Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas wishes...

Just a quick 'Merry Christmas' to everyone.

I've not really had the chance to do anything carving wise so far (though I did sit and sharpen my axe yesterday while watching Christmas TV) but am beginning to think about and plan my first spoon of 2013. I've never really had much success with bent - I seem to put the 'bend' in the wrong place and end up with an elongated bowl, so perhaps that's the place to start.

I'm aiming to make a spoon each week of 2013 - you can follow my progress on Fifty-Two Spoons - have a look at the top right of this blog.

Anyway, since it was quite sunny this morning and I hadn't got out much over the last few days due to the rain and Christmas, I thought I'd cut and chop some firewood, since my wood pile needed replenishing.

Two things I wanted to mention as a result of this activity:

1) I don't own a chainsaw - Julian does and I have borrowed it a couple of times and enjoyed the ease with which you can cut firewood and rough-out bowl blanks. I do have a couple of bow saws, one which I bought from a pound shop and another that I got from a house which was being cleared as the elderly gentleman owner who had lived there had died. Both are a pain in the butt! Hard, sweaty panting work. The blades always stick partway through and I have always found cutting firewood frustrating and unrewarding as a result. A few weeks ago I picked up a couple of Bahco greenwood blades and put one in my old inherited 30" saw and the difference is amazing. It sails through wood without any effort and hasn't one stuck or cinched.

2) The smell of freshly cut wood is amazing. I was cutting some cherry, oak and a kind of pine of some sort, amongst others. The fruit and oak wood smelt amazing (I know my children are watching me through the kitchen windows as I work and laugh each time I stop to sniff the wood). Whatever the pine is, it smells really strongly of parsnips and is amazing.

My log pile isn't much bigger, but I really enjoyed being outside for a bit.

Can't remember if I've mentioned Lloyd Khan in any of my previous blogs. He was something big in the 60s as a founder member of the movement to live in domes, which he did for about 20 years, I think. Now he writes and blogs about tiny homes, mobile properties, tree-houses etc. I love his blog - it's one of my regular Sunday morning browsing sites. Check it out - I defy you not to love it.

Anyway, I have someone who posted on Lloyd's blog to thank for a link to this site:

Folkstreams logo

Absolutely brilliant! A couple of weeks ago I posted about the Foxfire books - well, if you like that kind of thing, you'll love this site. Checkout the 'subjetcs' tab and browse for something that takes your fancy. Lovely films of skills and lifestyles from the past.

If you like that, you'll also probably like the 'history' section of the National Film Board of Canada, another of my favourites for First Nations, traditional crafts, voyageur type films.

Colleague's first spoon...

One of my friends at work, Dave, is an art teacher and has an eye for all things beatiful. He knows that I carve and make knives and has often brought me wood and I in turn have brought finished pieces in to show him.

He often shows me odd off-cuts and small bits of wood that he has picked up when out walking, with no specific intention other than to make something with them some time later.

Anyway, he seemed really interested in my spoons and so thought he have a go at making some himself. Below is his completed first attempt.

As you can see, they are a little different to those I make. Instead of green wood he used seasoned wood, a band saw and gouges for the bowl. I have promised him som time with my knives and axes and hopefully he'll enjoy working some green wood. Well done Dave

First Commision cont.....

Well, I finally completed the spoon, spreader, fork set that I was making for my friend at work. He is an art teacher and so appreictes the time and work that goes into making spoons. He wanted them as a Christmas gift for his wife - he wanted something unique and original.

They didn't quite work out as well as I would have liked. I carved the spoon first, loosely copying a Jogge Sudqvist design, out of green oak. I admit, I was really pleased with it and so didn't mind the prospect of replicating the design another two times. What I didn't bank on was the variation in the wood. Carving the spreader was fine, but I left the chip carving for a while with the intention of finishing it off later. The fork was a nightmare - the oak had dried and rather than carving in nice smooth shavings, it splinterd and tore.

When I finally came to chip carve and add initials, the wood had been indoors for quite a while and was thoroughly dried out. It was rock hard - a bit like chip carving iron - so much so that it really bruised my fingers working the wood.

I have a couple of really old books of gold leaf knocking around from back when I worked in a sign-writers, so thought I'd add a little bling to the pomels - perhaps divert the eye from the mistakes.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My favourite spoon RIP...

I know I've mentioned my rhododendron spoon a few times - see my last post for a picture. It really was a very pretty and tactile spoon, even if I do say so myself, hardened and smoothed from being in my pocket or hand for the past few months. I'd grown really quite attached to it.

Well I'm sad to say, it is no more. It fell out of my pocket last week at school. I didn't notice at first and once I did, hoped someone would find it, know it was mine and hand it back to me. Not to be. I got into work the next day to find just the bowl section in my pigeon hole (it had been snapped in half) and to add insult to injury someone had drawn a willie and balls on it in biro - oh the indignity.

Oh well, such is life.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Student piece....

My rhododendron spoon - styled after a Jarrod Stonedhal spoon
Lately I am in the habit of carrying a small rhododendron eating spoon in my trouser pocket and I sometimes take it out during lesson time and absentmindedly play with it while I am talking. If any of my students notice it and ask me about it I simply tell them it is my lucky spoon and leave it at that. One of my 10 year old students, a bright little girl in my top group, asked a little more and was very interested when I explained that I had carved it my self, that I often carved spoons and that I had a blog about it. She then went on to tell me that she had carved spoons herself.

She brought them in a couple of days later and I photographed them and told her I would post them on my blog. So here they are, Eleanor's handcarved cuttlery:

It was cool to see someone so young showing an interest in carving and even better to see that they were actually used - she said her dad used them for curry spices.

Post drought.....

I don't have a lot of time for lounging around in bed, but one of the things I really look forward to is reading new posts on the greenwood working, spoon making and bushcraft sites I follow on a Sunday morning in bed. I particularly savour it as currently I can lie in and go to church in the afternoons, but as of the new year church will be at 9:30 in the morning - no more time for lie-ins.

Anyway, I've been disappointed recently by the destinct shortage of new posts and on certain of the bloggs I enjoy and have gotten used to expecting weekly updates on there hasn't been anything new form one week to another. It has occred to me, however, that I have been very busy of late and haven't had time to work any wood (plus I'm out of wood again) and so haven't added any posts to my own site. I feel a distinct shame of the pot calling the kettle black.

So.....please excuse me if I digress a little over the next few post and weeks. Since I don't have any new spoons or bowls or boxes - and not even the fan-birds I intended to make for the christmas tree - I will tell you little about some of the things that I find interesting, beginning with a series of books I came across mentioned on Bushcraft UK a number of years ago.

These books go by the name of FOXFIRE and each is a compilation of articles written and photographed by American high school English students who began some time ago recording the skills, traditions and stories of their Appalachian community. It simply is delightful, inspirational stuff and goes a long way to dispelling the red-neck, hillbilly reputation that some of these communities may have attracted and demostrates a simpler, harder, often more fullfiling way of life. Whilst I have read a few of these cover to cover, I have particularly enjoyed those articles that explain and demonstrate old skills.

The first book covers topics such as hog dressing, log cabin building, mountain crafts and foods, snake lore, hunting, faith healing and moonshing. What I particularly like is that the articles are written in the vernacular and you get a real sense of how the people talk and their practical, no-nonsense apporach to life.

The books are available on ebay - not cheap but certainly worth the money. I have the first two and they take pride of place on my 'best' book case which, since I am an English teacher, you will understand is a place of great honour.

The Foxfire Fund Inc is still in opperation and it's worth having a look at their site here:

I'd love to visit their museum.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

My New Hero

I'm sure I must have mentioned Jarrod StoneDahl before, I did a class with him earlier in the year at Spoonfest and I also bought one of his beautiful spoons there. I use it every morning for my breakfast and I never thought that I could get so attached to a little wooden spoon. I've followed his blog for a while now and he posted recently that he's just created a new website. A lot of the content is in the process of being put up, but it is well worth  checking out just to read the 'about us' section and to look at the lovely photos. When I read the 'about us' section I realised that he is living my dream, living close to nature and in harmony with the seasons. I take my hat off to him for having the courage to do what I think many people like myself are only prepared to dream about. One day maybe.

Here are some pictures from the website and some links:


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Julian 0 - Impatience 1...

I knew I wouldn't be able to wait. I rehandled my axe using my newly carved handle and it feels and works great. With it being ash it's a little light, but so was the last handle I'd put on it so it hasn't upset the balance that I was already used to - I was a little afraid that I'd ruin the feel of my axe all for the sake of it looking 'pretty'.

I know julian said I should leave it a few months so as to allow for maximim shrinkage, and I did leave it about a month and, hey, isn't that what wedges are for anyway?

Working in birch....

Now that's funny/coincidence that Julian made a post about carving birch, as I was intending to do just that. For the past few months I have been carving mostly ash and oak, since that's currently what I have available. I've been quite pleased in the main with the spoons I've made and I like the colour these woods go when dry and oiled. What I hadn't taken into consideration, however, is how hard these woods are compared to fresh, green birch - especially as the ash and oak I have been carving is only green with a small 'g' - you know, green about six months ago.

So, when while on a camping trip on Cannock Chase a couple of weeks ago we found a newly downed and sectioned birch tree we got as much of it into the back of the car as we could manage, which was not actually a lot as we were not camping light and the car was fairly rammed.

Anyways, last week I thought I'd try out some birch as it had been so long. First off, a ladle type water-dipper kind of thing. Worked well, despite an unfortunate knot in the bowl that had to be carefully worked round, only to discover, once roughing out was completed, two nasty splits going down either side of the handle into the bowl. RUINED!

So I thought I'd try a simple Swedish style spoon, something with a little less time invested. Again disaster struck, or should I say I struck, far too hard with my axe when coming down the side of the handle towards the bowl. I'd obviously been too use to these more forgiving harder woods and laid it on a little to enthusiastically and split the bowl in half - a novice's error!

Now before you go getting all defensive, I'm not bad-mouthing birch or doing it down, I just thought it was an interesting observation. I hadn't realised nor considered how my tool handling and techniques had changed from one material to another and how I would have to moderate it when going from a harder wood to a softer one.

I have one small piece of birch left so will try again in the week, maybe.
Ignore the chip on the far side of the bowl - that's post-disaster damage. Look at the hairline splits extending from either side of the handle down into the bowl.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Fifty-two spoons...

I've got a feeling I might regret this, but... If you look to the right at the top of this blog you'll notice a link to my new blog FIFTY TWO SPOONS. Now, before you click on the link and discover there's nothing on it, that's because this is my pre-new year's resolution - to carve a spoon a week, preferably a different spoon each week, from as many different kinds of wood as I can find, for each of the 52 weeks of 2013. Hence, FIFTY TWO SPOONS.

Why, you may ask? Well, I was getting down on myself the other day, thinking that I need to concentrate on my regular work more and put off my hobbies until the school holidays. Then I got to thinking, if I could avoid bits of wood, knives and axes during the week and concentrate on planning lessons and marking books, then I could probably afford to spend an hour or so over the weekend whittling something. Not only that, but after the year is out, I'll have 52 spoons to show for it.

But I have to make a commitment to the project and take it seriously - no taking a week off. If I go away on holiday, I take my tools and a bit of wood with me. Well, that's the idea, anyway. It'll be interesting to see what I achieve and whether my carving develops over the year. Check back some time in January and see what I produce. Your comments are always welcome.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Winter Carving

I've just managed to spend a couple of hours doing some carving before the light started to fail. I've really struggled to find time to do any carving recently with lots to do on the house and other commitments as well. I didn't manage to do much in the limited amount of time, just split down a birch log and roughed out a spoon, but I had an absolutely fantastic time. The first carving I ever did was in the Winter and this being the first bit of carving I've managed to do this Winter, the memories just came flooding back.

Other than the short days, this is without a doubt my favourite time of year to be working outside. I love the crisp air and having to take my jumper off once i start to warm up. i also love working with Birch and it reminds me of a book I got a few Christmases ago called Celebrating Birch. I found this book very inspiring and the many pictures are wonderful.

It was also nice to have a swing with my Stefan Ronnqvist axe. I still need to put it through it's paces, and I think the handle still needs a bit of tweaking. Anyway, it was a great couple of hours and it reminded me about how much I love this time of year. I can't wait to get outside again. It might take a bit longer to paint the living room now.

Monday, 22 October 2012

First commission...

Just a quick one while I'm on here. A friend at work, having seensome of my spoons, enthusiastically asked if I could make a spoon for him as a gift for his wife for Christmas. He is an art teacher and so understands the work and time that goes into making such a thing and was offering me a fair price - unlike those who think I'm weird for carving spoons in the first place and who try to surpress a laugh or choke when I explain how much I sell them for.

I made a spoon, roughly in a Jogge Sundqvist style, out of oak. Not the easiest thing to carve, but he particularly liked the rustic, tooled look, so it didn't need working too much. It looked pretty good and he was so pleased with it he asked could I make a fork, knife and bowl to go with it. Of course, I agreed.

Below is the spoon and my first attempt at a spreader. I'm not very happy with the spreader and will try again, in order to get a handle shape that more fully matches the handle on the spoon.
I'd like to have a go at painting one like this - another time maybe.

I'll post a picture once they are all finished.

Wille style axe handle....

As I have said before, I love my little Kent pattern axe. It is just the right size and weight for me for spoon carving, it holds an edge well and it was free - the best kind! You may have seen my previous post about re-handling my axe? Well, after seeing some of the axes at Spoonfest I decided to try over. Not that I was unhappy with my first attempt, though the socket of the axe was a little longer than the width of the wood I was using and there was a little bit of tear-out on the swell at the end of the handle. I was happy with it, overall - until I saw the classic Gransfors carving axe which, I was confidently informed, sports a handle originally designed by, surprise, surprise, Wille Sundqvist. Here is a picture for those of you who have never seen it - I'm lead to believe you can't buy them like this any more.

It is a really nice rustic, angular styled handle with long cuts all the way up the length of the handle.

Having been given some nice straight pieces of ash, I thought I 'd have a go.
My previous handle (on the axe) and a template for the new one - good old cereal boxes.

cut roughly on the band saw

after cleaning up, putting in some of those nice long angular cuts

shaping the swell - mine's square in cross section while the originals look more eliptical

use your imagination - squint a little - looks alright, doesn't it?
The results seem fine on first inspection. Looks okay which, if I'm honest, was the main brief for this piece. As a bonus, it feels good in the hand too, though it might be completely different with the head on.

Julian tells me I'm too impatient and has forbidden me fitting the handle until it has has a chance to dry and shrink thoroughly, so for now I have to suffice with the picture above. I'll post a finished picture when I finally fit the head.

A few more spoons....

I feel a little self-conscious when I put up yet another post about yet more spoons as, to your average Joe, once you've seen one hand carved wooden spoon, to be quite honest, you've already seen one too many. I reasure myself, however, that for people of a like mind to me, you just can't get enough. It doesn't matter how many Robin or Sean or Steve or Alastair spoons I've previously seen, I still love looking at new ones. I'm hoping that the same applies here.

I've noticed when looking at others' blogs that, much like me, those who attended Spoonfest were particularly taken by Jarrod Stonedhal - both the man himself who, to put it simply, anyone would be thrilled to have as a neighbour, and his beautifully delicate and carefully rustic spoons. It's no coincidence that since Jarrods's spoons became more public, there's been a proliforation of painted spoons and tableware, not that he has a monopoly on paint, but he does it very well - I've yet to see any that hold a light to his.

The truth is, his were the only spoons I really wanted to buy a sample of from Spoonfest and, ironically, the first to sell out, hence I didn't get one and I mourned the fact for a couple of weeks after. Julian did get one, however, which I was very glad to have a go at copying.
Julian's Jarrod spoon - just perfect
As pointed out by Sean Hellman - cranked profile

My first attempts were in ash, and I was fairly pleased with the results.

Then I did one out of some very green rhododendron. I'd not used this wood before and it was a pleasure to carve - not unlike peeling potatoes, though because of the wood's softness, it didn't chip carve cleanly - probably should have let it dry out first.

Liking the design, yesterday I had a go with some curly grained ash, but this time a larger serving spoon.


I must apologise for the poor quality of the photos - it's just ipad quality as the lense on my Olympus PEN is broken and I can't bring myself to spend the money it will cost to repair or replace it.

Whilst I'm apologising, I should say something about the odd and fairly random layout of my posts - I HATE BLOGGER! It is the most unpredicatable software I think I have ever used. It is often impossible to do the simplest things. Come on Blogger developers, do something about it!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Axe File No:2 Cegga Axe

Quite a few years ago this axe came up as a group buy on the Bushcraft UK forum. It was made by Cegga, a Swedish blacksmith who works for Hultafors, but also does his own Cegga brand axes. It was co-designed by a fine Gentleman over on the Bushcraft UK known as British Red and I think the axe is called the Red Hunter's axe. It is 15" in length and the edge is just under 3" (sorry I can't do accurate fractions as I can only find my son's Early Learning Centre tape measure). It weighs less than 600g and for this reason is my first choice when travelling light. It was also an amazing bargain (£45 if I recall correctly).

The workmanship on this axe is amazing. It came razor sharp and really sings in use. I have used it for firewood preparation and carving, but I've no doubt you could fell and limb a tree with it if you had to. The polished head is supposed to make it more efficient, reducing friction as it passes through the wood. Having said that, It's very hard to tell how much difference it makes as I guess you would have to have an unpolished version to compare it to. My personal preference is for an unpolished axe, as I find that a forge finish resists rust better and if I'm honest i prefer the look.

I would definitely recommend a Cegga axe, if you can get hold of one. I would love to try one of his Viking style axes or even better, get him to make a custom carving axe, but he is not the easiest person to get in touch with. He doesn't have a website that I'm aware of and i sent him a message on Bushcraft UK several months ago, but never heard back from him. However I did see him post on Bushcraft UK recently and he even mentioned the possibility of a trip to the UK with some axes for sale. This is the kind of thing I would like to try.

 He also works in Damascus steel. Not my cup of tea, but i appreciate the workmanship.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Wille Sundqvist spoon?...Ummm...No....

In a workshop at Spoonfest Steve Tomlin said that one of the best ways to improve your spoon carving is to copy someone elses. I began to implement his advice this week by copying a rather nice Robin Wood serving spoon. I used ash and was quite pleased with the results.

Then, when Ju called me up to inform me he'd managed to buy a copy of Wille Sunqvist's famous 'Swedish Carving Techniques' I remembered that I'd taken a picture of a page of Robin Wood's copy while at Spoonfest so thought I'd have a go at copying one of his spoons - not the same as actually having a spoon in my hand, but I'd give it a go.
The famous Sundqvist spoon
The Bible of spoon carving

Here's a step by step pictorial of how I got on:
A cardborad template, drawn onto a piece of ash.

Roughing out with the axe

A concealed not meant a lot of tear-out - I probably should have discarded the wood and started again
but woods at a premium.

Close carving with the axe

Cleaned up with the knife - bowl marked on

Bowl hollowed out
Sanded and oiled

Design drawn on in pencil
Carved and rubbed with cinamon - I'd like the spoon a little darker in colour and the design a little lighter - perhaps age will sort that out for me?

Not quite as good as Wille's (ok, nowhere near as good) but a fair first attempt, I thought.

To sand or not to sand....

When earlier this year a tornado tore unexpectedly across Leicestershire it pulled up or otherwise demolished a number of trees in a number of villages. One such village was Newtown Linford where some rather old trees in and around Bradgate Park (where the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey had lived before reigning for only 9 days and then loosing her head) were up-rooted and a friend from work, thinking to stockpile timber for his woodburning stove, took out his chainsaw and set about cutting them up. To cut a long story short, he brought me in a few sections of ash, which was very welcome as I had recently been bemoaning the fact that I had nothing to carve.

When I split a couple of these ash rounds I noticed that one had an unusual grain formation whereby, instead of the grain running striaght, it was in tiny waves. I decided to make a couple of spoons in the hope that I could show off this incredible wavy grain pattern.

I know this is not a very clear picture - I'd hoped to be able to show the wavy grain pattern - but you can see the rippling undulations on the right of the wood from where it split.

Any way, I drew a simple desert spoon shape on the wood, unsure whether I'd even be able to carve it as it broke along the grain really easily. I was actually quite pleased with the spoon, but there was no real sign of the grain pattern, so I decided to sand and polish it to see if that brought it out.

Ordinarily, I don't sand. On a knife handle, yes, but on a spoon I like to leave the tool marks as a sign that it's hand made. And now I think I may have been seduced to the dark side, because I actually really liked the finished result, grain pattern aside.
After first sanding - the spoon picked up
a little pink colouring from a paper napkin
I used to apply the oil.

With the addition of a little chip caving

I made a second spoon, in much the same style, but after looking at some spoons on Peter Follansbee's site, wanted to try a technique where a 45 degree bevel is cut on the outside of the spoon bowl that then follows around and up the handle - simple but very attractive, I thought. Again, I was quite pleased with the result. And, of course, I sanded this one too.
Not terribly clear, but you can just make out that bevel
round the edge of the bowl and extending up to my thumb