Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wooden Stool

My brother Richard has invited me to be an author on this blog and so I thought I would begin with my most recent make. This is my first attempt at making a piece of furniture. I wanted to have a go at something simple (I dream of making a chair one day), and so I decided to make a stool for my son.

This was partly inspired by the fact that my Mom has a stool that her father made (her dad was an instrument case maker and died when she was very young). This stool looks nothing like it and is very rustic (which is how i intended it), but I love the fact that it was made by me straight from a log. My son loves it as well.

It was great to see the shavings pile up next to my shave horse after its first proper work out. It doesn't look like I'll be using it again for a while.

Frost woodworking knife sheath...

What you have here is an Eric Frost 120 Woodcarving knife, made (I think?) by Mora of Sweden. It is a very basic, very cheap knife, but is the whittling staple for most carvers. Yes there are more expensive, more attractive knives available, but I defy you to find one that does a better job.

The eternal question with these sharp and pointy little buggers is how to safely store them so they are both handy and portable, but safe. You see when you buy one of these knives they come with the pathetic plastic sheath pictured, which have a nasty habit of falling off, meaning that when you rummage carelessly in your tool bag you find out the hard way just how sharp they are.

The barrel-shaped birch handle means they don’t want to remain in a sheath and the very sharp laminated blade means you cannot risk a regular leather sheath as they can slice right through. I know some people use a tool roll, but I didn’t want to go down that route, hence my very thick, cased leather sheaths (they are like iron!) with little hats that ensure they remain in their place. A perisher to cut and sew, but well worth it in the long run.

Handmade kitchenware...

This is a photograph of some turned bowls, birch-bark boxes, spoons and spreaders that my brother Julian made for Christmas presents last year (I got the big bowl on the very bottom of the left-hand stack - it held nuts all through the new year and now sits on the hearth infront of our stove).

I really like this photo - like everything else, things look so much better, more aesthetically interesting when they are all bunched together. The bowl I got is great, I really like it, but when it's piled up with all its brothers and sisters, it looks so much better (that's not just me dropping a hint for MORE stuff next year).

I'd liked to have put this on the band with the blog header, but can't work out how to do it.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


My brother Ju is ten years younger than me. When he was a young teenager I thought he looked a bit like Snufkin from the Moomins, in part thanks to a large bucket-type cricket hat that he sometimes wore, oh, and because of his wide nose!

When he and his wife had their son, I wanted to make something that he would keep and that would help him to understand both his dad's and uncle's love of the outdoors and all the things that went with it. So I decided to make him a Snufkin doll (Snufkin being famous for his love of the woods, outdoor living, nature and music - he played the harmonica).

Anyway, I'm sure I got more enjoyment out of making him and all his accessories than Jesse will ever get out of owning him.

Re-handling an axe...

I've re-handled axes or re-wedges exsisiting handles many times now, but only ever with shop bought hickory handles. A few weeks ago my brother Ju came round with a selection of axe heads and a green log of ash with the idea that we both make ourselves a handle each. So we did.

I chose a rather nice, small kent pattern axe head and set about splitting the wood, first with wedges, then shaping it on my shave horse with a draw knife and finally finishing it off with a knife.

It has since shrunk and I've wedged it and it turns out to be my favourite axe for carving. I love it.

Modified Marples adze...

I've wanted an adze for a long time. I really like some of the bowls and especially dough troughs I've seen others make with them, but they can work out very expensive, especially when I probably wouldn't use it that often (Svante Djarv adzes begin at 890 Swedish Krona, which is about £81.50).

I found this Marples adze at a car boot - still not a bargain. After trying it out I found the handle was too long and, once you wanted to get any depth to a bowl, actually fouled the edge of whatever it was you were carving, preventing you from getting in there properly. So, I decided to cut off the handle and shorten it. It now works much better, though I've still yet to actually get round to actually making a bowl.

I've since re-ground the cutting edge as well as this one, you will notice, is on the outside while others I had seen on green woodworking sites are on the inside - or is it the other way round? I don't remember.

The Woodright's Shop...

The Woodright’s Shop is a woodworking type TV show that has been running on PBS in the states since 1979. It is hosted by Roy Underhill and covers a range of projects and heritage type wood craft activities and, if I’m honest, is just so thoroughly addictive – I often watch it online for hour after hour. Check it out here:

This is the only one of Roy’s projects (with the exception of spoon carving, of course, which he does with special guest Peter Fallansbee) that I’ve actually had a go at. It’s supposedly a carpenter's tallow box that closes with a very simple but clever secret locking mechanism. Mine is made from olivewood and I’m sure will look even better with age and use.

Why handmade kitchenware?

It's a good question, one that I've been asked many times: why spend time and effort making a spoon, or a spreader, say, that has little if any intrinsic value, that could be bought mass produced from Wilkinsons or some other low cost shop for a fraction of what I would have to sell mine for if I was to recoupe any of the cost of manufacturing it? Well, I don't really know the answer to that. All I do know is that I enjoy making something in the way it has probably been made since time immemorial and that there is a strange, unquantifiable pleasure to be gained from using such utensils and implements - it somehow makes eating more than just staying alive.

My shed...

Like most men, I like sheds. I love the idea of discovering an old shed and being able to have a rummage and see what treasures I can discover. I remember as a child being allowed into my grandad's small, well oredered shed where he did his little woodwork projects - it seemed to me like a really magical place.

This is my little shed - I have my inlaws to thank for it since they donated it to me after getting a good 20 years of use out of it themselves. It's not always this neat inside, it's usually covered in shavings, sawdust and metal filings. It was put up on the spot where our chicken coop had been before we moved it, but as you can see, one of the hens never got used to the idea of having to move!

More homemade knives...

Whist lately I have been making my own blades out of old files, I first made scandinavian type 'Bushcraft' knives with laminated handles and full tang blades that I bought off the internet. I've made and sold quite a few of these now and on the whole have been very pleased with the results.

this was a gift for my friend nigel
who had given me a load of wood,
incukding this very nice ebony,
an offcut from a violin chin rest
gutting knife made for a retiring policeman
who likes to go rabbiting
Most gratifying, most of these have been bought by friends who have then gone on to actually use the knives for fishing, shooting, rabitting, etc, so I know they are practical tools as well as unique, one off knives.

I've tried a variety of brands and particularly like the Helle blades - high quality laminted steel that comes sharpened and holds a wicked sharpe edge.

Butter spreaders...

I first used a wooden butter spreader 17 years ago when we stayed with some friendswho live in Gothenburg in Sweden. It seems to me that the Swedish seem to have somehow maintained their relationship with wood and traditional crafts in a way that we in this country hadn't and are just rediscovering. Anyway, after the initial surprise at seeing these seemingly rudimentary and rustic implements in a modern kitchen, I soon learnt the simple pleasure of spreading my butter, jam, marmalade, etc with a wooden knife and so we bought a couple to bring home with us.

I've since learnt that there is something of a growing movement amongst whittlers and green wood workers to make the perfect / unique / personalized butter spreader. For further viewing, look at Drew Langsners world collection of spreaders (I think I have one in there somewhere - if not, it's still in the post):

Some of these spreaders are very fancy and perhaps not so utilitarian as I like, personally. Perhaps that's just my excuse for making something that is altogether rougher. They work surprisingly well and seem to get better the more they are used, washed and stuck in the dishwasher.

DIY chip carving knives...

I know they are not a particularly expensive item, but if you can do it yourself, why not? You can probably pay up to £30 for a hand forged chip carving knife; probably average price for mass produced knives is £10.

These old butter knives (good quality Sheffield steel blades) cost me £1 for the bunch from a charity shop. I ground them slowly, weting them regularly so that they didn't blue and the results were pretty good. they hold an edge well and chip carve quite nicely - evidence being the ornamental birch spoon in my previous blog. You can really only use one chip carving knife at a time so the question is, what am I going to do with the others?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Hand carved spoons...

oak and ebony love spoon
silver birch

birch with gold leaf


spalted birch salt spoon
Don't ask me why - I enjoy carving spoons. Here's a few that I've made this year.


I've always had a fascination with knives. Not so much as weapons (though I'd be a liar to say it's not something to do with the latent danger within a sharp knife) but much more so as tools. It's probably in large part due to the fact that when as a youngster I bought a knife, usually a folding knife while on holiday (I've always wondered why there are so many knives on sale in British sea-side towns?) my Mum would always sneak it away and hide it - she has a fear of knives, in fact of anything dangerous, like wardrobes (only joking Mum).

Anyway, when a couple of years ago I discovered I could make my own knives, well, I was in my element. I've made a few over the years, though I don't get a lot of time for knife making and it's fairly time consuming. My brother Ju and I annealed a bunch of old files a couple of weeks ago which he'd found dumped at the roadside, so I've had plenty of steel at hand. Here are a few that I've made recently.

This is a friction folder (brass pins, oak handle, ebony liner - but you can't actually see that on the photos) that I made for my brother Ju. He happened to comment that we both seem to make knives that end up being sold or given to someone else and that we should make one for each other. He made me a rather nice whittling knife so I made this one for him.

 This is a bit of a general purpose utility knife - I know it looks like a filleting knife but the blade is thicker than it actually looks and has very little spring. Unpolished steel blade, copper bolsters (recycled from a PC heat sink), black horn and some American walnut given by a colleague whose friend makes kitchen cabinets.

This is a tiny knife I made for a friend of my son's. His family had an apple tree in their back garden which his dad cut down and burned in their log burner. he salvaged a small piece of branch we he then asked me if i could make something from it as a keepsake. this was going to be a neck knife but it turned out a little bigger.
Apologies for the orientation of this picture - I haven't worked out how to turn pictures yet (Blogger seems to have a mind of its own) - but this last one is a camping knife I made for my son's eighteenth. I'd been promising to make him a knife for years, but never got round to it. Again, recycled copper bolsters, horn and wallnut spacers and stacked leather in the middle.

Axe dos and don'ts...

I'm no expert when it comes to using edged tools. Heaven knows (as do our local A & E) that I've had more than my fair share of accidents (including having to reverse drill a HSS drill bit from the bone of my right-hand ring finger). However, I am aware, and despite what my wife would have you believe, I do try to take simple safety precautions, especially when using an axe, such as wearing clothes! Now I know that it is not uncommon for a Japanese carpenter to hew or adze in his bare feet, but I was very surprised when visiting the Bayeux tapestry to see the style in which Norman carpenters 'dressed' to hew planks for the boats for the invasion of England. Look closely - not something even I would recommend.

My first attempt at a kuksa

As I understand it a kuksa is a traditional Swedish drinking vessel, the type you might have hanging from your belt or stowed away in your pack for a camping or hiking trip. I've seen a few on line now and I think they're fairly beautiful objects. I've wanted to have a go at making one for some time now so, with a little time on my hands a couple of Saturdays ago, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

It was actually a little harder than I'd anticipated. Not technically, but because I chose a piece of wood from my wood pile which turned out to be a piece of oak. Kuksa are traditionally made from birch, I believe, an altogether softer and easier wood to carve. After about three hours carving my oak kuksa, my hands were sore and blistered and really felt like I'd been working at it. The smell of the shavings, however, which gave a very warm and rich aroma, was more than reward enough.

Ultimately, I was fairly pleased with the results and look forward to trying it out properly. I guess I'll take it with me when I camp out at Spoonfest this August, if not before.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Some of my interests...

There are a few people whose blogs I follow religiously – literally! Sunday morning, before church, while Roo is catching up on the latest Vampire Diaries, I have a quick look at my favourite blogs and the tenor of my day is often dictated by whether or not there are new postings. Since  I don’t know how to add links yet, nor whether they would wish to be linked to my apology for a blog,  I’ll just tell you which ones I think are worth following – this will no doubt prove to be an endless and ever expanding list.

Robin Wood –the godfather of green wood working – pole lathe turner, spoon carver, Japanese woodworker, president (I think?) of the Heritage Crafts Association, lover and promoter of all things beautiful -

Peter Follansbee – carver, joiner, expert in seventeenth century  joined furniture, tool fanatic, bird watcher and general, all-round genius -

Barn the Spoon aka Barn Carder – fulltime jobbing spoon carver, teacher and connoisseur of the wooden spoon - I love his instructional videos - gritty and as it is -

Sean Hellman – woodworker, designer, sculptor, photographer – seems to know something about most things and from what I’ve seen of him online, a thoroughly helpful chap -

Lloyd Kahn - editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications, tiny homes enthusiast, photographer, skateboarder and general all-round interesting bloke -