Thursday, 19 May 2011

Carving bowls

If you dont have a lathe, or you dont want a bowl or vessel that's circular, the only way to make it is by carving. The first wooden bowls would have been carved with stone tools, or progressively burned out with hot coals. These days the way to go is with a short handled adze and large gouges. I have just bought a new adze made by a blacksmith in Sweden, where hand-craft, particularly wood craft, is still culturaly quite strong. The tradition of carving bowls and cups has continued to the present day and takes some interesting, often stylized and beautiful forms, influenced by the Saami reindeer culture and of course the wood loving vikings.
 This is my first effort with said adze, made with cherry. I will leave the tool marks, the strong grain pattern of cherry is enhanced in a rather nice way by the undulations left by the gouge. These sorts of oblong bowls were used for kneading dough amongst other things, so are often referred to as dough-bowls. They would often be quite large, up to 2 feet wide, so I am looking out for some nice large section polar or aspen which carves well and dries quickly, giving a light, stable vessel.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chair making

One of the nicest things to do with green wood is (in my opinion) the making of chairs. Strong, light, beautiful, functional; many of the characteristics a craftsperson aims for can all be seen in a well made chair.
This is one of a pair I made recently from sweet-chestnut. The back legs are steam bent and the pattern for the back slats is copied from an old chair given to us by a friend. Lin has done a lovely job on the seating, which is willow, quite unusual and uncommon but it works really well and is very comfortable as well as strong. I'm rather fond of this one so am keeping it, and it looks rather fine in the kitchen.

Why work wood green?

One of the reasons for using green or un-seasoned wood, is that it is much softer and easier to cut when it is in its fresh, recently felled state. When it is wet and full of water (sap) it is a joy to work with. Sharp tools glide through  fibres of even dense hardwoods like oak and beech, and require less sharpening than when used with seasoned timber. The other reason is down to how the material is converted from its original round log state, into smaller dimensions. In green woodworking,  mechanical or labour intensive sawing along the grain to produce planks, is avoided. Instead the log is split along its length, first in half, then quartered, and so on, until the required dimension is reached, a process known as riving. This is a most efficient way of conversion, but only if the wood is still green, otherwise riving becomes increasingly difficult as the wood dries out.
A happy consequence of riving is that the natural tendency of wood to split and check as it dries in the round or plank state, is reduced and usually eliminated. This means that a piece of green wood, split down and shaped into, for example, a chair leg, can be trusted to dry out without deforming or cracking. Because green woodworkers alway aim to use straight grained knot free material for ease of riving, items like chairs or tool handles are inherently strong and stable, having the grain running through their whole length, and highly unlikely to suffer from splittng or warping.
Another less practical reason for green wood-working is that it is so highly enjoyable. The whole process, from felling the tree, to riving and shaving, from drilling or turning, to sawing or carving, can all be done without the use of power tools. This applies whether you are making a tent peg, a ladder or an oak framed building. Green wood-working is quiet, fun and satisfying, with myriad different crafts from around the world included under the title. The tools required are relatively inexpensive and available, and the materials easy to acquire. It is an ancient way of producing wooden items without reliance on fossil fuels, or machines that need high levels of energy to run them. Learning it is to learn to work wood the natural way, by going with the grain and understanding intimately the properties and characteristics of an amazing material, thereby increasing our intimacy with nature, and providing ourselves with beautiful and useful things.