Sylva Spoon

The Finial Countdown

Thomas BartlettComment

Apprenticeship Day 10

Today started with an interesting chat. Talking about yesterday's blog post, Jarrod and I riffed a little about electric tool use, how it differs for the hobbyist vs the professional, and why. One of the reasons we touched on is how hand tool use is a reaction against industrialisation. By using hand tools in production work we're protesting the idea of automation, infinite growth on a finite planet and hyper-consumerism. As businesspeople though, we need to recognise that we exist in a world where those things exist. Electric tools are our concession to that reality. Some hobbyists take a hardline, 'hand tool only', approach to their woodworking. For them however, woodworking might be a release from other parts of their lives where automation, industrialisation and ugly capitalism are unavoidable. 

 Chaotic good or Lawful evil?

Chaotic good or Lawful evil?

Of course, the first thing I did in the workshop was to use the bandsaw and disk sander to shape the lid for the last birchbark box. With that done, I hopped on the pole lathe to turn another mandrel. I certainly enjoy using the lathe more than the electric tools! I've got a standing order from Jarrod to turn as many mandrels as I can. If there's nothing more urgent that needs doing, I should be making mandrels. Next week Jarrod's planning on us doing a lot more turning, so we'll need plenty of spare mandrels to leave in roughed out work. 

I was really pleased with how the mandrel went. The very first things Jarrod had me turn was a mandrel, and in the ten days I've been apprenticing today's was probably the fifth. It's always humbling to be reminded that really the only way to improve at something is to do it a whole lot. Clearly I've still got a long way to go, but I enjoy the moments when the work not only feels less difficult, but the end result looks better as well.

 Front: today's mandrel. Back: an earlier one that may or may not have been chewed on

Front: today's mandrel. Back: an earlier one that may or may not have been chewed on

By the time I'd finished the mandrel, Jarrod had joined me in the workshop and was busy cranking out handles for the birch bark box lids. He showed me his process for making them and we both set about carving them. 

I don't tend to add finials to my spoons, so it was good practice for me. Working on a relatively small scale like this magnifies any mistake you make. So careful knifework is a must. It was also a good lesson in form and aesthetics. Too open a curve and the shape doesn't work, not enough facets and the illusion of a sphere isn't created. Working side-by-side with Jarrod on these meant I was getting immediate feedback. Like most people, I can tell when a shape isn't working. With a finite amount of material to play with, trying to correct it through trial-and-error isn't the best approach. Having Jarrod tell me where I needed to remove more material, and why it needed removing, is a great help. 

Lid handles for birchbark boxes

After lunch Jarrod and I went outside to his woodpile to chainsaw out the bowl blanks we cut a couple of weeks ago. Jarrod was waxing lyrical about how warm it was. I didn't hear much of what he said as I had to go inside for another jumper and a hat...  Jarrod demonstrated how he does the rough shaping with the chainsaw and left me to it. I was a little aggressive with the cuts of the first few bowls. As the bowls had been sitting out for so long they'd developed some surface cracks, so that wasn't such a bad thing. I think we now have 12 or 13 bowl blanks ready to be axed then turned.

 Jarrod's new toy

Jarrod's new toy

With that done I was tasked with the time-honoured tradition well known by apprentices across time and space: sweeping.

 Broom cam

Broom cam