A fortuitous mistake

A fortuitous mistake

If you have read any of my posts on bowls, you will notice that there is a regular reference to David Fisher.  This one is no different in the fact that I once again reference techniques that he has shared.  Between his articles in Fine Wood Working magazine, his blog posts, and the information on his website, he has shared more than enough information for anyone to pick up a log, axe, adze, and any other sharp piece of steel and make not only a functional bowl, but something far more sculpted than I thought I could achieve.

I started out with a 31” long piece of sugar maple from a tree we took down in our front yard.  After splitting the log I had approximately   9” wide by 4” tall piece of wood to work with, it also had a nice twist.  The other side of the log I used for my Twisted bowl.  For this project I wanted to make a few bark down bowls.  I started by using the technique David shares in his Daily bowls.  I’ve done this once before with a smaller log.  Both bowls are still being used, one of them by me for breakfast.  Like any first attempt, you will see where you could have done better, and this project is really about applying what I’ve learned from using my bowl, from reading David’s blog, and some information I’ve received from Amy Umbel from Fiddlehead Woodworking.

Two bowls bathing in liberal amounts of flax oil and sunshine.

Something I learned when attempting  this the first time is that having a good base and rim can be achieved fairly quickly and easily if you spend some time with a jack plane while the wood is a split log.  If your log has a nice twist to it, you can still do this by putting a few lines on the rim side, putting a few wedges on the bottom, and plane each section.  My goal at this point is flat-ish.  I use straight edges to help, but I hope my work leaves one with the impression that this came from a tree and was shaped using hand tools rather than created from dimensional lumber using machines.  The base is achieved in the same way.  The result is two parallel surfaces.  I can assure you; this is easier and more efficient than using a spoke shave on a carved bowl to attempt to flatten out a rim.

Layout was fairly easy for these bowls as they’re circular.  An inside rim and an outside rim with some small handles were laid out using a compass and a ruler.  For the base, I start with a circle that is 1/3 the size of the rim.  I like to use a #6 pencil to write on wet wood.  I also find a low abrasive eraser helpful.

At this point the really fun part starts.  Using an adze is more fun every time I use it.  I feel much more confident each time and that results in bigger or smaller chips flying, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish.  This is also when it becomes obvious why having two bowls on one log is a good idea.  The weight of the log just makes it easier to remove large amounts of wood and the length of the log keeps your hand well away from a sharp edge.  While I was able to get closer to my lines than in the past, I’m still not confident enough to go right to the line.  I have a few gouges amongst my tools, and used one to remove the last ¼” of the inside of the bowls.

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Once both bowls were the shape and depth I was looking for, I separated then with a saw.  I put one bowl blank in a trash bag with some wet chips for my next project and pulled out the axe.  I enjoy using an axe almost as much as I like the adze.  One thing they have in common is that you can remove large amounts of wood very quickly, and over time learn to remove small amounts of wood much quicker than you can with a knife.

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Roundish, more wood needs to be removed

While I was able to remove much of the wood I wanted to from the outside of the bowl, it wasn’t enough.  Once the bowl is roundish on the exterior, I find I have trouble holding it safely and keeping it secured so the axe can remove what I want.  My solution was to go back to the adze.

I started chipping away the exterior with more of a push motion than a swing motion.  This results in wood being removed, but tons of tools marks.  At some point I tucked my elbow next to my body and just swung the adze from my wrist.  This left a very nice surface, so I continued.  As I continued, I noticed I was creating a convex surface on the outside of the bowl.  I also realized I really liked the shape.  This was my fortuitous mistake.  Many times I’ve heard from those far more experienced that sometimes you just need to play with the wood.  As each of my projects generally start with a desired outcome and certain skills I’m trying to develop, playing generally doesn’t come into my carving.  But now that I’ve had this happen, and went with it, I have a better idea of the concept of playing to learn.

The shape of the bowl reminded me of a crystal bowl my grandmother had on her dining room table.  The crystal was fluted and the sun would shine through and create these great reflections all over the room.  My grandmother’s home and the things in it regularly influences my spoons, it just made sense that it would influence a bowl.  Luckily for me, David Fisher wrote a blog post on fluting.  Notice a trend?

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Layout your pie slices on the based first, then around the top rim. Cleaning up the tool marks first, would have been a good idea.

I redrew a circle on the base of the bowl and stared with creating 8 pie slices, to my eye this would have resulted in some very wide flutes, so I went to 16 and was happy with that.  Now we get to the math section, math will not appear on the quiz.  I found the diameter for the outside of the rim, multiplied by pi and divided by 16, the number of flutes.  I used this number of mark out the flutes on the rim of the bowl.  As I put handles on the bowl I oriented the flutes so a peak would be at the center of the handles and adjusted my layout lines to reflect where the rim would have been without the handles.  I hope that made sense.  You can do something similar with a divider and without the math, but my house is full of beautiful women that are awesome at math so that is how I did it.

Now is the time to sharpen your gouge and keep you strop handy.  It is also the time to read David’s post on fluting as I’ll only cover what I could have done better.  Learning to flute a bowl in near freezing temperatures on a sugar maple bowl is not the easiest or quickest was to develop this skill.  Spending time to refine the outside vertical rim is something you should absolutely do prior to marking out your flutes or starting to carve them.  Of all the time wasting mistakes I’ve made, this is ranked way up top.  Over a few cold evenings I created flutes with wide peaks, then removed more material for thinner peaks, then removed more material so only the pencil line showed.

At this point I checked for thickness over the entire bowl.  I used my gouge to remove some additional material at the bottom of the inside of bowl to get under a ½” and then realized I had too much wood where the bowl transitions to the handles.  As I was happy with my flutes on the outside of the bowl, I drew an arc near the handles and removed enough material to get my walls to 3/8”.  The resulting shape of the bowl was no longer circular, but still very pleasing.  I think it added some movement to the top of the bowl which hopefully will make it a bit more interesting.

As it was the evening before we were to travel south to celebrate my Father’s 80th birthday and Thanksgiving, and I have a problem saying it’s done, I loaded up the bowl with wood chips and shavings and put it in a lidded box in my basement and started packing for my trip.  After a week of drying and a very good time spent with family in Beaufort SC, I’m happy to share that the bowl has lost 15% of its weight and has no cracks!

If you enjoyed this little view into my greenwood journey, feel free to like, comment, and or follow.  I know some people look at these posts, I would enjoy getting some feedback.


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