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-  The Carving Process  -

'Oak Lace' Bowl
by Steve Schmeck

December 2006 - Well, it's the beginning of a new carving season here in the North Woods if Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The firewood is in the woodshed and all of the fall outdoor chores are done so it is time to get back into the studio and create some sculptural bowls. It really feels good to get the ole' gouges and mallet into action!

This first bowl of the season will be a commissioned oak bowl from a half-log section given to me by the fellow who ordered the bowl. I really do like (humility aside) the 'Cherry Lace' bowl, third from the left, above, that  I made last year, and it has inspired me to work out an oak interpretation of that theme; a deep swooping shape with rim lightened by a lacey hole 

So here we go!


 The Carving



Above: I received this half-log section of Red Oak a year or so ago and it has been stored on end out in the weather to age. You can see signs of minor bug infestation but they apparently were only interested in the outer inch or so. This piece weighed in at just under 50 lbs. 12/1/2006.


I sawed and chipped off one corner to give the bowl a roughly triangular shape. Here you can see that I have laid out the locations for the bottoms of the three feet. To give you an idea of the size of this piece, the top of my carving bench is about 24" on a side.

The general shape is beginning to emerge. I've left the feet kind of oversized to allow for adjustment in case I run into any surprises, like knots or cracks. No surprises this time so now I can decide on the shape of the feet and get on with shaping. I'd like this bowl to appear quite rounded and deep so will shape the sides so they are more or less vertical as they approach the rim. 12/5/2006


I just finished shaping the outside of the bowl and revised the rim shape. Here I'm starting to hollow out the inside with one of my favorite gouges, a 35mm wide #7 sweep bent gouge. Most of the gouges I am using now are Pfeil "Swiss Made". They are strong enough for this kind of use and hold an edge well, especially considering that they spend a lot of time cutting across the grain of this hard oak. 

Just a quick shot to show that I really do chop away at the bowl at this point in its emergence. It is securely fastened to my heavy carving bench and at this stage I'm taking off potato-chip-sized pieces.


The sides are 1/2" to 3/4" thick now. Overnight or any time I'm not actively carving I cover the bow to keep it from drying out too fast and cracking. So far so good though I'm a little concerned about  potential weakness of that end grain section facing you on the left of the picture above.

Whew! Carved down to about 3/8" now and time to switch over to the old goose-neck scraper to remove all the gouge marks and that the bowl down to its final inside surface. That end-grain thing I was concerned about above may prevent me from following through with the plan of carving multiple holes along the rim. That one end flexes quite a bit and I'd rather be flexible with the design than create a bowl that won't hold up under normal use. I'll wait to see how it feels after a couple of days of controlled drying. 1/10/07


Well, this bowl firmed up quite a bit as it dried so I decided to try  a modified 'lace' effect in the non-end-grain sections. Each corner has 3, 4 or 5 carved holes with a psuedo-hole (inset above) carved into the rim on each side of the set. Bowl thickness is, I feel, appropriate for this open-grained wood, at around 1/4". It finished up very nicely with multiple coated of oil and a final, buffed coat of wax. It has a pleasant soft sheen and the distinctive grain and character of the wood is both visible and can be felt tacitly when handling the bowl.

Updated 12/5/2009