I’m new at this & now I remember how it feels


I took a couple half-days this week to explore a craft I know almost nothing about. Some years ago I had bought a birch “cannister” from Jarrod Stone Dahl. I had seen his work on his website & blog and really admired it. Here’s one of his, from his website http://woodspirithandcraft.com/


Last year we met for the first time when I went out to North House Folk School – http://www.northhouse.org/ I was there to take a class with Robin Wood on bowl turning, but Jarrod couldn’t let the birch bark go to waste, so he peeled some of the logs before we made bowls outta them. I knew the principal, but had never seen the act before. Amazing material. 

jarrod peels fast 2

One evening, he gave me a quick 20-minute crash course in making the finger joints on these ancestors to the Shaker oval boxes. A gift of some bark, (and some I bought on the web somewhere) and then – where’s the time to explore this? Along came Christmas – perfect.

It’s probably good for someone who teaches crafts to undertake a new one now & then. Some of the mistakes I made were just plain stupid, especially the 2nd time I made them! I finally made a pattern – not to use like a template, but just to help visualize the relationship between the female & male ends of these joints.

first cuts

The only thing I had ever made like these were hoops for Swiss-style cooperage with Drew Langsner, and that was a long time ago. This past fall, I had a chance to examine a very nice example of birch bark work when a group of us visited Dickinsons Reach, formerly the home of Bill Coperthwaite. The best guess is that it’s Russian work.

russian birch work3

Mine of course have flaws many beginners exhibit, but I pulled my usual “distract them with decoration” – employing my horror vacui nearly to its fullest.  The Russian one here has its rims lashed with strips of birch bark, some are done with spruce root. I have neither of these suitable, so I might substitute hickory bark, when I next get time to work on something like this. 

Here, I have test-wrapped one end around, to scribe where I will make the cuts for the tabs…


Said tabs, and some scribed and punched decoration.

trimmed tabs

Here’s test-fit – the inner sleeve needs to be thinned so it will overlap with less bulk. But it’s just sprung in there for now, so I can pull it out & finish it. The finger joints are OK, but not great. More beginner problems…this one’s about 6″ in diameter and about 8″ high.

inner sleeve

Jarrod did a tutorial on his blog once http://woodspirithandcraft.com/blog/2014/01/birch-bark-box-tutorial.html?rq=birch If you aren’t familiar with his work, these days the best place to find him is Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/jarrodstonedahl/   To learn more about this work, see the book Celebrating Birch, but by far the best reference is Vladimir Yarish’s Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark.



lunch-time bowl carving

I want to be David Fisher when I grow up – well, not really; but I really like Dave’s stuff. We met briefly when he & his family visited my shop at Plimoth once…and I look at his website whenever I get a chance, to see what’s new. http://davidffisher.com/home

At lunch the other day, I borrowed the artisan’s woodshop at the museum, and started hewing out a small bowl from birch. I had split it at home, and used my large hewing hatchet to form the rough top & bottom faces. Then at the shop, I got out my adze, and hollowed the inside first. 


Then started in hewing the sides. 


I only had a medium-sized gouge with me, so got the inside generally formed. Here, my left fingers are hugging the outside of the bowl, guiding the gouge. My thumb keeps the bevel in place, the movement comes from low in my body, with both forearms pressed against my sides. Fun stuff. 

gouge posture

 Then lunch hour was up & time to get back to work.