Last Saturday I was pleased to be able to join Bob Fleet and Gavin Phillips on the banks of the Tweed in Peebles as part of the Tweed Valley Forest Festival. It was a two hour drive across from Northumberland to the borders, enlivened by a barn owl on the A696 just before Otterburn.
The high winds and rain meant that all the demonstrations took place inside a large marquee, which required constant attention during the day to bang in pegs, add extra guy ropes and generally make sure it didn’t take off.
We found room at one end of the marquee, next to Red Kite Yurts for Bob’s pole lathe, a couple of shave horses and my bowl carving bench. There wasn’t a lot of room as we had to make space for the Scottish Conker Championship rings! I’d heard that Bob was the first competitor to be knocked out in the inaugral games last year and he didn’t do much better this year, driving home a good hit which smashed his own conker!
Later in the day Gavin arrived with his bowl lathe. It was touch and go whether he would make it because Clare has broken her wrist, but she was able to come in the ned, her re-set wrist well plastered. Here’s Gavin with Bob’s wonderful bodger’s hat, made from the fibres of some exotic leaf.
Despite the excitement of two pole lathes on the go, the greatest attraction was making gypsy flowers on shave horse. Indeed for the boys in the audience it wasn’t even this, it was Bob chopping the sharpened ends off the hazel rods that was the biggest draw, as they shot into the side of the marquee from the chopping block.
Next to this my bowl carving demonstration didn’t stand a chance. With Bob attaching magician’s balloons folded into sausage dogs on the end of the pole lathe and Gavin in full-on bowl lathe mode I realise I’ll have to up the showmanship quotient to stay in this league. Wait until the next event in the Scottish Borders, guys!
This weekend I began to carve a bowl from a birch log.
The birch had been hanging around for over a year in my log pile and was being attacked quite vigorously by fungi.
When I split the log, the effect of the fungal attack on the wood was obvious.
Birch is quite susceptible to fungal invasion. The patterning it causes in the wood is called spalting. It weakens the wood but if the rot hasn’t advanced too far it is still workable with care and the resulting bowl has some wonderful patterning on it.
Using an axe I removed the bark from the blank. The axe has an asymmetrical bevel allowing it to bite into the wood. This particular axe has been rescued from a second hand tool stall, reground and rehandled using ash.
Once the bark had been removed I used an adze to begin to shape the bowl. To get the most interesting grain patterns I am carving into the rounded part of the half log. The bowl is resting in a specially chainsaw carved log with three prongs that allow a bowl blank to be held in a variety of positions.
Once I have a rough shape with the adze, which is great for quickly removing waste wood I move onto using a gouge to shape the bowl more carefully. The advantage of carving into the top of the half-log becomes clear here as there is now a flat surface to allow the blank to be secured (cheating a bit here and using a workbench!). In fact with a flat bottom, flat sides and flat ends the blank is quite controllable at this stage and can be chocked up in a variety of ways.
Once I’ve got the bowl pretty well roughed out I begin to remove wood from the base of the bowl, underneath what will become the two handles. The pencil line marks the point where the bowl begins to flatten out, but I’ll use trial and error (and feeling with my fingers!).
The pencil mark on the side of the bowl shows the profile I’m trying to achieve here.
Some more hewing with the axe will get remove the edges of the handles. Because the spalted birch has less strength than normal wood I’m having to be careful that the corners resting on the chopping block aren’t damaged.
So the very first entry on my very first blog. What an exciting adventure! To start of with I’d like to play around with the image feature on the blog to make sure I understand it.
I enjoy spooncarving, carving functional objects from green wood, and I’d like to share with you an image of a spoon I’ve carved.
This spoon has been carved from hawthorn. I love the warm brown colours of the wood and the wiggly figure in the grain. On the handle I’ve had a go at chip carving with some Celtic knotwork. The spoon has been carved from a naturally bent piece of wood to give the crook in the handle. The knot in the bowl shows where a side branch came out that may have caused the change in direction of the branch. The wood has been treated with walnut oil which will slowly oxidise to form a tough, hardwearing coating that has penetrated into the wood.