Friday, 1 May 2015


I've been experimenting recently with making turned kuksas. A kuksa is a wooden cup made by the Sami people of Sweden and Finland. I think kuksa is the Finnish word for them and in Sweden they are known as kasa. I've also seen them referred to by different names. Traditionally they are carved, but I have seen them turned before so I thought I'd give it a go. To be honest it is more difficult than I thought it would be. You have to get the shape of the bottom half just right so that you're carving loads of the handle area away to get the right shape.

I've tried four now. One of them was a complete failure so I took it off of the lathe and started carving it instead. I didn't get very far and then I gave it to Richard to finish. He may post it on here later.

The first is the smallest one. It's ok, but it doesn't have the continuous curve from top to base that I am working towards. The second two are better, but I don't feel that I'm quite there yet as i had to do too much carving to get them right.

I've fitted two of them out with Sami style toggles so that they can be worn on your belt. Perfect for camping cups. I've had quite a bit of interest in these so I better get making.

Alexander Yerks in the US makes some lovely carved kuksas. Check out his website here.

Monday, 16 March 2015

OWC Spring Spoon Moot - UPDATE....

Just a quick one to confirm details for Saturday's little get together. So it's Saturday 21st March, starting from about 2 o'clock pm. It's going to be a fairly informal type of event - come along whenever is convenient, leave whenever you want. Bring some tools or don't; bring some wood or don't; bring some work to show or don't. Come if you are a seasoned carver; come if you're a beginner; come if you haven't actually started carving yet and just have a passing interest. Come along and chat, share tips, ask questions - give answers. Ju and I will be carving, join in or don't - does that sound casual enough?

We'll be at my house, in Leicester. It's number 21 - postcode LE2 9TP.

It would be great to meet you so pop along and join in the fun!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Naked Bowls

I guess it goes without saying that I love wood. I've always preferred it in it's natural state. When we started doing up our first house I couldn't bring myself to paint any of the wood work. My father in law (who did all of the building work) kept complaining that it looked half finished, but I just loved the look of the wood au natural. The idea of painting a wooden bowl would have made me spit. That was until I saw the bowls made by Jarrod Stonedahl and realised that painted bowls can look cool. Check out his latest bowls here. The problem is that I then got hooked on painting my bowls. I've had varying amounts of success with this. Some of them looked like they'd been hastily coloured in with a felt tip pen (Richard's words), but after a fair bit of experimentation, I feel pretty confident with my most recent ones.

I particularly like the way that painted bowls, once worn a bit, show up the tool marks in the wood. This is also really nice with carved bowls.

My latest bowls presented me with a bit of a dilemma. They're turned from Sycamore that was very green and the wood is pretty bland, so I was very tempted to paint them, but my wife has been telling me to leave some natural for a while now. Naturally my beloved (I have to call her that or she hits me) won the argument and so here they are in their birthday suits.

Monday, 2 March 2015

My first axe....

I can't give you the technical specifications of this axe - weight, size, etc - because I've sat down to write this post and realized I haven't got them - but I'm going to write the post anyway.

When I first became interested in bushcraft, adventuring and carving, I had something of an obsession with the mountain men and fur trappers of North America and Canada - voyageurs and coureur de bois.

I read a bunch of books about them, histories, fiction and non-fiction, watched some old films on the National Film Board of Canada site and even bought myself a Canadian canoe with fantasies of trapping, smoking cob-pipes, eating rubaboo from a dutch pot and portaging. So you can imagine hoe chuffed I was when, after doing a little job for an elderly neighbour, I was rewarded with a box of old tools, most of which were no good, but which contained this French pattern axe head, not unlike the trade axes that the voyageurs would have used, which I cleaned up and re-handled with shop-bought hickory handle.

It's a lovely axe - a real all-round camping and adventuring axe. I've used it for all kinds of jobs from felling dead standing trees and splitting faggots to carving and whittling. It's not the axe I would choose for carving, but it is easily up to the task and many of my earlier spoons were carved with this axe. It's a medium to light weight axe.

It is also one of the first leather working projects that I undertook and the first axe mask thatI made.

Originally there was a loop of leather through which the antler tine passed to secure it, but it broke and I replaced it with the ugly twist of wire. I'll put it right again one day.

If you are interested in finding out a little more about the voyageurs of old Canada, you might enjoy this rather quaint film:

On those rare occasions when I have a 'bed-day' I like to re-watch this film and imagine I'm there.

Monday, 23 February 2015

DIY detail carving knives....

I have done quite a bit of carving, kolrossing and chip-carving on spoons over the years, some that I have been quite proud of, others that have not been quite so successful. For each of these I have mostly used the tip of my Mora 106, held in a 'pen' grip and, on the whole, it's worked alright. It can be a bit tricky and it's easy to nick yourself when holding the blade of a sharp knife like this. I know there are specialist knives available for these different decorative techniques but being a paid-up skinflint have never got round to buying any.

For a while I have fancied having a go with one of the Del Stubbs kolrossing knives...

...but figured, before I buy I really ought to have a go at making one myself. So, I reground the edge of a small exacto-knife type blade, made a handle from a piece of sycamore, drilled and glued it, and gave it a go.

It's something of an 'organically' shaped handle - following the grain of the wood. Feels pretty good in the hand.

Flat exacto-knife type craft blade, reground with a better edge.

I tried it out quickly on this willow spoon that I had made the previous week. It worked well but gave quite a fine cut and, due to the flat blade, was quite hard to turn to carve curves.

Made from a crook from a willow tree that had blown down in the January storms.
I then looked again at the Del Stubbs knife and realised that his blade was made from a cylindrical piece of steel, not a flat blade, which I figured would give a wider cut as it is a wider blade (and therefore a more vivid colour to the line) and would be better for maneuvering in the wood. So, I had another go.
This time a used an old dremel tool bit for the blade (probably stainless steel so probably not great at holding its edge) and a yew handle.
Rounded instead of flat blade - makes all the difference.
Tried out the second of my detail knives on this sycamore spoon - more about the spoon in another post. The knife worked really well, handled and turned in the wood with no effort. I'm really pleased with it. Julian has given me some piano wire to make him and a couple more from - should be nice carbon steel, but needs annealing first.

I did actually put my hand in my pocket whilst on a trip to Axminster tools with Ju and Eden and bought a Two Cherries chip carving knife. It was cheap, so I couldn't complain too much, but I wasn't terribly impressed with the edge that it came with and spent a little time just tidying it up.

I tried it out on this little willow ladle - made from a little crook. It worked well - I haven't chip carved in a while so I was quite rusty. I love the little click you get when two of your cuts meet up and you know, when you add the third cut, the chip's going to come away clean.

Having said that, over the past years I've made do with a bunch of these DIY knives that I made from old butter knives - they work perfectly well and at about £1 for ten from a charity shop, a lot cheaper.

I cut a bunch of crooks from the willow tree that had come down - near Charnwood Waters in Loughborough, in case you know the area. They were not very big so I could only make these little salt spoon sized ladles. 

I really love those 'stripes' at the heel of the bowl - striations caused by stress in the grain at the bend of the branch.

They are quite fiddly, but I really enjoy carving these little spoons.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

OWC Spring Spoon Moot Revision....

Having nailed my colours to the mast after my years of prevaricating about organising a Midlands Spoon Carving event, and saying that I would just choose a date and stick to it, it now falls to me to announce a change of date. It hadn't occurred to me when I first picked a random arbitrary date that it happened to be Mother's Day weekend and could thus be difficult for people to commit to. So, I am going to put it back a week to Saturday 21st March. I hope that makes it a little more practical for you folks who are wishing to join us.

I'm thinking it will be at my home - I'll post an address closer to the date in case I have to change it - and imagining a 2 o'clock start (hopefully this will give everyone time to do their Saturday morning chores with their significant others - shopping, swimming lessons, football practise, cleaning the bathrooms, etc) and then we'll just keep going till we've had enough. Once we are all together, if we decide we want to do it again sometime, we can decide if there is a better time/day of the week in future.

Anyway, I'm excited to meet some fellow carvers, enthusiasts, beginners, and those who are simply intrigued by the notion of grown people spending time carving wooden spoons when they are only 45p at Wilkos and so want to take a look at the freaks. See you there?

Adventures in chair making part 1

Well, it's not exactly a chair, and I'm not particularly proud of it, but I guess it marks the first stop on our journey to chair making. Ju and I have been on school holiday this past week and we had lofty intentions of starting our chair project, but what we hadn't banked on was young children with chicken pox, tonsillitis and a bad back which meant I could hardly stand up. Well, we got together at Ju's on the Monday and I took with me some stool parts that I had begun some time ago and probably should have thrown away but I am more stubborn (and stupid) than that. I read a recent post on Peter Follansbee's blog asking the question 'what is green wood working' - well I'll tell you this for nothing, this oak was far from green wood. I'd been given the wood some time ago by my friend Dave - I'd guess 2 years ago. The legs I had hewn and shaved into rough octagons when they were green - the seat, which is a slab of oak (as are the legs) I have had drying out and seasoning nicely in my shed for the past couple of years. I must say, this is not a technique I would recommend, trying to carve seasoned oak, but needs must, and all that.

I saddled the seat using a couple wood gouges, a larger on first then went over it all again with a finer one to give more defined cuts. I had already decided to leave it with tool marks on as I really like the effect, not only because as yet neither of us have an inshave or travisher - I'm going to have to save up for one as they are not cheap. I had made things more difficult by leaving the rounded shape of the original oak log on the underside of the seat, meaning that clamping it down for carving was more difficult than it need have been as it rocked around all over the place. Still, a good lesson.

Once the seat was finished we drilled mortices with a brace and bit, estimating the angles as best we could using a carpenters adjustable square, and was quite happy with what we achieved. Drilling from the underside did mean we got some tear-out when the drill bit broke through the surface on the seat side - we'll have to work-out how to overcome that - any suggestions appreciated.

Julian had invested in a 5/8" Veritas tenon cutter which is a formidable bit of kit. For those who haven't seen one before, they look like this:

Ostensibly a great big pencil sharpener affair that you fix to your power drill and then offer up the legs or rungs or spindles you want a tenon on and Bob's your uncle - easier than falling off a horse (Aside - Dave, I know you were wary of using your lovely tenon cutter with seasoned oak but it cut through it like a hot knife through butter!).

EXCEPT: once you introduce the end of your leg into the funnel of the tenon cutter and the blade engages the wood, it snatches it up, draws it in and, if you're not careful, before you know it you've cut it and if it's wrong then it's too bad. There are methods of ensuring you don't cut the tenon any longer than you want it, but the mistake we made was getting carried away cutting the tenons without first checking how to ensure that the leg was centred, so that the tenon is in the centre, or that we were cutting straight and not off at an angle. Again, any advice on how to achieve this would be much appreciated. As it happens, our tenons turned out, shall we say, less than perfect, meaning that all the effort we had put into boring the angles of the mortises was a waste of time since the irregular tenons meant they were all skewiff anyway (that's colloquial English for wonky).

Anyway, we fitted the legs with a smear of PVA, since the parts were all dry so there was not going to be any shrink tightening. I had cut slots in the leg tenons, going with the grain, then knocked in wedges of dry ash, again making sure they were aligned against the grain so as not to open a split in the seat. We followed Drew Langsner's technique for leveling the legs - something we got wrong the first time and had to do again as we had one leg shorter than all the rest (invaluable lesson - once the angles have been marked on the bottom of each leg, turn the stool so that the face of the leg you are trimming to length is facing up, otherwise there's a risk of cutting the front of the leg too short; this is difficult to explain, but trust me, it makes a difference, or it did to us the first time we cut the legs) - which was a really clever but simple technique employing a pair of compasses and a bunch of small wedges cut from waste.

So, here is the finished stool - and it only took me best part of four years talking and thinking about it.

Look carefully and you can see the tear-out beside the revealed leg tenons.

Strong enough to hold me and Saxon for a bedtime story.

Saxon took an immediate shine to it so I thought it best if he had it. And doesn't he look thrilled - so easily pleased at that age.

...and good enough for Ninja Turtles!
As you can see, the angle on the spread of the front legs is not equal - not because the mortices were mis-cut but because the tenons were off centre and strangely angled - as I said 'skewiff'.