it’s not always about woodworking

I have written before about the travelling circus that I take part in. I can never tell who runs it, might be the guy in the white shirt & vest, or the other fellow with the cap & suspenders. One other candidate is the tall one with the bathroom humor. Doesn’t matter whose circus it is, the main thing is there are connections I’ve made over the course of the past many years that transcend woodworking. One of them is Tico Vogt. Last night, I read about Tico’s frightening fall on a hiking trip.


The good news is Tico is going to be all right. I heard from him today and he says things are looking pretty good. It’ll be a while before he’s back in his shop, and longer still til he’s going full-steam, I bet. when I think about something like this, we’re many of us one accident away from really hard times. Tico says he’s OK – but we all could use a hand now & then. So send Tico some healing thoughts, send him a card or an email, buy a shooting board. If you’ve ever met him at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event, you know what a friendly & interesting guy he is. I look forward to seeing him back on the circuit before too long.

Keep on truckin’ Tico.


symmetry schm-metry

I can usually swing with some general symmetry, or “approximate symmetry” as I often call it. This chest of drawers I’ve been building just fooled me, almost knocked me off my feet. I knew it was 2 different designs on the drawer fronts, but for some stupid reason I expected the carving on each drawer front to be symmetrical left-to-right. What was I thinking?

here’s the original – I didn’t even notice how random it is until I began to lay it out today.

full drawer fronts


Here’s a detail of both, one half each.



England 2015

england 1

I’m back from teaching two classes with the New English Workshop. It was my first trip to England to do woodworking, my previous visits had been for furniture study. It’s an amazing place, a rural little island filled with hobbits and badgers and twitchers and train spotters.

The classes were held at two colleges, my first at Warwick College in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Jamie Ward of the College was very helpful and the students there were quite flexible as we worked out the kinks. The first of which was some oak logs that looked like bad firewood. Poor Paul Mayon – he picked me up the first morning, brought me to the school, and we’d known each other for all of 20 minutes when I was telling him that the oak bolts they had were next to useless. Undaunted, Paul trucked off in his typically British tiny car and bought a new section of giant oak (2 really, the 2nd arrived the next day.) installed into Paul’s car with a forklift, I wasn’t sure it would ever come out. Paul’s car was riding low, for a 2-plus hour drive. Meanwhile the students dove in & split what we had so we could get started at least. They were great.

hewing week 1

Our class was at one end of the room, while Tom Fidgen’s was at the other end. It was diffuse porous vs ring porous (cherry v oak) all week. You could hear our shavings hit the floor, while theirs floated down to the bottom.

caught among the ring porous
Tom Fidgen scurrying back to diffuse porous land

Lots of camaraderie in the evenings, we even had a token American who had been traded to the RAF…

Boxes got made, carving patterns all over the place. Tricia was adamant that she would finish her box, I think her first woodworking project.

Tricia got a photo, so that means it must have happened

The English oak,which by habit I kept calling white oak, was different than our white oak. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but it felt lighter weight, a bit softer, and certainly easier to split. Even the better logs had knots in them and we were able to split right through them like I never can in American white oak (Quercia alba)

On the weekend, I met up w Mr & Mrs Underhill of Graham, NC, who were there for Roy to teach week 2 in Leamington. We had dinner one night, then the old switcheroo was scheduled for that Saturday – Paul was bringing Chris Schwarz who had been teaching down in Somerset up to Leamington, then turning around to take me down to Zummerzet so I could do week 2 there at Bridgwater College. A too-short round-table lunch was had by all before we headed south…the only other times Roy, Chris & I had all been together had been WIA events, in which case we never saw each other. Hand tool freaks unite!


Bridgwater also boasted a great & helpful staff…and a group of students who were serious about carved oak. Ringers Jon Bayes and Richard Francis represented England well… I barely had to teach this crew any English terms at all. Like rabbet/”re-bate” or clamp/cramp. The first group insisted that some are clamps, and I insisted that you’re British dammit, call it a cramp.

One thing I was missing was old oak carvings, and the students took care of that. Joel, hewer extroidinaire, scouted out several churches and even arranged for us to get in them after 5 pm…130-odd steps up a circular staircase afforded us a heck of a view of somerset. One pulpit wasn’t oak, I said I wanted my money back. we saw three churches, carved pulpits, bench ends, a chest, and who knows what else. This pulpit is oak:

pulpit 1

Tim came down from County Durham, and lent me binocs and a good bird book…I had a simple little bird guide book with me…I saw some nice birds, some well, some fleeting. This’ll be the only time you’ll hear the word tit on this blog. As in blue tit, long tailed tit, willow tit, etc. I didn’t see a great tit. Then of course the day we drove over/down to Heathrow we saw several kites, much larger than I thought…musta seen 6 of them. No pictures, highway driving…

blue tit 2
juvy blue tit
blue tit
even better, juvy blue tit in oak

I was invited by Robin Wood to be part of Spoonfest, but that would have meant another week & 1/2 away from home. So, another time. Thanks to all who made my trip a success, especially the ones who waited at home. Why did it take me so long to get hip to Skype?

here’s what it looked like each night

More photos here:


thoughts on Independence day, a week or two late

opposing lunettes

Last weekend was the 4th of July. Here in the US, often a big deal. It means little to me, other than noise & traffic. But this year, I did think about Independence some, because it has been just over a year since I left my job. For those new to the blog, for 20 years I had one of the best jobs a woodworker could want – I worked in a living history museum in Plymouth Massachusetts, making reproductions of 17th century furniture. I spent all day, all week in my workshop, talking to folks about what I was making. For various reasons, things there changed, & I struck out on my own. I have been very lucky, with teaching workshops, some custom work, DVDs, the Arts & Mysteries column at Popular Woodworking magazine & other writing – etc to piece together a living without that regular check. But I often get people asking “do I miss it?“

carving begun

Of course I don’t miss the politics/bureaucracy parts of it – that’s what drove me out. But the part with the museum’s visitors I miss a lot. This past year has been full of adjustments, and none of it has been bad, just different. There’s great things about being out on my own. I can’t be fired, for instance. I can fail, but that’s different. And, when I’m home and something comes up, I can take some time to hang out with the kids and do something. When I mapped out the schedule last year, I had no inkling of how disjointed it would be. It’s much harder to maintain any continuity in my woodworking. In the old days, I was supposed to be at my bench day in & day out. I got a ton of stuff done that way!

One reason there’s not much on the blog these days is that there’s not much to show. You don’t want to see how I pack or un-pack from a trip, or how I make a list of what’s to be done before I go off again – and so on. As for bird photos, forget it. I have had no time to chase birds hardly at all, since Alaska & Maine in April/May.


It’s funny, I thought I’d be carving a lot of spoons this year, and I’ve hardly done any. I have had some furniture to make, and more to come. I am grateful to all who have helped me keep going here, students, customers, readers, etc. I appreciate it all. I have not quite solved my “no-real workshop space” but that sounds like it might get resolved. That will make a big difference. I think. But what do I know, I’m new at this.

Next stop – England. They have lots of oak carvings & funny birds there. Maybe I’ll see some.

carved pulpit detail




Bowl carving tools and video update

I wrote a couple of posts about the spoon carving tools I use; axes, knives and hook knives. and

As I have been hewing the tulip poplar bowls, I’ve had some questions about those tools. I’ll show you the tools I use for this work, but I haven’t really concentrated on much bowl carving over the years, so only have a few tools for that work.

The hatchets/axes I use are the same for spoon carving; double-bevels, curved cutting edges. So I’ll skip over those and go right to the adze I use for initial hollowing. It’s made by Hans Karlsson, I got my first one from Country Workshops many years ago & it remains one of their most popular tools.  I just bought this 2nd one this year, knowing that when teaching it would be helpful to have some extra tools for students to try.

new HK adze


Here you see the new (left) and old (right) – I’m not sure the old one was ever as long as the new one is…did I really sharpen away that much metal in 25 years?

HK adzes


A nice new leather guard made by one of my students, Matt Schror, complete with embossed dragon. (if you’re inclined, write Matt about getting one –

leather guard

Then, gouges. I use mostly bent gouges; those that have a long curve in the shank. My garden-variety ones are Swiss-Made, wide mostly, around 1 1/2″ wide. I use two “sweeps”, # 5 & 7. I have one narrow # 5, about 3/4″ wide, to finish off the shapes when the bowl is dry.

bent gouges


The best new gouge I have is one made by Nic Westermann, his “swan neck” gouge. I got mine through Lie-Nielsen. It’s unreal how good Nic’s tools are…

nic's gouge

nic's gouge detail

I sometimes use a few other tools; occasionally a straight-bladed carving gouge, like a wide #5, on the outside of the bowl. In some deep bowls, I have used these gouges, (poorly named “spoon” gouges – though you can’t effectively use them for spoons) – about 3/4″ – 1″ wide. Shallow sweeps, these are clean-up tools.

spoon gouges

When I next indulge in bowl carving tools, it will be some Hans Karlsson gouges that Country Workshops sells. Gotta pay some bills first.

I use wooden mallets. My friend Drew Langsner, who has made so many hewn bowls it’s not funny, uses a steel hammer, with hooped gouges. Mine are two different weights. the larger hickory one is 30 oz., the smaller one is an equally hard unknown wood, and weighs 18 oz. When I need to remove more wood, I pick up the heavier mallet. (the small mallet was given to me by a student, and to my shame, I’ve lost track of who…if you’re reading, chime in, I’d love to give you credit. It’s a nice mallet – UPDATE, Sept 21, 2017: Greg Miller wrote: ”

Gidday Peter. The mystery mallet was made by me. I gave it to you at WIA 2013, when I was on my Green Woodworking odyssey that year. I spent 2 months in the USA specifically to increase my skills in Green Woodworking. I stayed with Roy for 2 weeks and made a shaving horse there from green wood; I did a week of spoon and bowl carving with Drew Langsner, I went to WIA and plugged in to Peter Galbert, Mary May, the Schwarz, you, Roy, and so many more. A life changing experience. I made your mallet from Sugar Gum (Eugalyptus cladocalyx) and took it to the US to present to you, as a thank you gift. I was there because I had been following your blog for 3 years and you inspired me to undertake my Green Wood Odyssey. Again, thanks, Mate. Glad you like it! Greg Miller.” Clears that up. thanks, Greg.)



Bench work I keep pretty simple. On a stout low bench, I use 3 pegs and a wedge to fasten the blank for adze work.

3 pegs & wedge

At the workbench, I added long wooden dogs to hold the shaped bowl for detail work inside & out. A notch on the inside face helps grip the handles.

long dog

Small bowls get blocks stacked inside to grab them in the face vise.

trimming sides of bowl


I have 5 videos out with Lie-Nielsen, two on decorative carving for furniture, one on making an oak framed (wainscot) chest, same for a chair, and the most recent one on spoon carving.

video covers

I shot a new one this spring on making carved oak boxes…with more to come later. Many of you have written & asked about downloading the videos, instead of buying a physical disc. Lie-Nielsen has been working on setting up streaming of their instructional videos, and the first few are now available on their website. They tell me they are re-arranging the website, but right now the video titles are here:

I had been selling the spoon one, but now you can just order any or all from LN…the only one for which I have copies left is the wainscot chair video,