Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guest Blogger - Bob Tinsley

Bob Tinsley is a reader of this blog who was inspired to try his own lovespoon and has graciously allowed us to post pictures of his work, below, and to be our guest blogger:


Hi, I'm Bob Tinsley, and I'm honored to be David's guest blogger. I'm from Colorado Springs, CO, and I've been carving off and on, mostly off, for close to 40 years. However if you put all my carving time together in one string, it would probably amount to about two years of experience.

During the last four months I've gotten serious about carving, doing some carving every day, mostly small figures in the flat-plane style and a lot of Santa Claus Christmas ornaments.

I got into selling my Santas with a push from my wife. After I had about 10 pieces finished and painted (8 Santa ornaments of various types, one Santa Bear full figure about 6' tall and an Old World Santa I called "Watching the Weather" because he was looking up), my wife said, "What are you going to do with these? They're starting to clutter the place up." My wife is big on reducing clutter. :)

My daughter, on one of her jaunts through one of the more touristy parts of town, saw a store called "Handmade Santas & More". So I figured, what the heck. I wrapped the pieces in brown paper, put them in a box and headed for "Handmade Santas & More". The first time I went there, the owner was out. The lady at the counter said to come back tomorrow. I went there the next day, a different lady was there, but she wasn't the owner either. Third time's the charm. The next time I went there the owner was in. She looked at my work and bought all of them on the spot. This was about mid-November. By mid-December she had sold all of them and wanted me to do a commission for a gift to a man who played Santa for a charitable organization, which I did over the next weekend. She wanted a fat, jolly Santa, so I did a fat, jolly, dancing Santa.

She liked that one as well and put in an order for next year. She said just start bringing them in around the end of March and keep them coming.

I first ran across David in the pages of Woodcarving Illustrated (WCI). I liked his enthusiasm, and checked out his website. I was floored by the intricacy and delicacy of his art. I wanted to do that, so I copied the pattern in WCI, bought a couple of 1 x 3 x 12 poplar boards, ordered his book from Amazon, Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons, and got started.

I received David's book when I was about halfway through carving my first spoon. It was like getting an early Christmas present! The book is laid out in a supremely logical manner. Without asking David about this, I can be pretty sure that this book wasn't intended to be just about how to carve a lovespoon (though that information is there). David apparently wanted a book that would introduce new people to the art and romance of lovespoon carving. In this he succeeded. Beginning with the history and lore illustrated by examples of lovespoons done by him and several other artists, the book covers the materials and tools, step-by-step instructions for three patterns, then finally patterns and something that is sorely needed in all carving books but seldom included: a chapter on doing your own designs. This, in my view, elevates Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons above 99% of the carving books on the market. And I have to say that the photography is outstanding.

My tools consist of two Pinewood Forge knives, a small sloyd and a hook knife, a coping saw, a small Japanese hand saw and a battery-powered drill. I roughed out the profile with the Japanese saw and finished it with the sloyd. Surprisingly it didn't take nearly as long as I thought. Poplar is pretty easy to carve with a SHARP knife. I emphasize the word "sharp" because, even though I can put a shaving-sharp edge on a pocket knife, until I got my first Pinewood Forge knife, I didn't realize that pocketknife sharp and carving knife sharp are two different things.

I drilled holes in the pierced areas, not just one as David shows, but as many as I could fit in. I was going to have to do the piercings by hand, so I wanted to remove as much wood as I could with the drill. I started to clean out the piercings with the knife, but realized that it would be easier if the handle weren't so thick.

I took out my handy-dandy two-sided Japanese hand saw and ripped a half-inch off the thickness of the handle. Once I had done that, I could start rounding off the bottom of the spoon's bowl. I decided to do that before I tackled the piercings again, because it looked, and was, easier.

Once that was done, I started back on the piercings. The larger ones I did only with my knife. Some of the smaller ones I did with the coping saw, but discovered that clamping and unclamping that blade after taking only five or six strokes was a major pain. So I continued with the knife.

I found that getting a clean corner where two curves came together, such as at the bottom of the heart cut-out, was not easy. Cutting down into the corner was almost always against the grain, so I had to develop a technique to get the point of my sloyd into the corner and cut up out of it (with the grain) a little at a time until I had cut all the way from the front of the handle to the back. It took a while to get the joint as clean as I wanted it.

Once I had the cut-outs finished, but before starting the rounding, I used the hook knife to hollow out the bowl. I thought that the ridge going down into the bowl from the top was going to be difficult, but it wasn't. I also didn't have much trouble with the grain at the bottom of the bowl. I don't know whether this was because of the wood or the sharpness of my hook knife. I suspect it was the wood.

I began the rounding process on the handle and quickly discovered where the grain changed direction. A very light touch with a very sharp knife was the key to making these areas smooth.

I like tool marks on my carvings, so I didn't sand at all. Any place I thought was too rough, I smoothed out with numerous shallow cuts with my knife. I did use a cabinet scraper on the inside of the bowl.

I finished the spoon with a hot application of neutral shoe polish applied with a toothbrush to get in all the nooks and crannies. I wiped off the excess with a rag, then buffed with a soft brush.

I enjoyed the process as well as the result. It's really not as hard as it looks. I've already started my second spoon, so I guess you could say I'm hooked!

Thanks, David, for the opportunity to do this.

Bob has launched an store and you can find and purchase his work here:

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Details, details -- and tools

Now that the spoon bowls are nicely shaped, I am going to move on to the vines. These need to work over and under each other, but don't need the formality and regularity of Celtic knotwork. The idea is that they appear organic and natural, so I will round them over much more than a Celtic knot and try to get a more 'random' feel to their movement up the spoon handle.
To achieve this look, I begin by gently ramping down the wood on either side of an 'over', thus creating the 'under'. I don't take too much off initially; I just take enough so that I can see the over under pattern clearly. By taking a shallow cut, I can rectify mistakes in the 'over/undering' or can change the pattern if I prefer a different order. If I commit to a deep cut and make an error, I can easily find myself in hot water. I use a simple straight knife for this process. The straight knives I use tend to have very short and pointy blades. These give me access to tight areas and keep me from getting carried away and cutting too much material at a pass.

I am a great believer in taking multiple shallow cuts rather than getting all excited and pulling off great heaving strips with big deep passes. Its easier on the hands, the spoon and the state of my mental health to take my time and not push things. When the over and unders are completed, I round over the edges quite heavily with the knife and with some small files. With the rounding over looking good, I finish the vines with some cloth backed abrasive paper which I tear into thin 6 inch strips and draw back and forth over the edges for a final rounding.

In response to questions I have received about the knives I use, I have included this slightly blurry shot of my straight knife collection. These knives are the ones I use for all my spoon carving. They are all inexpensive tools but they are the workhorses of my art. As long as the steel is of good quality and will hold a sharp edge, any one of these little knives is capable of helping me to carve a beautiful spoon. Nothing fancier or more technical is necessary!

I began my spoon carving career with the chip carving knife at the bottom of the photo. This economical knife will do everything a beginning carver requires and it won't break the bank when you visit the tool dealer!

The pointy Flex Cut brand knife above it was my second knife and has an ergonomically designed handle which makes long carving sessions a much more comfortable proposition. The skew bladed Japanese knife second from top is one that I use for getting into tight corners and for shaping edges. Its a lovely knife, but its skew shape has taken some getting used to and it might not be a good knife for a beginner.

But it is the top knife which currently has my heart! A Flex Cut brand knife endearingly known as a 'pelican', it is an absolutely sweet little knife. With a tiny blade and comfy handle, pelican and I spend many hours together and I would recommend this style of knife above all others for serious lovespoon carving.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

David Western on CBC Radio One tomorrow morning

David is getting ready for a trip to Wales and emailed that "I'll be getting interviewed right after the 7:30 am news on a show called North by Northwest. I think they will also post it on their website which I think is"

That's the "North by Northwest" show, Hosted by Sheryl MacKay on CBC Radio One, between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM, 690 AM Vancouver BC. You can hear it on the radio live in the Vancouver area and online here:

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crafting the Bowls

I have been working on the spoon bowls and have roughed them out to almost their final look. The first pic shows the front view and the second shows the back.

I am a firm believer that a good lovespoon must have a really well carved bowl. My research through the museums of Wales has shown me that in the olden days, a great deal of effort was put into the bowls, no matter how adept or crude the carver. When you stop to consider the rather meager tools that many of these young men would have had access to, some of their work borders on miraculous.

Many of the spoons I see for sale on the 'gift shop' type lovespoon sites suffer from extremely poorly designed and carved bowls. In many it appears the bowl was just an afterthought which was only grudgingly included so that the piece of wood is recognizable as a spoon. I think this is a great shame as the bowl lends a quiet dignity to the proceedings. Lovespoons are busy and vibrant things with the handles often being a veritable riot of activity. An elegant bowl acts as a real visual anchor and can have a quieting effect on the overall design. It also is a real measure of a carver's skill to get it even and fair with the right 'look'. I spend a good deal of time fussing with the bowl and I honestly believe that the effort I put in on an easily overlooked detail pays big dividends at the end of the job.

But that is enough sermonizing (is that a word? is now) for one day. I just hope that you'll agree with me that so far this double bowl has a very romantic feel to it and that it is doing a good job symbolizing 'union'.

Thank you for dropping by to see how things are progressing! I hope that you will be inspired to join our efforts to initiate an Eisteddfod in Portland and I look forward to reading your comments.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Taking Shape

Well, the fun stuff has finally started. I've been busy scroll sawing out the shape of the spoon and am very pleased with how the wood has responded. There is lots of lovely grain patterns which should make the bowl and the leaf look really vibrant and the wood has been cutting evenly with no splitting or shattering. Wood this old and dry can sometimes be a bit brittle, but this walnut seems very good. The dowel that I came across last week shows up pretty well in this photo, but won't be quite so visible when the spoon is complete. I'm very pleased with the proportions and am even more confident that this will be a very smart spoon when complete.

In the second picture I have begun carving out the spoon bowl using a hand-made bent knife. These are specially made for me by Mike Komick at Preferred Edge Tools who specializes in crafting razor sharp, beautifully made blades. In the old days, the Welsh carvers used a ferocious looking bent bladed knife called a 'twca cam' which was often fashioned from whatever metal was at hand. Thankfully for me, I can rely on Mike to use the very best steel so that I can reap the benefits of a good, keen edge. Many carvers use gouges, electric grinding tools and curved scrapers to achieve the same ends, but I personally prefer the bent knife.

Carving the spoon bowl is one of my favourite parts of the process and is one I am happy to spend a good deal of time on. I tend to think that a lot of spoon carvers consider their bowls an afterthought with the lack of attention they give them showing up as a clunky and unsightly end to their hard carving efforts on the handle. But I'm starting to get preachy, so I'll get back to the tools and see how things shape up.

Before I go though, I hope that you are enjoying the blog so far and that you will feel inclined to donate a dollar or two to the Left Coast Eisteddfod! Every dollar you gift will equal a chance to win this spoon when it is completed. I hope you'll join in and I wish you good luck!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Forming the silhouette

After a rather frustrating 'down time' due to a computer virus, I've got my photo file back and can resume spoon blog entries!

I've now glued a photocopy of the spoon design to the wood and have roughed out the overall shape of the spoon with a scroll saw. Unfortunately, you can't see much yet as all the good stuff is hidden under a layer of paper. But for me, I can see the wood left behind and I have a good idea of what awaits me when I start carving! When I flip the piece over, the proportions seem right and I am confident that the various vagaries of the wood grain will line up where I want them.

The second picture is a close-up showing an old dowel which must have linked the panel this spoon was cut from to another in bygone days. The dowel won't be seen when viewing the final product from straight-on but it will be visible on the side view. I have decided not to bother trying to remove it and repatching it with a walnut plug though. This old dowel's inclusion in the spoon won't do any harm structurally or visually, but it will lend some quirky charm and will be a good talking point! After all, how many people have a dowel which is potentially a hundred and fifty years old in their lovespoon!!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

" A Regal Looking Spoon"

I've cleaned up the board a bit and swept off the dust of ages. What is revealed is a nice sweeping grain figure which should yeild a nice spoon. As I thought, the piece right on the edge worked really well for our purposes. It's a great feeling to be able to recycle a lovely old piece of wood like this, especially knowing that it was destined for a trip to the landfill! I don't often work with walnut, but it always yields a regal looking spoon with a rich, dark colouration.

As you can see in the second picture, I've roughed out the spoon blank and have slightly domed the top surface to add some vitality and movement to the carving. Eventually, I will hollow the back a bit to give the spoon a graceful sweep. At this stage of the game, I can also get a good idea of how the final grain will look. Although it is a bit wider than I had expected, it has a nice flow and the slight angle gives it some drama. There is also a nice swirl in the area which will become the maple leaf which should add some nice shimmer to the finished leaf.

I'm looking forward to glueing the pattern on and starting the cutting. I know it isn't very exciting or dramatic at the moment, but once the cutting starts, the spoon will really take shape and things will get much more interesting

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

The walnut board from which the spoon will emerge

Here it is, the walnut board from which the Eisteddfod spoon will emerge!

Welsh lovespoon design and walnut

Although it doesn't look like much at the moment, especially covered in dried glue, flecks of old paint and the dust of a century and a half, I am very confident there is a spectacular spoon waiting inside.

As you can see, there are a number of holes scattered around the board which were where big screws or nails were driven through the old cabinet holding it to the wall. I have found two or three different areas of this piece where the spoon will fit without running into a hole, so now I just have to settle on the one I think will yield the sweetest grain figure. Right now, I'm leaning heavily to using the wood nearest the edge of the board as it has a section of swirling grain which should line up right where I want the bowls to be. That will make the carving a bit trickier in this area, but will make spectacular bowls which should shimmer as light passes over them.

This wood has something of a history the condensed version I will relate. Apparently, the wood forms the back panels of a wonderful bar which originally was built approximately 150 years ago for a steam ship which traversed the seas between Ireland, the UK and Europe. When the ship was scrapped, the bar was removed and spent many years in a small town pub in Ireland. A number of years ago the bar was purchased by a large hotel in Victoria BC who have now used it as the centerpiece of their off-license shop. The back panels were unnecessary during installation and were scrapped. Fortunately for me and whoever gets this spoon, the pieces were retrieved from the dumpster and found their way to me, where they found a very warm welcome and the opportunity for a new life.

I can't wait to see how this lovespoon turns out!

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Friday, October 31, 2008

David's First Concept Sketch

Welsh lovespoon design sketch

To support the development of the Left Coast Eisteddfod next year, I am donating a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind Welsh lovespoon which Americymru will raffle off to help raise needed funds.

I'm proud to be able to contribute to the creation of the Eisteddfod and to help highlight Welsh people and their culture here in North America. Everyone knows the Scottish and Irish and it is through events like the Eisteddfod that people will come to know the Welsh.

The lovespoon will be carved from a single piece of wood which has been reclaimed from a walnut bar panel. The spoon will be very modern in design but it will retain a traditional feel. The Welsh dragon will be the foremost feature of the spoon, but it won't be the cliched flag dragon which has been done to death on everything from knickers to door knockers. Y Driag will exude power and strength but without arrogance or ferocity.

Two bowls merging together are a traditional symbol for union, so I have used that theme to symbolize the merging of Wales with North America. From those bowls spring vigorous intertwining vines (a symbol for growth) and a symbol for the growth of Welsh culture which will come about as a result of events like the Eisteddfod.

A maple leaf indicates Canada and a star the USA with both supporting the dragon. Between the dragon's body and wings, the vine becomes a Celtic knot and symbolizes eternity.

I will, over the next few weeks, document the carving of the spoon and hope that you will drop by from time to time to follow the progress. I also hope that you will be moved to buy a ticket or two on the raffle!! If you are a Welsh celebrity, maybe you'd like to buy a load of them and help us really kick-start this process!

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History of the Welsh Lovespoon

Welsh lovespoon carving of leaping frog

Welsh lovespoons trace their roots back to the 1600’s. They are hand carved tokens of love or esteem, each an extraordinary work of art.

Lovespoon carving is known to have existed in 17th century Wales, but it is believed that the custom originated even earlier. It began when young men, displaying their skill and devotion, would embellish common wooden cawl (soup) spoons with ornate designs as a way of impressing young ladies. The spoon would be presented to the lady as a gift and if accepted, courtship could begin in earnest.

After nearly dying out at the end of the 19th century, the art has experienced a revival. Spoons are now given as tokens of affection on many special occasions.

The traditional lovespoon was always carved from a single piece of wood. It’s complexity of design and the large number of hours required to craft it were viewed both as a measure of a man’s strong feelings toward the young lady who would receive the spoon and as an indication of his skill and determination.

The art developed from a simple peasant art base, with the carvers often only having an axe and a knife to work with. From this tradition, a number of simple symbols and motifs appeared which could be combined to allow the maker to convey his feelings and passion for the girl who had won his heart. The most common of these is, not surprisingly, the heart. Other common symbols include bells, horseshoes, vines, chain links, balls in cages, locks, lovebirds, and the mysterious comma shape which is believed to represent the soul.

Modern day carvers have benefited from the design possibilities found in collections of lovespoons in various museums and from an exposure to art styles and sophisticated tools unimagined in our grandfather’s day. As a result, many carvers have embraced the delightfully complicated knot work patterns found in Celtic or Islamic art. Or have used geometric shapes inspired by abstract paintings.

Today, a handmade Welsh love spoon can still embody a depth of sentiment which can never be rivaled by the cold mechanization of the diamond industry or the clichéd dullness of the commercial gift industry. No matter how simple or complex the design, a hand carved love spoon always conveys a warm message of affection.

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About David Western

Welsh lovespoon carver David WesternDavid Western has been creating in wood for over 20 years. His works have been sought by collectors all over the world, including on display at the St Fagans National Museum of History in Wales. David has taught lovespoon carving for many years and is the author of Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons: Understanding, Designing, and Carving Romantic Heirlooms.

"My lovespoons are carved entirely by hand using only domestic North American woods. I feel our native timbers easily rival any tropical hardwood for beauty and colouration. Using sustainable, easily grown lumber such as alder and maple allows me to avoid contributing toward the denuding of tropical rain forests.

Book cover entitled Fine Art of Lovespoon Carving by David Western"Lovespoon carving is my passion. I constantly strive to expand the boundaries of design while creating unique and innovative carvings which respect and honour the tradition of the Welsh lovespoon. My lovespoons are not souvenir trinkets; they are art which also celebrates both my client's personal stories and my hard-earned skills as a craftsman and designer. I believe the romantic, thoughtful, hand-crafted lovespoon still has an important role to play in our increasingly sterile and pre-fabricated society. My goal is to continue the tradition of the lovespoon while introducing it to as wide an audience as possible both within and beyond the Welsh community."

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