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
Recently I came across a photocopied article about wheelbarrows which
our friend Fritz had sent us a couple of years ago.
And then last month, our friend Richard sent us a link to a fabulous online
article about Chinese wheelbarrows. Both articles seem well worth sharing.
We have quite a few wheelbarrows at our place. Most notable are the three that Kenneth built of wood and bicycle parts, which I will include photos of here.
And there are two or three additional wheelbarrows, I think all of which were salvaged from the dump, but it’s hard for me to really know. In any case, the salvaged ones are mostly antiques and were acquired either as models for designs or for their parts. They are not the ones in heavy rotation.
We use our wheelbarrows almost daily; for moving things up and down our long, unpaved path from the cars, for hauling water from the well to our house or the sauna, and for the annual springtime wood splitting and stacking.
The barrows with the wheel up front are ideal for bringing tree rounds out of
the woods - the one with the fat tire is especially adept at making it over
fallen limbs and logs.
There is a lot to say about wheelbarrow design, use and construction.
We will definitely come back to fill out the topic with additional articles as
we have the time. But for now this introduction is a good place to start the
wheelbarrow rolling. — AK
This first article is reprinted from the July/August 2011 edition of the Nova Scotia periodical, Rural Delivery, which covers life in rural Atlantic Canada.
(Apologies for replacing the article's drawings with our own photos...)
Whimsy and the wheelbarrow
by Olivia Finley
This spring marks the first anniversary of the passing of my dear companion, Whimsy. She was wood and iron and long ago someone loved her well enough to paint her fiery red. Whimsy the wheelbarrow served me well for many years; she was my superpower, my cool hidden ability. She made me stronger. Though parts of her persist in the augmented wheelbarrow waiting patiently even now outside our front door, Whimsy whole was wholly irreplaceable and so I find myself thinking of her again as winter gives way at last.
Although I would not be so romantic as to call my introduction to Whimsy love at first sight, I will admit that I coveted the wheelbarrow from the first. We were house hunting when we found her. Our family having outgrown the little flat in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, we were looking to settle out of town on our own piece of workable land. We were not long in finding what we sought: four and a half wooded ares stretching down the County Line and a little old house that boldly dared us to call it home. The instant I emerged from the car I felt that this was a good and fertile place to plant our sprouting selves. We toured around, not so much to see if we would live there but instead to imagine it all when.
My son would live here, he told us, if we could keep the old organ that had been tucked away in an upstairs bedroom. My daughter was captivated by a sea chest stuffed with quilts and my explorer husband discovered a treasure trove of rusty home-steading equipment. Hoes, hatchets, and the like were strewn all around the property’s two small outbuildings. It was here, tangled up in grapevines as thick as our wrists and half swallowed by wild roses, that we
found my wheelbarrow.
Just a glance told us that the cart was still solid where it counted, still ready to roll even as its advanced age. I remember looking around at the property again then, turning slowly and taking in the rolling lawn and the thick woods before looking down again at the wheelbarrow. I saw the rocks already run over on its iron wheel and I saw the scars across its boards from countless loads carried. I thought, and maybe even said out loud, that if the wheelbarrow remained here then I could too.
The usefulness of a wheelbarrow is more than obvious — it is built into our nature. Its simple iconic image, a single wheel and two well-placed handles, strikes a universal chord, representing our struggle and our enduring ingenuity. Every human being at some time finds themselves in need of precisely the services that a well-suited wheelbarrow can provide. There have always been and will always be loads that need carrying and cumbersome objects that need moving. A good wheelbarrow is also a workbench, a seat in the afternoon sun, the solution to a problem. The wheelbarrow is truly the innovation of “everyman”.
The wheelbarrow was invented independently at different times all across our motley globe and stands as a perfect illustration of the phenomenon of independent invention. It seems that there are as many different wheelbarrow designs as there are people who have pushed them. Prime Minister Chukka Liang (197 - 234 AD) of China has long been credited as the first inventor of the wheelbarrow. As the story goes, in 231 A.D. Liang’s infantry used one-wheeled carts called wooden oxen to transport supplies to injured soldiers along narrow, rocky embankments. The Chinese wheelbarrows had their wheels placed centrally, allowing for an even distribution of weight which would have been especially nice over long distances. That all makes good sense. So does surmising that wheelbarrows were used in Ancient Greece to move building materials around construction sites The evidence is lacking but only because no one has really looked. Perhaps we have just not feel the need to physically confirm something we know intuitively to be true: the wheelbarrow must be as old as humankind, however could we have gotten by without it?
Whimsy was a western wheelbarrow, her trademark single iron wheel rolling along at the head of the load. Wheelbarrows like her appeared in Europe around the 11th or 12th century. By the 15th century, wheelbarrows of the sort with which we are all familiar were in wide use. The popularity of the one-wheeled cart has not since waned. Nearly a millennium after it first proved its mettle, the humble wheelbarrow remains an essential to anyone — man, woman, or child, in any walk of life, anywhere in the world. The omnipresent wheelbarrow has become so banal that we take its millennia of service for granted. Were it not for my own Whimsy and the notability of her absence on the property this summer, I likely would not have considered her kind much past my list of chores. What was Whimsy precisely that her presence should be so missed? I have wondered. She has been replaced and yet she was irreplaceable. She was built by hand based on a timeless, well-worn design and yet the quirks of her construction were the result of her relationship with this particular piece of land. Whimsy was the best wheelbarrow for this property because she and it had grown together like old wood does.
Whimsy came to grief last spring under a heavy load. The fault was mine and I paid for my foolishness both with Whimsy and with my own flesh and blood. I had been set to use Whimsy for her intended purpose, working on the property, and had every confidence she would perform as she had always done. With what I now know were too many bags of cement, I thought it best to do a “test lift” to check whether Whimsy and I could indeed handle the load before we started rolling. Grasping her handles firmly, I raised Whimsy gently up onto her wheel. Almost instantly the wood of her right handle split, letting loose the load in my direction and, what was worse, driving the sharp stake-end of the broken handle straight into the meat of my shin. I knew that the wound would require some stitches but my first lucid thought was for Whimsy; her injury was career ending and I could already feel the regret for her broken handle in the pit of my gut. I have since healed well enough, but Whimsy never did fully recover. My carpenter husband salvaged her iron skeleton and her big single wheel and so there is still something left of the real Whimsy. Her spirit endures. This might sound indulgent but anyone who uses hand tools or hand-built gear is familiar with the eccentricities of such things. My new wheelbarrow is not Whimsy but it is strong and solid and dependable and I will come to know it too.
As I think about wheelbarrows and about Whimsy I can’t help but remember the poem by William Carlos Williams. Like the wheelbarrow, through its simplicity and immediacy Williams’ poem reveals something universal, illuminates a little piece of what it means to be human in this world.
We are all mortal, even centuries-old wheelbarrows, but our spirits are timeless and will endure in our life’s work and in the contributions we make to the work of others. May the spirit of growth be with you and your wheelbarrow as you head out this season.
- Olivia Finley
And now a link to the very informative and interesting article about
Chinese wheelbarrows from the British online magazine called
Low Tech Magazine. It's long, detailed and marvelously illustrated.
Well worth the time.
Check it out HERE.
It’s been just over three years now since our friend Bill Coperthwaite died in an automobile accident.
He was such an important, creative force in our lives and in this world,
he was Kenneth’s mentor during the short years we knew him and his ideas
and words continue to inspire us still.
We appreciate the memories of him that pop up unexpectedly, and we foster
any connection to friends or situations that remind us of him.
Like this one - the annual Dickinsons Reach Calendar.
Bill produced and sold a calendar each year, the proceeds of which made up
a majority of his annual income.
He lived on very little, about eight thousand dollars a year. He led yurt building workshops, sold plans for building his yurts and one time he raised money for a trip by selling spoons which he carved, and he wrote a book, “A Handmade Life”.
But overall, and fiercely, he chose to live on far less than the average American.
One of his sayings was,
“Tell me what you need and I will tell you how to get by without it.”
Bill had a very large group of people he corresponded with, all via letters.
He had no phone and no computer, he did not have an email address,
he loved writing and receiving real, paper mail.
He would send out a letter to his entire mailing list each fall with a request
for support and in exchange he’d offer his yearly calendar.
Bill’s first letter was sent in the fall of 1973 to friends and supporters,
it advertised two yurt plans and offered workshops, and it also included
a list of recommended books.
The first calendar was made a year later, illustrated with sketches of various yurts.
It was printed on heavy brown paper and packaged in a cardboard tube.
Sadly, I don't have one of those to show you.
In successive years the paper and format of the calendar changed a few times,
the most recent calendars were 11.5” tall by 6” wide, and some were printed in color.
Bill always included favorite poems, quotes or sometimes sayings of his own,
plus a number of book recommendations, his favorites from the past year.
He would choose a theme for the calendar’s drawings or photographs - for instance, 2003 was a series of photographs of his yurts, and 2009 was ‘Beauty in Lapland, a celebration of photographic art by Gosta Andersson’. Or 2011 was a celebration of modern yurts. One year he chose illustrations by his favorite artist, Barbara Cooney.
One of my favorite details of the calendar was that Bill listed several years for which they could be used (truly a thrifty guy).
So it turns out that I can use my 1995 calendar again this year.
That’s the history of the calendars, and now for the way forward.
Bill considered his group of closest friends to be his family, thus he entrusted his legacy and his land near Machiasport, Maine, to five dear friends.
They are continuing to keep many of Bill’s ways of life and his philosophy alive.
One of their tasks is to care for Bill’s remote homestead, called Dickinsons Reach
(after his favorite poet, Emily Dickinson).
They have just printed their second Dickinsons Reach calendar, proceeds from the sale of which will help to preserve and care for Bill Coperthwaite’s legacy.
This year's calendar is luminous with those golden, quiet moments which embody the time I have spent at Dickinsons Reach.
Margaret La Farge's paintings are gorgeous; they speak the truth of Bill's life
of beauty and simplicity. All of the images are scenes from Dickinsons Reach.
Consider joining the mailing list and supporting the Dickinsons Reach group's important, relevant and very interesting work.
Below is this year’s letter with some links to more information.
The Dickinsons Reach Calendar for the Years
2017 ~~~~~~~~ 2023 and 2034
A celebration of Dickinsons Reach through the art of
Greetings from Dickinsons Reach Community, the far flung community of
people that Bill Coperthwaite assembled during his life.
We now work together – to care for Dickinsons Reach and to support excitement in simple living, meaningful work, beautiful creating.
The 2017 Dickinsons Reach calendar will celebrate the art of Margaret LaFarge, who spent many hours with Bill in his home and has captured
the spirit of the place in her paintings.
The past year at Dickinsons Reach has been a busy one. Many friends and new acquaintances have walked or paddled in, and some stayed for a bit in the guest yurt. We continue to encourage visitors to be respectful and tidy, and to that end we are now implementing a reservation system for those who would like to stay overnight. Please contact us at email@example.com if you are planning
a visit and want to schedule a stay in the guest yurt.
We are also establishing a Homesteading Residency – 4-6 weeks at
Dickinsons Reach for self-directed learning, discovery, service and creativity.
We want to offer this amazing place as a setting for individuals, families and small groups to deeply explore nature, ideas and skills. We hope this opportunity will provide residents with encouragement on their life journey, time and solitude to explore ideas and skills, the joy and challenge of living with less, and the fulfillment of living in a healthy, wild place. We are pleased to announce that the first resident will be arriving at Dickinsons Reach in late November, 2016!
Please write for a full description of the residency, or visit our website: www.insearchofsimplicity.net
And, in place of Bill’s customary list of books,
we remind all that Bill’s library has been catalogued: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/Dickinsons_Reach
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops - at all.
― Emily Dickinson
$65 will bring you eight calendars
$55 will bring six; $15 brings one
Checks payable to Dickinsons Reach, LLC please.
Mail to: 7 Page St, Brunswick, ME 04011
Proceeds from the calendar will go to support the land and buildings at Dickinsons Reach, to preserve this place for future visitors and inspiration.
We encourage you to be in touch as you consider your own response to Dickinsons Reach, and the remarkable man who gave this gift to us all.
In the last blog entry Kenneth detailed how he finishes his Windsor chairs.
This one is all about finishing his beautiful wooden spoons.
We publish it here as an addendum to our workshops, where there is time
to learn to make green wood items, but rarely time enough to do the
oil finishes that will protect and preserve them.
These blog entries are a guide to give complete information to our students
and others who are looking for details of how to finish certain handcrafts.
I prefer to use raw tung oil on spoons, as opposed to the polymerized oil which
is the finish I use on chairs, the polymerized is a bit more expensive. It is available from Lee Valley. Many people like to use raw linseed oil on spoons and bowls, I like the tung oil because it hardens off to a more durable and hard protection for the wooden ware. Jögge Sundquist told me that he likes linseed oil over tung oil because he says he doesn't like the way the tung oil smells. I don't think he has used it with the Citri-magic which has a lovely lemon or orange smell. Linseed oil is also a more traditional finish for wooden ware in Scandinavia.
You can use polymerized tung oil if that’s what’s available, and I occasionally
use it for a touch up on spoons, it is a finish that builds up layers fast. It is expensive to get enough to soak the spoons in it.
For my standard spoon finishing, I cut the tung oil 50/50 with a citrus based
solvent called Citra-magic, which makes the tung oil dry faster and allows
it to penetrate better. Plus I think a natural solvent is a more pleasant way
to thin the oil, and it smells really nice, like oranges.
(I buy Citra-magic in bulk from the Shelter Institute here in Maine,
or the Milk Paint Company also sells it.) There are citris based household cleaners that might confuse you so make sure it is a solvent and not a household cleaner.
For my soaking mixture, I mix half raw tung oil and half solvent together
in a large jar. I will soak any smaller items like spoons or butter/jam
spreaders overnight with the jar’s lid on.
If the item I’m finishing is too large to fit entirely into the oil I’ll drape
a plastic bag over the top. Then I’ll invert the piece - I’ll do the bowl
one night and then I’ll flip it around and do the handle the next night.
This overnight soaking is just for the first time, a really deep soaking,
for when I’ve just completed carving a spoon and the wood has dried
and I’m going to oil it for the very first time.
I’ll do the overnight soaking once on the whole spoon, then when
I remove it from the jar I use a small rag from a cotton T shirt to
wipe off as much oil as I can.
Then I take a second, dry rag and wipe off all the remaining oil with
the dry rag. You want to rub it with a dry rag until there’s no more
oil on the spoon. There actually is some on the surface, but you can’t
really wipe off any more of it.
important safety reminder:
I always put rags that have tung oil on them into our wood stove,
because when the tung oil oxidizes it gives off heat and if you have
just the right conditions it can actually self combust.
Because of this, I put my oily rags in our wood stove as a safety measure.
You can also put them in water or put them outside, spread out
(not wadded up). It’s mostly when they’re compressed and wadded up
that they heat up, but if you spread them out the heat usually dissipates
and they won’t catch fire, but either way they should NOT be left
around the house or the shop. They can burn your house down.
After the first application of oil has dried overnight, I like to wet the
entire spoon down with water, which raises the grain of the wood.
After that dries, I give the surface a light sanding to remove all the
wood grain that has risen, either with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper
(you can even do a wet sanding with the oil to really finish it off nicely),
or with 0000 synthetic steel wool.
I will give my spoons just a light sanding between each coat of finish.
You want to be careful not to sand through the finish as you build those
coats, so don’t sand too aggressively or you might go back down through
the layers you’ve been trying to build.
After the initial soaking has dried, after raising the grain, drying the
spoon again and after the light sanding, I’ll dip a rag in the oil/solvent
mixture from the jar, wipe the spoon down with it and let it sit
for 10 or 15 minutes. Then I wipe it off and repeat the process with
the drying, light sanding and the rubbing/polishing.
You can get away with just one or two layers of finish, but when you
start getting up to 3 to 5 coats it really starts to build up a smooth
surface and that’s the kind of finish that I appreciate.
I like the built-up tung oil surface because it makes the spoons perform
and look better over the long run. Using and cleaning wooden spoons
seems to go a lot easier when they have a nice slick finish on them. The water will literally run off the spoon when you wash it.
The other day I was at the Shelter Institute and a gentleman was
talking to me about how he’s been finishing his spoons using mineral oil,
but he wasn’t super happy with his results.
An important thing to know about mineral oil is that it never actually
hardens off. What happens is that it’s always washing off the surface,
every time you wash the spoon with soap and water or get it near hot
water, the finish washes off the surface and then the wood becomes
dry, and it will look it too. It really changes the way the spoon looks
and feels against your skin.
The pores of the wood and any indentations or marks from carving
will tend to hold food and dirt if it’s got this kind of soft surface.
It’s like putting olive oil or something similar on the wood.
I’ve found that the tung oil finish holds up much better than
mineral oil or similar kinds of oils that don’t actually harden off.
The idea of toxic finishes on spoons and bowls is a big concern for people,
of course. (I really appreciate the Citra-magic for that reason, it’s nice to know
that I’m not putting anything with strong chemical dryers on my spoons.)
My understanding is that almost any finish, when it’s totally cured and dried,
is going to be nontoxic and inert, especially if you wash your spoon with
soap and water after you’re completely done finishing it and after the
finish is fully cured.
When your wooden ware is in daily use, the finish has to be reapplied occasionally, not all that often, but it does seem to wear over time so I do
reapply the finish periodically. It’ll just build up more and more and your
spoons will benefit from more protection.
I think you’ll find with a finish that hardens off like tung oil does, you’ll
be able to build up a surface that doesn’t require maintenance as often.
some thoughts about containers -
I have found that a large jar is the most durable, reusable and easy to
seal container for the tung oil finish, but there are other ways to hold
oil finish for spoons.
Drew Langsner (at Country Workshops) was using a tray which he had made
out of a big rectangular olive oil can by cutting the top off and leaving a lip
about 4” high. He would pour his oil in there (he also uses tung oil), set spoons
in it and then place a weight on top of the spoons to push them down below
the surface. Once he was done soaking the spoons or butter spreaders,
he’d pour the liquid back into a jar to re-use it later.
If you don’t happen to have a jar or a can that’s large enough to do a really
big spoon, I discovered an alternative this past summer which may help.
You can use a large plastic bag instead and fill it with the tung oil/Citra-magic mixture, place your item to be oiled in the bag, squeeze the air out, seal it
up and just let it soak there for a day or two.
Then you can pour the finishing liquid out into a jar when you’re done in
order to store it longer term.
Unfortunately you’ll end up wasting some because you can’t really get it all
out of the bag. But if you squeeze all of the air out of the plastic bag and seal it up, free from air, you can re-use your plastic bag quite a few times.
And finally, here’s another type of finish I like a lot -
I used to finish my spoons with a polymerized linseed oil finish called Tried
and True, there's one that has beeswax in it, it’s the ‘original’ Tried and True finish.
I would coat the spoon with that, then I’d put it in the microwave for 5 to 10, maybe 15 seconds on high, until the spoon was really warm. The microwave would heat the spoon up from the inside and draw the oil and beeswax mixture into the wood. I used that finish on a lot of spoons.
But now we live off the grid and we don’t have a microwave, so I switched.
I think the finish soaks in better with the overnight method, and the
tung oil creates a harder, less permeable finish on the wood as compared to linseed oil and so that is now definitely what I prefer.” - KK
Finishing a handmade rustic welsh windsor chair
Just last week Kenneth completed a commission for one of his Welsh
vernacular style Windsor chairs, that is one of the chairs he learned to
make from his teacher, the late John Brown, in the rustic and
distinctly handmade Welsh style.
We’ll work on telling more about this Welsh lay person’s Windsor and
about how Kenneth came to be John Brown’s “first and last apprentice”,
so stay tuned for that.
This current entry though will be something of a hands-on post about
how Kenneth finishes his chairs.
I have seen that his finishing methods change slightly from year to year,
he’s always investigating best methods and making adjustments.
So here’s what happened with his latest chair. -AK
“I use a simple oil finish which wears well and is very straight forward to
apply. Some finishes will yellow with the sun but I think that this finish
doesn’t yellow as far as I can tell. And it doesn’t build up on the surface
so you can really feel the wood through it.
I’ve tried a lot of different oils, the Sam Maloof oil finish, Tried and True,
Danish Oil Finish to name a few.
But I’ve recently been liking the polymerized tung oil that Lee Valley is
selling. They also have a polymerized tung oil sealer, which is basically the
tung oil with more dryers added so it’s a lot thinner.
You can put the sealer on your piece first and it helps the wood to not
absorb quite as much oil. You can also add the sealer to the straight polymerized tung oil to thin it out a little bit to make it easier to wipe it on and off, but
then since it’s thinner it takes more of it to build up the coats for a good finish.
I usually apply the sealer first and after 24 hours, I apply the high
luster polymerized tung oil. I do not dilute the oil. It’s generally thin enough
that I don’t have any problem wiping it on and off again before the oil starts
to tack up.
After the sealer is dry, I give it a light sanding. I like the synthetic steel wool,
the 0000 is a good variety.
If the grain has risen in any place, which it does sometimes, I’ll hit it with
600 grit wet-dry sandpaper. If it’s really severe I might use something more
like 400 grit wet-dry sandpaper, or 320 even. After this, I work back up
through the grits, so that I finish with the 600 grit.
I then wipe it all down with a tack free cloth, because once the sealer has
dried you’ll get a white powder that needs to be removed. The white powder
will form while sanding if the sealer or oil is dry. If you’re not getting the
white powder you’ll know that the sealer and/or the tung oil is not quite dry.
So after the sealer has dried and gotten a light sanding and been tacked off,
I’ll start with a first layer of the high luster polymerized tung oil.
I wear nitrile gloves and use a cotton rag that I fold up so that the lint
doesn’t come off of it. Old T-shirts work well, just fold the corners in so that
edge doesn’t fray and leave lint on your piece. But it’s a really nice finish
because even if you do get a little lint in there or a little dust or if
something lands on your piece as it’s drying, you then just wipe it all off,
again with a lint free cloth.
I let the tung oil sit on there at least 10 minutes, usually by the time
you’ve finished applying the oil to one part of the chair, it’ll be time to
start wiping down the parts of the chair where you started applying the oil first.
I usually wipe and buff it enough so that it doesn’t feel like the rag is
dragging any more, I really want to get all the oil off that isn’t soaked into
I might apply a little bit more on the end grain to help that seal in. I let the
first coat of high luster, polymerized tung oil dry for 24 hours.
Usually I don’t have to use the sandpaper anymore, at this point I just use
the 0000 or 000 grade synthetic steel wool, and I buff the oil.
And then I do another coat - ideally I do 3 coats of oil like that.
And then after all that’s dried, if you really want to buff it up nicely you can
use a little bit of a paste wax finish on the chair. I usually just use the paste
wax on the high wear areas, like the seat and the tops of the arms and maybe
I don’t usually do the paste wax except on the high-wear areas because I
find the paste wax is kind of hard to get off around all my spindles,
especially since I leave the spindles faceted.
You can reapply the oil over time if the piece gets scratched or needs
to be brightened up again.
Or if you ever need to you can wipe the surface down with a little
denatured alcohol, to get the paste wax off, and then you can apply
more polymerized tung oil, maybe after giving it a light scuffing with
some synthetic steel wool or some sandpaper and you can apply another
coat in years to come.
So it’s an easy to maintain finish over time, although I find that it seems
to hold up well, even without doing that. It just gets better over time.
I’ve used this finish on a very white birch chair and it looks lovely, the birch
has mellowed a little bit, gotten warmer in tone over time, but the finish
stays nice and clear and I haven’t had any trouble with it at all.
One challenge I’ve had has been in the long term storage of opened cans
of polymerized tung oil finishes. They will oxydize when exposed to air,
as any oil finish will, so trying to store an open can of this stuff and not
have it oxidize and set up in the can has always been a problem.
I have tried something called "Blocksoygen", which is a can that sprays gas
into an opened can of finish or paint to replace the oxygen (with
something non-reactive). I have also had collapsible ridgid containers
that are shaped like an accordian that you can push down to get the
But even so, I’m always finding my tung oil sets up and gets wasted.
A couple of months ago, I found these plastic ‘Stop Loss’ bags
(from Lee Valley). They look a lot like a plasma blood bag that you might
see used at a hospital for an IV. When I saw these flexible bags I was
impressed and thought they may be a really good solution to my problem.
You can compress them as you use the liquid so there is no air in the bag
at all. So far they have been working great.” - KK
Next up: how Kenneth finishes smaller items like spoons & bowls,
which is a similar but slightly different process.
“Handmade work has soul, it has verve, a sparkle which a machine cannot reproduce.”
Angela & Kenneth Kortemeier
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