Carving – it’s real.

On a visit to Ilkley I took a couple of photos in the Manor House museum and the parish church next door. I should have taken my tripod, it was very dark in the church. Old buildings do have smaller windows.  Both these buildings are in the very old centre of Ilkley, in fact the Manor House is built on the site of a Roman fort and incorporates some of its stonework.

It’s good when you can find solid examples of work read about in books.  Here is a joined chair from the Manor House.  Not heavily decorated, and maybe unfinished?  The middle of the ‘flower’ designs on the top rail of the chair back seems vague compared to the other six.  The first initial on the crest rail seems barely more than marked out and the second initial and the ‘1’ of the date are rather shallowly defined.


The turnery and mouldings are bolder and crisper.  I’m going to have to look at this again and take better photos, there looks to be a decent zig-zag or dog tooth design on the front apron below the seat.  The panel in the back looks like it might have been repaired.

What I particularly like about these kind of pieces is the informal way the pattern is set out with no slavish adherence to symmetry.  This is a fairly basic design and execution compared to this beauty at Bolton Priory near to where I work.



This rather finely executed chair has a high regard for symmetry and those leaves on the panel are beautifully done.  The crest has great power, supported by the scrolled brackets.  It must be almost like wearing a crown sitting there in state.


This is the only stick of old furniture in the Priory, a little disappointing considering the priory , but The Victorians seem to have had a field day and all the woodwork is modern gothic, very dull to my taste.

Back in Ilkley The Victorians had also ripped out all the family pews, except for one:

Family Watkinson's pew dated 1633

Family Watkinson’s pew dated 1633

I need to go back and get a better picture as the whole thing is a pretty well preserved box pew.  It’s an enclosed pew which looks like this:

ilkley pew

© Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Quick body swerve back to the Manor house and here’s a real example of a table made to be set against the side of a room rather than in the middle.

Wall side:


SAMSUNG CSCOnly carved where it will be seen, otherwise just a nice bit of moulding. Interesting box there too.  Ah so much to discover and so little time.  I must return (well it’s about 10 minutes walk away!) to my village church where there are some very fine pew fronts (on 19th century working parts), I knew I remembered some good carvings from my choirboy days.

choir deskingKildwick

© Charles Tracey,Evaluating English Pews.

And what have I been doing?

SAMSUNG CSCTurning pigs’ noses, for Goodness sakes!



Oak, hazel and blue blue skies.

SAMSUNG CSCInspired by Peter Folansbee’s accomplished oak work, I’ve been working on a joined oak stool, for quite some time now.  In fact so long I doubt whether it would even qualify as green woodworking any longer.  I don’t seem to have photographed the riving of the parts and planing the components, but it feels like ages ago.  I got busy with other paid work and the oak sat there getting drier and drier.

The picture above isn’t oak at all, its sweet chestnut.  Much softer than English oak.  I used it to practise some gouge work, which is all new to me.  I’m following  Mr F’s great book Make a joint stool from a tree. I’ve also drawn some inspiration from photographs of beautiful work in Oak Furniture, the British tradition by Victor Chinnery.  The flower design is taken from a stunning little hung cupboard.

SAMSUNG CSCMost of the flowers have seven petals, except the one centre left through which the key is inserted, and its opposite number on the right, oh yes and the centre bottom one … but not the centre top.  These unexplained details fascinate me and give the work such a life of its own.  As I look at this photograph now, I’m beginning to think there’s some punch work on the petals I hadn’t previously noticed.  I’ve filed a cross-shaped punch to decorate the ground on my stool aprons.

So I began by shooting off the rather stained surface and checking everything was still square.  Marked off the tenons and then laid out the pattern.  I don’t have Peter’s confidence yet so I’m afraid the two foot was rather in evidence to get things in the right place.

SAMSUNG CSCNot easy to see, but basically the width of the moulding, a couple of margins and the three circles for the flowers.

I used an old moulding plane for the edge and then attacked with a suitable gouge.

SAMSUNG CSCArgh!  Why do these photos always make the gouge cuts look inside out?  Makes me feel a little sea sick.  I was careful to follow the advice to make the gouge cuts into the solid, not into the last cut (got that one from The Woodwright’s Shop I can’t quite remember which of PF’s appearances that was).  It’s a bit nerve-racking by this stage as there is quite a bit of time invested in each piece.  Wow, turning the legs was scary after an epic mortising session spread over a couple of weeks.

Setting out the petals was an interesting exercise.  I found a geometrical method set out in By Hand & Eye accompanying animations, but that just seemed far too over the top for my project.  I ended up using the guessing method.  Set the dividers to what you estimate will make sevenths of the scribed circle.  Then divide up the remainder into sevenths by eye and increase/decrease the divider setting accordingly.  This seemed to work out OK.  Then I found a gouge that just about did the job with a little rotation at either end to fill out the space  See how I cunningly made the space between two petals fall at the bottom where that little margin is rather vulnerable.  Looks to me like the craftsman who made the cupberd above just went for it as the attitudes are quite varied, a bit like real flowers are!

Anyway this is what it looks like at the moment.

SAMSUNG CSCNot a patch on the old one, but I have to start somewhere.

Like the coppicing.  I’ve been working there three Winters now and the amount still to be cut is pretty intimidating.


Today I cut another five stools and an extraction way out.


Although from this shot I’m still deep in the woods – can you spot my red gloves in there?


There’s an old dry stone wall as derelict as the coppice running through the wood, and it’s a mixture of limestone and millstone grit, one of the Craven geological faults being nearby.  Here is a nice bit of limestone that people used to like to take home and plonk on their wall tops (no longer allowed!).


The weather is quite mad here.  We’ve had blue skies now for days. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC

Took me a while to find some hazel catkins that were not yet overblown.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd any minute now the blackthorn will be in bloom (flowers before leaves, if you please).





SAMSUNG CSCPhew!  Where to start?  Maybe in the morning (as above).

I took the role of morning hot water monitor:

SAMSUNG CSCEarly morning is my favourite time of day – a whole day ahead to spoil, and not many people about.


The fire ring was big and usually had embers in from the revels of the previous night, so it was easy to rekindle it and race the gallon kettle against the Kelly Kettle.

The festival is a great meet up place, OK currently only two continents, but I can’t see that lasting for long.  People carve spoons all together, all the time (the first axes start at about 7am):


Check out how concentrated everyone is.

But spoonfest is not just spoon-carving alone, it is about learning and meeting people.

Here is  Fritiof Runhall explaining the development of wooden spoon styles as living traditions changed and associated ergonomics.  So cranked handles are hypothesised to go back to a communal bowl and straight handles can only work with individual bowls (i.e. when the standards of living changed).

SAMSUNG CSCThis is JanHarm ter Brugge.  Jan excels at teaching spoon decoration amongst other things.


He is an excellent disseminator of techniques, principles and design.  This is his illustration of a Sami maze decoration:

I learnt a lot from him, and I’m aiming to copy this style:
There’s a mistake in one spoon – can you see it? Jan explained that mistakes are fine as they reinforce the hand-made quality.

This is Jarrod  Stonedahl explaining how to make and use ‘natural’ paints, oil paint, milk paint, egg tempura with earth pigments for colouring.  I learnt why my paint wasn’t working – missed out the lime!

SAMSUNG CSCNic Westerman’s rather neat blacksmithy.  He demonstrated in full forging an axe, the crowds were rather deeper when that was happening!

Not all hard work and learning.  2013 saw the premier of The Spoonfest Athletics.  Here is the start of the race to stir a cup of tea with a wooden spoon no-handed.
There were a handful of races in the championship including The maker who looks most like their spoon.  Fritiof that afternoon had made a spoon with a statue of himself as the handle, it was topped off with a bunch of his own hair!  Steve Tomlin was overall winner, and I should really have taken a vid of his extraordinary victory tour.

Great weekend, great people, great location,


and I learned quite a bit too – my spoon knife is now pretty damn sharp, and I should be able to stitch leather neatly, I’ve got the basics of playing the spoons (thanks Jo) and I’ve already got the first stage of a moulded hook knife sheath.

The finale again was spoon club with around 200 people all doing 5 minutes carving a spoon and then passing it on.  Although not a race, it was hard concentration, as you can see the moment after the hour was up:

SAMSUNG CSCThis is the output from out group

SAMSUNG CSCA big thank you to these two guys who put so much effort into the production of Spoonfest.

SAMSUNG CSCRobin Wood & Barn The Spoon in very uncharacteristic reflective mode.



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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Snow bowl

Rather snowy in Strid Wood today.  Despite that I managed to keep warm hewing an 18″ bowl for a client.  (A couple of syrup tin potatoes and hotted up soup helped too.)

I’m using sycamore that is from the current felling.  It is surprisingly hard and I broke the handle of the maul (again!) splitting it out of the log.  The bowl cutting came along pretty good.  The shape is based on a seed, possibly a grain.

The figure in the wood is pleasing as well, sycamore can be quite plain sometimes.

After getting the inside about right I had a massive amount of hewing on the outside to get it shaped up.  I was having to remove clothing, but nothing too racy – left me hat on.  I think the floor must have risen about another 1/2 inch again.  Just after I’ve had a good rake out as well.

I’m leaving the front and back ends thick for now as they are taking a lot of the force of the hewing as I rest the bowl on end on the chopping block.  Still some to go.

I think so far it’s going to work out well though.  Here it is outside to kill the green cast I get under my tarp.

I’m keeping it wet as possible, I don’t look forward to working this baby dry! May pause felling tomorrow to get it finished.

A parliament of owls, and things to be glad and brave about.

This is a bunch of prototypes, only one was owl-like enough – guess which.

The prototypes have ended up strung out on a branch of birch on permanent display, whilst I endeavoured to reproduce the best one for sale.  These resulted from some internet research by Theo, my nephew, so that’s something to be glad about.

Also gladness hence; we run two wood burning stoves, which puts heavy demand on newspaper, and as we only get newspaper twice a week, we quickly run out of the easily burning stuff.  I resort to the recycling bins and dive for newspapers (The Church Times is best, big and untreated, burns a treat) today I got a decent handful in the morning and an armful this evening, pure gladness.

The weather here is really horrible (but nowhere near as bad as in Scotland (home of The Brave, as in “Scotland the Brave” not:

They were brave too.)

OK so lousy weather, nearly decided not to put any wares out for sale this morning, but did.  And out of the handful of brave people who passed by, some bought a deer, some bought a (pre-ordered) butter slab, and even some people who said they would come back and buy something (this usually means we won’t come back and buy anything) did come back and buy some elves and a garlic press.  Something-else to be glad about.

Also, the riving wind, I noticed has brought a branch down from a douglas fir (an export from the Land of the Free), seasonal decorations for the Bodgery, photo to follow, when we get a bit of frost.  Yet another thing to be glad about.

And the key event of the day was a simple spring repair to my metal clarinet, that I started repairing and broke last night.

So all in all a very good day.


And … my daughter has an office move into the middle of London from the outskirts opposite the other outskirts(ish) to where she lives, giving her an extra day a month by shortening her journey.  Whizzo!