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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.riversjoinery.co.uk/ and Richard Francis http://www.flyingshavings.co.uk/ 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:
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…
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?
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. http://countryworkshops.org/Store.html 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.
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?
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
Small bowls get blocks stacked inside to grab them in the face vise.
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.
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: https://www.lie-nielsen.com/search?q=Peter+Follansbee
I have been working the last few days getting some oak ready for this weekend’s installment in the joined-chest-with-drawer class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. But the work has been here at home, where the workspace is too tight for photos. Hence, nothing to show. I just finished the test-fit of the carcass of my chest w/drawers. When you make them w drawers, they get BIG.
This one is related to the other 2-drawer chest I have underway. That one is nearly done. My goal is to assemble this one this weekend, so the students will see what they’re in for…so lots of drawboring to do first. One last side panel to tweak the fit, too. And the till. And the rabbets for the dust panel below the drawers. And the floor groove. Wow – lots to do still.
Then when I get back home Sunday night – it’s bowl-mania next. At Roy’s last week, I started 2 hewn bowls as demonstrations for the classes. Then we did an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop – so we split a tulip poplar in rehearsal, and began hewing one of those bowls. Then the next day, we did a run-through for the crew – so after that I had 4-partially hewn bowls, and 2 blanks. Then we shot the show, one more of each. I think that means I have 5 partially hewn bowls, and 3 blanks. But that doesn’t count the in-progress bowls I brought with me for show & tell…
I had never taught bowl carving before, and it was so exciting to see everyone “get it” – made me want to make some, but all I could do was start them! Next class in hewn bowls is at Lie-Nielsen in August. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/71
the week that was – two 3-day classes of spoons & hewn bowls at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. No daytime temps under 90 degrees F., mostly higher. The students hewed like demons, but were glad to stop at the end of the day… thanks to all the students & friends who came out & did such great work. Pictures with captions now:
On to the spoon-carving knives. My first knife that I remember, a Frost Mora knife. My handle. Old now, I use it with the kids. It’s an excellent knife. You could use this knife and not need to read any further.
My every-day knife, aslo a Frost blade/PF handle. A bit heavier than the first one; similar shape, with that curved end. I use it all the time, from spoon carving, opening mail, it’s my knife at lunch-time when I’m out in the shop/woodpile.
But, like the hatchets, we all tend to go further looking for the knife. Here’s one, from Del Stubbs’ Pinewood Forge. http://www.pinewoodforge.com/
an unbelievably good knife. We’ll see one of his hook knives too. I have used this for a long time as my finishing knife, for the final cuts on a spoon. That’s why I got the short blade, I’m not doing all the work with this knife. This knife showed me what “sharp” means. Still a favorite.
Came with this great birch-bark sheath. the website has instructions on making them, I have done several for my other knives.
sometimes I want a really large knife; this is the largest Svante Djarv offered from Country Workshops. Heavy, thick knife, great shape to the cutting edge. I use it for rough-shaping large spoons. http://countryworkshops.org/Store.html
But, then came the best knife. really. Nic Westermann’s sloyd knife. I got mine through Lie-Nielsen, we use them there when I teach spoon carving classes. When they have them, they offer them for sale. His hook knife too – (I’ll get to that). I can’t find them right now on the LN website – Nic is teaching there this summer, but his class is full – he will also be presenting at the Open House – https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/96
The knife is outlandishly good (even better than “unbelievably good”) – a very thin blade, which took me a bit to get used to. Great shape, perfect bevels, it works so well I am always happy to pick it up & carve with it. Leaves a great burnished surface.
Hook knives. Remember the hatchet story, with Robin Wood’s affordable hatchet? Here’s his solution to hook knives. My handle. Thin blade, long, sloping curve. Nice shape and excellent action when cutting with it. I use a dozen of these when I teach – they are a great introduction to spoon carving. this one he calls “open sweep” – I really like the shape. He’s posted videos of using it, and sharpening it here: http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/shop/spoon-carving-knife-blade-right-hand-open-sweep/
Hans Karlsson’s hook knife, mine from Country Workshops. I used these for years; I have them in lefty & righty.
Here you can see the shape of this curve.
Now, one of Del Stubbs’ hook knife. Mine’s the #1 open sweep…like the sloyd knife, sharp as all get out.
But, I am converted. Nic Westermann’s hook is the one I use the most. Hollowed on the inside, like Japanese chisels & planes…great shape, great cutting. I have carved through some spoons because I was so entranced with this hook. Write or call Lie-Nielsen in the US, Nic’s website is here: http://nicwestermann.co.uk/