Wednesday, 31 December 2014

One that got away....

I'd meant to include this spoon in my last post but forgot.

It's nothing special - a birch serving spoon - but there is something about it I love.

As you can see, it's not carved from regular green birch, which is generally quite blonde wood, but from a piece of spalted birch. Spalting is an effect caused, usually in dead wood (though not always) by the colonization of fungi which causes irregular colour changes and patternation of the timber. It can cause weakness in the wood but, as you can see from the zoning lines and colours of the spoon, it's worth making the effort with in order to get something a little different.

This spoon was particularly hard to carve as in places it was a bit punky and brittle - the thing I can best compare it to are those white firelighter blocks that snap and crumble.

What I love most about the spoon is how parts of it - the bits that are a toffee kind of colour - go completely translucent when held up to light - it's as if the wood has begun to turn to amber.

You can see the translucence a little on the bowl and handle - you can get the same effect by carving the spoon thinly, but this is actually quite a chunky spoon, but still quite see-through.

Some Christmas carving...

It's been a really busy school term and I haven't really had too much time for carving, so I was glad when we broke up for Christmas and I was able to dabble a little. I have to admit, I'm a little bit rusty, so it was particularly good to remind myself just how much I enjoy carving.

I came home one day to discover a friend from my last school had dropped round a bag with some sections of yew in - not a wood I get much opportunity to carve. There was one piece that was a natural spoon crook and so I thought it might make a nice gift to say thanks for the wood.

It was enjoyable to carve, not too hard or fibrous, and I just love the stark contrast between the dark heartwood and the light sap wood. I don't generally sand my spoons but I couldn't resist with this one and the dark grain came up like a horse chestnut.

The pattern on the handle is in two parts - the darker lines are carved (a thin sliver of wood removed) whilst the lighter lines are kolrossed or scored.
I just love that rich grain pattern.
I also had a nice natural crook in young ash so thought I'd make a cooking spoon that followed the grain of the wood. From the front it looks like a fairly regular spoon.

I've mentioned many times before how I prefer the aesthetics of a cranked, or curved, spoon.....

 ....but this one went a little too far, I think. It works a bit more like a shovel than a spoon - good for a croupier maybe?

On Monday two of my brothers, Ju and Eden, came over and we did some carving together. It was frosty outside, the wood pile was crusted with ice....

...and I had to defrost my chopping block with a kettle of boiling water as I was afraid the ice would chip the edge of my axe.

I'm not going to say too much about our day as Ju took photos so I'm expecting he will post. Ju brought a huge block of willow with him - He'd intended to turn a bowl from it but noticed a knot so thought it would be better billeted for spoons. We split it and there were knots and swirls all through the grain, so not really ideal at all. One piece, however, seemed to lend itself to carving into a spoon, so I thought i'd give it a go.

I probably shouldn't have risked it, with all the knots and crazy grain.

The crank of the bowl follows the grain of the wood.

A crazy knot in the middle of the bowl, but with a razor sharp knife and some very careful carving and it all turned out ok.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spooncarving Course

It's been a while since I posted on here, so I thought I'd put some pics up of a spoon carving course we did recently. I'm not sure who the first person to say this was (I think it might have been Barn Carder), but I've heard someone refer to spoon carving  as the gateway drug of greenwood working. That's certainly how it was for me and it's exciting to think that we're introducing people to this kind of  thing.
Dave getting used to the axe
Our students for the day were David and Jane, a great couple that picked things up very quickly. It was particularly satisfying watching them gain confidence with the axe as they were both a little bit cautious at first (understandably).
Richard helping Jane with some of the knife grasps
The weather was terrible so we took over Richard's kitchen for the day. This meant that we could smell the lovely sausage and lentil lunch that Richard had made for us mixed in with the smell of the green wood.
Pointing out some of the elements of spoon design
Jane is an illustrator and has recently been working on a couple of books by Ben Law. I loved the drawings that she made to accompany her notes.

Time flew by and it was a bit of a rush towards the end, but they both managed to finish their spoons and also took some wood with them to complete the set.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A day of carving contrasts.....

I haven't really done much carving over the past few months - any of you who work in schools will understand, that first half-term back is pretty hectic and so when I've had the time, I haven't really had the energy.

During the half term holidays I went with my wife and two youngest to Prestatyn, North Wales for 5 days in a caravan at a Haven Holidays camp site. It's not something we've ever done before, but it was one of those holidays vouchers-in-The Sun-for-£9-which-once-you've-added-all-the-non optional-extras-actually-costs-you-considerably-more type holidays so we thought we'd give it a try as we had very little to loose. To cut a long story short, whilst I had a blast being with my family, playing Boggle, learning to play Backgammon and eating Reeses Pieces which were only a pound a packet at the Poundshop, it wasn't really our cup of tea and I can't see us doing a holiday camp type holiday again.....but.....

Whilst I am not a fan of storms so powerful they do damage and endanger lives, the silver lining to such events for the greenwood carver is the bounty of wood we can sometimes pick up as a by-product. When hurricane Gonzalo came a-calling on the Monday night of our stay in Prestatyn, I awoke to the sound, irresistible to all carvers, of a chainsaw working near by.

I jumped up, dressed and went out to find that a willow tree, one of the many scattered around the site, had been dislodged, its roots cracking a water main in the process, and the guys responsible for maintenance around the place were taking it down in order to stop the gushing.

When I asked if there was any chance of snagging a few pieces of wood (I couldn't take too much as my wife was insisting we take the children back home with us again) a very pleasant man named Josh (he of the chainsaw in the picture) said he would be happy to give me some wood and to come back in the morning when they had had time to mend the water issue and he would be cutting up the tree.

We chatted for a while and it turned out that Josh was himself a greenwood worker, making adzed bowls and some spoons and that he was a friend of Nic Westermann's and often struck for him when he was demonstrating. What a small world! We talked tools and wood for a while, before he needed to get back to work, but when I came back in the morning, not only had he set me aside some good sections of straight-grained wood, but had brought with him from home a green Hornbeam crook to have a go at carving. What a nice man!

So I came home with good memories and some wood - what could be better?

So, last weekend I sat down to rough out a few spoons and what a day of contrasts it turned out to be: on the one hand I had the Hornbeam - hard, close-grained, smooth as alabaster when you carve it but liberal with the blisters and leaving your knife in need of regular stropping; and on the other I had some spalted birch, almost on the turn and definitely past its best, fairly punky, soft as butter though more likely to 'snap-out' than shave but with a beautiful stripy patternation. And so I made myself a couple of spoons.

I'm looking forward to putting decoration of some sort on the Hornbeam as it should carve very crisply - perhaps some lettering.

spoons in various stage of incompletion - work for another day

Monday, 20 October 2014

Birch Bark Boxes

I'm a big fan of Birch bark boxes. I've made a few of them, but it's not always easy to get decent bark here in the UK. I probably need to try a bit harder. I bought the marvellous book by Vladimir Yarish, which is inspirational, with fantastic colour photographs throughout. It's worth buying just for that, but it also contains step by step instructions on how to make a variety of containers and other objects (including shoes) from birch bark. Jarrod Stonedahl put a picture of a lovely antique tobacco box on his blog a while back.

One of the great things about this object is that it's quite small and therefore doesn't require a lot of bark. So I decided to have a go at making one. If you click on the picture, you can just about make out the stamped decoration.

It turns out that I had enough bark for two so I made another, this time with a bit of extra decoration inspired by Vladimir's book.

Today I visited the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and saw a fantastic example of a similar style. It's pretty dark and I only had my phone for pictures, so apologies for the poor quality.

More about the Pitt Rivers Museum later.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Elvaston Woodland Festival

Yesterday we enjoyed a lovely sunny day in the beautiful setting of the Elvaston Woodland Festival. This is the first time that we've attended this particular show and it is definitely something special. The event takes place in the grounds of Elvaston Castle and the demonstrators are scattered around the parks and woodland. It's also free entrance, which means that the local dog walkers attended for their usual saturday exercise, but could come and check out the stands as well.

Richard warming up after a cold night's camping
 This is perhaps one of the elements that I found most interesting and enjoyable as there were lots of people there that hadn't come specifically for the event, therefore you have an opportunity to reach out to an entirely different audience. We were demonstrating spoon carving and you could tell that some people were perplexed by the very idea of using wooden bowls and spoons and were even more surprised to see someone making them with an axe.

Testing out the goods with my breakfast
Unfortunately Richard had to leave at midday, which meant that I didn't get an opportunity to take a walk around to see the other demonstrators. So I'm afraid the pictures are all of me and Richard posing around our stand. Robin Wood was there with his lathe and Steve Tomlin was displaying the wooden ladders that had been made on a course at the same venue the week before the festival. It was also nice to meet some of the members of the East Midlands Bodgers Group.

My new workshop apron (made by Laura) featuring a handy axe loop
A little bit of whittling
Making stop cuts on the biggest spoon in the world

Monday, 15 September 2014

Old Spoon Carving Article

I'm an avid reader of Chris Schwarz's blog at Lost Art Press. Check out his most recent offering on wooden spoons here.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bark Sheaths

Most of my carving tools are kept in a roll, but I like to give them a sheath in order to protect the blade better and prevent them from cutting through the canvas roll. The sheaths are all made from birch bark. It is a technique I first learned from Del Stubb's website Pinewood Forge. The next time I saw this kind of sheath was on Jarrod Stonedahl's blog. He showed some old ones with a slightly different style.

I was also lucky to be able to do a course on making them with Jarrod at the first Spoonfest in 2012. They are very straight forward to make and effective too. Birch bark is the most common material, but other materials can also be used. The first ones I made were with cardboard from a cereal box. Today I decided to have a go using Willow bark as it is easier to get hold of in the right thickness here in the UK.

You don't need much in the way of equipment. Just a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and a ruler.

Cut a strip of bark that is a little wider than the blade of the knife it will fit and four times as long. Fold the strip in half and then fold each end in to meet the middle. I've never had to do it with Birch bark, but i found it necessary to soak the Willow bark first.

When you flatten the strip back out it should now be in four roughly equal sections.

Make a cut lengthways along the middle of the two centre sections. This will be the outside of the sheath. Don't cut the end sections as these will be on the inside of the sheath.

You now need a thin strip of bark about twice the length of the original strip. this will be used to wrap around the sheath. Begin by tucking it in-between the outside and the inside of one side of the sheath.

You then proceed to wrap it around the sheath, weaving in and out of the cut portion. At this point I realised that it is quite difficult to describe this process in words, so I decided to do a short video of this stage.

So there you have it. hopefully that all makes sense. The Willow bark worked well and I'm sure there are other alternatives too. There are lots of variations you can try as well. I'm now going to experiment with using food dyes to colour the different strips.