Bowl turning is a huge part of woodworking and there’s lots of ways to do it, but my favorite approach is with green wood, a pole lathe and hook tools. I have dabbled in it for years, following the work of Robin Wood in the UK and Roger Abrahamson here in the US. But for Greenwood Fest, we’ve got someone who really knows it. We are excited to have a great bowl turner from England, Owen Thomas, come join us. Owen & I not yet met, but have several mutual friends and I’ve been watching Owen’s work on the web for quite a while.
Here’s his blurb
“Owen has been a woodworking professional for the past 10 years. Around 6 years ago, he discovered the world of green woodworking and pole lathe turning. Since then, he has applied himself to building his skills and improving his knowledge and techniques. He is now one of the small handful of professional pole lathe bowl turners in the UK and one of the only turners in the world to use the nesting technique on the pole lathe. Aside from producing bowls and spoons for sale, he regularly demonstrates and teaches at woodworking events, including the annual Spoonfest in the UK.” and his website here www.owenthomaswoodcraft.com and https://instagram.com/owenthomaswoodcraft/
I grabbed another piece off his website:
“I have been lucky to have worked with and learned from some of the renowned masters of woodworking in the world. On my journey I have lived in Mike Abbotts chair making workshop, apprenticed with Barn The Spoon at a spoon carving shop in London and learned to make my own tools from Robin Wood in a workshop on the Pennine Way.”
One thing in particular about Owen’s work is his nests of bowls. These are a set that he cuts from one large blank. Rather than turn the whole interior into shavings, he cuts a successively smaller bowls from the inside of a larger bowl. This might not seem like much, but think about this – he’s using a bent tool to go in and cut the outside of one, and the inside of the larger bowl, which means much of the time he can’t see what’s happening. I don’t know about you, but I tend to be able to see what I’m cutting when I work wood. He also makes beautiful spoons. He’ll be doing some bowl turning and hopefully some forging of the specialized hook tools he uses. And I bet he’ll carve a spoon or two. How can he resist?
here’s a feature about his work, note the bird songs as he works away at his lathe. No wonder I like him!
Here’s the Plymouth CRAFT site, we’ll have some details about Greenwood Fest before too long. It will all be announced here, there & everywhere. http://plymouthcraft.org/
I used to make baskets a lot, often a dozen at a time. Now, I tinker with them. I wish I had more time for them, they are something that really connects with me. I think I’m happiest making things to put stuff it, baskets, chests, boxes. Hmm, a theme. But the baskets – the scraps are godawful unruly. After sorting & weaving two baskets, there’s still scraps.
Pounding ash splints is so much work, I hate to throw any of it away. So I tend to save as much as I can, thinking – “well, I can make a smaller basket with the scraps.” Sure. But, I had a shelf full of bits & pieces, and was able to soak the material enough to unravel it, then sort it by width, thickness & length. Some goes for the uprights – these are heavier thickness, slightly wider. Thinner narrow stuff for the horizontal weavers. I wove one round bottom basket, and one rectangular basket. These will be the basic models the students will look at next weekend when I teach a 2-day class with Plymouth CRAFT. But I’ve been looking at lots of examples in preparation.
One thing basket makers know is “over one, under one” – that’s the most basic weaving when you are winding the body of the basket. But, to get that weaving to work, you need an odd number of uprights. Or some forethought. One way around it is to use an individual weaver for each row. So row one is over one, under one. Row 2 is under one, over one. and they alternate each row. This can be quite effective, a lot of Native baskets in New England are done this way. You can alternate wide & narrow weavers for very striking effects this way. But, it can be slow, and there can be some waste, when you have some longer weavers that you need to cut down to size. Here’s a couple of mine done that way.
A Native one we saw at Harvard’s Peabody Museum – made here in Southeastern New England:
Using a continuous weaver means you need the odd number of uprights. Here I used the most common method to create the odd uprights – I split (halved w scissors really) one upright, you can see it on the front side of this basket (2nd from left) – once you do that, you can just weave a spiral all around the basket, and each successive row will alternate from the previous row. Overlap a new weaver as the old one runs out, and keep on going. You need to taper the end of the weaver near the top edge of the basket, because the weaving is spiraling up the basket.
Some don’t like to split an upright. You can intentionally put a skip in the over one/under one, and go over 2, then shift this “over 2” one upright over each time around the basket. This creates a spiral winding around the body of the basket. some call this a “twill” but I think of a twill as when you weave the whole basket with over 2, under 2 and skip a step all around. Another day perhaps.
Another technique I learned was in the book Shaker Baskets by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor. The Shakers would start the weaving with a piece that laid in beside the uprights, then turned to become the first weaver. So one end of it acts like the odd upright, then when the weaving makes the first trip around, it weaves over itself. Then keep going. This is the one I use most often in square or rectangular baskets, in round ones, I split an upright. Hard to see in this photo, but there’s a very narrow upright right on the corner, that comes down and turns to our left to become the first actual weaver. There’s a single weaver that makes one trip around before it, just to confuse you.
OK, we’ re starting in on the huge task of arranging and organizing the Greenwood Fest that I mentioned the other day. If you missed that announcement, the dates are Jun 10-12, 2016 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We’re not ready with a website, etc, but it’s a program put on by Plymouth CRAFT http://plymouthcraft.org/ You’ll hear lots more about it as we get it together.
We’re lining up what I think is a group of great instructors. I picked them based on one simple notion – I’d like to learn from them. I figure if I’d like it, so would other green woodworkers. We can’t invite everyone I want, and I can’t give you the whole lowdown yet. But one goody-two shoes was quicker out of the gate than the others, so we can show you some of Dave Fisher’s stuff. Here’s his blurb, and if you haven’t seen his website or blog, you’re missing something great. This is a rare opportunity to study with Dave, and explore his ideas about bowls and other green woodwork.
“For the past twenty years, Dave Fisher has explored many aspects of wood carving and green woodworking. A dozen years ago, inspired by traditional Scandinavian forms as well as other cultures, he began concentrating on carving bowls from green logs. Since then, he has carved many bowls in a wide variety of woods and forms, continually learning and refining his methods for designing and carving bowls from green wood with hand tools. Dave has shared his experience through demonstrations, tutorials, and through his website and blog which can be viewed atdavidffisher.com anddavidffisherblog.wordpress.com, respectively.”
Dave could teach the whole thing by himself, but then there’d be nothing for the rest of us to do. So from time to time, I’ll profile the others involved. I’m thrilled that Dave is willing to come to New England to work with us on this. You will be too.
While trying to catch up on a few things, I noticed this on their Facebook page:
Plymouth CRAFT created an event: June 10-12, 2016: Greenwood Fest
Paula Marcoux included a little snippet, in effect just trying to get you aware of the dates. Then meanwhile, you’ll have to take our word for it that it will be worth your time.
“Three days of hands-on learning, with a dreamteam of international instructors, in a beautiful piney woods camp setting. Okay, so we don’t even have a website up for this event yet, but it’s time to mark your calendars. Much more coming soon.”
I’ll let you know more when things are ready, should be pretty soon. Worth the wait…
24 just doesn’t seem to be enough. Here’s some things un-finished around here.
This little box is most significant for what is it not:
a. NOT English, b. NOT oak, c. NOT 17th century, d. NOT rabbeted & nailed. It’s from a detour I took here: http://digitaltmuseum.se/search?query=l%C3%A5da – but it’s made from leftover Alaska yellow cedar. But that’s as far as I got when I had to put it down for some paying work…still needs its bottom boards, and a drawer.
More of the yellow cedar – this time a mixed metaphor – a spoon rack based on some I’ve seen (in photos) from the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area, carved with 17th century New England patterns in wood from British Columbia/Alaska area. Needs some oil finish, and some spoons.
Both these got shelved for the walnut carving job I have on the bench these days – here’s the newest panel from that project. 5 done, 4 more to go, plus a few extra bits. But I’m off for Indiana this week, teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, where I hear the soft serve ice cream is legendary.
and of course, I just spent 2 weeks w Jogge Sundqvist, so I’m overloaded with inspiration – and have a bunch of spoons underway.
When I get back Oct 24, I’m home for the rest of the year. I’ll be teaching two classes with the Plymouth CRAFT crowd – basketry and spoon carving. Here’s their latest offerings – not just the woodsy stuff, but others too.
Our local inspiration was Pret Woodburn’s gate at the Harlow House:
Great clear red oak logs (thanks Michael D) – we had almost no waste at all. Could have used every split, but got picky..
One objective was to get the hang of the riving & steering of a split with the froe & brake.
The drawknife is a simple tool to learn, but then to get the real technique down takes some practice:
Sometimes there’s people you don’t want to have sharp tools. Pret’s work was well-burnished (it’s a joke – he had just finished his 60-minute shaving horse, and I asked him to show me how it worked, but that wasn’t a drawknife in his hands…)
Boring the holes to start the mortises.
Thankfully, I can project my voice, because I had to yell across the yard to Matt, “the block plane is not the tool to trim the rails…get a hatchet”
One of the many hurdles, test fitted. Laying out the braces.
The moody-shot, complete with old-timey cooperage.
I was all for posing on our hands & knees, but the general consensus was we’d not be able to get up again.
After the class at Lie-Nielsen with Jogge Sundqvist, I got an email from my friend Bryan MacIntyre. It was something I knew I wanted to tackle, but it took some time to sift through. Here’s the bulk of it:
“I’d like to start a larger dialogue about tradition…. Essentially Jogge recited his TED Talk, as requested, towards the ends of the Q&A… He talked about the four walls he’s aware of while he’s working: the materials, the tools/tool skills, tradition, and other people. (I’ve tried looking for the YouTube version now and can’t find it again… (PF – yup, it seems to be gone for now. Jogge was trying to see what’s the story)
I have been able to identify with all but one; the wall of tradition. Since we, as modern woodworking Americans, may not have knowledge to create objects such as the wooden spoon, knife, bowl, or distaff handed down from generation… How do we define our tradition? What object do we connect with if we haven’t been around it our entire lives?
So I’m asking how do you define your tradition wall? What do you look at as tradition, while you’re creating your furniture, wooden ware, houses…etc? What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?”
To which I say “well, look – a can of worms! Let’s open it.”
I’d say it’s generally true that modern American (& probably others too) woodworkers are part of what I call a “broken” tradition, in that the continuous link from one craft generation to the next died out. For various reasons, some through a general drift away from agricultural basis to a more urban setting; mechanization of woodworking – which led to a dumbing-down of processes (and a poorer product, when you think furniture), a cultural shift away from a small economy to a larger one, advertising – other reasons too.
But I am not sure that this is restricted to America. In fact, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t by any means restricted there. Starting with Sweden, because this question stemmed from the workshop we just had with Jogge Sundqvist, I look at his father’s work, and think that Wille set out to teach his knife & axe work because in his lifetime (the past 90 years) he saw those agriculturally-based hand-woodworking skills disappearing in Sweden. This trajectory is well-covered in the DVD about Wille’s career called The Spoon, the Bowl & the Knife.
In England,I think about Robin Wood http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/the-craft/ wanting to learn bowl-turning on a pole lathe – and he had to learn it by studying George Lailey’s tools and lathe, and then piecing together parts of the story from various sources and lots of trial & error. George was already dead.
In America, my “green woodworking” started with ladderback chairmaking, taught by John (Jennie) Alexander, an urban hobbyist woodworker who set out to find out how “old” chairs were made…JA found few surviving chairmakers to learn from, but pieced together bits of the story here & there. So I think in some cases, the tradition was either broken, or nearly broken, and then revived. The skills part of the tradition, that is.
The tradition of having & using these “folk” forms – hmm. that’s another whole angle, too. When Bryan asks “What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?” for me it’s the 17th century style joinery that’s my specialty. I started studying this oak furniture back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and have continually worked at it. It really spoke to me for several reasons – the simplicity of the mortise & tenon work, the frame & panel – these techniques and forms are timeless really. But also, in a personal way, all the pieces I studied were made within 60 miles of where I have lived all my life.
All of this rumination gets wrapped up in other views, angles and outlooks too. It touches on why I work the way I do, hand-tools, and mostly using wood riven from the log rather than sawn. (I do use sawn wood regularly, but almost always as a supplemental, or secondary wood in furniture). The “why” there is simple. I like it. It’s how I want to spend my day. Working with machinery doesn’t have any appeal to me whatsoever. I watched a TED talk the other day, some guy using terms like “craftsmanship”, “hand-made”, “technology” and all kinds of other buzzwords that left me shaking my head. He & I were from different planets altogether. HIs idea of handmade & mine are quite far apart. Likewise, technology. I understand that languages are fluid things, and words’ meanings change, but when I hear people talk about “technology” today, I think electronics. To me, technology is using tools. Like hammers. I get that this computer I’m writing with is a tool, but calling all these related gadgets technology leaves out the axe, the knife, the plane – hmm.
This weekend Rick McKee & I will help a new group of students learn the age-old technology of riving wood, and shaving it with a drawknife.
It’s one of our offerings with the group Plymouth CRAFT, http://plymouthcraft.org/ a small cadre of folks dedicated to teaching various skills at making things in many crafts. Our woodsy bits are part of what Jarrod Stone-Dahl calls the Wood Culture Renaissance. I like Jarrod’s philosophy. http://woodspirithandcraft.com/ It reminds me of a short essay written back in 1960, by one of my inspirations in hand-tool woodworking, Daniel O’Hagan. I met Daniel in the mid-1980s and he is directly responsible for me getting rid of my “power” (i.e. electric) tools.
Back in 1960, Daniel wrote: “Slowly, imperceptibly, the handcraft revolution is coming. More and more people will find the inexpressible joy in making things from start to finish with simple tools, simple materials, and being content to live simply while doing it.”
When you see this little yurt. After Jogge’s class, a small group of friends made a special trip out to Bill Coperthwaite’s place called Dickinsons Reach in Maine. If you aren’t familiar with Bill’s work, his book A Handmade Life is one of my favorite pieces of inspiration. But Bill was more complicated than a book of course.
It’s a nice long walk through the woods to his place, and once you’re there, you have a lot to see.
In this case, the connections were a big part of what interested me. It was Bill who connected Jogge’s father, Wille Sundqvist, with Drew and Louise Langsner back in the mid-1970s. That eventually gave the Langsners the idea of starting a series of workshops in woodworking that continue to this day as Country Workshops. www.countryworkshops.org
Our semi-host was Peter Lamb who worked closely with Bill for many years, so knew the ins & outs of the place far better than any of the rest of us. I had visited a few times, Drew had been there once, over 35 years ago.
We poked around a bit, Jogge & Louise fixed an excellent supper, and the next day we explored around, talked of crafts, Bill, the various connections and ideas that were floating around. It was quite a time. some photos:
This one I stole from Jogge (sorry…) – a pattern Bill made of one of Wille’s spoons. It’s not really the best way to make a spoon, but Bill was trying to record some of the features…
I went out & walked for 2 hours the next morning.
Showed Jogge this great birch bark bucket…lashed in bark too.
Little things like this carved bird really caught my eye. Simple and beautiful.
I saw lots of birds outside, but only photographed these two in the main yurt. This bowl is from Siberia.
This shave is for hollowing bowls. Jogge thought it was Swedish.
I know these knives were some of Bill’s favorite forms. Not sure if these are from his Alaska travels or not…
Masashi Kutsuwa, Follansbee, Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Peter Lamb. Louise was out looking for somewhere to swim.
Last weekend was the class Jogge Sundqvist taught at Lie-Nielsen. I managed to stick my nose into it, but did almost no woodwork. Instead, I listened carefully, and tried to get around and see all the students as they worked. I failed in that regard, but there were too many interesting people there!
As always, it was great being there for Jogge’s class. His techniques and skills are extraordinary, but so is his outlook on craft and all its significance. I wish this class had been longer, but I still wouldn’t have seen it all. The class wasn’t about making a spoon, or this or that – but about techniques and the whole outlook Jogge uses in his sloyd work. Reading the trees, and seeing what’s inside them…that sort of thing.
Here. you see what a dull teacher he is, as Geoff Chapman busts open a birch section.
We had great weather, so got to have much of our work outside behind the toolworks. Roy Underhill had sharpened this saw for the LN Open House, so we put it to good use.
Really, Jogge is great & all that – but Kenneth, get up off your knees. It’s not like that!
The class made butter spreaders…I forget whose these are. They aren’t mine, that’s for sure. I started two and am not even sure where they are at this point. They’re great for practicing knife techniques.
The other “project”was a decorative distaff, one of the fittings for a linen wheel. Jogge showed us some historical examples that displayed a great array of decoration. To me, they looked like turned things made square…here, Masashi, Kenneth & Eric are looking one over & discussing its features.
When lining up an auger bit for boring, Jogge suggests getting a photographer to help you sight the angles…(I wasn’t the only one – there were about 4 of us at the same angle)
On the 2nd day of class, Drew & Louise Langsner showed up, having come up to Maine ahead of Drew’s class there the following weekend..here they are meeting Dave Fisher.
Dave and Eric Goodson both wrote about the class also –