Chokecherry

It has been a couple of weeks since my last blog as I have been away on a short vacation to Niagara Falls. It was really nice to get away in the busy time of summer

A short while before I left a friend kindly gave me some Chokecherry wood. This is a small suckering shrub or small tree found across most of America. I had not carved this before and also had not carved green (wet) wood for quite a while. What a pleasure to have your knife glide through green wood. I know why some spoon carvers exclusively use green wood. It’s so much easier on the hands!

The wood though somewhat plain, had a pleasing brown center to add some contrast.

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This photo also shows the parent piece of wood I cut the spoon from. It seems to be treated as an invasive, undesirable plant here, as it is a host to the tent caterpillar.

I was happy however to carve a bit of it and will try to get some more for a few spoons. One of the pieces I made was a coffee scoop. In addition to the brown center it had several patches of coloration adding further interest.

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Give it a nice curvy handle and it made a very acceptable scoop.

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Speaking of the French Roast – I think I am going to make a brew of Joe!

Mixed feelings

Like any craftsman I always have mixed feelings about selling any of my work. Each piece is lovingly created by hand and takes many hours. It is not duplicated in any way. Other than the initial roughing-out there is no machine involved in any part of the process. So its very personal. I cannot help feeling somewhat attached to each piece!

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After I had been carving for a couple of years my wife said to me “you cannot just keep all these spoons – you should try selling some” This evoked quick and harsh feelings – a sense of panic even. How could I sell them? What would folk think? What if I am ridiculed? How would I even go about this?

Well to tell the truth – it started very slowly one spoon to a friend, a month or two later another also to a friend. In my mind – were they just being kind, or did they really like them? Then a friend of the friend – then it seemed to be pretty regular that someone heard about my spoons “from a friend of a friend”

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My son was very encouraging and suggested that I post regular photos. This I did though Facebook initially and then I started an instagram account and try to post a photo there every day. This has found a good deal of interested followers and it seems to grow daily.

Then my son suggested I launch my own website and perhaps do a blog and this is the result. I have to say it is now hard to keep up with it all and still hold down a regular job. This past week I have sold 4 spoons to England – and some visitors bought six! My stock is depleted. Now that’s a good thing but I still feel a serious sense of attachment with each spoon that departs my home. The overriding saving grace though, is that it is a validation of my craft and art.

Thank-you to all the purchasers for that.

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Commission

I had a very interesting commission recently. A regular customer at the store where I work knew that I did spoon carving. He had a intriguing request regarding a piece of Ash. His family had the use of a canoe belonging to a friend. One of the thwarts of the canoe had become rotten on the edges and he replaced the thwart with a new one.

This was how I received it:

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He specified that he did not want straight spoons but wanted them curly or bent. Within the limitations of the piece of Ash, I laid out the best I could using the whole width, and most of the length. As the colour is fairly plain I also set holes at the ends of the spoon to add some interest.

This was my rough cut out:

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Ash is different from any wood I have carved in that it alternates from softish to very hard wood with the growth rings. This gives a very distinct feel as you carve – almost a feel of corrugations.

As I have said many times – the sharper your tool the easier the carve,

The following pic clearly shows the growth rings in this wood.

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I was quite pleased with the final outcome and so was the customer. The thwart now lives on, and hopefully will grace many a meal. This has spawned another commission – this time a set of salad servers as a wedding present. Better get busy on those……

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Sharpening a gouge

Sharpening my gouges is probably my least favorite part of carving and most likely because I am not practised enough to be confident of doing a great job. Fortunately I live close to my son (bidaweebushcraft) and he makes my knives and gouges. He makes the sharpening look so easy and does it in no time at all. While I can I intend to use and abuse him for my sharpening!

A plug for him – he does make knives and gouges to most specifications and does other knife work using damascus and exotic handle material too. As he is full-time employed it is a hobby for him and he is happy for commission work where time is not a constraint.

So this week I feature him doing another sharpening of one of my tools in a short video clip.

Enjoy.

Sharpening your knives (part 1)

This past week I spent some time in the workshop of @bidaweebushcraft where he showed me his sharpening techniques. Bidaweebushcraft is my son and he can be found on Instagram as such. He is a professional Squash and Tennis coach but a skilled craftsman in many areas, but more especially knife and blade making. I am very fortunate to have these skills “on tap” so to speak.

In this post I will add a short video clip of him sharpening a flat blade knife that he made me. It is my main carving tool for all outside edges of any carving. I use it also for rapid removal of material. It is of the Scandinavian design and holds its edge really, really well. I guess it’s all in the tempering. On my tools page in this website, there are more technical descriptions of the blade. He does make custom blades and more recently damascus knives with exotic handles.

So without further ado – herewith the clip.

 

So a couple of things I want to mention. Firstly a piece of scrap leather can be used to hold the knife securely without damaging the handle. Secondly he uses a simple setup to secure the blade using a normal bench-mounted vice and then a quick release clamp in the vice. This allow fast repositioning of the knife to the best ergonomic setup suited to you. What goes without saying, is that the knife MUST be held securely and safely.

On a humourous note his wife was telling me later that she wondered why his forearm was shaved!

Finishing off with a couple of shots of the knife with some spoons I carved.

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Reflections on my first craft fair

So just had my first fair and I thought I would share some thoughts on it. I must admit to being a bit nervous not really knowing what to expect. It soon became apparent however that this was misplaced concern, as folk were fascinated and loved every aspect. Hand crafts are very popular in New England and particularly those with more traditional skills involved. The fair was 6 hours long and I did not have a moment without some folk at my stall. I was carving during chats and everyone found that interesting.

I also had many spoons in various stages from log billets to ready for sanding.

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I also had some green wood pieces in water as I usually do this to keep green wood from splitting before I cut and carve it. Another easily demonstrable process.

In hindsight I probably had too many spoons displayed and next time i would focus on less. the old adage that less is more!

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One very cool hack that I learnt was that some crafters carry several empty plastic jugs which they fill with water on site and then use as gazebo rope weights. Wish I had done that as the area I was allocated was on a paved road so my spikes were of no use! I guess I shall have similar gallon bottles as well for the next time!

In hindsight I regret not taking photos of spoons with their new owners – that would have been a great record to have. It would also serve as a record of which ones sold. Definitely next time I will make an effort to do that.

All in all it was a very successful day – sold lots of spoons – got several commissions and above all had fun.

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My journey to my 1st craft fair

This blog is a little more personal for those who may be interested in getting to know me.

My grandfather was a cabinetmaker of some repute and certainly a lot of skill. Sadly he died when I was 12, and well before I grew to love woodworking. I guess some things however took deeper root before he left us.

I was born in Rhodesia in 1958 and Rhodesia which later became Zimbabwe certainly takes some responsibility in my love of all things in nature. I am always drawn to the outside without exception and am deeply appreciative of little natural things and natural events. One of my many other loves is photography, and especially that of little stuff.

I lived and worked on a tea estate for most of my life and what a great place for my children to grow up. During my early years there I purchased a woodworking lathe and with no experience or tuition I started turning things for our house. Sometimes this was much to the exasperation of my wife as I would excitedly bring in my next item while dragging in wood-shavings all through the house.

Folk started admiring some of my work and I began to make pieces as gifts and that grew quite quickly until I felt the need to start selling some items. The next step was, I really needed a bandsaw to help all the other preparation in getting wood ready for the lathe.

All the while I was holding a full time job and being kept busy with the usual delights that two young children bring to your home. The woodwork grew and grew and in a few short years I had 16 machines and 3 full time carpenters all working from our home. We made everything from dining-room suites to jewelry and everything in between – all of African hardwood which was extremely plentiful without cutting any tree that did not have to come down for the building of something.

It was a very happy time and we made a little money too. Everyone loved our furniture. Our children grew up and left home, married and started their own lives and families.

Things on the national front however become ever more difficult with so much corruption by the Mugabe regime. Every day that dawned seemed to bring another oppressing piece of legislation protecting himself and his cronies, and bringing economic hardships to the populace. Much of his new laws and hatred was specifically directed towards white folk and farmers. Eventually like most before us we decided to pack-up and leave the land of our birth. It was not an easy decision. We sold and gave away everything choosing to emigrate to USA. This was a long and hard journey indeed. We arrived here with two suitcases and some 4 months later 2 cubic meters of our most treasured possessions arrived.

This coming week marks our 4th year living in New hampshire and truly it does feel like home. Even though the African fire that burns within one’s soul will never be extinguished – we are happy.

I only started carving spoons here and have been much encouraged by my son who makes amazingly good knives and therefore carving tools for me. Again folk love my spoons and I have sold and exported them all over the world. It’s a very small business but very satisfying indeed. Every spoon is lovingly hand-made and unique. The interest and sales has grown this year and this Sunday I will display at my first craft fair as part of the Harrisville “Old Homes” weekend. I am sure I will learn much about this side of my craft. Presently I am employed 6 days a week as co-manager of the (pretty famous) Harrisville General Store, but who knows where my carving will take me. I am finding it hard to squeeze out enough hours in the day to keep up with spoon-carving.

And to tell the truth I cannot wait to see the next spoon revealed everytime I take my knife to a piece of wood.

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Our store featured in the visitors guide to NH 2016-17 (me on the left!)

 

 

 

Different woods – part 3 (final for now!)

For now I shall continue this blog series by showing the last 4 woods that I have carved. There are several others but I do not have enough experience to show those yet.

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Pine – specifically spalted Pine is something I have carved plenty of, since I was lucky enough to find a stump of dry spalted pine with enough girth to carve more than 100 spoons. It is very hard, a characteristic not usually associated with Pine. This has very defined and distinctive lines of spalting and I find them so pleasing – almost like lines on a map. It is reasonably easy to carve but takes quite a bit of sanding to achieve a really fine finish. There is no apparent weakness in this Pine or along the lines of spalting but there are quite a few “end shakes” or cracks that I have to work in between. I have tried carving fresh pine with no outcome that I enjoyed. It seems however that others have had success with very old reclaimed pine. Perhaps that’s the key.

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This is Ash – its very hard and I do not find it too interesting. It is very very strong however and I felt as if I could use it to lever the car off the ground! It seems very stable and I guess will be very hard wearing. I do need to try to find some with more interesting grain. Never come across any with spalting.

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This is Birch that I carved as part of a wedding present very recently. The bride is a chef, so I am sure they will get some use! It was part of a load of firewood recently delivered to me and the brown and white was too striking to use in a fire!. It’s a hard, long-grained and stable wood that takes a pleasant finish. History has shown that it has long been used, with Oak, as a preferred wood for kitchen utensils. I certainly concur.

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I have also carved many items from spalted Birch of which there is so much around, even in our own backyard. It shows similar markings to that of spalted Pine – a natural beauty. It often reminds me of an artist’s representation of a skyline.

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Lastly the Maple – there are so many variations of this tree let alone variations in the wood. It seems that you are dealing with a new wood type every time. I find that one has to be very careful carving most Maple because of frequent grain direction changes. This necessitates that you change the direction of your blade to avoid “lift-ups” . I have found the spalted Maple very rewarding , but then I am a huge spalting fan. Again because it is a very common tree in this part of the world it is easy to get your hands on some. Indeed you can also buy it cheaply at your local hardware store allowing you to carefully choose some with pleasing grain.

Next week is my first craft fair so I am working hard towards that. Wish me luck!

Different Woods – part 2

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Ambrosia Maple is one of the woods I have really enjoyed carving. These two scoops have some spalting, adding to the drama of the piece. It carves easily although durably hard, The grain is even and it gives a clean finish. I do not have lots of experience with this wood as I was only given one piece but am able to get a few spoons from that one piece. Like most carvers I generally use every tiny scrap! Interesting to me is that it has several tiny holes in the wood caused by the Ambrosia beetle. These are easily filled and stabilized and I think they add, rather that detract from the carving.

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Peach is another very striking wood with a very distinctive grain. I was give quite a bit from large prunings a few years ago and very much regret not roughing out many spoons while it was still green. Now totally dry, it is very hard. It finished very smoothly and if you are careful with choosing where and how you carve, you can really bring out the grain into interesting features.

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This scoop demonstrates that very well as it seems to have a rather stern expression!

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From a colour perspective, Lilac Wood is very striking – the contrast in the outer white wood and the heartwood is amazing. A really much harder wood that it may seem, it is close-grained and very strong. Again a small piece was given to me by a knifemaking friend who used it for knife handles due to its stability and strength. Both characteristics that also suit the perfect spoon. Wish I had more of this.

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These are the only spoons I have carved from Apple wood – again a very dry piece of wood that I had but also a really nice wood to carve. It is funny because a carving friend says it is very difficult to carve and splits easily but then he always carves it green. Maybe once seasoned it is easier. These two quite large spoons have a wonderful “feel” to them and show no signs of splits after some months. Again I would really like to get hold of some more but folk don’t cut down their Apple trees!

 

Different woods – part 1

This week’s blog is more of a showcase of a few of different woods I have carved.

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This is probably a one-off wood for me to carve. It is a wood that I brought with me from Africa and while not the hardest wood around, it certainly is the hardest wood I have ever attempted to carve. Mopane is the name and it is used primarily as a construction wood in rural homes in Africa. It is termite-resistant which is the practical attraction. I use it mainly for knife handles as it polishes so well and seems to get better the more it is used. I have several pieces of this wood but as this one spoon took so much effort it will be some time before I make another attempt!

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Olive is a very striking and “warm” wood – It sands really fine and is a pleasure to hold. I think that there is also some “romanticism” associated with the wood. It conjures up visions of good food, the mediterranean with its warm climate and even religion.  I only have a little of this wood and it is very old (more than 25 years in the workshop) and so extremely dry. This has presented some challenges as it is naturally a short-grained wood the dryness can easily cause “pullouts” leaving nasty holes in the carving. Very light cuts and sharp tools are an absolute must. My pieces also have very wavy grain so the direction of carving constantly demands change to get a smooth cut. The end result is beautiful and worth the effort required.

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Walnut is a wood that I have been able to regularly obtain. This is quite and easy wood to carve and takes a very good finish. The grain is quite long and all the pieces I have are straight grained. This makes it easier to choose the direction of carving. I enjoy carving this wood and can comfortably carve the bowl part of scoops and spoons quite thin. The dark color also invokes a sense of richness and quality.

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Cherry is the final wood I want to mention in this blog. This straight-grained wood is a pleasure to carve. It is a little plain although I find the dark lines in the grain very striking. It is the finish that I find immensely rewarding. It finishes so smooth that it is like it is made from glass. Add to this, it has great longitudinal strength making it perfect for thin, long-handled stirrers and spoons.

Next week I shall discuss a few more woods – until then, happy carving.