Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Tool Monogamy

I've got a problem. For a while now I've been following Chris Schwarz's blog, both at Popular Woodworking and Lost Arts Press. I love his book The Anarchist's Tool Chest, but one of his philosophies causes a bit of a problem for me. One advantage he gives in favour of using a chest to store your tools is that the limited space accommodates a limited number of tools. He sees this as a good thing because it encourages what he calls "tool monogamy".

Hultafors splitting maul
So here's where I have a problem: the idea of tool monogamy resonates with me on one level, but on another level I hate it. Axes are a good example of this for me. Now I know that compared to some my axe collection is paltry, but I have to admit that I have more than I need. Some of them serve different functions, such as my splitting maul, some have different grinds or weights and are therefore justifiable, but some of them have very similar specifications and uses and in addition to this I want more.
Gransfors Swedish Carving Axe

Now the idea behind tool monogamy is that you don't have two tools that fulfil the same purpose. there are several benefits to this aside from the obvious one of saving space and money. If I only have one carving hatchet, then I only have one to maintain and keep sharp. Staying faithful also means that I learn how to use that particular tool better and over time it becomes like an extension of my arm. Beyond the practical it also means that I develop a relationship with that tool. It comes with me on all of my adventures and works in partnership with me on everything I create. I know that sounds a bit romantic, but I think anybody that would be reading this blog (unless they came across it by accident) can appreciate a little romanticism.

Stefan Ronnqvist viking axe

But despite all of this I'm still not ready to give up any of my axes. Romanticism is rarely practical and my relationship with my tools is not a practical one either. It is not about need. I thought about this when someone posted on a Facebook forum about spoon carving, looking for advice on the purchase of a new axe. Several of the respondents tried to talk him out of it saying that he didn't need to buy a new axe. It was clear to me that the enquirer wanted to buy one whether he needed to or not. It seemed strange to me (I hope this doesn't get controversial) that a group of people making and selling wooden spoons tried to talk someone out of a purchase on the basis of necessity Who needs to buy a wooden spoon? I love wooden spoons  and use them all of the time, I don't need them and they don't fulfil a purpose that my old metal spoons didn't, but I do enjoy them and feel that my eating experience is enhanced by them. I apply the same thinking to my tools. I enjoy using them and they enhance my experience..
Elwell felling axe

The matter of cost isn't straight forward either. I am very fortunate to have disposable income and I use that money to do things that bring me pleasure. I know some people would scoff at the amount of money I might spend on an axe, but wouldn't think twice about spending the same on a weekends revelry. Most of the axes I buy are made by individual craftsmen and some have a waiting list. this means that with the proper amount of care there will be very little depreciation in value, in fact some are worth more than I paid for them.            
Cegga hunters axe

The jury is out however. I definitely like the idea of applying tool monogamy to certain things, especially the bit about building a better relationship through fidelity to that one tool, but if I'm honest I can see my carving tools growing rather than diminishing. I think I might have a problem.

Roselli all-round axe

Monday, 21 July 2014

Get your Ash into gear

I've spent a bit of time recently turning bowls out of Ash for the first time. As a hobbyist greenwood worker sourcing the raw materials feels a bit like hunting and a bit like scavenging, looking around for a chance to grab some decent wood. This Ash came from the all too familiar sight of a closed down pub. I've never drank alcohol (for religious reasons), but that has never stopped me from going to the pub to socialise with my friends that do. I think that it's a real shame to see so many of our pubs being closed down, partly because I think that they're a part of our culture and partly because it can lead to people drinking at home to a greater excess as it's so much cheaper. Binge drinking I think it's called. Anyway, this was a particularly rough pub, so ignore everything I just said.

In his fabulous book about wooden bowls, imaginatively titled 'The Wooden Bowl', Robin Wood states that Ash was the most popular wood for bowls from the 12th to the 15th centuries despite the fact that, by his reckoning, it takes nearly half as long again to make a bowl from Ash as it's hard to get a clean cut. Robin was talking about turning on a pole lathe though and as my lathe is electric I didn't think that I would have the same difficulty. I was wrong.

The fibrous wood is hard to cut cleanly, even when you crank the speed up a gear. I only tried to apply carved decoration once as well (I don't know how Richard manages to carve so many spoons with it). The distinct grain is lovely though and I'm faced with a real dilemma as to whether I should paint them or not. I have to confess that for a time I was tempted by the sanding demon perched on my shoulder, but I overcame.

I got a little bit carried away with this last one and nearly went too far when hollowing it. I might sell it as a special bowl for viewing a solar eclipse.

So, not my favourite timber so far, but I have a couple more logs left and until I can hunt down some better wood, I'd better get my Ash into gear.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Summer Holidays Week 1

I should begin by apologising for being so brazen in flaunting the fact that I am on school holidays for the next 6 weeks but, in my defense, just bear in mind that that means that when I'm not on holiday I have to do what teachers do - enough said.

So, to start off with I thought I would put legs on the chopping block that I use in my back garden for most of my axe work. I put legs on it once before by cutting angled channels and then chamfering the legs. I was very proud of it, until the block dried out a bit and the edges of the channels broke off. For the last year or more it has simply sat on the low wall in my garden.

I began by drilling three holes in the base of the stump using a scotch-eyed auger. It worked well and I was amazed at the moist, fragrant sawdust that came out. However, it wasn't until I had added the legs that I realized I hadn't put enough angle on the holes and what I ended up with was like something out of the War of the Worlds.
Too high, but legs too close together - liable to fall over.

Next Morning, I sawed the legs back off, drilled three new holes and tried again - much better.
Tuesday this week I went with my daughter to Melton Mowbray Farmers Market. I only get to go during school hols so I'm usually keen to go first week. I was going, ostensibly, to sell these little beauties for a friend:
His working ferret had sired a litter of 12 cobs, all of which were healthy and happy, but he couldn't keep them all - they were costing him a fortune in cat food. What I wasn't expecting was how gooey Chloe went once she saw the chicks and ducklings in the feather auction, and so we came home with these:
Admittedly cute, but somewhat distracting. They are black Pekin pullets - I bet they're both roosters, but until they start crowing and scrapping I'm happy for the kids to enjoy them.
Anyway, I have got some carving done this week. Firstly, an attempt at a kuksa in lime. I've only ever made one before and it was a valuable lesson in not undertaking such extensive hand carving activities from fairly well seasoned oak! I have long been a fan of these traditional Scandinavian drinking bowls and particularly admire those of Jon Mac and Alexander Yerks - both exceptional carvers - you've got to check out their kuksas.

It's not finished - I've had it wrapped in newspaper to dry out a bit as it was beginning to split on the lip - exactly the same spot my first one split. It's a simple design with a beaver-tail handle.

I'm not so keen on the colour either, but once it's finished and has some form of decoration on, I guess it will be ok for a second attempt. I really must do some more in the future, but need a gouge instead as it's just too hard to do with a crook knife - hours of hollowing out!

 I didn't carve all ten of these from scratch this week - about four, I think, but all were trimmed and cleaned up a bit, ready to take to the National Forest Wood Fair.
 Ten eating spoons in ash or willow.

These eating spoons are in willow - long but very thin and feel lovely in hand. I like to crank my spoons but, as you can see, there's hardly any crank on these.

12" Serving spoons in willow. - I haven't told the story of how I came about this willow yet, but that will have to wait for another post. I love the stripes that have come through on these.

Again in willow - a spatula, a coffee spoon and a double cranked eating spoon.

This next spoon is my favourite of the bunch. It's nothing special, as such, except that my 9 year son asked me if I would carve him a spoon to eat with - my kids are not really interested otherwise - so I was really thrilled to be able to put a bunch of spoons out and say 'take your pick'. As it happened, the spoon he picked which I had carved some time ago out of ash, was not very good for actually eating with, the bowl was too deep and you would struggle to get your top lip into it, so I made one exactly the same (sans d├ęcor) from willow with a shallower bowl which he has tried in his mouth several times as I was making it to ensure it was right for him. It's only 4 3/4 inches long and once dry and oiled I will carve some design or other on it.

National Forest Wood Fair

I have a lot of posts to catch up on, nothing too exciting but I have been on school holidays now for a week and so have done a little in the way of green wood working. But before I do that (I'll get my camera out in a minute) I just wanted to give those of you who are interested a heads up about the National Forest Wood Fair, to be held here in Leicester on Monday 24th August.

I visited the fair for the first time last year and was blown away with how good it was - I couldn't believe there had been a green wood event of this quality right on my doorstep and I hadn't visited before or got myself involved.

You can read my brief review of the event here

Anyway, it's coming up this summer and Julian and I will have a small pitch, selling and making spoons and bowls. It would be great to meet anyone who follows the blog so please, if that's you, make sure you come and say hello and introduce yourself to us. It's a really good day out.

Check out their web page here

Friday, 18 July 2014

The challenges of an amateur spoon carver

I am a professional History teacher. Carving spoons, turning bowls and making things in general is what I do for fun. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes this is a bad thing. I mentioned in a recent post that I hadn't carved a spoon for a while and felt out of practice. I've since carved three more in a week and I'm starting to see progress.

Carving in close sucsession helps you to understand the process so much better, the value of repetition in learning anything is obvious, but as an amateur (as opposed to a professional) I don't always get the opportunity to do this. Something that I've noticed about some of my favourite professional craftsmen is that they tend to repeat the same style over and over again. I imagine that this is necessary for a few reasons. Having a limited line of products would make it easier to market and sell rather than photographing and marketing each unique piece, but obviously another benefit is the skills you gain from the repetition involved in production work. This can be another challenge to the amateur. If i'm only going to find the time to carve one spoon this week or make one item, then I'm probably going to want to do something new and original, however this approach can hinder the development of skill. It is hard to learn from mistakes if you don't repeat the task.

I recently read a blog post from Jarrod Stonedahl in which he mentions a new initiative he has set up to widen the market for handmade spoons. His Greenwood Spooncarver's Collective invites fellow spoon carvers to make large numbers of the same spoon from a template. The main object behind this is to produce lots of relatively cheap spoons that can be bought wholesale from retailers. I would love to be involved, but you really need to live in North America with Jarrod for it to be practical, but he also talks about the benefit of production work and how it helps in the development of skill. This made me think about my own spoon carving development.

This is a picture of the first spoon I ever bought. It is one of Jarrod's that I got from the first Spoonfest and is still my favourite. When I got it home I drew around it to make a template and used that to produce the first half decent spoon I'd made. I've since copied it several times in an attempt to get better. As it happened my most recent spoon was also made from this template.

I can't really get involved in Jarrod's collective, but I've decided that if I really want to get better (which I do), Then I need to learn from his idea of production carving. Pick a nice, but relatively easy shape, make a template and repeat it, a lot. I'll let you know how I get on. Check out Jarrod's blog here.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The most boring video ever.

I really enjoyed doing the carved decoration on the Eucalyptus bowl. It's very quick and easy to do and yet I also think that it's an effective pattern. So more for my own pleasure and a bit of experimentation I decided to create a little video of how I do it. I know it's not rocket science, but it was a lot easier than i thought and hopefully the video illustrates that.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Wobbly bowl

So I turned this bowl just over a week ago out of some Eucalyptus that was given to me by my mate Nick. I've never worked with this wood before and was definitely pleased with how it turned.

I left it to dry slowly in a box of shavings. This prevents it from drying too rapidly and cracking. However, when I went back to it today I found that it had distorted more than any bowl I have turned before.

I'm used to a bit of movement and I think it's one of the characteristics that is really quite charming with greenwood working, you do the initial shaping and then Mother Nature and Father Time do a bit of tweaking, but this is a bit severe and I don't think it's finished. Nick actually warned me that a piece that he had half turned did the same thing, but I just put that down to the thickness of the bowl, obviously it has to do with the wood.

The pictures don't really do it justice. You can kind of see on the right side of this picture that the rim has distorted so much in places that it has a kink in it.
I don't think I'll be trying Eucalyptus again.