as something that evokes pity and fear in the audience: pity because the audience identifies with the character, and fear because the audience knows it could happen to them too.