How to Read, by an Oak-snob

I’ve been slow to add stuff to the blog here. Time to correct some of that. Today’s chore is splitting up some leftover bits of oak, and some newly dropped-off bits. Here’s how I read these, and how I decide what to split from a few different bolts. the first one is an old one, been split & hanging around a long time, over a year I’d say. It was given to me about 2 months ago. Free wood is sometimes not worth it. this is one of those cases. Note how the radial plane is cupped. This isn’t from drying, it’s the way the tree grew. The medullary rays curve from the center of the tree to the bark. So if I want wide flat stuff from this, I have my work cut out for me. What I do with such a piece of wood depends on several things: what I need at the time, how much effort I want to put into it, and how much other wood I have around. These days, wood is in pretty good supply, time much less so. Thus, I want to get the best piece I can from this as quickly as possible.

The ruler shows how “un-flat” the split is.

The piece was 26″ long, but with the checking at each end, I expect to get about 22″ length out of it. Just right for a joined stool stile (leg). So I opted to split a 2″x 2″ square out from right below the sapwood. First split with the froe gets off the inner twisted bits.

Next I split off the sapwood & bark. Surprise, the sapwood sheared off across the grain. Usually a log that has been around this long has punky rotten sapwood – I expect that. But to shear off like that means there’s something underneath…

And there was – some deformity curving the grain near one end. So didn’t get my 2″ x 2″ x 22″ stile. The resulting piece could be a ladderback chair front post (something I want to build, but have no time for right now. I’ve made parts for 3 of them so far this fall.) or the leg to a workbench out in the yard. I already have maybe 4 of those benches. On to the next split.

This one’s big & fresh. Just came in yesterday. Bark looks good. Very wide bolt, maybe 12″ or more.

But a big knot creating disturbed grain all around it, the full bottom third or more.

I always am working between getting the biggest piece (widest) I can, or getting the best piece of wood I can. Usually I want the best one. Which in this case, is much narrower than what I first expected from a section like this. See the ruler here, the best (straightest, flattest, least-work) piece is from the 10″ mark to 15″. So that’s what I split.

 

Now the distorted stuff is isolated in the right-hand section, destined for firewood.

Then I further split the remaining stuff into four thin boards for carved boxes, or narrow panels for the sides of some chests. Once I don’t think about where they came from, these are excellent clear, straight boards. This is a case of free wood that is worth it.

One of the older bits looked promising: wide, maybe 7″ or more. 24″ long.

But when I sighted down its length, lots of twist from one end to the other. I didn’t shoot it well enough, but you can generally read the twist down at the far end. Its right hand corner is high, as is the left corner nearest us. Means some hewing before planing. Not fatal, but maybe there’s better wood out here.

Yup. Fresh too. (that means easier to work…) Shorter, but wider.

When I scooch down and sight its radial plane, dead flat! That’s the stuff I’m after…

Gonna have lunch and find some more like this one.

 

Want to learn more about how to read these logs – Plymouth CRAFT has a weekend class coming up that’s just the ticket.  https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

Riving, hewing, drawknife work. Me, Rick McKee ( https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/  and https://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/  ) and our friend Pret Woodburn will show you all we know about opening oak logs and what to do with them.

 

 

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mostly birds, back to wooden stuff next week

I’ve been back & forth lately. Maine, here, North Carolina – now here, then Martha’s Vineyard. Then here for a few weeks. Here’s some non-woodsy shots, mostly. This flock of shorebirds wheeled & spun – moments later Marie & I spotted a peregrine falcon bearing down on them. I love how they turn this way & that – and the color changes. this is the backs of these birds:

This is the same flock a split-split second later, from the fronts/bellies. So when you get to see this, it’s light/dark/light/dark until they land again to feed some more.

Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) silhouetted against the water.

Those were at Plymouth beach. We went to Maine to see the Common Ground fair – took the kids for a walk one evening. The ocean is always the best place for playing – no place we go is more consistently engaging.

This is an island reached by a causeway. Lots of driftwood, which we don’t see at Plymouth much. Daniel peeked inside. I noted what happened to this log – the growth rings are separating completely. Some mad twist too.

Spoons growing everywhere. No cutting allowed though…

Back at Plymouth Beach, stretching is important. This is, I think, a Laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

And we hit the beach just right to see a bunch of migrating butterflies – many were monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus)

Earlier, at home, found this cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) under the bird feeders one day.

and a rare moment when the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) was quiet and still.

Our friend Rick DeWolf has been infected with the horror vacuii – and made this gate to keep his dog in (or out, I forget which). Despite being able to make this, Rick is still coming to our hurdle-making class later this month. A couple of spaces left. there will be no carving though. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

Plymouth CRAFT workshop in October

With Greenwood Fest taking center stage in the Plymouth CRAFT calendar, there is an understandable quiet period in the summer, just after the Fest. But now autumn is here, and we’re back at it. Along with Pret Woodburn and Rick McKee, I’ll be teaching a 2-day class; Riving & Hurdlemaking Weekend in late October; https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

An alternative name for this class could be froe, hatchet and drawknife. But even that leaves bits out. Here’s Rick using the riving brake to shave pieces with the drawknife…

This class is an excellent introduction to the ancient method of riving your work-pieces directly from a log, and using simple edge tools to produce your stock for a project. In our case, it’s a garden fence called a “hurdle.” When I first started green woodworking, these were the methods I learned to make ladderback chairs. The 2-day format precludes us making a chair, hence the hurdles.

The workshop takes place outside of Pinecones, part of the Pinewoods Dance Camp where we hold our Greenwood Fest in the spring. The link above tells the details, you can opt to stay at Pinewoods in one of the cabins – it’s a great setting.

We’ll cover the structure of the wood, why we split it this way & that. How to shave it, hew it – the proper shapes of the various tools and equipment like shaving horses, riving brakes, etc. Lots to cover, and a real eye-opener to many who think wood comes from the store or lumberyard.

Here’s a group shot with the nearly-finished hurdles…

 

There’s other classes coming up in the fall and into the winter. Spoon carving, German holiday baking & more. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/

 

September spoons for sale

 

 

 

I’ll be updating my workshop-teaching schedule soon with some Plymouth CRAFT classes and looking toward next year (we’ve started planning Greenwood Fest already!) In the meantime, I have a few spoons (and one bowl) for sale this time – if you’d like one, just leave a comment and we can take it from there; paypal or check is fine either way. Woods this time are birch, cherry & walnut. All carved with hatchet, knife and hook knife. Finished with food-grade flax oil. Prices include shipping in US. Elsewhere additional charge for shipping. Click the images to enlarge. Thanks for you interest, if you have questions just leave a comment or send an email.

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Sept spoon 01; black birch.  – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 2 3/4″
$85

 

———————–

Sept spoon 02; black birch,

L: 10 1/2″   W:  2 5/8″
$85

 

——————

Sept spoon 03; black birch

L:  10 3/4″  W:  2 1/2″
$85

—————

Sept spoon 04, – SOLD

L: 12″   W: 2 7/8″
$95

 

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Sept spoon 05 – SOLD

L:  11 1/2″   W: 2 3/4″
$85

—————

Aug spoon 01 –  SOLD

this one was my favorite from last time. Didn’t get picked. Might be the price tag…but this is as good a spoon as I can make. cherry, crook. This spoon blank left me with a very long, narrow bowl. Overall a long spoon. Great crook shape, I couldn’t resist.

L: 13 7/8″   W:  2 1/8″
$125

———————-

Sept spoon 06 – SOLD

Walnut. I’ve been riving up some walnut for joined stools, and got some bits here & there to try for spoons. Radially split.

L:  10 1/2″  W:  2 3/4″
$85

———————

Sept spoon 07, walnut (see above)  – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 2 7/8″
$85

————–

Sept spoon 08; walnut – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 3″
$85

——————

large cherry crook – SOLD

The last of these over-sized cherry crooks.

L: 13″  W:  4″
$150

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The cherry bird bowl. I have more of these underway, but won’t get to them for months now – I have a lot of furniture work ahead of me. The bird bowls come from great curved crooks.

L: 15″  H: (at front) 7 1/4″
$500

 

Barn the Spoon

I’m working on getting Barn the Spoon to come back to Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest next June. He’s supposed to be checking his schedule & getting back to me…but he’s probably busy turning the world onto spoon carving. I met Barn last summer when I finally made it over to Spoonfest (the inspiration for our Greenwood Fest) which he & Robin Wood started 6 or 7 years ago. Right away, I knew I like Barn. He’s infectious in a good way. Attending one of these festivals is just an incredible experience. Not everyone can make it of course. Barn has you covered. I just saw an announcement about the American version of his English book Spon.  Here’s the blurb about the English version. I can’t imagine how different the American version can be – https://barnthespoon.com/courses-books-gifts/spon-learn-to-carve-spoons-with-barn-the-spoon

But it gets better. Barn and his colleagues at the Greenwood Guild run many courses both in London and Bristol, http://thegreenwoodguild.com/ – “but I’m a long way from there, what do I do?” you ask…

Video. You sign up for Barn’s spoon carving online membership. £7 per month, let’s see – equals $9.51 today. http://thegreenwoodguild.com/protected-content-2/?redirect_to=http%3A%2F%2Fthegreenwoodguild.com%2Fonlinemembership-2%2F

Here is a sample video, mostly about an introduction to the knife.

 

 

The ever-expanding video library right now has these categories:

The Basics, Tools & Kit, Knife Grips, Axe Work, How to Carve a Spoon, Tool Sharpening, The 16 spoons, Q&A –

I just checked a couple headings – there’s 8 videos under The Basics; under Knife Grips 9 individual videos. 10 under How to Carve a Spoon. You get the idea, lots of information and more all the time.

Some are 4-5 minutes, some in the 20-25 minute range and several are close to an hour long. If you want an immersion experience with spoon carving, and stay at home – this is it. Watch for his Plymouth CRAFT hat…

 

UPDATE – I had asked Barn for the names of some of the Greenwood Guild folks – I knew some just by first names. Barn sent this note:

“The guild is an membership based organisation, some members are teachers too, people like myself, Nic Westermann and Jarrod teach a variety of masterclasses in ultra traditional woodwork from axe forging to bowl turning and traditional joinery. The main guys are Tom Hepworth who is in charge of filming and video editing as well as our members nights in Central London. Tim Sanderson who teaches our 3 legged stool and joinery classes as well as taking all the flack as he is the youngest. Other members such as Nicky Gibson are involved in graphic design like the posters and Sophie has been running the shop and learning the ropes.”

AND – he’ll be in Plymouth Massachusetts next June. Whew.

 

 

walnut joined stool assembled

It’s been ages and ages since I did any turning on a regular basis. I have a lot of it coming up this fall and winter, and in preparation for that work, I decided to start with some joined stools. The first one is in walnut instead of oak.

My lathe is the last piece in the workshop puzzle; as it is now, it’s been buried under/behind 2 chests, and all sorts of wood, projects, etc. So I shoved all that aside and turned these stiles recently. I started the first session with sharpening the gouges and skews, and turned one stile. So the next morning I did the other three. I’ve covered this stuff in the joined stool book and the wainscot chair video with Lie-Nielsen – but here’s some of it. First off, mark the centers on each end. I scribed the diagonal lines, then set a compass to see what size circle, and how centered it was (or wasn’t). I decided it needed a nudge a bit this way & that – so when I punched the center, I moved a little bit over.

Then rough out the cylindrical bits –

Then I use a story-stick to mark where to cut the various elements of the turnings, here one cove is cut and I’m lining up the stick to locate the other details.

 

I alternate between a skew chisel and narrow gouges to form the shapes.

 

Once I was finished with the turnings, time to bore the tenons for the pins, and assemble. Here, roman numerals ID the stretcher-to-stile.

 

Mark the joint, and bore the peg hole in the tenon.

 

No one, NO ONE, likes the way I shave pegs. I’ve done thousands this way, and it seems to work for me.


 

The peg-splitting & shaving tools; cleaver (riving knife) by Peter Ross; tapered reamer by Mark Atchison (for opening holes when the offset for drawboring is too severe), 2″ framing chisel.


Make a bunch of tapered pins and hammer them in one-by-one. I line it up over a hole in the bench so the pin can exit.

After assembling two sections, then knock in the angled side rails, and pin the whole thing.

 

Frame assembled, wants some walnut for the seat board. I have a wood-shopping trip coming up…I don’t have 11″ wide walnut around.

All the joined stool work is covered in detail in the book I did with Jennie Alexander – I have a few copies left for sale, (leave me a comment if you’d like to order one, $43 shipped in US) or get it from Lost Art Press – https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-joint-stool-from-a-tree 

Carved panel designs

final panel for bedstead

I just finished carving the 8th & final panel for the bedstead I have underway. There’s 4 patterns I used, each one repeats twice. most of them are patterns I made up, but drawn from a large body of work I have covered here a few times. The carvings that are the inspiration come from Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts. I love these designs because they are so lively, and have so much variety.

Lately I’ve been trying to draw the designs – to try to learn how to talk about them – the parts, components and how they get combined. When I first saw these panels, I thought they must be the most involved carvings – but really they’re just busy…there’s very little background removed. Most of the impact is from the “horror vacuui” effect of covering every blessed surface with something. (This next one was a mistake – the board was 10″ wide, too narrow for the bedstead.)

Narrow panel

These patterns have a few common elements/motifs – most have an arch across the top of the panel. there are a few exceptions, but generally I carve the arch-top versions. All of these have an urn/vase/flowerpot just above the bottom/center of the panel. Then some leafy bits/leaves/flowers coming up and spreading out from this urn.   I tend to think of the designs being broken into thirds – though not necessarily even thirds.

Some wind up from the urn through the middle of the panel, then wind outward and reverse direction into the arch. Mostly these also bend downward, looping back toward the middle of the panel. In this case, there’s 3 tulip shapes inside this arc, then the big leafy bit that fills the bottom corner:

This pattern is easiest on wide stock, at least 10″ of carving space-width. This one, a chest I have copied a few times, the panel is 12 3/4″  wide x 15″ tall. Compare it to the narrow version above – I think it works better on the wide stock.

On this panel from the bedstead a single flower replaces the 3 tulips, same leaf at the bottom though:

Sometimes from the urn you get large shapes flowing almost horizontally out from the middle. these often have double-volute-ish scrolls where they hit the edges of the panel The one heading down then flows into a leaf shape that bends right against the bottom of the urn. This one is from the extra-wide muntin of the same chest –

Here’s the front of that chest – I copied the proportions and all the vertical bits from 2 examples I’ve seen in person, one other I know from a photograph. All were initialed & dated on the muntin; 1666, 1669 & 1682 for the dates. I substituted different (related) designs on the horizontal rails; and in this case added brackets underneath the bottom rail.

 

These carving often employ a three-part leaf, which is standard in the related S-scrolls – (seen here on a period box from Ipswich)

 

 

and on the panels this form is used again & again, inside spaces, between elements – it can be like this:

or like this part, just before it winds into the bottom of the arch:

 

Or along the side of the panel:

Hard to see it upside down, here it is from a period piece, the shape I’m thinking of is between the bottom of the arch and blends into the margin just above the large bottom leaves:

The bits flowing up from the urn that then turn down to the bottom corners can take several forms as well. The one I used at the top of this post is simple, big fat leafy shapes bending up then down. They split into three parts at the bottom – one to the corner, one to the feet/urn junction, and one between. Fill the spaces with gouge-cuts, and call it done.

as a drawing:

And carved:

I could go on forever, but this post has taken long enough. A few more panels of my work:

This one hangs in our kitchen, done in Alaska yellow cedar:

This oak panel was an experiment, I mostly like it, but rejected it for the bedstead:

This one took its place:

Here’s an example (a combination of 2 period carvings) of one of these panels without an arch: