Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eames Inspired Mid-Century Modern Bowls

In the 1940s an architect and an artist married each other and blended their creative talents to produce some of the most iconic design concepts of the the 20th century. Their names were Charles and Ray Eames. Their ideas about design and function were so effective that the entire mid-century modern design concept has become known as Eames Era.

Where is this going I hear you ask and what does it have to do with hand carved wooden bowls? Well it may seem strange but I don't really see my bowls as all that traditional. They're modeled after traditional forms and techniques but these antique designs, driven by function, have been altered to accommodate our modern ideas of style and design. For a long time I've thought about creating a bowl style inspired by mid century modern design norms. I feel that people who are interested in minimalist design shouldn't have to rely on mass produced, molded plastic to satisfy their taste. Where is it written that hand carving cannot produce beautiful natural items that are perfectly at home in the ultra modern kitchen or dining room?
There were a couple of technical problems to over come with this goal however. The first was the actual style of the bowl. I've played around with various shapes before settling on the form you see in these pictures. The arch at the top of the bowl is a shallow arc, giving the bowl a defined rectangle shape yet maintaining a natural flow. Also the curve of the side walls is shallow at about forty five degrees. This gives the crater of the bowl a greater perceived depth than is actually there while maintaining a low profile so as not to leap off the surface on a modern table. This form allows the bowl to sit atop a surface neatly, without overpowering other elements of the room. It relies on the natural beauty of the wood to attract the eye.

The second technical problem to overcome was the thickness of the wood walls of the bowl. I felt that any mid-century modern piece could not have thick heavy sides. These would make the piece look and feel primitive and even rustic. For some time I've been working on getting the walls of my bowls thinner and thinner. I believe this is a display of skill with tools that is immediately apparent to a customer or jury member. In the past few months this skill has made huge strides forward where now I can confidently create a piece with walls thin enough to feel like a modern piece. The walls of these bowls are carved down to as low as 1/4 inch in thickness. This gives the piece a definite modern design feel even though it is a traditionally made, hand carved bowl. These are available through my Etsy page or directly from me. They retail for between $200 to $300 each.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Problem with Green Wood

Every now and then I completely ignore some of the extensive and painful lessons my journey in wood carving has taught me. Make sure the angle grinder is turned off before you plug it in, secure the piece properly in the vice 'cause if it comes out it gonna hurt an awful lot, and never....and I mean never get tempted by green wood. Turners swear by this stuff. They're able to turn it easy and quickly and get it into a controlled environment. This fact gives them a success rate worth the effort. I however carve the bowls so the process is much slower. I don't get the rough hughed bowl into a controlled environment quickly enough and so carving starts to fail before I even get it off the bench.

Above and on your right you see the results of one of these misadventures in green wood. I got bored one day and decided it was time for something a little different. At the back of our house an old cottonwood had been cut down by the city to protect power lines. This wood had been sitting outside for over a year so I decided to have at it. The log was light and felt like it was pretty stable. I decided if I was going to deviate from my normal wood source I was also going to abandon my traditional style in favor of something radical. Once opened the wood had a beautiful spalted pattern that added great detail to the golden base color of the wood. Excited, I carved with abandon, ignoring the little voice in my head saying that this was all a great waste of my shop time.

My plan was to rough carve the piece, place it in a paper bag with some wood shavings (what turners do) and leave it for a few months to further stabilize. The correct course of action is to weigh the bowl before placing it in  the bag, and weigh it periodically until the weight stops dropping. This means that the water content of the wood has reached equilibrium with the environment in which it's stored. At this point I was going to finish the bowl and gaze upon it's glory until it sold. Unfortunately the reality of green wood encroached upon my fantasy world with remarkable speed and ruthlessness. The bowl showed cracks and fissures before I even got it off the bench. Alas it just wasn't to be folks. But at least I got a blog post out of this and someone out there may learn the lesson I repeatedly chose to ignore. Now for some of the recent success stories.

This cute little thing is a piece of cherry about 10 inches long. Should be up on Etsy soon.
I'm getting near the end of my sassafras, this will be one of the last.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My first Juried Show

Every year for fifty three years Columbia Missouri, my adopted American town, hosts Art in the Park on the first weekend in June. This event is a spectacle of the finest artist in the Midwest and beyond. The process of being accepted to participate in this show is to apply with a photographed selection of your work to be presented to a panel of jurors who are experts in various different fields of art and craft. These jurors decide who is admitted to the show and have traditionally being spoiled for choice with the quality of the work.

Well this year folks the collection of artists will include Yours Truly, AKA Twinwood Carving. I am honored and humbled to be included with this fine collection of artists who represent the best of American art and craftsmanship. This summer I hope to have the inventory to stock three shows. I haven't quite decided which I'll do yet but the Art in the Park is a fantastic start. I'm including the pictures taken for the jury process for your viewing pleasure. They were taken at Art Impressions Gallery in Sedalia MO.  On the Right you see a walnut trencher currently for sale on

This bowl is carved from cherry and sold online before Christmas last year. Cherry is wonderful to carve but finishing it is a challenge. It polishes to a glass like finish which means that even to smallest scratch is obvious to the naked eye. Needless to say sanding is a laborious process.

This bowl is carved from Sassafras, a wonderful, aromatic wood that is easy to carve and finish. The wonderful eucalyptus smell lingers in the shop for days after tackling one of these. This bowl was bought by a neighbor when she came across my stand at a fundraising show for the Alzheimer's Association.

This bowl is carved from Walnut. The wonderful grain pattern is formed where the mill cuts a piece of wood slightly across the grain. This bowl sold online before Christmas to a lady in Georgia.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blizzards and Coughs

All the plans in the world can we torn asunder by a cough, a sneeze, or 20 inches of snow in 12 hours. I haven't been very active on the blog lately but the time has come to post some musings on my current predicament and the incredible Christmas sales that Twinwood Carving experienced.

Over the Christmas Holidays I sold every one of my bowls, that's right, anything that could be described as a vessel for holding something sold. Thanks to all those who purchased from me and supported handmade items made right here in Missouri USA. This allowed me to purchase all kind of items for the wood shop and restock my bowl blanks with all kinds of woods including Butternut, sassafras, walnut, and cherry.

I entered January committed to carving three bowls a week at least. But as they say "the plans of and men" etc. In order for me to get into the shop my twin boy need to go to day care. Unfortunately between coughs, blizzards, and snow days they haven't got into school any day this week or last week. According to my calculations I've only had six days in the shop so far this year! O well, here's a selection of some of the few bowls I've made so far.

This bowl is carved from Sassafras, an aromatic wood that has a beautiful golden color with a distinctive triple bladed leaf.
This bowl is carved from a large piece of Missouri butternut. Butternut is rare here in MO so this piece is quite a find. The wood was sitting in a guys basement for twenty years but he posted on Craig's List of it's existence.
This bowl is carved from Walnut, it is long and shallow with a beautiful grain pattern formed when two branches join in the tree. This pattern believe it or not is called a "crotch" pattern.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All New Natural Soy Candles Added to My Votive Holders

Many of you may know about the candle holders I've been making out of the pieces left from carving my bowls but if not check out this blog post from a few weeks ago . This will give you some background on the "River Rock" series of candle holders I carve. These Votive holders have proven very popular with customers who love to display them in bathrooms and nightstands.

I decided recently to look for a candle supplier that could supply locally made natural candles for the candle holders. I found this in "Lotus Soy Candle Co"  of Columbia. Kailey Fleming owns and operates this great local company and makes beautiful products in her own line. I feel the addition of these candles to my products makes my candle holders greener and more locally produced. You can buy replacement candles for my candle holders directly form here at her website.

 I also carve some more traditional looking votive holders in two, three, and four candle styles. These are usually long and narrow. They start out life as odd pieces of cutoffs from irregular boards that are carved, not cut, into these long shapes. This means that every piece has its own unique elements in the spirit of the Japanese art form Wabi-Sabi.  

So folks you can see more of these at my ETSY store and my Artfire shop. In the next few weeks you'll also be able to order these from my own website. If you have any questions you can email me directly or contact me through either of my stores. Feel free to contact with any questions about the candles and the many other candle products she offers. All the best and happy carving....or what ever it is you enjoy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to Make a Dough Bowl Blank

When a piece of wood lands in your lap it's easy to assume you just tear into it and hey presto we have a bowl. This is exactly how I approached the process in the early days but experience has thought me to be just a little deliberate and careful in my assumptions of what the end product from a piece of wood will be. On your left you see a large piece of cedar about 24 inches long and 9 inches wide that I purchased at Reggie's (link for context) along with a few pieces of cherry and some catalpa last week. "What's catalpa?" I hear you ask. Well that's another blog post my friends.

In the picture above you may assume that this blank is fit to produce the mother of all trenchers at 24 by 9 however a closer inspection shows some problems not immediately apparent. On the right you see a picture of one of the largest cracks in the wood. Wood splits like this because variations in the moisture content across the wood cause pressure differences within the grain. This will happen in any piece of wood that is not dried in optimal conditions.  You can see at A the crack dives through the end grain and follows a track along the grain B into the block of wood. This crack will generally become shallower until it eventually disappears.

Another large problem with this process is determining just how the knots have behaved in the drying process. In the picture on the left you can see two knots and three cracks B that could have serious ramifications for the outcome of the carving process. A knot like this can compromise the integrity and validity of a bowl as an instrument of utility and render it a pretty but useless lump of wood in the general shape of a dough bowl. You can also see another but much shorter end grain split at A. In the end these pieces of the block are useless to me and need to be removed to determine just how much of this blank is valid for carving.

It's tempting to try to maximise the size of the bowl
blank at the expense of integrity in order to produce the largest possible bowl. I'm a firm believer that the quality of the bowl trumps the quantity of the bowl every time. I want to produce a flawless bowl so that I know if the customer is dissatisfied with the product it's just a genuine difference of opinion rather than a compromise on my part. That said the knots that produce so many cracks and problems also create beautiful grain. I feel it's best to cut the blank as close to the knot as reasonable and carve back to a clean line in order to capture those beautiful grains in the bowl.

When you have determined the cut lines it's time to saw. At this point many woodworkers will power up the band saw or table saw and Bob's your uncle. I however have not yet invested in one of these fine instruments of efficiency. Growing up in Ireland I took five years of shop in  high school. The Irish shop teachers didn't believe in power tools. This article of faith was reinforced by pathetic Department of Education funding. They truly felt that if you didn't know how a hand saw or chisel felt in the wood and how it would react you just didn't know wood. There are many wonderful wood workers that produce works of wonder on power tools to contradict this theory. However, my experience has been that after a twenty odd year hiatus from wood I was able to pick up a very cheap saw and cut a perfect right angle across a 4 inch thick piece of walnut with no hesitation. It literally saved me thousands of dollars in power tools I'd have to purchase otherwise.

 Here you see two options when it comes to which direction the shape of the bowl should follow in relation to the grain of the wood. The first example shows the bowl cutting thought grain, diving towards the pith or heart of the tree. The other example shows the opposite. You'll notice that the second example will travel with the grain rather than crossing it meaning that the bowl will have very little grain detail in the finished product. Also the fact that that bowl travels away from the pith means that the bowl will have very little detail in it's crater with an awkward looking concentration of grain at the rim of the bowl. This in my opinion produces an imbalanced bowl that never looks comfortable in it's own skin. Try this test. Search wooden bowl in google and go to images. Compare the images of the bowls with the pith or concentration of grain at the bottom of the bowl with those that have the pith in the center or top of the bowl. Which to you looks more attractive and well hued. There are times that you have to travel from the pith when carving or turning a bowl. Knots, checks, cracks, and bark edges have sometimes  much more to say about the outcome of the grain pattern of a bowl than I do. 

It's now time to map out exactly how your bowl is going to look. There are many different formulas that I use to determine this and sometimes none at all. One I particularly like and have been unconsciously using for some time is the Golden Ratio . This was apparently discovered by the Greeks and then Blah Blah Blah, check out the wiki thing. Suffice to say it produces a pretty and proportional bowl. First draw a square by placing the point of your square at the corner of you blank  mark the edge of your square (B) and then have this square again using the same square technique. This produces the point A which is used as the fulcrum for you compass to scribe the line C.  Now if your really cool you'll make the curved ends of the bowl a perfect Fibonacci spiral ark but really you'd only be getting as crazy as me.

  So now you have the plans laid and the tools primed. It's time to carve. On the left you can see the finished product and hopefully see the fruit of our planning and execution. The bowl is proportional, not to long against it's width. The curve is comfortable with the other proportions. The grain is detailed and works with the shape of the crater of the bowl, adding great detail to the overall aspect of the entire work. "Wait a minute!" I hear you exclaim, "how did that lump of wood become this finished bowl?" Well that my friends is a whole other blog post. Happy carving....or what ever it is you do.