Sylva Spoon

Cracking Bowls Gromit

Thomas BartlettComment

Apprenticeship Day 21

Wallace and Gromit

Today was a four bowl day. Pretty happy with that. I had a minor breakthrough with my roughing out. It's funny how sometimes improvement crawls along, then suddenly it stumbles forward. I managed to rough out the bowls a lot quicker, and with less dig-ins. I put it down for concentrating on the finishing work. Confused? Let me explain!

To get a really nice tool finish, you need to make very fine, very consistent, cuts. In order to achieve that, you need a lot of control over the tool. It's not too difficult once the tool is in position, as you're not removing much material at that point. However you develop a feel for when the tool is cutting nicely. When you're roughing out, that tool control and 'feel' comes in handy. You're using a lot more power, over an uneven surface. That can lead to the tool being knocked about. Getting to know the right position for a cut means I can just tense up a little and power through the bumps more. There's still a limit. Try too much power and you dig-in and stop the bowl. 

I also had the advantage of having slightly better roughed out bowls. I think I did a bit better with the chainsaw cuts on Monday. I'm also taking a cue from Jarrod and doing less axe work. Counterintuitive it may seem, but one errant axe blow might remove too much material. Which means turning the whole rest of the bowl down to that divot. 

 Here you can see that chainsaw cut was at too steep an angle on one side. Everywhere else needs to be turned down to under this cut. 

Here you can see that chainsaw cut was at too steep an angle on one side. Everywhere else needs to be turned down to under this cut. 

It only took me ten minutes to turn away the axe marks on the second bowl. There are days where I struggle to make a cuppa tea in under ten minutes. So that felt like a win. Getting it down to the template took another 30-40 minutes, and hollowing took about the same again. 

With the hollowing came another wonderful benefit of apprenticing. This week I've made most of the bowls without any feedback or instruction from Jarrod. Which is fine, as repetition is the only way I'm going to really improve. But today I was having a bit of a hard time figuring out how to undercut the core. I can hollow out a slot no problem, but the undercutting was proving to be a struggle. What to do? If only there was some sort of expert around for me to get advice from. Jarrod stopped what he was doing, came over and demonstrated the technique, explaining what he was doing and why. He showed me different hooks that might work better for that particular bowl. We also had a chat about forging hooks to meet the task. If he had more wood at the diameter we were working, Jarrod would probably forge a couple of hooks specific for these bowls. It's what production turners used to do. Right tool for the job, and all that. We also had a good chat about craft, production and a few other things, but that was bouncing around off the back of an article Jarrod is currently writing. So you'll just have to wait to hear his thoughts on that. 

Jarrod handed me a new template today. So I've got two to work to now. The new template is slightly closed form. It's nice to have that new element to work with. Turning the same shape again and again is a very rewarding process. Especially when working to an actual template. There are times when I look at a bowl, think I've got it, then hold up the template and see that bits are way off. I think I've turned maybe six bowls to the first template, and have just started to get some muscle memory for that shape. If you really want to get good at anything, repetition, repetition, repetition. 

Bowl template

It doesn't just apply to woodworking. My wife writes and illustrates picture books. When she was in the planning process for what would be her first published book, Harold Finds a Voice, she was drawing a lot of parrots. She watched videos of parrots, she read articles on parrots. She drew from photos, we went to the local zoo several times so she could draw live parrots. I think she filled two entire sketch books with studies of parrots. She was struggling to find the right character for Harold. After all this repetitive drawing of parrots, she was chatting with a mentor, working through ideas. To help make her point, Courtney did a super quick sketch of a parrot. That super quick sketch ended up as Harold. So it took hours and hours of drawing parrots as they really are for Courtney to be able to capture their essence in a quick drawing. 

With bowls, I'm still at the zoo, sketching live parrots. The template shows me what the bowl form should be. Either it matches the template, or it doesn't. There's a small amount of wiggle room, but I can't go completely off-piste. But I'm starting to internalise the essence of good form. Already, when I'm turning away the axe marks, not looking at the template, the lines are sweeter. I'm better able to notice when an elegant curve is interrupted. I'm slowing filling my internal sketchbooks.

Towards the end of the day, we did discover a bit of a problem. Several of the bowls had developed cracks. The birch we're turning has quite a dark heartwood. In this birch, that heartwood colouration doesn't stick to the growth rings. Jarrod has noticed that when that happens, that material can be brittle. Moving forward, we're going to remove as much of the heartwood we can. Jarrod has also moved the surviving bowls off the shelves and into the wood shavings. Slower drying helps to reduce cracking.