This little distraction occupied much of my spare time from the end of November to late January, and now it has been delivered I can post about it.  The lovespoon was completely hand-carved, using a coping-saw to rough it out, then whittled with a knife and a very small shallow gouge; a tiny spoon-bent gouge was used to cut through the links(the heart is completely free to move around but the intertwining knot-work stops it from falling out). The only other tool used was a medium spoon-bent gouge for the bowl.  I hate sanding and put it off until there is no alternative  – the tool marks were smoothed down by scraping with the knife-edge held vertically – any remaining marks were smoothed off with a 400-grit abrasive mesh. Ironically, the wood was almost too smooth and the paraffin-wax finish needed warming up gently to make it more sticky as it just slipped off the wood in some places.




tiller to Brest – update

Things are progressing, slowly, but I am still more-or-less on schedule, having managed to cobble together somewhere near 20 hours carving on the tiller in between and around other work.  I know I felt I would leave the rope-work until the whole thing was roughed out but in the end I have concentrated on getting it done and now the ropework is nearing completion; I think about 5 more hours should see it done.

Hopefully you can see that the work is much deeper and more fully rounded.  You might also see where I have started some fancy ‘whipping’ on the one end: more of that in a later post.  Incidentally the only tool I am using at the moment is a 10mm skew-chisel – the pointed end is essential for getting into the tiny spaces


tiller to Brest

The tiller is coming along, the pictures say it better than my words – about half the length of the knotwork is roughed out, progress is working out at just over an inch an hour – so 12 more hours carving will finish this stage, then I guess about another 15 hours to refine the carving.

The first picture shows the whole length, the spiral roughed out to the left, the pattern marked out and the roughed-out knots in the second, and the third shows the depth of carving the whole length will be carved to eventually. The only tools needed are a small chisel and a v-tool (aka parting tool)


Tiller to Brest

The Brest International Maritime Festival, 2016, is one of the biggest in the world ( and they have invited craftsmen from all over the world to demonstrate in the international craft village, including a contingent from the UK.  Unfortunately I can’t go due to work commitments but the team have agreed to take some of my work to display in the British Craft Village.

The schedule is a little tight, at six weeks, but I am going to try and carve an elaborate tiller, about 48 inches long covered all over with decorative knot-work and with a lion-headed handle I carved a few years ago – about time it was mounted on something.  Current estimate for the work is about 200 hours, plus the time already spent on the lion-head!

So, here is the tiller roughed out from a hawthorn log, you can see the other half of the log beneath it to show how the curve is natural not steam-bent.  Time taken at this point was about 4 hours working with a hatchet, hand-planes and Shinto rasp – no power tools in this project!


Figureheads – part 2

If you’re completely new to figure carving then you need to know that carving a bearded male with a hat on is the easiest type of face to carve, followed by androgonous (neither male nor female) followed by young male, and finally female – old is easier than young – beautiful female is the hardest of all – its all to do with a perfection of symmetry and no imperfections – lines, creases, sags, folds, wrinkles; all distract the viewer to some extent – you read the character of the face rather than its perfect structure.

The bearded male face, at its simplest, is really quick to carve as only the area around the eyes and the ridge of the nose are there to carve, the rest is hidden under beard, moustache and shaggy eyebrows – woodspirits and father Christmasses are a good way into this.

One thing to make sure you always do is to carve stroke for stroke each side of the face – it is really tempting to carve one side of the face and then try to replicate that on the other side but this approach never works as you will not remember what you did well enough to replicate your approach and the symmetry will suffer.  This applies to errors too.  If you make a mistake on the left side you have to deliberately make the same mistake on the right and then correct the left and then correct the right. Every cut on one side should be repeated on the other and that way the symmetry of the face will be maintained.


grinding wheel set-up

Talking with one of the boys after church this week, a couple of interesting points came up about setting up a grinding machine.

First off let’s clarify what is grinding and how it differs to honing. Grinding tools is what you do to the edge of a tool that is damaged and requires re-profiling whereas honing is a light polish to maintain an edge.  The set-up, which I have used for many years, is an ordinary everyday twin-wheel bench-grinder.  Now these machines operate at far too high a speed and spin the wheels in the wrong direction. The reason the wheels are spinning the ‘wrong way’ is because they will catch the tool and drag it down, damaging the tool not fixing it!  What you need is for the tool to ride on the wheel and so the first thing you need to do is to unbolt the base, turn it around, and bolt it back down: this reverses the direction the wheels travel in.  As far as speed goes, I use a very light touch but you could probably just plug in a transformer.

Most importantly you MUST junk the wheels and replace them with medium or fine grinding wheels made specifically for tool-sharpening – I use a ruby wheel on one side for grinding and a rubber wheel on the other for honing- the rubber wheel is loaded with chrome polishing paste – the high speed of the wheel throws the  paste off quickly but you use a tiny dab at a time – wear safety glasses and wash your face at the end – the reversed wheel direction throws all the waste product, including all the sparks, all over you if you put the tool you are grinding too low on the wheel. Try to use the sector as close to the top as you can.

It is perfectly acceptable to cut out an MDF wheel as a cheap alternative to a rubber wheel, as the glues in the MDF are actually course enough to act as a grinding medium but then the glues in MDF can be extremely toxic so this is a path I have never travelled.

I also removed the shrouds to give myself access to as much of the wheel as possible but this leaves the wheels without safety guards and you need to contrive a box of some sort to replace them – work safely the life you save will be your own.

Once the tool has been ground on the ruby wheel and honed on the rubber wheel, you can put the grinder away in the back of the cupboard; all tools properly sharpened need a gentle hone from then on and this is best done by hand – I use a slip-stone, dry (no oil, no water), which is classed as bad practice because the pores of the stone clog and make it glass-like, also the slurry raised on a wet stone is its own grinding paste. The glass-like surface on my slip stones is undoubtedly slower than a marginally more aggressive (wet) stone but it polishes a cutting edge beautifully none-the-less and sits in my pocket ready for use to touch-up an edge every time I pick up a new tool, as opposed to sitting in a mucky oil/water stone box that I may be less inclined to fetch.  I am more inclined to regularly hone tools if the stone is in my pocket. Many of my students prefer a strop loaded with chrome polish on the bench or in the top of their tool box. Whatever your chosen method the important thing is to make certain you hone tools all the time so that the edge of every tool remains razor sharp and never dulls enough to require re-grinding.

Sourcing timber for long-bows

Weirdly, having carved for something like 30 years, I have never harvested my own timber – I have always re-cycled or bought in whatever I have needed. The thing with bows is that they require timber that (in the UK) you can’t easily come-by.  A bow needs timber with very specific qualities – a 2m length of straight not-free timber (clean) of one of a very few types of wood – yew, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash, elm, holly and maple are the short-list of relatively common British timbers, but in realistic terms, that really leaves hazel. Consequently I have become very pre-occupied with finding bow-wood. Its a VERY addictive sport.

Over the last six months I have harvested yew, holly, hawthorn, blackthorn and lots of hazel, but finding the timber has been far from straight-forward – lots of country walks! Anyone  fancying commission a long-bow or flat bow get in touch.

Most of these species are cut-and-come again pollard species so as long as you have permission, you will not harm the tree, and can even invigorate it.  There are several, rather more practical issues; saplings of say four-inch diameter might cleave cleanly or they might not – its always worth starting off by cleaving it but be prepared to have to rough out one side with a hatchet  – do not count on getting two useful lengths from a sapling such as this.  Larger trunks might need the services of someone with a BIG circular saw or chain saw – if you are not that person, ask around – a local joinery is often a good place to go, but so is a comprehensive school.  If you find tree-surgeons at work, always stop for a chat, local contacts are really useful, and if they are felling something you are interested in they will often dimension the timber for you if you ask nicely.  Oh, and do not forget, the timber must be sealed on every exposed surface with a couple of coats of PVA and left to season for several months, and although there are ways to speed up the process, its best not to, so if you are planning on making a bow as a Christmas gift, the timber should be cut, roughed out, sealed all over and put to dry by mid August……….


If you have a specific project you would like me to post about, leave me a comment.