Spoon Club of two

I’m on a journey with carving spoons.  Making them is the most demanding work I do in wood as the tolerances are very, very fine; the risk management (one slip and it’s firewood) is high; the design content almost outweighs everything else; the number of beautiful spoons carved by other people is very high.  OK so it’s not an easy thing, I’d like to say I do it for relaxation, as I certainly don’t do it to make money!

Cyclo Cross Group

CycloCross Group (Photo credit: mirod)

However, making a spoon is a very concentrated piece of work, which lasts quite a long time, it’s a bit like riding the Yorkshire Three Peaks Cyclocross bike race – concentrated effort over a sustained period.




The thing is while I’m carving a spoon I can not think about anything else.  That is a good thing I think.

So here are two hazel spoons I’m working up.  I’ve done this design around four times before, all in hazel. They are copied from a Scottish horn spoon that we’ve had around the house for some years. This time I’ve made two at once.  A bit like in a spoon club pass round, I worked on one for a spell and then swapped to the other.  The main thing I noticed was that the second run always seemed to work better and more quickly than the first.  I guess I’m learning from the first making.

Axing out the split log:

This is bark up, that is, the bottom of the bowl and the back of the spoon facing the pith at the centre of the log.  You can see the brown line of the pith in the left hand half that’s just split. I’ve split the log with my little ‘Gem’ axe that I reserve for spoons and then with the right-hand half I’ve axed off the pith and the outside until it’s flat and wide enough to draw on the outline of the spoon.

Now I’ve got them both ready for tracing an outline.  I’d like to get away from this outline, but it gives me the overall length and width and a guide to the shape I’m after.

Here they’re drawn in:

And now I’ve axed the shapes out.

At this point I stopped and re-read the notes I’d taken at Spoonfest when attending Steve Tomlin‘s workshop on improving your spoons.

This gave me a good plan to follow instead of flitting about all over the spoon blank at will. My next tasks were: complete the plan profile of the handle, then the bowl, carve the underside of the bowl, carve the stem – where the handle joins the spoon last.  Hollow the bowl after the underside of the bowl is done.  All the time checking for symmetry and line.  I finished them off this morning and they are now awaiting poker-work from Jane and dispatch to customers.  They turned out slightly different, but I think carving two at once is a good thing for improving my carving.

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Bashing ash and Wild about Wood

On Jarrod StoneDahl’s mocotaugan making course last month we got into a discussion about delaminating ash to make splints for weaving.  Jarrod does this for his wife to make baskets from.  See his post on this here.

There was some feeling that this used to be done in the UK.  However, the ash Jarrod uses is a swamp growing variety which grows very quickly so the annual rings are thick. There was some feeling that Edlin had something about this, and indeed on page 28 of his Woodland Crafts in Britain 1949 he describes a Yorkshire tradition of soaking an ash log for several months in a running stream and, after drying, the log is hammered with a wooden mallet causing strips to split off along the annular rings, the bands being used for making birch and heather besoms.  He also has a picture (plate 114) of two men stacking besom heads in Winlaton, Durham and describes the ash as riven.

I’ve eventually tracked down more info on the Yorkshire use of ash strips for fastening ling together to make brooms.

Them were the days.  These are pictures from “Life and Traditions in The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire” by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby (Smith Settle 1990). There they go off to market, notice the oak ‘scuttles’ in the background, these look like the ones we made with Owen Jones.

There is a clearer picture of the tools used in “Made in England” by Dorothy Hartley, Eyre Methuen 1939 (This really is a most excellent book with lots of added colour – look at the adder on the rock.)  The picture will zoom in twice as it’s a scanned image.

So you don’t get a crick in your neck, here it is turned so you can get a flavour of Dorothy Hartley’s writing style:

One of the joys of this book is that she actually took the trouble to go out and visit the craftsmen and record, first hand, how they worked, she often travelled by bike and slept under hedges. There is an excellent account of coppice work on page 23.

Castle Howard

Only two more shows left this year now, having completed our tour of duty at Wild About Wood at Castle Howard.  It really is a joy to work there in the arboretum with so many unfamiliar, wonderful trees from around the world:

We camped a couple of nights next to a Chinese maple.

This beauty is an ash tree, but not as we know it!


The Hepworth Gallery

On a good rainy day off Jane and I went to The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield (this city used to be the administrative centre of the dear departed West Riding of Yorkshire).

It is housed in a new building:

It looks very austere from without, but it is astounding inside (more later).

Outside the artistic taste buds are whetted:

This is, with 3 other surviving chapels, unique in the country.  A bridge chapel.  In fact sometimes called The Chapel on the Bridge. It was built in the 14th century in the middle of the River Calder, sharing its foundations and source quarry with the bridge.  And look at that West front – black, just as all town and city buildings once were in the West Riding, polluted with the coal smoak from the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution.  It is so small and perfect, and unexpected on our visit to The Hepworth, that I can’t resist another photo:

Man, that was proper building, and financed by the townsmen of Wakefield (don’t believe the rumours about the Duke of York – and his brother – the Earl of Rutland). The first chaplains were Bill Kay and Bill Bull presented by the founders in 1356.  Read more about it all here.

On the other side of The Hepworth are other survivors of the industrial past, canal stuff, get this warehouse:

Well a lot of “corn, cake and barley” must have shipped through this building in the past. However, these are mere distractions from the meat of the gallery.

This is a pretend building.  Printed on canvas, showing an old British Waterways warehouse how it might have been before dereliction and uncomfortably close to this:

A bronze by Barbara.  Immensely powerful with fabulous textures:

And patina:

It seems to me that outside is where many of Barbara’s work live.  But the exhibition is inside.  Quick look outside from inside:

Ah! Yorkshire rain, who can beat it (Cumbria – Ed.)

And just to complete those outside pics, here’s a view down the locker/toilet corridor:

Dig that brickwork. The interior is a study in muted color.  My camera is not good enough to capture it, you would need to go and see it yourself, but it stands back from the stuff inside like this:

This is the biggest piece indoors.  It is a prototype and the original lives on the outside of the John Lewis Partnership building off Oxford Street, London.

She was quite some craftsman, barbara, and the Gallery exhibits some of her tools and workbench:

Some dodgy stuff here, but I envy the draw knife, loads of meat left on that yet!

It is a busy gallery (great!) and there were loads of students busy drawing these fabulous shapes:

A bit pointless trying to capture these works digitally, and I wasn’t allowed to do so with the Richard Long slate and stick installations, but they did match up pretty well to Bab’s stuff.

We managed to spend around 4 hours in there, with  a beer and sandwich break:

All in all a grand day out within about an hour’s train journey of home, only spoilt by missing the half-painted shed alongside the railway line by about one garden:


Shrink pots at the Tarn

I ran a course at Malham Tarn Centre making shrink pots (probably shrink boxes would be a better translation of the Swedish, but we seem to have fallen into this translation).  The centre has been running for over 50 years and mainly accommodates students of the environment for field studies of the surrounding limestone area.  The Tarn is effectively the source of the River Aire which runs down my home valley.  There is no surface exit from the Tarn, instead the collected water runs away underground and reappears beneath the 260 foot high Malham Cove which is a spectacular limestone cliff where peregrine falcons nest.

The Tarn looked very well as I left last Sunday.

The chaps attending my course did very well making pots.  I find people enjoy hard work and the satisfaction of making something by hand:

The bandage is on a wound Liz brought into the course, thankfully no wounds this time.

The results were impressive too, here is a sample.

The sculpture is a work in progress brought along by Beverley for show and tell.  We used the stock knife to slice off a little waste wood on what was become a rather tough dry material.

It seemed rather odd working in a classroom and courtyard, it’s always the hard flooring that gets me.  Dropping edge tools isn’t an option, unlike at work where the deep shavings litter saves all edges from damage.  The horses and benches don’t react well either and I had two leg repairs to do afterwards.  A simple operation with the type of legs I have on my benches!

On my way home I felt very lucky to live in such a glorious part of the world:

National Forest Wood Fair

Last weekend (well I suppose it’s the one before last now) I was in Leicestershire’s Beacon Hill Country Park for the NationalForest Wood Fair.  The National Forest has been a project for quite a number of years and for most of that was to me just a sign on the M1 motorway “National Forest”.  It now spans some 200 square  miles of established and recently planted woodland.

I was joined by a great bunch of the UK pole lathe fraternity for log to leg racing – twice daily.  Team event in the mornings and singles in the afternoon. Turning Windsor chair legs under pressure is not what I usually spend my working day doing, but it’s a bit of fun and entertains the crowd, helped along by the calm, informative commentary from Jim Steele

Here I am sweating away in my Winter vest:

The other chaps competing along were Dave Jackson (on his way to barrack me here, I think)

Peter Wood,

Mike Ashton at his bow lathe, calm, collected, precise.

and Matt Jarvis, a man very skilled in the art of cutting cords.

Peter  gave a great demonstration of steam bending, making four ash hoops in quick time.

Mind you he did have the massive advantage of the use of my steaming cabinet.  His steam generator, sitting atop my failed one, was very nifty; he draws the steam off from the top into a flexible pipe and introduces water via a pipe which reaches almost to the bottom of the converted gas cylinder he uses.  Thus he can get steam from about a pint of water and only tops it up when the inlet pipe emits steam, thus indicating that the boiler is running low on water.  Simple but very effective – just what I like.

It was a two-day affair this year so we camped (fun putting up a brand new tent with head torches!). It meant I had more time to look around.  The most exciting I saw was Phil Gregson wheelwright.  Phil put on a great display of shodding two cannon wheels with steel tyres.

Very fine joinery work on the wooden wheel parts:

He keeps very busy with wheels for hoop top caravans, private and museum commissions. I liked the way he gets the tyre out of the fire:

The hooping bench all ready for the tyre looks good too, especially through the heat of the fire:

Time devised methods like the inside dishing of the wheel which tightens the whole job if it drops into a pothole and the weight of the vehicle pushes against the nave (boss).

All in all a good weekend away, with pretty good weather, excellent indian food from Afia’s, local beer and good company.