Month: June 2011

Birch Bowl

I was working at a friends in March and April when work here was slow, he has a tree service and was real busy ,too busy to take care of the operations there at the shop. He wants to make and sell benches, has a saw mill (more on that later) there’s work in his house, it’s awesome lots of unique wood , hand rails, steps ,doors etc. any way he brought a whole load of birch back one day and I dove right in, he said “I thought you’d want some of that”. It’s really great stuff the kind of medium that takes you to another place and time when working it.This is a great vid. It was good timing for the upcoming shows I have. Making wooden ware is fun you can be creative and although there are rules to follow in the beginning it’s not real strict. Work around knots and scars and figure out where the top and bottom will be and, split. This stuff was sopping wet, the sap was running , she was in full spring mode, the bark stripped off in sheets. I was able to hold this blank between my feet while adzing, made sure there were chips from the hewing under it so not to collect grit from the floor and roughed out. You can see I established a center line this helps to draw a roughly uniform shape to be excavated.I am ahead of myself here there is a process to flatten the split side with the axe and winding sticks, scrub plane and smoothing plane first, then go with the adze work. I’ve been making bowls lately this way, from the bark side, its more challenging to get a lot of depth but I don’t think salad bowls need to be super deep anyway. You get a nice grain pattern it follows the contour of the shape your creating on the outside and the growth rings swirl smaller and smaller to the bottom of the bowl. I was gettin real restless for some water time when making this, spring fever?          

descending growth rings

This was a large blank and it was possible to get depth, detail with curves, length and width.When the wood is wet it’s easy-going too much so sometimes you really have to check the thickness of the walls and bottom often or you’ll go through.It’s kind of a slow process but when it gets thin it’s as if time accelerates. Also trying to remove any tear out takes a lot of focus and concentration, it’s easy to forget about going through a wall.
The process is always moving in start and stop mode, you do some maybe a few hours then put it away in a plastic bag to sweat out the moister. This way the bowl wont crack because it’s drying to fast , its in a very wet climate with no fresh air being added but the moisture is being pulled out. Here you’ve stopped working but the process is still moving forward.
The dryer it is the less tear out you’ll experience but the wood will be harder and the process slower so you wanna get it close as you dare before the last bag storage.
There I go again with the Bench Cookies, it worked good. Clamping these puppies down is always a creative challenge. This dog leg gouge is a Hans Karlsson from C.W This is one of the most usefull tools I have though I mostly use it for bowls it is indispensible. That said I still went to far. I stopped to check my progress on the bottom and man you could see light shinning through, I went to far, push on it and the infected spot flexed. It was about the size of a nickel. It hadn’t cracked and there was no tear out inside the bowl so it was ok but I don’t trust it, would eventually crack, wich wouldn’t be the end of the world it would still be usable but I would be super bummed and definitely would not sell it. I have a lot of heart and time in this piece and need it for the GunPowder show.I ended up putting a base plate on it, a piece of cherry that was decorative, it’s actually two pieces book matched to make up the width I needed.
It made it heavy and I’m annoyed at myself for the mistake but the fix was succesful.
It was the first sale I had that day.
This little guy is kinda cool too its a limb section that tapers from end to end, very subtle,but I think it adds a design element that is all its own I couldn’t do that. At first I didn’t know what it would be used for but it felt right to make it,when it was done Amelia said it would be good to serve asparagus, now I can see crackers, a bowl to eat an ear of corn….. when you make or get this type of organic woodenware it finds many uses.
Birch narrow bowl

Shaping an Alaia Surfboard

I have always wanted to shape a surfboard, the foam and glass kind.A few months back Sievert’s called and talked me into making an Alaia, a traditional Polynesian surfboard, it didn’t take much convincing I was immediately searching the web for information. I always thought Catalpa would be a great wood for a surf board and still do but sawn it’s not very plentiful. Turns out Paulownia is the wood the Polynesians used before reaching Hawaii. It grows like crazy around here it’s not unusual to see one popping from a crack in the sidewalk . The three woods of choice in Hawaii at that time seems to have been the Wiliwili (Hawaiian Balsa) a very buoyant wood used in floats for fishing nets and to make the Olo, the longest of the wooden boards at 18′ to 25′. The Ula (or bread fruit) has sap used as a glue and the leaves used as sandpaper. And the Koa, similar in strength and weight to our Black Walnut, it was used for bodyboards and alaia’s. There has been a revival or new-found interest in these boards brought on largely by Tom Wegener. I remember in the late eighties there was a lot of talk of Paulownia how its a fast growing tree and praised in Japan,….. so start growing it now and maybe yours will be ready to harvest before everybody and their brother gets on the band wagon,it was talked about as the new cash crop by guys I worked with,not to many people did it though. As luck would have it Sieverts found a guy here in Maryland who did listen and invest in the propagation of these trees, he has a plantation in South Carolina and one here in MD. and he’s the guy that the big shapers get their stock from, he ships all over the world. Pretty cool, no ordering some exotic species that has to be shipped from a far away land and shaped with love and devotion just to be a complete failure, snap in half and sink to the bottom cause I really don’t know what I’m doing. Me being of little space and minimum power tools had to bring Cris into my confined hand tool world. We did thickness plane them with the Dewalt 13″ power planer but had to flatten one side by hand first because they had some twist, this was a bit of planing using the winding sticks .He like a lot of people, don’t use hand tools much and he didn’t seem to mind.No power jointer so we edged em by hand, with a sharp blade and properly set up plane it doesn’t take long to square them up for glueing.This wood is really soft and planes easily. Then glued with west systems 6×10 wich is super over kill I know now after messing around with it, it’s not going to come apart at the glue joint. Next time I’m going to use Titebond III. Then we traced from templates Cris got on line in a PDF format. Jig sawed them out and hand planed to the line. There is a good set of instructions that come with the template PDF from Wegener its well worth the 15 bucks, he illustrates how to do the basic shaping.

We beveled the rails two inches or so from the edge to 1/4 from the center of the edge with a draw knife and hand plane. My rails finished at about 3/8″ thick.

Bevel the rail with hand plane

The only rocker the board has is a relief on the underside about 16″ from the nose. Rocker helps keep a board from pearling or having the nose go under while taking off. The flatter the board the faster the ride and the less forgiving too, so this will be a learning experience but what I have seen and heard is these boards glide, like real fast and smooth.


We used a scrub plane and a travisher to make the concave in the bottom, this helps hold the board in the wave so it doesn’t slide down the face as easily or allow the wave to wash under the board and pop off the back of the wave. A quick power sand and couple of coats of Tung Oil and were ready! I wanted to show some pics of the finished boards. And to say how neet it was to work with Paulownia, I most likely would not have had the opportunity to experience this wood had it not been for this project. I made a comment about not having to use exotic lumber but this experience was as if I had, there are so many unusual characteristics of Paulownia it is extremely flexible with out being very dense, that’s what makes it maneuverable in the surf is the ability to bend and bow flex and twist. There are a few different ways to seal the wood, Linseed oil seems to be the most popular, I saw in the how to we got from Wegener that pure Tung Oil is the best in that it resist mold, protects better and doesn’t darken with age. I was looking forward to it darkening up and having a patina all its own. Maybe it will. I have a quart of Tung Oil I bought years ago and never used because of the slow dry time so here was a good opportunity to put a dent in it. It took almost two weeks to dry but did and had a nice rough texture to scuff sand, the second coat wont take as long to dry. I’ let ya know how it works.