Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A little bit of teaching...

I haven't been feeling terribly well over the past couple of days, a stinking cold with runny nose, cough and temperature. So yesterday I spent most of the day in bed feeling sorry for myself. Until my wife came and asked if I would get up for an hour or so to do something with my 14 year old nephew, Connor, who is staying with his Nana for the summer and had come over to play with my 9 year old. She was afraid that he was beginning to get bored of Jude and 9 year old type games and as I know he has the regular boys' interest in knives and axes, I thought he might enjoy a spot of spoon carving.

I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to practise teaching spoon carving to someone who hadn't done it before.

It was good fun. I think Connor enjoyed himself - he produced a cracking spoon, albeit with a little help from me. In fact that was the hardest thing for me, to let him try the different techniques and steps that I showed him, sometimes struggling to get it quite right, and to resist the temptation to do things for him.

Splitting off some waste from the sides

Shaping the profile of the bowl

The finished spoon

And here's the one I did to demonstrate to him as we went along...

As an aside, I have also made a simple mask for my new Nic Westermann axe. I am very fortunate to have quite a bit of leather at the moment as my good friend Roger is the shoe designer for Ted Baker and he often gives me samples that he has had for shoes. This is football leather with a dimpled texture. I have also been looking at duffle coat toggle fastenings so thought I would try and incorporate one here.
The textured leather looks a bit like shark skin

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Craftsmanship of Risk

A while back, I think it was on an episode of The Woodwright's Shop with Roy Underhill, I heard working with hand tools referred to as 'craftsmanship of risk'. A bit of quick googleing brought up that it was a statement coined by the famous British woodworker David Pye. This is an idea that I can really relate to and unfortunately I am still at a stage when any piece I make is more at risk of failure then it should be. What I really mean by this is that with many pieces, be it a bowl, a spoon or anything else, I reach a point where I think "I should probably stop now before I mess it up" rather than "this is finished now and I am happy with the result". I have no doubt that this will change in time, but as a hobbyist woodworker, I just don't create the quantities that will get me to that stage any time soon.

After posting a picture of my porringer on the Bodgers forum  I received some constructive criticism. My porringer is a really good example of the "I'd better stop now" approach. Because it was my first attempt and also because I'd given more thought to the process than to the design of the piece, I think I stopped too soon and there are a few things that I wish I'd have done better. When turning a bowl you really do declare a piece finished, and it then becomes almost impossible to remount it an make refinements. So with some of my porringer problems it's just too late, but i did make a few adjustments. Having read the comments on the Bodgers forum and also looking at some more pictures of Robin Wood's porringers, I decided to carve the area between the handles so that it is flush with the turned sections of the bowls. I also made the bevelled edges of the handles a bit more pronounced.

I decided that the base of the bowl was thicker than I would like and so took a risk and decided to chop off about 5mm using a hatchet. I then smoothed the base using a drawknife.

There are still a few imperfections, but I guess they can serve me as a reminder to make sure that a piece is finished and that with this kind of craftsmanship you have to take a risk.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


I've always loved the look of the wooden porringers made by Robin Wood, so I decided to have a go at making one. It was a lot of fun trying to work out the process. I made a few mistakes, but I guess that is the way that you learn.

It turned out ok, but it was a terrible piece of wood with several hidden knots. both handles have cracks in them. I think that one is due to a knot in it, but reckon that the other one is because of checking in the end grain of the log. Without the handles I don't think that it would have been a problem, but with the extra material needed for them, I don't think the log was long enough. It will still be useable though, as long as the cracks don't get any bigger, fingers crossed.

Monday, 22 July 2013

What is it.....?

This is the question that has been asked by anyone who has seen this most recent bit of carving, and the answer is....well, I don't really know. I wanted to do some whittling and had seen some lovely containers on Sean Helman's most recent post and thought I might have a go at something like that.

He calls his needle cases and I'm guessing, though I can't be sure due to there being nothing to reference them against in the photo, that his are somewhat smaller than mine - and I hasten to add more delicate. I guess ultimately mine was just a bit of fun.

wooden needle cases Sean Hellman
Sean's rather wonderful needle cases
The first one I tried, I carved the outside shape first, then tried to drill out the centre using a flate spade bit in an electric drill with it held in a bench vice. Suffice it to say, I ended up drilling through the wall of the box, which split in the process anyway. Those spade bits just can't handle green wood. A complete and utter waste of time.

This second one I roughed first, then drilled out with an auger (I thought I would have more control using this - plus it always amazes me just how efficiently it works), held in my trusty leg vice (.99p from ebay).
I love this vice and though it is old and weighs a ton, I use it a lot when making spoons. I bought it originally with the intention of fixing it to the side of my portable chopping stump but when I realised how huge it was, thought I would wait to attatch it to something more permanent, but haven't gotten round to it yet.

Then I carved the outside and painted with acrylic paints.

It was not the easiest carving I've ever done - in fact it was hard wood and hard carving. The star was a beggar and then under-cutting it to do the ball, without snapping it off, was the devil of a job. My fingers were pretty chewed up by the time I'd finished and I still don't really know what it is!

I guess I really should ask Sean for the size and method used on his cases.

New axe, and some carving....

When my colleagues gave me a very generous leaving gift of some money I knew right away what I wanted - a new axe. I have several smaller axes, and really only use one of these for carving, but have been aware for a while that I don't have anything a bit bigger, good for large amounts of wood removal, for bowl blanks, etc.

So, which should I go for?  Didn't have a bottomless pit of money and I know that some of these carving axes can be quite expensive. I asked Julian for his recommendations, based on the axes he has or has had, and I decided that my number one choice would be a Stefan Ronqvist, only to discover that they are  alost imposible to actually get hold of. So, choice number two: either a Hans Karlsson or the good old Gransfor carving axe with the Sundqvist red beech handle? The more I thought about it the more I felt sure I wanted the Gransfors - I know these are fairly common, and I'd seen plenty of them at Spoonfest last year and really liked the look of them.

Then Julian texted me to say he had heard that Nic Westermann had some nice carving axe heads available and that I should think about perhaps getting one of them. His logic was this: Gransfors axes are nice, but will always be available; Nic's hand forged heads are one-offs and don't always come up. So, I contacted Nic, chose the one I wanted and waited anxiously for it to arrive. And it did, this Saturday, and what a beauty it is.

New Nic Westermann carving axe with all seven layers of packaging - it is sooo sharp, I guess you can't be too careful sending something like this throught the post.

£100 plus £4 postage - a bargain if ever I saw one.

With new oak handle. I wasn't completely happy with the finished shape - more curve than on the ones I had seen on these heads. Then I got impatient and broke a section off the heel of the handle whilst knocking it on with a beadle. I know it should slide effortlessly on, but after the hundredth time of trying the head, doesn't quite fit, knock it off again and shave a little more off and try again and repeat ad infinitum, I got a little impatient. I guess I'll replace it eventually.

Thought I'd try it out on a spoon. If I'm honest, the extra weight, handle length and extreme sharpness frighten me a little. Despite that, it carves amazingly well, and with great precission and detail when necessary. Look how close I was able to carve to my pencil line.

Close-up of pencil line in case you couldn't quite see it in the last picture.

Roughed out entirely using new axe - and I still have all my fingers.

And the finished article...

It was the back of the design for this spoon that I particulary liked.

The spoon design is inspired by one that I saw on this blog:
I only wish I could understand what it says. Anyway, I saw this picture

and loved the shape of the spoon on the far left and thought I'd give it a go. I wish I'd had some wood with a bit more colour or pattern on it - perhaps mine will colour up with time.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Wait ages for one, then three come at once (well six actually)

I mentioned in a previous post my delight at finding an old style mortice chisel. I'd looked for one for ages at the boot sale I go to most Saturdays. Well it seems like they're coming out of the woodwork now. I picked up the other two a couple of weeks ago. The biggest one is an absolute beast, almost a full inch. Then last week I picked up these three.

The one has a broken handle and the two unhandled ones are the same size as one of my others, but I couldn't resist them considering how long I'd waited. The main reason I wanted this type of mortice chisel is that they are the type used in Peter Follansbee and Jennie Alexander's excellent book Make a Joint Stool from a Tree. It really is a beautiful book crammed with colour photographs. Even if you don't plan on making a joint stool, but have an interest in traditional woodwork, I would recommend it.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Long Hot Summer...

Let's hope so. Certainly not a bad start, the weather recently has been fantastic. We spent the weekend near London visiting some friends, but I still had the opportunity to sit in their garden and finish off a spoon.

We hadn't seen our friends in about two years and it was great to catch up. We took them a little gift of some hand carved kitchen ware.

I've just packed this next bowl up ready to send to my friend Simon Hill. Simon is an excellent green woodworker. He also runs courses and supplies some great tools from makers like Gransfors, Svante Djarv and Hans Karlsson. Check out his blog and his tool shop.

In exchange for the bowl Simon sent me this lovely little engraving knife by Magnus Sundelin. You can buy the knives from his shop. I look forward to giving it a try and I'll no doubt put a review on here.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Axe helves....

Julian and I had been asked about the possibility of running some greenwood workshops at a private wood in Leicestershire, where they are beginning to develop an outdoor centre. In preparation for this, in order to ensure we have tools enough, Julian has given me four of his carboot axe heads that needed sharpening and rehandling.

I began with the two kent pattern heads. I didn't clean them up any (perhaps I'll get a wire brush on them - I always do things in the wrong order) but sharpened them at the weekend until they are shave-sharp - in other words sharp enough to shave a patch of hair from my leg - not sure if this is a traditional method of testing sharpness, but it works for me - so long as I'm not intending to wear shorts.

This week I made a couple of smple handles out of kiln dried oak - off cuts that my friend Dave gave me, from his neighbour who is a kitchen builder - prifile cut on the bandsaw at work then chamfered and finished with a knife.

They feel pretty good in the hand and I think I'll give them a try-out on a spoon this weekend.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

From log to bowl

Laura's brother is visiting with us from London at the moment (he came up to see The Kings of Leon with us, they were fantastic). I think that Laura had made a picnic style lunch using several of my wooden bowls, so when I got home from work this evening her brother asked if I would make one for him. So considering that he had shown an interest, I decided to make it this evening, so that he could see the process. It's not the best bowl I've ever turned, but I enjoyed the challenge of making it as quickly as I could. I also enjoyed the fact that he could see the whole process, from splitting the log to carving my initials in the base. The coolest thing is that he will use it as an eating bowl.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

I nice bit of wood.....

Some time ago, probably a couple of years ago, Ju gave me a slab of oak burr that he had picked up from a car-boot. It has since sat in my shed waiting to have some attention lavished upon it.

One of the first projects I undertook was making my own knife, and I have made several since, using both bought blades and ones I have made myself from old file blades. Knowing that I would like to make some more over the summer I thought I should get the oak burr cut into usable sections and so took it into school where Pete, the design technician, very kindly battoned it on the circular saw.

I knew it had lots of cracks and irregularities, but hoped there would be enough good stuff to use - I was very pleased with the results.

There are a lot of cracks, but I think if I fill them with epoxy resin, they should be absolutely fine, and look actually very good with lots of character. So, watch this space for some new knives with snazzy oak handles.