Work began on a new timber framed structure this past winter (2019) here at the craft school. The 16’ x 19’ building will be a comfortable place for sharing lunches and also fika (that’s the traditional Swedish tea break) during our classes.
The upper floor of the structure will be a year round home for Angela’s office.
We decided to build another timber framed structure versus some other building style first of all because we really enjoy the process of building this way.
We also had Amy Umbel arrive in April to help as our spring intern.
She was especially interested in learning about joinery and non-sculptural wood working, so this project suited her hopes for learning with us very well.
But the most tangible and practical (and wonderful) reason comes down to our friends/former students Dave and Kim Landry, who donated the timbers, processed and delivered, for this new building.
During the first two seasons of classes at the craft school, we shared meals under a large canvas tarp, generally a lovely place to gather.
But when the rain and wind intensify during a storm it can be wet and cold, especially toward fall.
In fact, it was last September (2018) while Dave and Kim were taking a spoon carving class with Jögge Sundqvist that Dave decided it was time for us to build a more solid structure and offered the means to do so.
The Landrys generously thinned some of their acreage in New Hampshire of some very large hemlock trees in January, and we joined them in February to assist at their saw mill to create the posts, beams and other dimensional lumber for the project.
This style of timber frame is called a Dutch Frame.
That means it has high posts along the eve walls and the tie beam (or anchor beam) will connect into the posts near the top plate with wedged dovetailed through-tenons.
By placing the posts close together and limiting the length of the tie beams to 16’, there is no need for central posts or floor joists on the second floor.
To reduce potential twisting and leveraging of the posts by the rafters, we have limited the height of the posts to 12” above the anchor beam.
The extra length of post that comes up above the second floor will create a short knee wall. This knee wall will raise the rafters up a bit and make it a more livable space.
Our friend Andrew D. once again generously helped us with the design, as he did for the craft school building in 2016.
We chose this type of frame partially because it has multiple bents that are all very similar. This makes cutting joinery with people who are new to timber framing much easier.
We knew we’d have lots of people who wanted to participate and learn with us while we were working on this building, so we chose a design which accommodated that.
This size & style frame, very common in Euro-American timber framing because of its simplicity, could easily be made into a tiny house and would be a good choice for someone wanting to cut their first timber frame.
If you would like to learn more about Dutch frames and their history in America there is an article from Winterthur Portfolio by Clifford Zink - linked here.
There are three basic joints we have used in this frame.
The most complex one is the wedged dovetail through-mortise,
it’s also the strongest joint for this application by far.
The dovetail through-mortise joint is used to hold the 6x8” posts and the 8x9” tie beams together. The tie beams will do double duty and function as joists or carrying beams for the second floor.
dovetail through-mortise joint
For the corners of the 8x10” sill, we have chosen a joint that our friend
Micheal Alderson introduced to Kenneth.
Michael said he found this joint in an old barn here in Maine and has always liked it because of its strength and minimally exposed seams. Exposed joint seams can introduce rot into the sill, so it’s an excellent, well protected joint.
protected corner sill joint
For the 4x6” floor joists on the first floor or deck, we have a simple housed joist pocket. This joint is interesting because of the curved “dive” that is cut on the underside of the joist to reduce its thickness as it is let into the sill.
This is done because we want maximum stiffness in the joist but it would weaken the sill to take a full thickness mortise. The strength of the joist is a bit reduced by cutting away the thickness, but it remains plenty strong for this application and we retain the stiffness of the joist by keeping it as thick as possible across the central span of the joist.
The joist dive is curved to spread out the forces and to prevent splitting the joist at the reductions. Kenneth has seen joists split that were cut with a square notch (which concentrates the forces acting on the joist), therefore he likes the gradual curve to spread weight & force out over a longer distance.
housed joist pocket
It has been such a wet spring here that work on the foundation for the building has been delayed. And now it’s time to get the shop organized and ready for this summer’s classes, so we’ve decided to stack and cover the (mostly cut) timbers of the new frame for the time being.
We’ll get back to work and raise it next spring, once the ground is thawed enough to allow us to start digging holes for all the foundation piers.
Looks like one more summer under the big tarp.
Our school building is coming together in several remarkable ways.
The most unusual part of the story involves many of the building materials we are acquiring through salvaging and where those
materials are coming from; namely the estate of a good friend
who recently passed away, at 99 years old, named Huston.
[You might be interested in this previous blog post on
tomakeandtobe.com for some of Huston's back story.]
Then there’s the community help we have been receiving in cutting
the joinery for the timber frame for our new school from generous
and skilled friends who are donating their time.
Finally there’s the information that Kenneth gleans from the wooden beams, wide old boards and hand made windows we’re reusing.
I’ll let Kenneth tell it: - AK
“Most of the time when people build something, they buy new materials. This generally guarantees them fairly consistent dimensions, and no nails to pull or rot to watch out for.
I really appreciate that our building will have a special story though, and a tangible connection to the past through its salvaged materials, despite the extra effort involved.
Our craft school building also feels like a fitting tribute to Huston and his life-long work of collecting and salvaging, he was always enthusiastic to share knowledge with anyone who was curious about traditional wood working.
When Huston passed away around Christmas, he had been collecting materials for over 80 years. Since I have the good fortune of having known him, his estate and piles of potential are such a rich resource, available right here and right at this moment, and it’s hard to think about doing this project in a way that wouldn’t incorporate as much as I can of what he left behind.
From the photograph you can see a bit of what Huston collected during his years of diligent salvaging. He couldn’t really stand to see useful tools and materials get wasted.
He was generally unwilling to sell or give anything away though, unless he thought he wouldn’t need it, and also only if he approved of the application and intended use of the items in question. This approval was rarely granted, and he was a great optimist about how many projects he might get to, so he ended up filling acres of his family’s property with pieces of old buildings, tools, wood, etc.
It's been challenging to find boards of consistent length, width and thickness at Huston’s.
Sometimes Huston did a good job of keeping things covered and sometimes not so much. There are hundreds of stacks of boards, generally all of them now have years of organic material piled on top.
Sometimes he had covered them with sheet metal - those held up better than the ones which he covered with tarps. Sometimes he had stickered them, these generally had boards which were in much better shape.
Usually the top layer or two was pretty well rotted, and then you’d have some good boards in the middle and then as you got closer to the ground you’d find more rot.
Sometimes the rot was in the form of mycelium running through the boards, sometimes carpenter ants had gotten in there, but mostly it was water damage
Never the less, it’s pretty amazing to think that one person amassed so much stuff in an effort to keep things from being thrown away or wasted, like a little snapshot of how much has actually gone to the dump in our culture.
It is a sad thing to me that a lot of Huston’s efforts did not manifest into new projects, and much of what he collected is on its way to returning to dirt.
I’m really glad that I can use a few of his materials so that there will be something of his that is tangible and able to continue on into the future, in a way that I know he would have liked.
Not all of the materials for our school building will come from Huston's.
I have posts, tie beams and studding from a reclaimed building I bought several years ago.
We have bought new wood for the rafters and the bottom plate.
Our friend Andrew donated these tie beams which have been a key part of our new structure, I’m particularly fond of them since they are hand hewn, which dates them to be the oldest beams in the building.
Hand hewing was often done on-site; people would fell a tree, hew it up and put it into the building right there.
The marks that you see in this photo have been made by squaring up the tree with an scoring axe, followed by work with an adze and a broad axe to smooth and finish.
These are all old growth hemlock beams with tight growth rings, maybe 1/32” apart.
These tie beams have joist pockets that will create the floor structure for the 2nd floor of the building.
This photo shows beams that were sawn with a water powered saw mill.
Huston called these up-down saws. They were basically a big frame saw.
Think of a section of a band saw blade (one that is not connected to itself in a circle) locked into a frame. This frame is attached to a series of cogs and a track, and every time the saw retracts after having sawn down through the wood, the log is moved forward one increment before the saw blade comes down again.
So you get those very regular marks from the saw, as well as distinct little marks from the cog as it moves the log along.
Most of the siding boards we have were also sawn with up-down saw mills that would have been water powered.
Circular saw mills didn’t really come into this area the until the late 1800’s,
before that it was all water-powered saw mills.
A circular saw of course leaves round saw marks, you would have seen those more after the Civil War, when they became more popular.
Here’s a shot of our newer beams, the ones we bought for the bottom
floor system, with modern circular saw marks.
We didn’t have any of the first floor system from the building which I had bought, I assume it had all been rotted.
We’ll be using new hemlock for the floor structure of the ground level as well as the roof rafters. This new, 2nd growth wood ultimately has a much lower weight and density, with wider growth rings.
It's still all very heavy right now since it’s so freshly cut and full of water.
All these windows are from Huston’s. There are a variety of sashes here, the bottom white ones are a little bit thicker, they’re solid wood but they’re machine made.
The thinner ones above are all handmade with lovely through-cut mortise and tenon joinery, they are hand-planed with special moulding profile planes.
Huston actually had all the wooden moulding planes for making wooden window sashes.
These windows will all need to have frames made and be reglazed. The wood will need to be treated with linseed oil and some of the glass needs to be replaced.
All the windows have 9 over 6 lights, that is 9 panes of glass in the upper sash, above 6 panes in the lower sash, which you see on historic houses around here.
Our new/old windows will all need to have frames made and be reglazed. The wood will need to be treated with linseed oil and some of the glass needs to be replaced.
These are grown braces that we’ll use to place in the building to prevent our timber frame from racking.
Some of the limbs of these knees are over 3’ long. They’re pretty massive.
The four posts in the middle of the workshop space, upstairs and down, will get knees to connect them to the second floor structure. You’d be more likely to hit your head on a brace, which is connected with 45 degree angles from the posts to the tie beams, and therefore intrude into the room a lot more, so we’re happy to have these beautiful knees instead.
There were a lot of ship builders in this part of the country, and knees were used on ships to save space inside, so I think that some of those folks must have lent their skills to sawing knees for buildings as well as boats.
Here I have filled an old mortise (one that we won’t be using) with a plug of wood. That’s so we won’t have so many voids in the post and it will be less confusing during assembly if we have mortise pockets only where we need them.
This photo shows a beam (clearly cut with a water powered saw mill) with an old mortise.
The layout lines are interesting, the X shows that this is a place where the wood needed to be removed for a mortise.
Especially interesting is that we have been re-using a lot of these old lines for our new layout, someone back in the 19th century often marked 2” in from the edge, just where we are needing a mark today.
Angela asked me how I know what the different marks mean and how
I can estimate the ages of some of these elements.
Huston, of course, would point things out to me when I visited
and talked with him, but I have been doing work for a few years with
Michael Alderson Restorations.
Michael restores timber framed buildings in this area, occasionally with enough attention to detail to recreate a period correct frame.
That is, if a structure had been repaired with newer wood, Michael’s team will remove those beams or boards and find vintage material to replace it with, so that a truly old house will be restored to the way it had be built before the Civil War.
We had a lot of practice identifying the different ways which a timber frame had been sawn and worked." - KK
I think there’s a lot that would be helpful to say about identifying and acquiring good wood for carving.
How does one start the process of transforming a living tree into something like a Windsor chair? Exactly which tree? is my first question. It’s an elemental question, and generally the first step in making something from green wood.
When I watch or help Kenneth fell a tree and witness that bit of the forest become a spoon or a chair (or recently a ladder up to our son’s room) I find it to be a huge and magical metamorphosis.
From a raw material to objects that most people would need to get their credit cards out for.
Kenneth has a deep and natural knowledge of woodcraft from many years of working with wood, spending lots of time in the forest, and from being something of a wood hoarder.
He generally jumps right into what wooden things to make and how to make them. His choice of wood and how to acquire it, from my vantage point, looks very fluid and easy, he’s generally already got wood in his hands, all the time.
But as I said, I’m realizing that there’s a need to detail this vital step of the process: where does one find green wood? And what kinds of wood are best?
This moment in the process of green wood work is a very direct connection to the forest. Being able to identify trees and shrubs, and then utilizing that knowledge in making useful and beautiful things
is an empowering and enlightening endeavor.
I think it speaks to our hunter-gatherer, forager selves and helps make the world a friendlier place, in the same way that having a garden can connect us to nature and help us feel safer and more competent.
Therefore I have asked Kenneth to give some specifics and background on how, where and what he chooses for green wood carving.
Since he was born and raised in Atlanta, he’s got some good, applied advice especially for urban carvers. - AK
where to look for wood
“I have found that here in Maine, there’s usually more wood around than I have time to carve.
I am particularly interested in foraging for wood that is already down and bound for the wood stove or to be discarded. I’m always surprised how much wood is available if you know where to look — it’s possible that one would never need to cut anything from a living tree and still have an excess of wood to carve.
Even when I lived in the city in an apartment, I found wood from people trimming or pruning trees and bushes, cutting things back in their yards.
A lot of decorative shrubbery is good for spoons and small carving projects.
City parks can be good places to look, when the gardening staff are out pruning trees and shrubs.
You can often find branches broken from a larger tree, especially if you head out after a big storm. You may find downed limbs or even whole trees if there’s been a lot of wind.
A tree that’s blown over will yield lots of potential spoon blanks from its crown.
An orchard requires annual pruning, so they are excellent sources for fruit wood. Most pruning is done in the late winter or early spring.
Arborists, gardeners and landscapers are all great resources to connect you with wood and it’s definitely worth making an effort to connect with people in these lines of work. You’ll get to know some new people and you may find yourself flush with green wood without ever needing to cut anything from a living tree yourself.
I have occasionally gone to the local transfer station/dump — at ours there’s a specific area where yard waste is collected, usually in the springtime that’s a good place to look for woody shrubs and branches that can make good spoons.
This is where I find trimmings of overgrown lilac which is one of my favorite spoon woods. You’ll be able to put something to use that would be thrown away or burned.
I sometimes carry a small folding saw with me when I’m out and about in the world, I keep my eyes open for downed branches or trees or piles of brush on the curb.
If I’m on a walk in the woods I might keep an eye out for a curved branch that I really like.
If you do find a living tree to glean from, be very conscious of the tree’s health; don’t just go lopping of branches without being educated about proper pruning techniques and seasons.
And of course be considerate of private property — always ask first.
some specific species to look for
As a general rule, if the tree or shrub produces fruits or nuts, even non-edible ones, it’s generally going to be a good choice for carving.
The wood should have a uniform density and tight, fairly consistent grain and a solid pith (that’s the center point of a branch or limb).
I grew up and have spent most of my time on the east coast of the United States, so apologies to those who live in different regions —
it’s possible that the varieties I list do not grow where you are.
The general fruit or nut rule applies to any region though.
Some good species here in Maine are lilac, apple, beech and hornbeam. These four are some of the harder, more advanced woods for carving around here. For starting out or if you are feeling like your hands need
a break, try white birch or red maple.
In Southern Appalachia the rhododendron and mountain laurel are fine for carving. “Spoon wood” is actually a regional name for Mountain Laurel.
The black birch, tulip poplar, cherry, walnut, and the American holly
are all good. In the magnolia family, the Southern or Frasier are good choices. Any fruit trees, such as cherry, apple, peach, pear, dogwood,
or mulberry are great choices.
The ideal carving woods are ones that have a consistent density and close grain, rather than open or ring porous grain.
Such consistently dense woods will allow you to carve more detail and achieve crisp facets and polished looking tool marks.
birch (good for carving) red maple (good for carving) striped maple (not so good)
Wood that is more porous, with different densities between the early and late growth rings can be challenging to carve because your knife will jump a bit between the soft and hard rings as you’re pushing your knife along. It’ll be hard to make nice, consistent cuts.
If you carve a spoon out of some kind of very porous wood those pores might wind up on some of your edges. If so, those edges are going to be brittle and problematic, they’ll appear to have a rough texture.
The surface of your carving will look rough and your cuts will lack definition. It will also be difficult to get a slick surface when you oil and finish your project.
An example of wood that has inconsistent grain density between early growth rings and late growth rings is Southern Yellow Pine. Examples of woods with more consistent densities are Bass wood or White Birch.
The Tree Identification Book by George Symonds.
Once you find wood, here are some things to notice and consider
We’re mostly talking about using what’s called green wood versus dry wood.
It’s ok to carve items from dried wood, but it’s generally easier to carve green wood.
Green wood just means that it still has moisture in it, that it was freshly cut.
You can cut a section of wood and then freeze it to help contain the moisture and greenness.
Keeping a chunk of wood in the refrigerator, or leaving it in the snow or outside if it stays below freezing are good ways to preserve the moisture in your green wood until you can get around to carving it.
Place green wood in a plastic bag to help hold the moisture, even if you’ve got it in the refrigerator or freezer (think freezer burn).
I have put wood in a flowing stream or pond and kept it submerged with rocks as weights. This works in a pinch for a short period of time but eventually it will begin to rot and discolor if left underwater for more than a handful of days.
If you cut a fresh branch and then let it sit in the sun, your wood will start to dry out and often that will cause it to develop cracks or checks.
So if you have found some green wood, it’s better to either go ahead and carve it as soon as possible. Otherwise put it in the refrigerator or freezer until you can get to it.
Wood can be kept for years wrapped in plastic in a freezer. I like to re-wet the surface of the wood before wrapping it in plastic to give it a layer of ice on the surface, I think it is extra insurance against drying out.
The spoon of mountain laurel was carved from 1/2 of the branch at center. The ladle took a much larger branch.
The size of the tree or branch will of course dictate how big your project can be.
I’ll list some general guidelines — Chopsticks only need a branch or shoot about 1/2” to 3/4” in diameter, by about 12” long.
For a serving spoon you need a limb that’s not much larger than about 4” in diameter. You can get away with a smaller diameter for eating spoons, maybe down to 2” in diameter. If you want to do a ladle you need to find something with a larger diameter.
crookedness and imperfections:
Straight grained wood it is fairly easy to find, you can often just get a chunk of firewood and split out a section for a spoon or some other project.
I personally think that more interesting looking spoons are usually made from curved branches, so keep your eye out for curved wood and give it a try.
You’ll want to keep and eye out for knots and other imperfections that might make it challenging to carve your spoon.
Aim for wood that doesn’t have a lot of knots in it — if you’ve found a piece of green wood you want to check for deformities in the bark that would show where hidden branches have grown over. You might find that just the top part of a limb has knots and hidden branches while the bottom doesn’t, so you might be able to use just half of it.
I’ll get into more information about spoon design, layout and probably something about steam bending wood for curved spoons in a future blog entry. For now I’m hopeful that this will get things rolling in the right direction for budding green woodworkers.” - KK
Bark, by Michael Wojtech. A great book!
A bit more from AK -
If you don’t know much about the trees and shrubs in your area yet, it just takes a little time and attention before you’re soon able to identify several different species without a doubt.
Take some time to look carefully at leaves and bark, flowers and fruit, nuts or seeds.
You’ll might have more luck with this endeavor during seasons when the leaves are out, but there’s always something to work with and study throughout the year, like bark or the way the tree orients or structures its branches. (Especially if you try the first book on the list below!)
You’ll find that you pay attention to the changing of the seasons in a new way as you try to figure out what species a familiar tree might be.
Ask local people for information, get a tree identification book from the library, or look on the internet for information.
I found an abundance of tree identification books in our small library and used book store, it was a little overwhelming how many different ones I found without much effort.
I have included photos of some of the ones I liked, and here is a list of their titles:
Bark, A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech
University Press of New England, 2011
- how to identify trees based solely on bark. Kenneth loved this book.
A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America
by Donald Culross-Peattie
Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, 1950
- Glorious illustrations by Paul Landacre.
Eyewitness Handbooks - Trees, by Allen J. Coombes
- Some nice color images and lots of information, nicely laid out.
The Tree Identification Book by George W. D. Symonds
- Good, clear black & white photos, lots of visual information.
Most of you who are currently subscribed to our blog & newsletter
are perhaps a bit beyond your first carving project, so this entry
might be something you’ve already mastered or can easily and quickly do.
So it may be that this article is a chance to introduce someone to
hand work who you think might really take to it. A golden opportunity
to turn somebody on to what we think is an essential part of being human,
but which most members of our current culture are missing out on
— that is, working with our hands, tools and wood.
The more people who take the time to practice hand skills,
the better, saner and happier our world will be.
All you need is a sloyd knife, some short lengths of wood and an hour
or so to get started. - AK
“Chopsticks are an excellent introductory carving project because of the minimum of tools and materials required. It’s a quick, accessible place to start with an immediately useful end product.
We’ll practice important, basic carving skills like creating even, flat and tapered planes, which will ultimately be used in any and all three-dimensional carving projects in the future. Making chopsticks introduces various knife grasps or grips, and there’s the chance for some decorative carving as well.
The only tool needed is a sharp knife with flat bevels, I prefer a sloyd knife such as the Morakniv model #120. A small pruning saw is helpful but not required.
There’s something really universal about carving a sharp little stick --
most people have probably carved hot dog sticks or spears, maybe when they were children. Those pointed sticks might have been the last or even the only thing they ever carved. This project is a good place to pick up the thread and continue building upon what used to be universal, essential human skills.
So, for chopsticks, we’re still making a pointed stick, but it’s a meticulously thought-out pointed stick, and it’s also tapered, which gives some nice challenges.
A friend told me that Jarrod Stone Dahl was using chopsticks as an initial carving project at Greenfest last year. Drew Langsner has students carve butter spreaders, also a comparably simple project, before endeavoring to do spoons in his classes. I would suggest chopsticks first, a Shinto fox head second, a butter spreader next, and then a spoon. That’s been working well for beginner students at the workshops I’ve been teaching this winter.
It’s a good first project too, in terms of finding appropriate wood, since it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to procure a few lengths of what you need wherever you live.
Choose wood from flowering ornamental, fruit or nut producing trees, something that has tight grain such as apple, pear, peach, walnut, mountain laurel, yew, Bradford Pear, etc.
Here in Maine we’ve got great old apple and pear trees everywhere which need pruning every year. The new growth (called suckers or water-sprouts) that shoot up from older, established branches is ideal.
Trees which have been cut down but which still have life in their roots will also send up straight new sprouts from their base or roots. These tightly spaced and crowded, fast growing branches are straight, often about the right diameter to start with when they are young, and since they are competing for sunlight, the bottom portion of whips usually doesn't have a lot of outgrowth, so they’re basically clear of knot holes and multidirectional grain.
If you don't have a saw, you can use your straight knife and the “Rose petal cut” to remove the sprout from its base.
Please note — take some time to research tree pruning if you’re not familiar with how to do it properly. Be considerate and careful and don’t do any harm to trees or private property.
Your wood needs to be straight grained and it’s also best if it has a solid pith. Some species, ones that are usually not fruit or nut producing trees (like Striped Maples), have a punky or spongy center in their shoots. These are less ideal because the soft pith will allow a weak point at the tip of your chop sticks.
If larger chunks of hardwood happen to be more available to you and you know about riving, you can rive out an appropriate piece of wood from some straight grained hardwood.
You’ll need an additional tool called a froe, plus a club or something for driving the froe into the wood to be rived. A heavy bladed knife can be substituted for the froe in small diameter riving blanks.
Straight grained green wood (or wood that is freshly cut and has not dried out)
is easiest to carve and is a great material for a brand new woodworker to start with, but you could use straight grained air dried wood for this project as well. It’s a fairly small amount of carving and so dry (and thus harder) wood is fine too.
Your chopsticks are custom fit to the size of your hand.
Determine the length of wood needed by stretching out your hand and fingers
as wide as possible — the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky finger diagonally across your hand is your ideal chop stick length.
In terms of thickness, I like to start with wood that’s 3/8” to 1/2” in diameter,
if it’s from a shoot or sucker. If it is riven, then it should be square and as close
to 1/2” x 1/2” as possible.
You’ll need a straight, sloyd type carving knife, one that’s been ground with a very flat, single bevel. An average jack knife or pocket knife usually is sharpened with a secondary micro or rounded bevel at the leading edge, so those kinds of blades are not ideal and will prove a challenge to control with precision.
Any derivation from flat in the leading edge of your knife blade will make it more difficult to register the knife against the wood and you’ll likely make imprecise cuts, resulting in shallow divots in your work and an inability to control the depth of your carving cuts.
The Swedish knife manufacturing company Morakniv has two basic knives that will work well. They are the #106 and the #120.
You’ll develop control when you practice carefully and consciously registering the flat of the knife against the wood as you practice making long, smooth cuts along the length of the chopsticks.
This is basically the premise of this exercise — to perfect your control of the knife blade and to consistently register it against the wood, creating long, even cuts and therefore precise planes, shaped just how you wanted them to be shaped.
You’ll carve your chopstick to have a long, square, tapered shape, from full width, about 3/8” or 1/2” square at the wide end, to about 1/8” square at the other, smaller end.
If you are using a water-sprout or shoot, notice how you can see the pith or center of the wood at each end of your billet. You’ll carve flat, even planes toward this pith as the center or focus, first and especially at the narrow end, eventually with four square planes oriented evenly around it. If you’ve got a riven billet you could draw a center point onto the small end.
Start by choosing one side and work with your knife to make it as flat as possible.
You’ll practice running the knife down the length of the billet in such a way that you get as long and consistent a shaving as possible. It helps to look at the way the shaving is turning out just as much as you are assessing the surface you’re going to be left with. Concentrate on registering the knife’s bevel so that you have enough control of the knife that you can make long even shavings and flat, consistent facets.
Bring your first flat tapered side to within about 1/16 of the central pith at the narrow end. It might not take long if you have chosen a length of wood that is close to the finished, final size. If you have, you might do very little work to the wider end of the stick. If you have an oversized stick you might have a lot of work to do and get a lot of practice making good shavings.
Once the first plane is finished, flip the billet over and repeat the same process to make a flat, tapered plane which is parallel to the first side. Go from full 1/2” - 3/8" width at the wide end down to 1/16” from the pith at the narrow end, so that you end up with an 1/8" thick rectangle at the smaller end.
The two planes should now be parallel to each other, straight and flat. The smaller end should measure 1/8” between the two planes, with the pith centered between them.
As you carve these two planes, keep checking or sighting them to make sure they are flat and parallel to each other. This is done by holding one end up to one eye and looking down the length toward the other end, noticing if it looks straight or not, then carving away any high points until you deem it is flat.
There is a tendency to do short, shallow or scallop-shaped cuts, where the knife comes in and out of the wood quickly. This will produce shavings which are more like chips, as opposed to nice, curled ribbons. It will also leave behind a surface that is scalloped and dished. Remember that for this project we are practicing making surfaces as flat as possible.
Strive to make shallow, long cuts, ones where you don’t take off too much material at once. Carving deep cuts will bring about fatigue and can be dangerous since there’s more force and muscle needed to cut through a thicker shaving. Deep cuts will lead to less control and precision in all aspects of carving.
It is helpful to skew the blade as you slice it through the wood.
This means starting the cut either at the hilt or tip of the blade and pushing the knife across the work at the same time as you draw or push the blade down the length of the wood. Cutting efficiency is increased when the blade is sliced and/or skewed through the wood.
To illustrate this, imagine pressing a sharp blade into a tomato without moving it side to side. As you know, the sawing motion greatly increases the efficiency of the cut. The same principle is true when cutting wood.
There are several grasps, or ways of holding the knife and your work that you can use. One is to push on the back of the blade with the thumb.
Then there’s the 'can opener' grasp, where the hand holding the work kind of crab crawls up as you’re making a cut.
There's the 'cutting from the shoulder' grasp.
And the 'spreading' or 'opening the chest' grasp.
(We're working on a blog entry all about grasps, coming soon.)
When your first two opposite sides are done (flat, tapered and parallel), you can start working on the 3rd and 4th sides, following the same procedure in making smooth, long cuts and shavings, creating flat planes that are tapered and parallel.
You want to finish with good, square ends, final size should be 3/8” or 1/2” on the wide end, 1/8” at the small end. Make sure the ends are not parallelograms or trapezoids, but actually square.
If you like, your chopstick can be complete at this point. Let your chopstick dry (usually it takes just a day). Wrap it in a thin cotton cloth such as a bit of t-shirt material. This will slow down the drying and help prevent checking.
Finish it with tung oil if you like and you can use it for cooking or to put your hair up. If you have carved a mate for it you can eat dinner with them.
Or you can go a few steps further and do additional carving if you’re interested in more practice, detail or decoration.
I personally like to do some extra carving after I have dried mine.
Generally the top 1/3 (the wider end) of the chopstick I’ll leave square,
but the bottom 2/3, at the narrower end, I’ll carve into an octagon for a
more rounded and refined shape.
To do the octagonalizing, run your knife down the arris (this is the corner or the edge formed by the meeting of two flat or curved surfaces) of your tapered square.
Just as with the flat planes earlier, keep your shavings long and thin.
Try to keep the width of your faceted planes even and consistent with one another.
The use of indirect lighting from a window or table lamp will help to highlight the facets and arrises.
The depth of the cut is what determines the width of the facet, in order to make them wider apart take a deeper cut. If you go too deep on one side, you will need to work around all the facets to make up for the over cut and to make every other facet consistent.
You can use stop chamfers to transition from the square part of the chopstick to the octagonalized section. The chamfer kind of rolls out and up in an arc toward the corner of the (original squares’) arris.
Once you have the lower part octagonalized and the upper third is still square, your more detailed chopstick is basically done other than the ends.
The narrow end probably just needs to be smoothed and rounded, as that is the part of your utensil that comes into contact with food.
The wide end could be treated with a sort of finial or something fancy if you like, or it can be smoothed and rounded or maybe faceted for a simpler finish.
Make yourself another one and you’ll have a pair ready to go.
(check out the blog entry about oil finishing spoons. [link is here]
You can use the same process for all your carved wooden utensils)
You can get a lot of carving practice through making more chopsticks, they make great, quick gifts and you can really hone your most essential carving skills, skills you’ll use any time you carve three-dimensional items such as spoons, bowls or chair parts.” - KK
Angela & Kenneth Kortemeier
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