Saturday, November 16, 2013

A week at Country Workshops rounds off my Green Woodworking Odyssey in the USA.

My delightful Green Woodworking Odyssey in the USA continued, learning from Drew Langsner, in the Blue Ridge Mountains - about an hour from Asheville, NC.

While I had come to the USA to attend the Woodworking in America conference/gathering (WIA), I had also made it my mission to use my time in the USA to learn green woodworking skills. Once I had booked into the WIA many months earlier, I then set about trying to find some courses/workshops to do. While the internet is a wonderful way of accessing information, it was not easy to find what was on offer and be able to hook it all together logistically within the time frame available - especially with a very limited knowledge of the USA and its geography.

As a result of my searching and emails back and forth, I had booked into a week with Roy Underhill at the Woodwright's School and a week at Country Workshops with Drew Langsner - both in North Carolina. I was not to be disappointed!!
Louise and Drew Langsner.
At the WIA, I plugged into workshops with Peter Follansbee, Roy Underhill and Peter Galbert - all doing stuff with green wood. This was a great kick-off for my intended learning curve. Having followed Peter Follansbee's blog for so long, it was delightful to be able to meet him and learn from him, live. It was all his fault that I was here, as it was his 17th Century Woodworking blog and musings which had fired up in me a desire to expand my skills into green woodworking. Thanks so much, Peter!

After participating in the wonderful Woodcraft Week at Roy's place at McBane Mill, NC, my next workshop was Carving Bowls and Spoons, at Country Workshops, Drew and Louise Langsner's place the Appalachians, where they have been running green woodworking workshops since the late 1970's.
Drew shares the story of the bowl, Swedish and Norwegian style.
Carving Bowls and Spoons.
When you attend a workshop or tutorial at Country Workshops, you stay there on the property, I slept in a cute little log cabin on the edge of the forest. You are also fed incredibly well with the most beautiful and healthy food by Louise. The whole package is delightful, and the Langsners are wonderful hosts.

The cute little log cabin I stayed in at Country workshops.
These tutorials have a maximum of 4 people. The fourth person didn't show, so there were just three of us. Grant and Matt were both really nice guys, and it was a real pleasure to share the week with them. The three of us got on like a house on fire, and we had a lot of fun sharing the woodworking journey together.
Drew demonstrates the use of a froe to split a piece of white pine.
Drew was a great teacher and is clearly a very talented artisan in wood. He is meticulous, particular, and very helpful. He gave us the background and history on all the tools we used, and the teaching continued at night as we watched videos of bowl carvers and Swedish woodworkers by night. We could also access the workshop in the evenings and early mornings, so many an extra hour was spent in the workshop, working on our projects or starting new ones. Besides, it was a nice warm place to be!! Autumn (Fall) was moving on, most of the leaves had fallen, and the cold was moving in...
A sample of the variety of spoons and spreaders on hand to help us thing about design and structure.

The bowl carving methods were based on the Swedish and Norwegian techniques, as were lots of the spoon designs. There is such a long tradition of green woodworking to produce functional and beautiful household items and utensils in the Northern European countries, and I really enjoyed tapping into that for the first time.
Love that small hewing axe!
Well. it all starts from a tree. Some freshly cut pieces of Tulip Poplar were available for the wooden bowl carving, as well as Basswood, White Pine, Mountain Laurel (thanks, Grant) for the spoons and spreaders - and Black Beech which we went out and felled in the forest.
We selected and cut the lengths of material for use, then split them with a froe. From there it was axe work and maybe a bit of drawknife work on the shaving horse to get our spoon blanks ready for the next step.
The first spreader is planned from a piece of White Pine. A roughing knife.
The detail knife is used to refine the shape further.
The finished product!  A nice spreader.
An array of hook knives, roughing knives and detail knives are used in the process of making spoons, and learning the different kinds of cuts and how to do them safely is an important part of the learning process. There is great potential to do yourself some mischief here! These tools are razor sharp. Adzes were used for the bowl carving. We also used a range of gouges for both spoons and bowls.
Grant and Matt shaping their spreaders, using assorted knives, A nice way to chat!
Mountain Laurel spoon roughed out with a hewing axe.

One of the shaping phases of the spoon's bowl, using a small gouge.
The finished Mountain Laurel spoon. A more Norwegian style.

I confess I really loved the axe work, and quickly got to be quite proficient at roughing out spoons and the big bowl in the waste removal process.
A nice fresh piece of Black Birch about to be riven in two.
Grant looks very relaxed as he carves another beautiful spoon.
Splitting a peice of Tulip Poplar to make two bowls.
Nice timber in that log!
The spoons were dried in the microwave when they were 80% finished, to enable the final sanding and to stablise the wood in a seasoned or dry state. The wooden bowl was another story. Being too big for the microwave, the drying can be done using a plastic bag, to slow down the rate of moisture loss, which helps prevent cracking. You take the bowl out of the bag, turn the bag inside out to remove any accumulated condensation, leave the bowl in a cool dry environment for a period of time, then stick it in the bag again, only to repeat the process again and again for a couple of weeks. Once the bowl no longer feels cold on your cheek, it is dry. It is all about helping the vacate the cells in a restrained manner, as this helps to prevent cracking.
Beautiful small bowl adze for initial hollowing of the bowl.

Matt goes the next step, shaping with the gouge.

The bowl is taking shape. Spokeshaving the outside curves. 
The spoon emerges from a piece of Black Birch. Still to be finished off here.
My problem is that Australian Customs can be very tough on people bringing green wood into the country. I have encountered this before. You have to declare wood, and there is a great risk that my lovely Tulip Poplar bowl might be confiscated, at the whim of a grumpy Customs official. However sometimes you can just get through after declaring it with barely a look from them. It would be too risky. So what to do? I gave the bowl (and the drying instructions) to my good friends Nancy and Bob, whom I stayed with in Minneapolis. Better for them to have, use and enjoy it than for it to be potentially destroyed by Australian Customs! I hope they get lots of great use from it. It couldn't go to a better home. Thanks, Nancy and Bob.
The goodies I made during the week at Country Woodcraft.
Three spoons, three spreaders, and a bowl.
My aim from this trip to the USA was to grow my green woodworking skills and ultimately to add these to the ever expanding list of traditional woodworking skills and activities that I teach. My time at Woodworking in America and Roy Underhill's Woodwright School, really got me going. The week I spent at Country Workshops learning from Drew Langsner was a fantastic consolidation of my learning curve. I am so glad I went there. I'm so glad I came to the US and plugged into all this stuff!

Green woodworking? ... I'm hooked!


1 comment:

  1. WOW what an awesome week. Your work is really nice.

    I read and enjoy your blog. Glad your visit to USA has been good.