A great day today teaching Sam Robinson on a one-to-one workshop at Sprint Mill. Sam is a current apprentice on the Bill Hogarth Apprenticeship scheme, now in his second year. We’d been talking about various crafts a couple of weeks ago and he asked me to run a course to learn how I carve bowls and improve his technique.
We started by looking at some of my carved bowls and discussing the design elements involved, importance of balancing the bowl by knowing which areas needed to be left thicker and where it could be carved finer. Sam was also keen to see some of my spoons and the finish I achieve solely through carving and which he’s aspiring to.
Sam had brought along some birch logs which were really fresh and ideal for the project. Once cleaved in half with a froe we began immediately with marking out guidelines for the bowl and axing out a twist in the wood. I always start by establishing a flat surface for the base of the bowl. This makes it sit stably on the bench and acts as a reference surface for marking out the height and measuring the depth as you carve. Flattening the top surface at this stage is a lot of work that will then be carved away when hollowing.
These one-to-one courses are great fun to do as I can fit the content exactly to the student’s skills and learning goals. It also gives me chance to put in lots more information and ‘tricks of the trade’ that there wouldn’t be time for with a group. A quality final product comes from well thought-out design and I showed Sam some tips on marking out for the bowl shape before we got onto the adzing. From our previous conversation I knew was an area where I could really improve Sam’s technique and his efficiency in hollowing the bowl. Sure enough, after a short demonstration, the chips were flying and the bowl started to take shape. Working with an adze is fun and exciting; like the axe it can swiftly remove large amounts of wood but can equally, in skilled hands, work extremely accurately. When I’m carving, I like to work right up to the line and leave a smooth surface with the adze, so there’s only the refining work to be done.
Before that though, we flattened the top surface of the bowl then remarked our shape and did a little more work with the adze before moving on to using gouges and knives. I had brought a selection of tools that I have used over the years for carving bowls, explaining their pros and cons. I demonstrated how I push the wide gouge through the wood using my body weight and hand positions to add power which then leads to controlled cutting and a smooth finish. Sam is well used to working with tools of course and a quick learner so he quickly picked it up and before long had a bowl full of beautiful shavings. As well as the gouges, we used a selection of hook knives including one long-handled knife designed especially for bowl carving, cutting across the grain to smooth the bottom of the bowl.
The other area that Sam wanted help with was in defining the outer surface of the bowl. He had picked out one of my spoons he especially liked as inspiration for his design and I explained how the same principles of wall thickness applied to both the bowl of a spoon and a large bowl. With a combination of axe, gouge and knife he worked on defining the shape, learning for himself along the way the importance of the initial design stages and the challenges of marrying the sides, ends and handles together.
At the end of the day Sam took away a really well-made, good looking bowl but more importantly the practical skills in using the adze and finishing tools. He was already planning his next bowl as he left.
One-to-one sessions can be catered to your own goals but could include
- Spoon carving and design
- Hay rake making
- Learn to carve fan birds
- Make and use a shavehorse
- Steam bending wood
- Axe and knife techniques for various projects
A day with me in the workshop costs £150 including materials and use of my tools. Or share with a friend for £250.