Tag Archives: hand made tools

Two Wood Bowls

Wood Bowls

I finished two more bowls a while back and thought it was time to document them.

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The smaller one was made from the large piece of plum found by Amy from a tree cut down in the neighbourhood. Initially, it had a flat top but warped during the drying process. The result is quite pleasing even if it wasn’t intentional.

The second was from a very large Red Alder tree, one of many removed by the city from the steep bank above Spanish Banks Beach. The logs were placed in the firewood area on the beach where they are free for the taking. Mark and I borrowed Karen’s Volkswagen and retrieved the rather cumbersome chunk of wood, and after some effort, split it in two on the road in front of his house.

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The adze I made with Lorne during our blacksmithing stint proved invaluable in shaping this bowl. It was knife finished using my set of hook knives over a few weeks. It is coated with a mixture of beeswax, carnauba wax, and mineral oil.

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Carving Tools

As my interest in carving has grown, so has my understanding of the tools required. Different tools are needed for the various stages in carving, starting with saws for obtaining wood from fallen trees, wedges and froe for splitting it into workable sections, and finally, axes, gouges and knives for shaping the individual piece.

I’ve been borrowing some of the more specialized tools from David on our carving nights, and have also been assembling a set of my own. I had a stroke of luck recently in finding a carving hand axe at a local flea market for 15 dollars. With some concerted effort, I was able to resharpen the damaged edge and give it a new handle. It is on the heavy side, but having a single beveled, right handed blade has made a great difference in the initial shaping of wood before switching to the knife.

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I’ve also bought some Haida designed hook-knife blades from the local Lee Valley store. They are sold without handles, so I now have them mounted on pieces of maple I had left over from another project. These have proved indispensable in all of the recent carving I’ve been doing. Having the three different profiles has made hollowing out both spoons and bowls much easier. They require some serious sharpening at the beginning, so patience is necessary.

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I also made my own adze with Lorne Grey when we were doing some blacksmithing earlier this year, but have only recently given it a handle made from dogwood. My first attempt failed as I had chosen a branch configuration with too acute an angle, making it almost impossible to swing. That (boxwood) handle was replaced and recycled into a handle for the hook knife I also made with Lorne. The adze in particular has been brilliant in working on a larger sized bowl I’m making from alder.

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Some Things I’ve Made: Part Two

Some things I’ve made: Part Two

I’ve been producing a couple of spoons a week now for several months. Initially, I modelled them after metal spoons I found in my kitchen, but gradually, their style has changed, partly in relation to the tools I’ve been learning to use, partly through looking at the work of other carvers. I’ve also developed a bit of my own aesthetic for these objects of mundane utility – what feels good in the hand and pleases the eye.

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Some recent spoons in yellow cedar, hazel, and alder

 

To speed this process along, I built a shaving horse, based on several designs I saw online. This allows me to use a draw-knife and spoke-shave, tools that make carving much easier. I also completed an adze and hook-knife under Lorne Grey’s excellent tutelage during our forging nights.

Shave horse

Using my shave horse in my shop

 

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adze blade grinding

Lorne helping me to grind my adze blade

 

The search for green carving wood is an ongoing process. I carry a small folding saw with me and watch for trees or branches felled by wind or pruned by neighbours or city workers. There is only so much I can carry on a bicycle, but bungee cords are amazingly helpful in this respect. I’ve brought back pieces of cherry, alder, apple, and hazel. While out at the beach I found a large chunk of yellow cedar, left behind after someone had cut-up a huge log. With help from David Gowman and a rented van, we managed to drag it back to the field-house to be split-up for a number of carving projects.

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My bike as a pack-mule

 

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Discovery of yellow cedar

 

Splitting yellow cedar

Splitting yellow cedar (David Gowman photo)

 

During a recent community event, Amy spotted a large pile of plum-wood, cut and dumped on the sidewalk. As luck would have it, Karen had her car and we were able to squirrel a large quantity of it at the studio. These pieces were large enough for bowl carving, so I began the process of carving two out of a single piece of wood. Both have checked somewhat during the carving phase, but the experience has been a good one. Stay tuned for finished bowls.

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Early bowl carving in plum wood

Strathcona Field-house

Happy Carvers: Alexis Greenwood, me, Mark Trankner, the late, great JD, and Sharon Kallis

 

 

Some Things I’ve Built – Part One

Over the past year or so, I have been busy making a number of things both related to fibre arts and to woodworking.

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Flax plants ready for harvest.

As part of the Urban Weaver Project’s investigation of growing local cloth, I built some of the equipment necessary in the production of linen. With funds obtained by Penny Coupland from the Vancouver Foundation Neighbourhood Small Grants, and using plans she purchased from The Woolgatherers, (a family business in Wisconsin) I built a flax brake, two scutching knives and two hackles. These are used to extract the long, supple fibres from the stalks of the flax plant, that we had grown locally.

Flax Brake

Flax Brake

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Flax brake (detail)

After flax is harvested, it is left in water or in a damp field to break down through the process of retting, which uses bacteria to dissolve some of the connective proteins and lignans within the plant. The stalks can then be run through the brake, which shatters the pithy core, and allows the remaining outside layers to be separated. The scutching knife helps to remove the last pieces of pith, before the strands are pulled through various sizes of hackles, separating the individual strands, which at this point resemble human hair. From here, the fibres are spun and woven into cloth.

Scutching Knife

Scutching Knife

Hackle

Hackle

Since ancient times, farm folk would be familiar with these methods and would incorporate the growing of flax into their agricultural cycle, so that most of their clothing needs could be met. Much stronger and longer-lasting that cotton, flax also requires much less water, fertilizer and pesticides. As it can be grown in northern climates, it does not require the shipping and exploitive labour practises used in the production of cotton.

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Caitlin ffrench using flax brake

Caitlin scutching

Caitlin ffrench using scutching knife

Caitlin hackling flax

Caitlin ffrench using hackle

Sharon spinning

Sharon Kallis spinning flax

Wooden Spoons

Over the past couple of months I have spent many happy Tuesday nights at the Strathcona Park field-house with Artist in Residence, David Gowman, for a casual evening of spoon carving. Initially billed as a pipe-carving workshop, it has evolved into a friendly free-for-all where attendees work on projects of their choosing, loosely based on shaping wood.

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Strathcona Park Field-house

I started working on spoons after the second week, and since then have been making one just about every week. I’ve carved before, but this was the first time using green-wood, which David explained is much easier to work with, provided you keep the end-grain sealed and store it in a plastic bag to avoid rapid drying, resulting in the wood checking.

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We have collected a multitude of branches, including David’s favorite for horn-making, the Paulownia tomentosa (Empress tree), from a specimen he pollarded in the nearby Cottonwood Garden, and hazel from the same location. I’ve taken to carrying a small folding pruning saw with me in the event I come across a fallen tree. So far I have made spoons from Yellow Cedar, Paulownia, Hazel, Lilac, Apple and Alder.

Yellow Cedar spoon

Yellow Cedar spoon

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Alder spoon

David is very generous in loaning tools from his carving collection, including some hand-made hook knives. Recently, blacksmith Lorn Gray has been attending and has brought a portable gas powered forge and he and David have been walking me through the process of tool making. Pounding an anvil is great therapy, plus you get to wear a leather apron. I am working on a small adze blade as well as a hook knife. Hopefully, more ambitious wood projects to come.

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With Lorne Gray. Photo by Alexis Greenwood

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Photo by Sharon Kallis