Bowl Turning in the Woods

Last weekend was a busy one with Adrian Lloyd visiting me here at Steward Wood. Ade has been turning bowls on the pole lathe for a little while and wanted to get some different perspectives on the process. He also wanted to turn a couple of porringers and a plate. He had a very nice axe, hand forged by a Swedish smith who’s name I have forgotten. Here he is roughing out the first blank for a standard bowl. We took it in turns to turn the bowl so that I could see how he approaches the different areas and suggest ways which I find work well for me.

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A nice pile of shavings later and it was time to snap the core from the base of the bowl.

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Then it was on to the porringers and again we turned one together to go over the different angles to shape the handles and cut the rim. Ade did a grand job having only attempted one porringer previously. The next day he set about turning one by himself. Here he is shaping the back.

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Then the blank was turned around and the top of the handles were formed and the rim was turned. This is tricky at first and there were a couple of tense moments when the tool dug in and took chunks out of the rim. But it’s all good practice and valuable to learn how to correct it when it all goes wrong. Ade persevered with determination and a Zen-like calm and a good helping of light-hearted humour.

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The smile when it was time to snap the core said it all.

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Ade had brought with him a bag full of bowl turning hook tools forged by various people including Ben Orford, Dave Budd and Nick Westerman. They were all very different and I was keen to try them out. I noticed that compared to the tools I make myself, few of them had much of a swan neck or crank behind the hook. I find the addition of a crank makes it much easier to cut the rim and hollow the inside of the bowl without such a risk of snagging the tool and ruining the rim. Here is one of Nick Westerman’s tools, beautifully made as always. You can see Ade’s bag in the background full of more hooks.

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We sat in the sun after lunch and carved the handles of the porringers. Being a keen spoon carver Ade had no trouble…unlike me who somehow managed to stick my carving knife in to my thumb! Being a gentleman, Ade was polite enough to suppress his laughter.

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A nice trio of turned wooden bowls.

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Before he set off back to Hertfordshire, Ade and I turned a little plate. The only large diameter timber I had was some very green ash. We tried it but the blank warped and split just as we had started to turn it so we used some more sycamore instead.

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It was a great weekend which ended all too soon. Ade is a top bloke who is really passionate about traditional crafts and I look forward to meeting up with him at the bodger’s ball in May.  Cheers Ade.

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Growing Interest in Bowls

Growing Interest in Bowls

It’s been as busy as ever in the woods this winter.  Plenty of trees down as a result of the fierce winds so we’ve been clearing paths and processing firewood as well as holding weekly meetings to discuss our options regarding our planning application which needs to be completed by June this year.  More of that another time… The last few weeks I’ve been running various workshops and courses.  Spoon carving of course, but increasingly there has been interest in bowl turning and hook tool forging.  Most recently I had a visit from a few talented spoon carvers. Jane Mickleborough and her husband Peter came from Brittany and Nigel Leach of Niggleberry Treen travelled from Bristol. They all forged hook tools for bowl turning on Saturday and Peter turned his first ever bowl on the pole lathe on Sunday while Jane and Nigel did some more forging and then some spoon carving.

Here’s Jane happily getting started on her first tool…

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..and Peter…

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..and Nigel… pole_lathe_bowl_turning_&_hook tool_forging_weekend_course (11)

Jane continued forging while Peter and Nigel started grinding bevels on their tools.

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Then they all took it in turns to hammer the tip of their tools in to a hook shape. Jane went first…

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After all that work it’s easy to overheat the fine tip so once it’s been curled, any further heating and shaping needs to be done carefully.  Tip down in to the forge reduces the risk of burning it…

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First the tip is tapped down over the edge of the anvil.

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Then it’s turned around and hammered lightly towards yourself to curl it round.

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Then it’s back in the heat until it glows cherry red before quenching.  Later the tools are tempered.

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Nigel then Peter finished shaping their tools.

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The next day Peter turned his first bowl.  He had never used a pole lathe before and really enjoyed the process.  He knew about roughing out bowl blanks as he does this for his wife Jane who turns bowls.  I was interested in his process for making blanks which is more precise and mathematical than my approach.  He measures out with square and pencil and uses a saw to remove the corners.  I showed him how I do it by eye with just an axe and he had a go, but I suspect he will stick with his way which works nicely for him.  Here he is having nearly turned the back of the bowl.

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And hollowing inside.

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Peter made a good deep bowl with a nice lip just below the rim.

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The end of a good day with a nice first bowl.

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Shortly after Jane, Peter and Nigel had visited I concluded a very nice project with a lovely couple who live on a smallholding.  Jan had contacted me and asked if I could help her and her husband Dave learn to turn bowls on a pole lathe.  They wanted to make their own lathe and forge their own tools too.  So i went to meet them and see what they had in the way of timber on their land for the lathe.  A large alder had blown down next to a stream and it looked just the right size for a bowl lathe.  The only trouble was getting it from where it had fallen to their house.  Dave had a plan to cut it to length and float it down the stream, then winch it out with his land rover.  Amazingly it worked and the next time I visited we got to work converting the log in to a bowl making machine.  Dave used a chainsaw mill to cut a plank for the bed of the lathe and then cut a channel for the head stock and tail stock to move in.

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 Angled holes were drilled for the legs and the end of the log was cut in half for the stocks, then shaped to fit the channel.

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Wedges were shaped to hold the stocks in place and legs were cut to length and carved to slot in to the bed.

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Here’s a photo of Jan and Dave taking photos of their work at the end of a long day.

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The next day was spent forging tools and getting the metal centres ready for the lathe.  We used the same 16mm round bar for the centres and the tools. Here are the centres; the top one is ready for the lathe.  The ends are tapered and hammered in to square section to stop them moving when they are in the lathe. The ends were ground to 60 degree cones.  The bowl blank and mandrel rotate on these so the smoother and more polished the finish on them the better.

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Dave forging his first hook tool.

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Jan making it look easy.

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Then on my last visit it all came together. They had the tools and lathe ready and we roughed out a blank and between them they turned a lovely first bowl.

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Dave got the hang of the technique really fast and quickly turned the back of the bowl.

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Jan took over to turn a nice concave curve in the base of the bowl.  Dave found this more challenging so perhaps they will make the perfect bowl turning team between them!

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Undercutting the core…

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‘Isn’t it my go now?’

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Then the the mandrel and blank come off the lathe.

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A firm grip and the moment of truth…

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…snap…a bowl is born.

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Jan and Dave were right to look so proud of this bowl.  They had started with a fallen tree and a few bits of steel and now have the lathe, tools and skill to make many more bowls.  This really is a very nice first bowl. I will miss going to their place and look forward to seeing them both again at the Bodger’s Ball in May.

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Earlier last month I had a call from David Kuegler. He had turned a bowl with Robin Wood and been bitten by the bug but had hit a wall with certain aspects of the process and wanted some advice.  Unsure at first what I could offer him i asked for a list of things he was struggling with and we worked through each point together.  When I demonstrated ‘pulsing’ the tool through a series of arcs to do the roughing cuts on the back of the bowl, David had a go and said that this alone made all the difference.  I use my body and arm to nudge the tool forward in rhythm with the treadle in a controlled and steady way with a slicing cut. My physical position in relation to the bowl changes constantly as the tool moves around the curve from the base to the rim to maintain the correct angle where the cutting edge meets the wood.  This technique results in a nice smooth finish without the deep gouges and uneven surface associated with random lunges with the tool. This ‘pulsing’ is used in various ways around the bowl, both inside and outside and a variation is used while undercutting the core. It’s one of those things that get’s easier with practice.

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While David used a curved knife to tidy up inside his bowl we discussed tools and forging and he has arranged to visit again to make a set of his own tools, tailored to his own requirements.  I enjoyed his company and his dog enjoyed playing with my new lurcher pup so his next visit is something I’m looking forward to.

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I have several commissions now which need some attention; bowls, plates and spoons and also a few hook tools which is a first for me, sales-wise.  The birds are nesting and the snowdrops and daffodils are up.  Elder coming in to leaf and baby rabbits munching the new herbage in the fields above the woods.  I hope you all enjoy the spring and thanks for hanging in there through these long-winded posts.

Forging hook tools

The thing about pole lathe bowl turning that really interested me when I got started was that the bowl turner must first make their own machine and tools before making a bowl.  Before making my lathe I forged some tools, reasoning that having the tools would be the incentive to hurry up and build a lathe.

I had done some forge-work many moons ago while studying violin making, so much of the process was familiar.  Drawing out a length of steel is fairly simple.  The only aspects which need a little thought are the stages of hardening and tempering.  This isn’t rocket science either, just a case of bringing the steel to certain temperatures and quenching it to fix it a various states of hardness.  When steel is very hard it is brittle and can snap easily, when too soft a cutting edge won’t stay sharp for long.  The idea is to reach a happy balance between these too extremes.

My approach has always been to use what I have to hand.  My set-up for my first few batches of tools was very basic but worked really well. I have recently started using a gas forge which is quick and easy to move/set up, but I made dozens of tools with bricks and charcoal. Here I am a couple of years ago in a garden using a mix of charcoal and coke with a simple arrangements of bricks on the ground.  For my first tools I used old coil springs but found that it was a pain to unwind them, so started buying nice straight bars of 01 tools steel from a supplier in Sheffield.  Works out about £5 per tool.

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The hoover was the bellows; it had a leaf blowing function which was very useful.  I rigged it up to some copper pipe which went under the soil and curved up in a corner of the brick arrangement. I’ve also used hairdryers and they work fine too. I started the fire with charcoal and later added coke, (sunbright singles) to keep it burning for longer.  Charcoal alone is ok but doesn’t last long.  Copper pipe is fine as it’s below the fierce heat and is easily replaced eventually.

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It always amazes me how fast 16mm 01 tool steel heats up to a nice workable orange glow. It’s not worth hitting metal that hasn’t reached this colour.

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 I must confess to having always had a fascination with fire…there’s something about forging metal too…if I’m not careful to remember that I’m doing this so that I can make wooden bowls I may well get distracted and end up abandoning green wood altogether…. become a blacksmith….especially tempting as winter approaches.  I like the way all the elements are brought together…fire, water, air, earth, to create things which allow us to create other things.  Something magical about that, even though it is a very down to earth, practical type of magic.

Below are some tools that have been drawn out, had bevels ground on with angle grinders or belt sanders, then had the tips hammered over and been hardened.  The second picture shows two tools fresh from the grinder, ready to be re-heated and curled.

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Below are some of my finished hooks, hardened and tempered and with handles.  As my skill level on the lathe has increased I’ve been able to use much finer hooks without such a risk of breakage from dig-ins.  These are useful for turning smaller items like quaichs.

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I started making shorter handles too which suit me better than long handles.

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I was asked to run a one day hook tool forging workshop for the Chiltern Association of Pole Lathe Turners.  The day went really well and everyone made some nice tools.  We had two at a time using the forge, taking it in turns to use the anvil.  Below Morris and Jamie are watching their steel heat up in the gas forge.

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Jamie drawing out the round bar in to a nice rectangular shape, ready to hammer bevels on before taking it to the grinder.

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Steve and Larry grinding bevels on with angle grinders and below then Roger doing the same.

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  Once the tips have been curled over, the hooks are polished up with wet and dry paper so that the tempering colours can be seen moving along the steel.

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Here Jamie is curling the tip of a tool.  This can be done with needle-nose pliers or by curling it around a large nail but I prefer to use a hammer.

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The last stage before fitting handles; tempering…

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There are various ways to do this.  Traditionally smiths would quench quickly then take the still hot steel out of the quench and watch the colours run, then quench again.  I find this a bit hit and miss.  It’s possible to temper in an oven, but I always use a gas hob and watch the colours run towards the cutting edge.  When the blade is a light bronze/straw colour I quench.

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The finished tools.

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A lovely group of people at the end of a productive day.  But why am I the only one wearing an apron?

Thanks to Richard Charles for hosting the event and for such a great lunch.

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I am now running workshops on forging hook tools and bowl turning from Steward Wood in Devon, either as individual days or together.  A typical two day course would include forging tools on day one then turning a bowl on the pole lathe on day two.  This is a great way to equip yourself with the tools and basic techniques to get you started.  With the gas forge I can also offer to run these workshops at other locations.   For more info or to book a course get in touch via my website.

Woodlanders

Somehow almost six months have slipped by since my last post.  In that time a lurcher pup has come to share my life and I seem to have found a new home in deepest, darkest Devon on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.  How these things have come to be are something of a mystery to me, but it started with a long drive to Steward Wood in Devon where I was to look after Kate’s low impact dwelling from January until March while she was working in Bristol.  Our arrival at the wood coincided with a few weeks of heavy snow.  This is what our temporary home looked like a few days after we arrived…

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…and this was the communal kitchen and long house that morning….

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I mentioned Steward Wood in a previous post, but to sum up; it’s a 32 acre woodland with an off grid community of people who live on site in low impact dwellings.  Situated on the edge of Dartmoor National Park it’s a wild and rugged and beautiful location.  Living off grid is hard work in many ways, most things take much longer than if all modern conveniences were available.  But living close to nature brings so many moments of delight; encounters with wildlife, beautiful starlit nights and falling alseep to the sound of owls calling…and now that spring is here the dawn chorus echoing round the woods at first light is such a great alarm clock.

Fern and I have known the community for several years so it always feels like returning home whenever we’re there.  So it was music to our ears when a few people asked if we’d like to stay on after the winter.  Fern is doing a post graduate diploma course in Photography at the LCC in London, but will soon be done there and as we’ve been fairly nomadic for probably far too long the thought of having somewhere to settle was most welcome.  So at the start of March, and after a vote from the whole community it was agreed that we’d begin a three month trial with a view to becoming full time residents in the woods. Kate has decided to stay on in Bristol for another year, so we’ll be caretakers of her place until Spring 2014 by which time we’ll have had to sort out some kind of living arrangements of our own.  To say that all of this this has made us happy is quite an understatement.  Kaiya made herself at home right away and seems to be in agreement that it’s a Good Place To Be.  Here she is at about 13 weeks old in a chair she already can’t fit in to anymore…

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I’ll be running most of my future spoon carving workshops from Steward Wood now, with one or two trips to Hertfordshire now and again.  So if the option of camping in a Dartmoor woodland, getting a taste of low impact living and learning to carve spoons is of interest then please get in touch or spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested.

So for the next year we’re going to be dwelling in this little wooden, woodland home.   This is what it looks like now that the snow has melted and the spring has finally arrived…

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It’s very basic, very simple…a woodburner, a tap outside, a tin bath for washing with a kettle and a jug…and a big window with views across the valley to the moor.

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In the winter Owen and Chris worked hard on opening up some of their plot next to the forest garden to allow more light in for the hazel coppice.  While Owen felled some sycamore trees, I helped Chris make a deer proof fence around the bounadry using the brash from the felled sycamore.  She’d been working hard already so much of the boundary was already protected.  In return for my help I recieved a lovely stack of sycamore poles.  Some of this will be made in to spoons and ladles and the rest will be left to mellow for a while before I turn it in to bowls.  The picture above shows me cutting off a piece which I turned straight away in to two bowls. It turned nicely considering how green it was. I’m still working with just hand tools, but realise now with some sadness that I really must invest in a chainsaw.  I’ve got three large larch trees down for my firewood for next winter.  If i was to saw it all in to rounds ready for splitting using just my big hand saw I would have very little time for anything else.  Living off grid is wonderful but very time consuming and I need to allow for time to turn bowls and carve spoons ready for the summer street markets.  Having a chainsaw will not only mean I can keep on top of fire wood processing, but also that I can turn larger diameter bowls in less time as much of the work for me now is taken up with the slow crosscut saw.

I had a visit from a photographer; a recent graduate called Sam Gill.  He contacted me in the winter to tell me about a project he’s doing called Not Made In China.  It’s about people who make things by hand in a traditional way.  He intends to make timelapse movies of lots of different people who work with their hands.  He stayed for three days and shot lots of pictures then edited them to make a short movie of me turning a bowl and carving a spoon. Below are some stills from the sequence, including the picture above of me sawing the end off the sycamore log.

The first cut with the axe….

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…removes the corner to begin shaping the half log to a rough bowl shape ready for the lathe.

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Once the bowl is roughed out with the axe I hammer in the drive shaft or ‘mandrel’ and I turn the back of the bowl.

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Once the outside is done I reverse the mandrel in the lathe and hollow out the inside. The shavings pile up on the bed of the lathe…

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The final cuts are with a curved knife to remove the excess wood where the core was snapped out from the inside and where the metal centre was located on the base of the bowl.

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As you can see I now have an indoor space to work on the lathe.  Until very recently all my work was done under a tarp in a wood.

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Sam is keen to make timelapse movies of various traditional crafts..his website is www.samgillphotography.co.uk so if you are a maker then get in touch with him.

I was over the moon to learn that Sean Hellman lives and works just a short distance from Steward Wood.  Sean is a highly skilled craftsman and a thoroughly nice guy. My friend Ollie needed to have his axe re-ground and knowing that Sean is a bit of an axe junkie with various grinding wheels I made a phone call and a few days later we arrived at his workshop where we were treated to a viewing of some wonderful tools and numerous craft items made by Sean, all of which had us practically drooling and in awe of his skill.  Ollie got the lowdown on axe care from Sean and left with a masterfully re-gound axe. Sean couldn’t resist showing off his latest axe; a lovely 4lb Elwell…

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…and Ollie listened carefully as Sean explained the finer points of honing an axe…

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Back at the ranch lots of community members have expressed an interest in having a go on the bowl lathe.  Chris took some time out from looking after her goats and from tending the forest garden to turn a bowl.  She made it look easy considering she’d never used a pole lathe before.

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I had two visitors from Singapore over the winter.  They had seen a video of a spoon carver on the internet and decided that during a visit to England they would like to learn to carve a spoon.  They were a lovely couple and my first International students!  I wonder if I’ll ever have anyone else travel so far to spend a day learning how to carve spoons!?

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On the subject of spoons…there has been a lovely project started recently by an online group of spoon carving enthusiasts…’The First International Secret Spoon Swap’.  The idea was to get loads of ‘spoon nerds’ to agree to carve a spoon for someone in the group and post it off as a gift.  No one would know who was going to send them a spoon until it arrived.  There were first time carvers and very talented veterans like Fritioff Runhall involved; over 100 people got involved.  I carved the sycamore spoon below and posted it off in the hope that it would be used and appreciated by Lee who was to be it’s new owner.  It felt great to send off a spoon in this way, in the spirit of sharing freely with other carvers with a similar passion for working with wood in it’s natural state.

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A few days later a parcel arrived in the post with a spoon and a letter from Leo Wirtz who had carved me a really lovely cherry spoon, made from a piece of radially split cherry from Wiltshire.  Every time I use it I appreciate the work that went in to it and smile to myself; the idea of a spoon swap is just so nice.  World peace could well be in the hands of the spoon carvers! Here’s a photo of the spoon from Leo…

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Thanks Leo.

I’ll finish this post with a few photos of a couple of hours spent with some of the young residents of Steward Wood.  This is Asha, a natural whittler carving her first wood elves.  Wood elves are a great project for kids, just a few simple cuts are required.  Asha enjoyed making them so much that she made a basket full and when I set up a stall a week later at a local food festival I had them all out for sale beside my bowls and spoons.  Needless to say she sold every single one of them and the look of pride on her face each time she received her payment from a customer was just magic.  Well done Asha!

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I’d like to thank Richard Dyson for first telling me about wood elves and if anyone else is interested there is an online tutorial which I can forward on via email.

Finally some pics of a few recent bits I’ve made; a couple of beech plates, some little turned cups, one of which has some milk paint added, a selection of bowls, some cherry, some sycamore and few spoons too…

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Stool from oak

A good friend commissioned me to make a stool.  He wanted it to fit in a small space under a desk and he wanted it made from oak.  I happened to have some green oak logs for the legs and stretchers but nothing suitable for the seat.  So I asked Richard Charles, our Chiltern APT organiser if he had any bits left over from when he made his beautiful green oak framed workshop.

Richard happens to be a font of knowledge and experience  when it comes to making chairs and seats.  He not only offered to donate a perfect piece of well seasoned oak for the stool seat, but also kindly offered to work on the project with me.  As I’d never made a stool before I jumped at the opportunity.  We met at his lovely workshop, heated by a woodburning stove.DSCN3593

My first task was to split the green oak log with wedges in to four quarters.  Next I used an axe to rough shape the legs and stretchers then moved on to the shave horse and draw knife to get almost to the finished shape and size.  The parts were then left near the woodburner for a few weeks to dry fully before being further refined.  I discussed with Andy the choice of turned or drawknife finished legs.  I prefer the look of the tooled finish from the knife and the rough-hewn appearance of legs that are not turned.  Andy Agreed so that’s the way we went.

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There was a fair bit of calculation of angles involved.  We used one of Richards award winning stools as a template to get the splay of the legs which we then used on the oak stool.

In the picture below Richard is starting to rough out the shape of the seat with a carving gouge and wooden mallet.

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Pretty soon we had the componet parts roughed out.

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It was interesting to me to learn how Richard measures the length required for the stretchers.  He takes two bits of wood, fits them in to the drilled holes on the legs then forces them apart, until the legs are put under sufficient tension.  At this point a pencil line is drawn across the middle of the two bits of wood where they overlap.  When the two pieces are laid on the table and positioned with the pencil line in place a measurment can be taken for the stretcher.  Simple but very clever.  I never would have thought of that myself!

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Then the components were refined to fit perfectly together and it was just a case of assembly.

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Here you can see the oak stool, just oiled in front, with the stool behind that we used as a guide, and the lovely beams in Richard’s workshop which he made himself and which is made from the same oak as the seat of the stool.

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Glistening oak seat after first oiling…

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I learned a great deal and had a lot of fun making this with Richard.  I’m deeply grateful to him for sharing his experience with me and his kind offer to guide me through the process.  I’m also graterful to my good friend Andy who suggested the idea and had faith enough in me to commission the stool, knowing full well that I’d never made one before.  I take off my hat and my head to both of you. DSCN3955

The finished stool in the winter sunlight.

Courses 2012/2013

end of day

The above photo was taken at the end of the last spoon carving course I ran in  2012.  By October I’ve usually finished teaching for the year, but Steve, a woodland owner/worker in nearby Wendover wanted to book a course for his partner Annie as a birthday gift, so I made an exception.  They invited some friends along too.  It was a high-spirited, throroughly enjoyable day.

Steve told me recently that they’d all got together again in his wood and spent the day making tripod-style chopping blocks like the ones I use on my courses. They’ve also bought spoon knives, carving knives and axes and have made sharpening blocks using the wet and dry paper method I showed them and have since been enjoying carving spoons at home.  I love hearing from people who’ve spent a day with me that they have been well and truly bitten by the bug and that the skills they take away with them enable them to go on and practise the craft on their own.

Here they are starting the axe work, carving out a spoon blank from some freshly cut hazel.

focused axe work

And here’s Steve using the axe to carve close to the line around the back of the bowl where the shoulders meet the neck of the spoon.  I like this chopping block design; the raised section provides a very useful, stable rest helping to make the axe work a little easier and also safer to some extent, especially for people new to carving.  Another benefit is that the axe doesn’t bite in to end grain if it hits the block the way it does when using a chopping block made with the log on it’s end.

Steve loved the axe work

2012 was a good year for me with a steady stream of people coming on courses from March through to October.  Mostly they were people I met while selling at markets, but some also through word of mouth.  I had a set number of course dates on my website but ended up doing more on days which suited some people better.  This year I will again be happy to accomodate people at other times through the year (whenever I’m able to).

It makes me glad to be able to pass on these old ways of working with wood in the hope that others will get as much pleasure from the craft as I do.  A great craftsman once told me that we all owe so much to some very clever people who developed these techniques in the dim and distant past. I like that spirit of humility among greenwood workers.   It’s not so important to me that people leave with a really well made spoon. In one day that is not realistic for someone new to carving.   What matters to me are the little ‘aha!’ moments that people have; a subtle difference in the way the tool is held or a slight shift in position when suddenly a technique ‘works’ the way it should. Helping someone discover that is a feeling hard to describe. There’s a smile all of a sudden and a nodding of the head…something which only a moment ago was out of reach has suddenly been grasped.  I know how it feels to make those connections and it’s a joy to see others find the same sense of satisfaction. Then begins the life-long journey of working to perfect it!

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When a course is over I’m always happily exhausted.  It’s 100% focus all day to ensure everyone is working safely, that I’m explaining things in a way that people understand, that things are moving along at the correct pace..and somehow with so much going on we always seem to thoroughly enjoy ourselves as well.

This year, as well as my usual course venue in Hertfordshire I’m also running two spoon carving days in Devon.  One with the Steward Wood Community,  a two day event which is now fully booked, and also a one day beginner’s course at the Bulworthy Project on 25th May. (They featured on the ‘Tales from the Wildwood’ series on TV recently…an inspiring couple who have made their home in a beautiful woodland, managing the wood and running a charcoal burning business as well as courses.  See the info on their website here.)

I’m looking forward to another year of courses and meeting new ‘spooners’ in the spring, but first there’s a winter of making things and low-impact living at Steward Wood in deepest, darkest Devon.  In a few days I’ll set off on the long drive in an old landrover, heavily laden with a heavy bowl-lathe and cherry logs for turning…just when ‘arctic conditions’ are apparently going to descend upon us here in the UK…

I’ll wrap this up now with a few testimonials from some of the people who came on courses this year. It’s so nice to get emails from people a few days after a course.

I had a nice email from Georgina Cope who booked a day for her family.  She came with her Father, Brother and Boyfriend. Her Dad and Brother both had some experience with carving but almost all the Sewdish axe and knife techniques were new to them.   Georgina kindly sent me a link to her blog.  There’s some nice photo’s of the day they spent with me and a little write up.  See it here

”We really do use the spoons we made on the day and the spoons we made after everyday, my one, the rather ‘robust’ one, is used every morning for making the porridge.  Wood is just so much nicer than metal or plastic!” – Georgina Cope

”I really enjoyed yesterday – thank you for making the day so relaxed and informative. The family’s very impressed with my first spoon!” – Paul Taylor

”Thank you for a really enjoyable and interesting day” – Andy White

”Thank you so much for Saturday. We both really enjoyed the day, and are really thrilled with the spoons we produced. We have been proudly showing them off to anyone we can find! We have already started looking into getting some tools so we can try on our own (bearing in mind all the safety aspects you instilled into us of course)”. – Caroline Sullivan

”You’ll be pleased to know that, as I write this, Annie is sitting by the wood-burner and working away at another spoon! She has been setting up her sharpening equipment too, so she is very excited by the joy of such sharp tools.” Steve Roberts

And last but by no means least; some spontaneous, verbal feedback…from the last course I ran…Annie’s son, Joe Shepard, looked up from his carving towards the end of the day and exclaimed, ‘Today has been a whittler’s wet dream!”

lots of tea

For course info please go to the courses page on my website here

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Steward Wood

I can’t believe it was almost two months ago that I was in Devon, helping with the Steward Wood 2012 Permaculture Development Course.  I first visited the Steward Wood community in 2006 with Fern.  We’d set off in our battered old converted van on a magical adventure round the west country and had intended to go WWOOFing at various places to get a taste of low impact living. Steward Wood was our first stop and we loved the place and the people so much that we’ve been back ever since, at least once a year to visit them. Check out their website and if you get the chance go and visit them. It’s such an inspiring place.

The Permaculture Development Course is two weeks long and they often have volunteers to help. I arrived with my little case of spices from North and South India, ready to cook up some of my favourite curries.  There’s all sorts of things that need doing to keep the course running smoothly and keep the staff and participants happy.  Firewood needs splitting daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner cooking, plus for heating the bathhouse.  Veg needs to be washed, peeled and chopped and carried up the track in wheelbarrows.  An axe handle broke one day so I borrowed a shave horse and got to work with some ash to make a new one.  The shave horse hadn’t been used for a while and the legs had dissapeared so I improvised with some chairs.

By the end of the course the handle had dried enough so I tapped it home with a seasoned ash wedge.

All the cooking is done on wood fires, much of it outside either on the fire pit or on rocket stoves, but we also used an Arga in the communal kitchen.  Cooking for twenty or thirty people is always a bit tricky when you’re usually cooking for one or two, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.  The communal meals are always really nice; organic veg and nice conversation.

I was on a shift with Seth one night so we did our usual belly-busting curry.  I did a few South Indian curries; bannana curry, coconut curry, spicy tomato curry and a potato curry and Seth did his speciality..onion bhajis - the size of cornish pasties, and popadoms. Here he is with Ash, one of his three sons, finishing off a massive round of popadoms.

The group on the course were all really nice and it was good to work hard to fill their bellies every day.

I did have some time off during the two weeks so was able to carve some spoons and went collecting Alder with Dan from a woodland nearby.  I also found the time to join one of the course modules, led by Son and Becky.  It was a session called ‘The Healing Hedgerow’ and of interest to me because I love to forage and use wild plants when I can.  Son and Becky have spent many years living in the woods, using the plants to cure family and friends for many ailements.  They run courses themselves and make healing salves, tinctures and teas for sale.  We started in the glade…

…and after an introduction from Becky, (left), and Son, (Right), we set of to learn about the many plants that grow around us and the many uses they have.

We had time to hear about a dozen or so plants and what they have to offer the hedgerow herbalist before heading back to the glade for a summary.  Three books were recommended as good reading for anyone wanting to learn more…

Son very kindly gave me a tincture for coughs and colds and an antibacterial salve, both made from wild plants growing around their settlement area.  Very good medicine it is too.

Son’s daughter Daisy was on the staff rota this year and I was on a couple of shifts with her and her Mum.  She makes a great mustard salad dressing and a wonderful roux to thicken a sauce for mushroom stroganoff…and after the shift she introduced me to what may well be the next must-have fashion accessory.  Well, a hoody just isn’t complete without a sharp-toothed, albino ferret…

I should point out that food prep and ferret were most certainly not combined!

One of the volunteers was a great guy called John, who’s parents just so happen to live a short distance from Roger’s Wood in Hertfordshire where my lathe is set up.  So a week or so after the Permaculture course John came to visit.  He’d always wanted to turn a bowl on a pole lathe.  He roughed out a blank from a cherry log, and then proceeded to turn his first greenwood bowl.  Here he is in action..

He enjoyed the experience very much and I look forward to another visit at some point in time.  I love to see other people discover the simple pleasure of working with wood using traditional tools and techniques.  There really is nothing else like it.

To conclude on my visit to Devon I will introduce another of the full-time residents; the lovely Kate.  Here she is in customary full-on laughter mode…

Kate suggested a few of us go to the sea one afternoon so off we went for a swim at a secluded cove near East Prawl.  It was the Equinox and all manner of strange things happened that day, which I needen’t go in to here.  Suffice to say that just as the day was a balance of equal day and night, so we all shared a balance of wonderful highs and rather unsettling lows.  The day ended well though and I slept like a log in my little tent after the very cold swim and the journey back to the wood.

Come January 2013 I’ll be heading back to Devon to look after Kate’s home at Steward Wood for a couple of months while she is visiting friends in Bristol.  Because she’s going to be away this winter, Kate wants someone to keep the woodburner ticking over and very kindly asked me if I’d like to house sit for her until March.  So I’ll be taking my lathe and turning bowls through the short, dark days and I really can’t wait to back there.  I’m very grateful to Kate for the invitation and to all the community members for agreeing to the idea.  I just hope the old landrover will make the journey fully loaded with lathe and a winter-worth of bowl turning timber…