It all begins right here...
It could be a bowl that appeared in the mind's eye or wanting to see the grain in a new piece of wood that influences which piece of wood is choosen. Sometimes there is no reason.
Thankfully, there's usually a variety to choose from: poplar, maple, black walnut, ash, cypress, and others—of course we're always on the lookout for more, both seasoned (dry) and green (wet).
Only trees already felled for other reasons are used and come from local or North Carolina sources.
Sizing the "blanks"...
All bowls begin as a "blank" —a piece of wood cut (with a chainsaw) close to the size and proportion of the desired final.
There isn't always an exact vision or a drawing to guide what size to cut a blank. Sometimes we simply allow the process itself to direct creation, letting it come as we work.
Black walnut (left) and paulownia (right) blanks are shown here.
Introducing the Adze...
Although it's been used to make both functional and artistic items for thousands of years, most people have never seen one.
But for those who continue the traditions of carving by hand, it is indispensable.
While using one demands strict focus and precise hand-eye coordination, it also creates a rythm and feel that promotes a closer, more organic, connection to the work.
How it's used...
As you can see, the adze is perfect for the first stages of hollowing out a bowl. The wood's grain, hardness or softness, and the size of the blank all guide the arc and intensity of each swing.
And of course, the trick is not getting too close to the intended edge of the bowl. Which means we need to keep the wood from slipping, as you'll see in the next photo.
Keeping it safe and secure...
Some people have asked how we keep the wood from moving while carving.
The answer lies in a special workbench and system that Sherial created:
Every blank is fastened to a board with screws—from the bottom into wood that will eventually be carved away—until most of the inside is hollowed out. This allows it to then be fastened to other work surfaces like the 4x4s shown here, or leaned against a vertical surface for a different working angle.
From adze to gouge...
Using a mallet with the adze offers greater control than without one, but still enables large pieces of wood to be removed.
A mallet and gouge (right photo) is used next. This is where the inside of the bowl really starts taking shape.
The magic of gouges...
With or without a mallet, the gouge reveals a true glimpse of the final piece.
It can remove larger pieces to significantly change a slope or shape, or be used to gradually define the nuances of a piece's visual and tactile effect (inside and outside).
While Sherial started out with only two, he now has a growing number in different shapes and sizes. The "spoon gouge" shown here is perfect for—you guessed it—carving out the bowl of a spoon.
Shaping the outside...
A hatchet is used to cut away not only large amounts of wood from the outside, but to actually carve its final shape (right photo).
This process develops a strong feel for what the bowl's 'character' should be—weighty and grounded, or perhaps lighter, and more delicate. By adjusting the thickness or changing the curves we can achieve just the right feel.
Sherial also uses the hatchet to rough out spoons (left photo).
A "plane", "rasp", and "spokeshave" (bottom right) as well as a "draw-knife" (bottom left) are used to further shape surfaces. Details may be brought out at this time such as more rounded edges. Even simple metal files may be called upon during this phase.
By using a "scraper" (top), we can remove as much or as little of the marks left by other tools.
Sanding, sanding, sanding...
A lot of sanding goes into producing what we call the "touch factor".
After the intial "rough" sanding, we "raise the grain" (fuzzy wood fibers) by wetting the wood's surface between additional rounds of sanding and uses several graduating grades of sandpaper—always ending with the finest grit.
While all "finish" rounds of sanding are done by hand, a "power" sander may be used for rough sanding a bowl.
The final steps...
Every piece receives a food-safe finish. Those meant for food preparation are rubbed with walnut or mineral oil. Most others are stained and/or dyed, then sealed with (food-safe) wipe-on polyurathane (shown here). Several thin coats are applied and fine-sanded in-between.
While other factors may be considered, finishing decisions are most strongly influenced by the look and feel we hope to communicate for a particular piece of work.