Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spooncarving with Peter Follansbee

Last fall, while visiting the Plimoth Plantation with my history students, I mustered up the courage to show one of my spoons to Peter Follansbee.  Peter is the joiner at the plantation, and I have admired his work from afar for a long time.  In fact, it was his work that inspired me to turn away from power tools and to try my hand at green woodworking.  Peter also carves spoons, and I got to see one "in person" while at Dave Fisher's.  I have always liked how Peter's spoons hold onto Swedish form but also "follow the fiber" of the blank.  Anyway, if you have not seen his blog or spoons, it is well worth your time.  Peter and I chatted about my spoon and woodworking, and he showed me some of the spoon blanks he was working on at the time.  He also offhandedly mentioned that he would be offering a spoon-carving class at Lie Nielsen the following spring.

Well, a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Peter's first spoon-carving class (this one sold out, but another is planned for October).  Peter has a lot of experience running demonstrations and teaching about carving and joining, so he was well prepared.  His delivery is energetic, the sequence is organized and sequential, and he works the room well, taking time for each student and providing feedback as needed.  I know he admires Roy Underhill's presentation style, but he did a great job in his own right.  I dig the tie-dye.

It was also cool to see so many spoon-freaks in one place, both the newbies and the more experienced.  We made connections, passed inspiration around and generally bonded over our rather odd/marginal pastime.  Peter did his best to teach us, but honestly he had a hard time getting us to put down our knives and pay attention.  As a result, Peter never got a chance to demonstrate his chip carving or to discuss oil finishing, but we got an awful lot done in just a few days.

I should also add that the folks at Lie Nielsen put on a super show.  Several of the Lie Nielsen staff were on hand during course, circulating the room and trying to keep the number of cuts to a minimum (3 in a class of 15 over two days, and none serious. Not bad!)  I got to meet Lie himself, went out to dinner and drinks with the class and the staff, and generally had a good time.  The classroom space is also pretty impressive: timber frame, tons of light and displays along the walls with every single Lie Nielsen tool, all for the using.  Droooool.  They also had Nic Westermann knives for sale, and I picked up one of his sloyd knives.  That is one amazing knife and deserves its own blog post.  I did not think anything would work better than the old Mora 106, but this does.  Nic's hook knives are also really nice, but I am crazy about Del Stubs' knives and have a few more of his on order, so I passed.

I learned so much from the class it is hard to know where to start.  He taught a number of grasps that he likes a lot and a few I was unfamiliar with, including a cross-thumb grasp that is great for working on the finial and a sort of stabbing grasp that I like for chamfers.  We just whittled away at a stick for some time on the first day, practicing the gasps, and I found that exercise really enlightening.  To let go of making something and just focus on movements let me see much more clearly how the grasps work best.  For example, I started to notice that I was rotating my wrist on a number of grasps when I did not need to, and it was tiring me out.
Peter's "order of operations" is a bit different from my own, and I am thinking I like his approach better.  As I have written about elsewhere, Peter defines the inside of the bowl early on.  At this class he roughed out the plan and profile of the spoon with the axe, and then pretty much moved on to hollowing the bowl to near-finished dimensions.  The advantage of nearly finalizing the bowl dimensions early on is that it lets him be sure the bowl relates well to the stem and handle.  My traditional order has been to finish the plan and profile of the spoon first and then start hollowing the bowl, but many times the bowl comes out "off center" from the rest of the spoon.  Peter's order addresses this problem.
Peter also axes not just the plan and profile, but also the back of the bowl and the transition from bowl to stem.  I have always been shy of working too much beyond the plan and profile views until the very end of the carving process.  Start working at 45 degrees, and the dimensions of the keel and bowl start to shrink.  But Peter gets away with it...
Peter also pointed out that the orientation of the spoon in the blank (bark up or bark down) does not just impact the grain patterns, but the shape of the bowl when dry.  Though subtle, a spoon carved bark up will have a slightly narrower bowl once dry; bark down, and the bowl gets wider and slightly shallower.  The change is small, but something to consider.

Anyway, it was a great weekend.  I met some great people, got a chance to focus on my craft, and had a surprisingly good time sleeping in the Subaru.  Oh, and Peter stayed on at Lie Nielsen for the rest of the week to film a spoon-carving video.  Looking forward to that.


  1. You are so lucky!! You had the chance to meet in person two of my idols: Peter Follansbee & David Fisher. I'm so jealous :)
    I'm waiting to see some spoons now !!

    1. Thanks Eugen. It has been a pleasure. Despite the class I have not had much time for carving. Very busy at work until early June.

    2. Ok, I'll be patient untill then :)