Sylva Spoon

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Thomas Bartlett1 Comment

Before getting into what went on today, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to Sarah Artz of One-OneThousand for organising the Good Day Market. I had a great time selling my wares. My fellow craft vendors were all awesome and super talented. I also had some really great conversations with people. My favourite was probably with a woman who, after looking over my stall, asked if the spoon she was holding was the smallest I had. It was a teaspoon measure, and yes, the smallest there. She looked a little crestfallen and told me she was looking for a smaller spoon to replace a tiny salt spoon that went missing. Apparently it was stolen by a mouse. She had this little handmade wooden salt spoon but it mysteriously disappeared. Eventually she found it behind the refrigerator, heavily nibbled. I thought that was a fantastic story, so I made a replacement right there!

Apprenticeship Day 16

The weekly Monday morning meeting was a short one. We'll be turning bowls and cups. That was about all there was on the agenda. I think we'll focus on just a couple of bowl shapes and maybe just one cup shape. 

After reading Jarrod's Instagram post on wooden cups, obviously that was going to be the first thing I worked on. Jarrod's talk of the 'continuum', the chain of connection that links craftspeople back in time through the objects they make, reminded me of a quote my mate Derek Brabender sent me: 

Good apprentices know that they are in the process of becoming masters and that as responsible artisans they must seek to improve upon the knowledge entrusted to them and go further.

As apprentices we are not better than those who went before. We are a part, an extension of our predecessors, the newest buds on an ancient tree, living tree. If we do not reach up to the sun and down to the soil for nourishment to help the tree grow, we have not been faithful to the trust invested in us..."
- WM. S. Coperthwaite

No pressure right?

Still, I'm learning lots. One titbit of knowledge Jarrod entrusted to me was basically a reminder that while there's a linear process to things like bowl turning, sometimes going back a step can help you move forward. 

I made use of that advice this morning. After finishing the cup, I worked on a bowl. We have chainsawed blanks ready to go, but they need a little refinement with the axe. Just to knock a few corners off. However the final blank isn't always symmetrical. It can be a lot of work to turn one section of the bowl down to the level of the rest of the bowl. Plus those lumps throw the bowl out of balance. Too extreme and the bowl can even spin off the lathe.

axe and bowl blank

So I took a set back. Figuratively and literally. Axing off those lumps helped me to more quickly move forward with the bowl. 

Jarrod suggested I work on a blank I made last week. It had been sitting in the wood shavings over the weekend and had developed a small crack near the rim. Rather than have Jarrod finish it and risk it failing while drying it would be good practice for me. 

What a lovely bowl. It would be a shame if anything happened to it...

What a lovely bowl. It would be a shame if anything happened to it...

The bowl was destined to be a closed form ale bowl. While here I've yet to do an undercut rim, so that was exciting. It took me the rest of the morning and a little after lunch to finish the bowl. It had a sweet little foot,  a nice sweep to the main body. The tampered-in rim could have been more concave. Overall, a pretty good bowl. 

Then Jarrod stepped in. 



It's fine, I just got a bit of wood in my eye, that's all...

It's fine, I just got a bit of wood in my eye, that's all...

As Jarrod explained it, when you turn a bowl, you're actually making two bowls. The inside bowl and the outside bowl. Cutting a bowl in half lets you see how well those two bowls work together. The two bowls don't have to follow the same shape, but they do need to compliment one another. It's an excellent way to learn.

One step back, two steps forwards. 





Really F*cking Thin

Thomas Bartlett2 Comments

Apprenticeship Day 15

At the end of last week, Jarrod had me turn a bowl for myself. Today we had a chat about it. Here are the improvements / changes Jarrod suggested:

  • make it a lot thinner
  • make the foot smaller, and more vertical
  • use sharper tools with a slower cut to reduce the fuzziness that occurs where the grain changes direction. 
  • be aware of irregularities and consider where material needs to removed to correct them. Often it's wood either side of the irregularity that needs to be cut, not the irregularity itself. 
Nice shape

Nice shape

With all that in mind, he then had me turn another bowl for myself. A sweet little foot, even curves, open form, and 'really f*cking thin'. 

It took me a couple of hours to do. Undercutting the core, this time with a special curved hook tool, I was being super cautious. I'd gone a little too thin near the base and didn't want a blowout. So I was making five or six cuts, stopping to check the thickness, four or five more, stopping again. I did end up with a nice large core. It's good to have a large core, as it helps you work towards nesting bowls. The difficulty there is that the hook disappears from view. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to see what I'm carving when I'm carving it. Still, it worked out fine. Where the core snapped off from the bowl wasn't very close to the base. That just meant more material to clear away with the hook knife. I also need to make sure my hands are clean when touching final surfaces. I left a few grubby marks on the outside of the bowl.

Wooden bowl turned on a pole lathe
Almost too f*cking thin

Almost too f*cking thin

After last night's conversation about mandrels, ratios and lycra, Jarrod suggested I reduce the size of the larger mandrels to about 1 7/8" (about 48mm in real money).  

Turning a mandrel - you're doing it wrong

Turning a mandrel - you're doing it wrong

So I cracked on with that, reducing the size of three mandrels and finishing the one I started last night. Once those were done Jarrod had me turn another bowl. After roughing out a few ale bowls, this one was to be more open form. So I removed all the axe marks, flatten the top and did a little hollowing. Jarrod marked where he wanted a foot placing on it.

Roughed out wooden bowl on lathe

He then handed me a hook from his side of the room. The forbidden hooks I'm not allowed to use. As he handed me the tool he said "You're going to hate me when I start handing you the special hooks". The hook he handed me made cutting in the foot a lot easier. 

Adding foot to a wooden bowl

Bowl turning hooks are fascinating. I asked Jarrod what the minimum number of hooks he'd be comfortable with and he said six. He'd be able to turn a bowl with just the one hook, but the variety of shapes and sizes makes it a lot easier. Jarrod has held off giving me access to the more specialised tools. His reason for this is that it's possible to learn proper technique with the basic hooks.

Mind you, on my side of the room I've got about a dozen hooks to choose from. They're just not as varied as those Jarrod uses. From that dozen Jarrod eventually wants me to pick out four to six that I really like. Now that my abilities are improving I'm better able to tell if a tool works well. Until now, the thing not working well was my technique. it's nice to be able to more critically reflect on what tool works best for different areas of the bowl. I still don't have a super firm grasp on which are best, but there are definitely two or three I find myself reaching for most often. I just need to spend some time switching between them and similar hooks to find what small differences make the process easier or more challenging.

Lots and lots to learn.

Tomorrow I'm heading back to Madison. This weekend I'm selling my spoons at the Good Day Market. If you're in Madison check it out. I'll also be demonstrating spoon carving, so that'll be fun. 

Spinning Things

Thomas Bartlett1 Comment

Apprenticeship Day 14

I had quite the productive morning. I used the bandsaw and adze to rough out some plates. I rough turned the outside of a cup. Nothing quite like turning the outside of an end-grain cup for a confidence boost in your turning abilities. I have no idea how to hollow them, but don't take that fuzzy glow away from me. 

Wooden plates

Wooden plates

I also roughed out another ale bowl and did what I could to a handled mug. I can turn above and below the handle, but used the axe to remove the excess material either side of the handle. Jarrod has a few of these on his to-list, so I'll ask him to give me some pointers on working that area later. I'd really like to get to the point where I can make handled cups of my own, as they're only possible due to the reciprocal action of the pole lathe. 

Axe and wooden mug

From watching Jarrod hollow out cups, and how so much of it is done by feel alone, my skill level isn't where it needs to be yet. I'm happy with how I'm progressing, and it's good to know your limits. I feel that if I tried the cups too soon, I'd probably become frustrated with the process. It's important to me that I enjoy this work.

We also had a chat about social media. We're both active on Instagram. I've got a Facebook page, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+ but don't really use the last two. It was interesting to chat about our two approaches to social media, what we each hope to achieve and how we go about doing it. As small business owners, you have to wear all the hats: designer, maker, marketer, salesperson, tea maker. It can be really easy to hid behind making stuff, and not engage in all the other things that actually make a business successful. Let along figuring out the correct 'strategies' for engagement. 

For the time being my social media strategy has not been very focused. Mainly because I haven't been doing much in terms of online sales. The majority my products are sold through craft fairs. This summer I had a hard time juggling maintaining stock on the website with the high turnover of items at craft fairs. I've got something in the works to help remedy that, so stay tuned. I might also do some infrequent sales of one-of-a-kind items to give you international peeps the opportunity to get in on the action. 

After lunch I got back to turning. I roughed out another bowl, adding it to the growing pile for Jarrod to finish. Seeing the small forest of mandrels sticking out the wood shavings, I thought it would be good to turn another mandrel. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment, ending my long day of turning with doing mandrel. 


While I was turning it, Jarrod and I got chatting about mandrel - bowl ratios. The mandrel in the bowl Jarrod was working on was a touch too large, and he was trying to clearly articulate why. He could easily tell the ratio was off, but giving a clear and science based explanation wasn't easy. We bounced around the metaphor of a bicycle. The gears on a bike change how fast you peddle and how fast that peddling moves the bike along. We got a little confused when trying to tie the metaphor back to bowl turning. If the mandrel is the gear, is the bowl the bike wheel? And if that's the case, is the tool cutting along the bowl the ground? That didn't quite work. What changes the speed? Pumping the lathe quicker? A smaller mandrel? We were pretty sure the term velocity should come in somewhere, but I'm not entirely sure what that means. Most importantly, who wears the lycra?

In spite of my unhelpful fashion comments, Jarrod found a way to clearly explain how mandrel size impacts bowl turning. I think he's going to put part of that explanation in his upcoming book. I'll wait with bated breath to see how playing cards between the spokes fit into the equation.

The Cut Within the Cut

Thomas BartlettComment

Apprenticeship Day 13

Jarrod and Jazmin got back from their ASI Christmas Fair late Sunday night, so it was a pretty chill start to the day. As usual for a Monday we started with the weekly business meeting. This week will be almost entirely turning. At least that's the plan. We've got bowls, plates, tumblers and mugs to make. 

So I started the morning by axing out a couple of bowl blanks. I got to spinning one on the lathe. After turning below all the axe marks I asked Jarrod if he wanted me to do any basic shaping. This is destined to be an ale bowl, so he explained how he wanted the rim shaping and had me work on that. As my skills increase, and Jarrod becomes more confident in my ability to make things to his specifications, I'll gradually be handing over bowls that will be closer and closer to their finished form.

Roughed out rim on the ale bowl

Roughed out rim on the ale bowl

As part of the morning meeting, we discussed if we should focus on just a couple of bowl designs and get me dialled in on them, or whether it's better to create a variety of shapes. I think Jarrod's leaning towards focusing on just two shapes, but that might change as we work through the blanks we've got. Sticking to just a couple of shapes will give me less to think about. And I'm always happy to not think about stuff. 

Once I'd shaped the bowl rim, Jarrod demonstrated some hollowing for me. This is where he got all 'wax on, wax off' with his "the cut within the cut" comment. What follows might not make any sense, as I'm going to try and describe a process I myself haven't mastered. But I want to have it written down to refer back to.

Bowl hollowing diagram sketch

The above sketch it a cut-away view of the bowl profile. Cut A creates the core. Cut B creates the inner surface of the bowl. Cut A cuts along surface 1, eventually scraping against Surface 2. Cut B clears away material, widening the trough that sits at the bottom, where Surface 1 and 2 meet. Take Cut B too close to Surface 1 and it will catch and probably dig in. So Cut A does the actual deepening and Cut B clears the path for it. 

The fuzziness is where Cut B starts to scrape against Surface 1.

The fuzziness is where Cut B starts to scrape against Surface 1.

Did I mention Jarrod's writing a proper book on how to turn a bowl? For all our sakes, I hope it's clearer that my above ramblings. 

After lunch Jarrod and Jazmin were taking photos of stock for tomorrow's websale. It was fun to see their process, and I got some nice behind-the-scenes pictures of the dynamic duo in action. 

Some of the items available on Woodspirit Handcraft at Noon CST on 05/12/17

Some of the items available on Woodspirit Handcraft at Noon CST on 05/12/17

For the rest of the afternoon it was back to bowls. The next bowl I worked on had a knot/bark inclusion, plus a funky abnormally with the heartwood that Jarrod found often leads to issues during the drying. We thought the knot might disappear as I turned it, but it there to stay. So Jarrod gave me the choice; remove the knot and make a shallower bowl or start over. I got the impression that if he was in my position he'd start over. I've found that with production carving, it's good practice to learn when to cut your losses with an item. Yes you lose the time working it to where it is, but further effort might result in a product that will fail anyway. It's a bit of a gamble.

So bowl v2.5 was born. Once I had the mandrel inserted and it all mounted on my lathe, Jarrod had me consider the size of the mandrel I'd used. The bowl blank was on the large side. He judged the mandrel to be on the small end of just big enough, but encouraged me to think about how turning it feels. The ratio between bowl and mandrel size is a way to get the 'gearing' right. Too small a mandrel on a large item you can't get the torque needed. Too big and it'll spin too slowly.

Later on into the bowl, Jarrod noticed that the mandrel had kinked. It was no longer at 90' to the bowl face. We had a chat about what might have possibly caused it. The list included:

  • I drilled the mortise at an angle
  • I didn't set the mandrel into the bowl properly
  • A jarring tool dig-in
  • A successful cut, but with too much pressure 
  • Poltergeist
  • The drive strap running too close to the mandrel while applying forceful cut
  • A combination of the above
  • All of the above

In my mind it's likely it was a mix of things, each exacerbating the issue. Jarrod used it as an opportunity to remind me to try and be mindful of all the different variables of bowl turning. It's going to take a while. I'll need to do it enough that some things don't need the conscious effort they currently require. By then I'll also have a better idea of what feels right. At the moment, I'm still new enough that there are issues that I don't notice until they become fully fledged problems. Which is another reason why it's great to be able to practice alongside Jarrod, as he notices these things before they're unfixable. 


Thomas Bartlett3 Comments

Apprenticeship Day 12

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." - Charles Stewart

Today was a solid day of turning. Jarrod wasn't about in the morning so I went to my default setting of mandrel turning. Last night Jarrod was up late finishing things off for the ASI show. He spent all of today getting everything ready for that. So I was more or less left to my own devices. 

A few final items in the drying box

A few final items in the drying box

As mentioned previously, the plan for next week is to do a bunch of turning. For me to rough out a bowl and set it aside for Jarrod to finish we need mandrels. The better I get at turning, the more roughed out bowls I'll be able to produce, the more mandrels we'll need. They're also good practice. Dry wood, with no 'gearing up' you get with a larger piece of wood driven by a smaller mandrel. 

The last thing to do on a mandrel, before it comes off the lathe, is to flatten the ends. You want the tenon end flat so it sits in the bowl at a 90 degree angle, and the back should be flat to make smacking it into the bowl easier. When Jarrod first showed me how to turn mandrels I was amazed at the tiny nubbins he was able to turn at each end. I was so proud when today, I managed to make nubbins of my own:

I even took pictures. 

So there I was, basking in the glow of my newfound awesome turning skills, working on a fresh mandrel and Jarrod comes into the shop and douses that glow with an icy bucket of reality. He watched how I was turning, stopping me to correct the angle I was holding the tool. He hopped on the lathe to demonstrate a technique I was clearly struggling with. He then looked over my shiny new mandrels (nubbins detached) and pointed out all their defects. All of them. The list was long.  

My dreams were crushed. It was fantastic.

One of the things Jarrod established early on in the apprenticeship is that there is a difference between criticising ideas and criticising people. I love that concept. When Jarrod was (politely) telling me all the faults and inadequacies of the mandrels I turned, it's not a criticism of me. This is such a tricky thing to internalise. To remove your ego from the conversation. Especially with handmade objects. I made those mandrels, so it's easy to make the mistake that they're some sort of extension of me. Tom in mandrel form. But they're not. They represent my skill level, but that's not a constant. As proven by the nubbins. 

This kind of nitty-gritty, soul destroying tearing apart of my greatest turning accomplishments is exactly what I'm after. Honest and helpful feedback on ones work is really hard to find. I think this is down to two main reasons:

1) People are concerned the criticism will be taken as a personal attack so would rather not give feedback for fear of sounds like a dick

2) There's a lack of expertise about the object/technique/idea under scrutiny. 

Most people in the craft world are hungry for this kind of feedback. A lot of us craftspeople work in a kind of vacuum. We make things alone and often the only tangible feedback we get is whether or not an object sells. And it's almost impossible to get actionable reasons out of why that's the case. 

Apprenticing with Jarrod gives me access to all the useful feedback on my craft I could desire. We've established an understanding that we're both able to comment on the others work without it being taken personally. I can ask for Jarrod's expert opinion and he's happy to give it to me. I'm also free to disagree with him. We both need to be able to give reasons for why we think something isn't working. For some things, it's a matter of personal preference. For others, there are good design, function or aesthetic reasons why changes need to be made. 

And once Jarrod had thoroughly torn apart my earlier efforts, I hopped back on the lathe and did work that was better than before. It's still not perfect and that's great.

Even tinier nubbins

Even tinier nubbins

For the afternoon, Jarrod had me finish a bowl I had previously roughed out for him. He wants to have me making more things for myself, not just roughing out stuff for him. It will give me the chance to practice some of the finer work and through that I'll be able to work the roughs down to a more finished form.

It took me a couple of hours to do. I struggled with the undercutting of the core. The hollowing reaches a point where the rim of the bowl stops me from putting the tool where I want to. I don't have the techniques dialled in yet for how to get around that. So I'll make sure I take the time to watch Jarrod do some hollowing next week. 

I finished the bowl. I feel like it's pretty close to the form Jarrod suggested I go for. There are a few lumps, bumps and inconsistencies I can spot, so I can only imagine the laundry list of errors Jarrod will come up with when he gets a look at it. What fun.

This bowl represents me. It is me. I am a bowl. 

This bowl represents me. It is me. I am a bowl.