Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ten minutes getting back to nature.....

I happened to mention on my 52 Spoons blog a few weeks ago that I was short of wood and got a really nice email from Chris, who is a ranger on a local nature reserve, offering me some ash, hazel and birch. I haven't really had much chance or time to go and get some, but it just so happens that it is right next door to an Aldi superstore so, yesterday morning, when I was doing the shopping, I nipped next door to see what they had.

Sure enough, they had been coppicing and laying hedge and so I helped myself to a few pieces of straight ash, a bit of hawthorn and a couple of thin sections of birch.

Though I was only there for ten minutes or so, it was really nice to be out and about. It happens to be a favourite dog walking spot and I got some odd looks from the locals who must have wondered why I was carting an armful of wood to the boot of my car with a bow saw on my back. I did feel a bit conspicuous and furtive (especially after listening to a radio show last week about the increased numbers of people stealing wood from private and public woods in order to keep their wood burning stoves going) and it was one of those situations when I wished someone would actually ask me what I was up to so I could have said, "It's alright, I have permission from the wardens" and feel a little more 'legitimate'.

Anyway, I brought it home and tried to split the hazel first, but it was rotten inside - the texture of wet sand and full of grubs - which is a shame as it looked a nice colour.

So next I split out some of the ash and set about carving a spoon.
Thanks so much to Chris for his kindness - may I never run short of a bit of wood to carve again, amen.

Bowl number 4

I'm starting to think that a bowl a week mitt not have been a great idea. I think it's good for me as it motivates me to get in the workshop and do some turning. But I can see how it's going to be a bit boring for anyone reading this. Oh well, I've started now so you'll have to put up with it.
This one is from sycamore. I've had the log for about 7 months so it was a bit drier than I would have liked, but the result is some mild splaying that gives it what I call a 'sunburst' effect. It's pretty big at 10" diameter and just under 4 1/2" heigh. It will make a superb serving bowl for a big salad, a pasta dish or some bread rolls.

Sorry about the phone pictures previously, I've got the camera sorted now.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bowl no. 3

Sorry again about the poor photo. This is another one in apple, about 8 inches in diameter. I've been away all week in the lake district on an outward bounds trip with school, so it was a matter of getting it done quickly in a small amount of spare time I had yesterday, but I was pleased with the result and I learned a bit about sharpening my tools as well.

The pictures were taken straight after I turned it and the tenon on the base is still there. It's now been taken off with a hatchet and finished with a drawknife. I need to sort my camera situation out for the next bowl.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

More cooking....

I promise I'm not going to make this a regular thing, but just to let you know I can put my money (or spoons) where my mouth is, and that I am actually going to start using my spoons, here are the spoons I used today:
This is where some of my spoons live, on the kitchen windowsill. 

This is one of my 52 spoons, but I never showed it with the decoration on the handle. It's kolrossing with a paste of paprika and water rubbed into it. Unfortunately, it stained the whole handle so I had to rub it back with sand-paper, which actually gave it an older, more vintage look.

We call this simple chicken dish 'Angela Chicken', named after our American friend Angela Jones who taught us how to make it. It's chicken breast, fried in the wok with black pepper, leek, sweet peppers and frozen peas. Add a tub (or two) of low fat cream cheese, a splash of cream and milk to loosen it up a bit, and simmer till chicken is cooked through. A tasty, quick week night meal.

Served on rice, using my 'tortoise shell' serving spoon.

I'm still being a bit precious and rather than leaving the spoons in the washing up bowl, I wiped them straight down with warm soapy water and returned them to the jar.

Someone stage an intervention....

It's official - I'm addicted to spoon carving!
I came in from a really busy week last Friday; I ate and did some school work and was determined to get an early night. Then I made the fatal error of just looking at a few of the blogs I like to follow and, after seeing some of the spoons that other people had been carving I simply couldn't resist the urge to fumble around in the back garden for a bit of wood and, at 11:30, when I was too tired to be trusted with an axe and it was too dark to see which finger I was most likely to loose, I carved this little spoon.

There's nothing particularly special about it - it's carved from ash and is now waiting for some form of decoration on the handle, but it's significant in the fact that it was the one where I had to admit how much I need to carve.

Monday, 13 January 2014

You can't just look at them forever......

The above is a quote from my wife, commenting on the strange relationship I have with the spoons and other kitchen utensils I have carved over the past few years. Whenever I have sold an item I have always stressed it's utility and the fact that it is a practical tool and is made to be used. I have even included a small leaflet with items in the past explaining as much and with care instructions for those who chose to do so. And yet, ironically, paradoxically, hypocritically - call it what you will - I don't actually use them myself. Well, that's not actually true; I have a jar full of spreaders in the kitchen that we all use for butter, jam, chocolate spread etc, and my wife, despite never quite managing to get them the right way round (there is a definite handle end and blade end), claims they are good for a variety of kitchen tasks. I also have a single eating spoon that I have used when out camping. But apart from that, I have a bag of about 100 items that I get out to show friends and visitors who I either think might be interested or who I would like to scare away (and telling someone you carve wooden spoons for fun is as good a way of doing that as any!), and they look at them, turn them over in their hands, compare, contrast, discuss and often even admire them, then I put them away again.

So, thinking it's time I put my money where my mouth is, I decided to take the plunge yesterday and use a pair of silver birch spatulas that I must have carved at least 2 years ago. And they worked really well - not that the job they had to do was rocket-science. You kind of scrape and flip and agitate and that's about it.

So what job did I use them for? What my family call 'stove top stuffing', to be eaten with roast pork loin, potatoes dauphin noir, roast spuds, parsnips and sweet potatoes, Nigella Lawson's cumin seed savoy cabbage and Yorkshire pudding. Delicious!

I know this is not the traditional English way of cooking stuffing, ala up the bird's bum, but it is the way my mum has always done it and the way that is very popular in the States. I grew up in Banbury near Upper Hayford American Air Force base and I suspect Mum got the idea from American friends we met there.

My recipe is simple but effective - 1/2 a packet of regular stuffing mix, the dehydrated kind; add enough boiling water to rehydrate; add roughly torn bread, preferably dry and with seeds or something of a farmhouse nature; add a fairly finely chopped red onion; (I also like finely chopped chorizo, but my kids tell me off for this as they say I put it in everything); add an egg and lastly a glug of cooking oil. Mix together, but try not to break the bread down too much - it needs to stay chunky.

Heat a pan with some more oil. When hot, add the mixture and keep frying and turning the mixture until it is cooked through and the bread bits have gone caramelized and crunchy. My kids love it.

The spatulas performed well, I have lost my spatula virginity, and I look forward to them developing a bit of colour and patina through use.

And on a completely different note, the weather people have been saying for some time now that Britain is in for the coldest winter for a long time, and it hasn't quite materialized yet, though there's plenty of time yet. Anyway, we had our first real frost yesterday - clear blue skies and sunshine too - and while I didn't have the time to go out properly, it all looked really pretty in the garden.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Bowl no. 2

So far so good, two bowls in two weeks. I know that to many that might not sound like a big deal, but with a full time job that doesn't include making bowls and two young children, it can sometimes feel like a mammoth task. Anyway, this is another one in apple, this time painted with blue over white paint.

In truth it was a pig to turn as there was a rather large hidden knot (which you can still see on the rim) which caused a problem in its self but also meant that there was some twisted grain that needed to be dealt with. There is some very subtle carving which I think works well.

As it's quite small (about 7 inches) I wanted to turn it nice and thin. I don't have a strong light behind the lathe, but still managed to see a change in colour as the wall thinned.

Sorry about the poor pictures. My memory card has broken so a phone will have to suffice.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Bowl number 1

Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year. I had a great time, but haven't had much time to do any woodwork. I made a few Christmas presents, a leather wallet for my Dad (sorry  no pics) and this little tool I made for Laura.

It's a button hole chisel for dressmaking and it works a treat if I do say so myself.

One thing I'd really like to do more of in 2014 is bowl turning. I reckon I've turned just over 20 bowls so far over the last three years and having followed Richard's 52 spoons challenge I realise that i'm really just beginning and if I want to get better then I've got to do more. So I'm going to go for a 52 bowls challenge and possibly even more. I reckon that if I' m going to be successful in achieving this then I need to try and be as efficient as possible. It's going to help that my mate Nick is now getting into it and is very proficient with a chainsaw, so he may be able to help me out as getting the log into a blank ready to mount can be quite time consuming. I know that I should probably get a chainsaw myself, but aside from the cost, I don't really like the things, so getting Nick to do my dirty work for me could help. I also ant to spend a bit more time with a pen and paper rather than my usual approach of just seeing how it will turn out.

So for bowl number one I decided to do a few sketches first to give me a better idea of what I wanted to  achieve. This was my first go at turning apple, what a fantastic wood. It was also very fresh (cut that morning). Unfortunately I made a bit of a mistake and failed to clean my tools properly after Nick borrowed them to turn some oak, so the horrible black mess from the reaction of the steel to the tannin in the oak ended up transferring from the tool to my fingers and then on to the bowl. Oh well, it's all part of the learning process.

So that's bowl number one, made from apple and measuring 10.5 inches in diameter. It looks quite chunky in these pictures, the actual wall thickness is about 7mm, which seems about right of a bowl of this size. I think that next time I do one like this I'd really like to make the beads a bit more defined and also smaller.
 Only 51 to go, I just hope I can get enough wood.