Friday, 25 January 2013

Splitting with wedges.....

I've always thought it a bit of a paradox, that those who work with wood, and craft something smooth and delicate, and are careful and loving and caress and polish the finished item, often begin with a proceedure as brutal and almost violent as splitting wood with wedges. And yet, for anyone who's done it, it's such an oddly satisfying and enjoyable activity.

I have not had the opportunity or cause to do much, but when I have done, I am often so surprised at the way the timber reacts to the wedges, amazed at how something so strong and seemingly unbreakable can be rendered weak if you find just the right spot and work it just the right way.

Any way, to this end I thought I'd do a little post about splitting. I've already said I've had only limited experience and so am in no way an expert on the matter - barely a novice if truth be told - so I'll simply outline the method I use and that has generally worked for me.

 Here are the basic tools I use: a set of steel wedges; a lump hammer; a medium weight good splitting axe ( I usually use a long handled, 6lb axe but I have lost it in my garage, which gives you just a little incling into how untidy my garage currently is); a beadle - which Julian and I call 'Timmy', as in Timmy Mallet.

I begin by knocking the axe into the log at one end, with the handle facing away from the log so it doesn't get in the way of my first wedge. I appreciate that this little ash log would have been fine just splitting with the axe and doesn't really need the wedge treatment, but just humour me for the purpose of this post - imagine it's considerably bigger. Though when I first started 'playing' with axes I enjoyed the manliness of swinging with all my might and plunging the blade into the wood, it didn't take me long to learn the benefits of calmly placing the cutting egde where I want to split the fibres and simply knocking it in with the beadle. Entirely more civilized!

Once a split begins to open, pop in the first wedge and tap it home with the lump hammer. When I first bought my wedges they were really very blunt and didn't bite into the wood when I needed them to. I appreciate that generally they are used for wedging open an existing fissure, sometimes it's not as simple as that and if the grain is twisted you need to be able hammer the wedges into pristene timber. It was exactly the same when I bought my froe. Needless to say, five minutes on my bench grinder and they work much better.

Then I simply work my way along the log, inserting a new wedge as the split extends. Usually, as you add a new wedge, the previous one works loose enough for you to lift out and reuse. I know that with bigger logs this is not always the case and you would need a number of hardwood wedges as well, in order to have enough to run the length of the log.

I should mention at this point that to me one of the most satisfying parts of splitting with wedges is the gentle sound of straining and tearing fibres as the wedge slowly opens up the split and the fibres creak and crack apart. Again, I know this sounds brutal, but it's essential if you are going to have the splits you need for whatever beautiful thing you are going to make. A saying about making omletts and cracking eggs comes to mind.

And eventually the split extends both vertically and horizontally until you are left with two halves and the grain and substance, the knots, twists and idiosyncracies of the wood are revealed and straight away you can assess what you have and begin planning what you can and can't do with your newly split wood.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Painted Wooden Bowls

I've really been inspired by the work of Jarrod StoneDahl recently and through his blog have been inspired by bowlturner Jim Sannerud. I especially love the painted bowls and my turning is really something that I'd like to work on improving this year. I've recently turned and painted a couple.

I was quite pleased with these, and then I look at Jarrod and Jim's work and I feel depressed. I guess I just need to keep practicing. I used the egg paint that I  mention in this post and have finally managed to source some natural pigment here.

Check out these sites to see the experts:

Jarrod StoneDahl

Jim Sannerud

Christmas Books

I received three books for Christmas and have just finished reading the last of them. I thought I'd share a bit about each of them.

Swedish Carving Techniques

I probably don't need to say anything about this legendary book by Wille Sundqvist, it is considered by many as the Bible of carving woodenware. It is definitely deserving of its reputation, especially the section on different knife grips. It is probably safe to say that it is one of the most sought after books of its type, it's currently available on amazon for £125. I think that at that price there are much cheaper alternatives like Drew Langsner's Green Woodworking and Country Woodcrafts, but I think you can get it cheaper, it's just about persevering. I paid about £35 for it. I just looked regularly on  and eventually it came up at a decent price.

Going with the Grain

One of my goals this year is to make some furniture for my house. I'd love to make a set of chairs, but at the very least I'd like to make a stool with a woven seat. Mike Abbot's latest book gives very clear and detailed instructions on how to make several different projects from a simple stool to a rocking chair. It is packed with colour photos and seems to reduce making greenwood chairs to it's simplest elements. I can't wait to get started on this, the book makes it look very simple, my only criticism is that the method in the book seems to rely very much on the Veritas tenon cutters, which are quite expensive (though I've heard nothing but good reviews of them).

The Anarchists Tool Chest

I've just mentioned that I'd like to have a go at making some furniture this year. The desire to do some traditional joinery has been growing inside of me ever since I saw the marvellous work of Peter Follansbee. This led to me discovering the Woodwright's Shop (a fantastic show about traditional woodworking) and Chris Schwarz. Chris's book The Anarchists Tool Chest has been calling to me for a while now and so it made it to the top of my Christmas list. I was expecting a book about selecting an essential kit of good quality hand tools and making a traditional joiners chest to keep them in. What I got was all of this and a whole lot more. For a start it was quite refreshing to read a woodworking book that was written by someone who is a professional writer as well as a woodworker and as a result of this I found it difficult to put down. What I really enjoyed was the philosophy that goes along with the book. Chris's idea of aesthetic anarchism is something that really speaks to me and so I will definitely be reducing the amount of tools I own, spending more time making things, spending less money on things I don't really need and filling my home with things that I've made rather than the mass produced rubbish that is forced on us.

I'll definitely be posting more about this another time, but until then I would love to recommend Chris's blog Lost Art Press

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Best thing I've made in a while

This post is really a bit of an apology for not posting in a while. I've been a bit busy recently with Christmas and the arrival of my second son Saxon.

All this has given me very little time to actually make stuff, but that's ok, Saxon is definitely the best thing  I've made in a while.

I have got some stuff to post about though and will hopefully get the chance over the next few days. One of the things I want to post about is the books I've been reading the last few weeks and my discovery of Lost Arts Press. 

But that will have to wait.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A small step for man but a giant step for....!!

I am ashamed to admit that, despite carving spoons now for about two years, I have yet to actually use any of my spoons for either cooking or eating. Whenever I give a spoon as a gift I always stress that it is not simply decorative, it can actually be used. What a hypocrite!!

Well, today I lay that ghost to rest. This morning I made porridge using my newest spoon and ate it using a spoon I had made some months ago. It didn't feel at all strange in the mouth. True, the bowl is a little thicker than a conventional metal spoon, but it didn't feel too thick and was smooth and easy to get the food off of with the lips - all in all, just what you'd want from a spoon!

It's hard to make porridge look appetizing, but it was yummy - warm, milky, with maple syrup.

At last I join the ranks of the initiated.

You can read more about the spoon itself on my other blog, fiftytwo spoons, found here: