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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