Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hand Craft is Not a Luxury!

    diatribe |ˈdīəˌtrīb|
a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.

Be warned.
    It has been said that local hand craft is a luxury item, or even that any hand made object is a luxury item because all the object we really need are provided by the industrial system. For me this does not make any sense whatsoever. Let's explore this for a few minutes.
    I'm not a scientist or an expert in the field of economics but I do think I have some common sense.  I do not think that an object that is made from material that is grown or harvested in one part of the world shipped to the other side of the world for manufacture then shipped back to the opposite side of the world is in fact cheaper. Yes by mere price it may appear so but if we were to look at the amount of resources in the form or fuels, either petrol or food for the human labor involved, I don't think it's true. What about all the other costs that are involved that have been hidden from view? How can a basket made by a human (the only way it can be done, no machine has been made yet to weave one) on one side of the world handled by dozens of people and a few automobiles, a giant ship, countless more machines that are made from resources as well and fueled by them, and ending bunch of semi trucks to bring it across the US, handled again by at least 3-12 different people can be cheaper than one made by the neighbor down the block? and there is still profit in it for countless folks involved? How? I think we have been tricked into thinking that an object made within 100 miles is a luxury item. The luxury item is in fact the one that has travel in part or whole around the world at least once before reaching the consumer. The actual cost of ALL the resources involved in say a basket from Asia compared to one from down the street both delivered to the same retail shop are not the same. It's common sense. The idea that hand made or locally made items are a luxury is lie and illusion.
     Keep the money in your community and it will stay in you community, spend it on object made from the industrial machine/system and the most of that money spent will never return to your community. That's a fact. Cheaply priced products are not cheap, there's more to it. I'm not saying we all should just throw down all the manufactured objects and walk away. This would be impossible and not really that effective. But we can slowly make changes in our lives, little by little. Filling our homes with locally produced object whenever the need arises. Instead of buying that cheap chair from Ikea or wherever, buy a handmade one. Yes, it will be hard to find a local chair maker (I wonder why?) and it may cost more up front but it will last a lifetime if not longer. This is an honest way into the supporting each other, our neighbors and fellow community members, things will change for the better. This is part of what the Wood Culture Renaissance is all about. It's also what the Hand Made or the Hand Crafted Renaissance is all about, it's about all moving forward together, encouraging quality, hard work, skill, and respect.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring Bowl Turning in the Never Ending Winter Wonderland

   Spring.....well I guess it could be called that. This morning we woke up to another 12 inches of fresh snow. At this point I'm not convinced winter will end. This is the time of the year when you get to witness the most hardened north woods loggers tear up when they reflect on the weather. I've seen it. It's disturbing, but we are all feeling it up here in the North. Maybe a winter support group is in order. It's taking it's toll on folks morale, but it's not all bad. Record lake levels on the largest fresh water lake in the world, Lake Superior. It's still covered in ice, nearly 60 percent. That's means less evaporation, which has been an issue in the past few years. Anyway....
   I found a great source for larger diameter birch logs over at a local saw mill. I was visiting my friend Jacob over at his sugar bush. He's got over 800 trees tapped and was boiling when I arrived. One of Jacob's partners in the sugaring operation was there. We got to talking and turns out his father owns an operates a saw mill in the area, and they would sell some logs to me. It's really great that they want to be bothered by the little guy like me. I'm looking for a few logs a month and they deal with 100's of cords a month. It's some really nice wood coming in from northern Minnesota. The next day I went over and looked at the pile of logs and started by picking out one log. It was loaded into my truck and away I went.
   I started preparing some blanks and turning it on Monday, easing into it as I have not turned much in the past few weeks. I've only been turning a few bowls a day. My maximum output is around 10, after that it hurts and there's no need for that. The cool thing is that the wood is big enough to turn some nesting bowls and larger ale bowls that have been in demand. Not many folks can turn a nesting set of bowls on a pole lathe. I bet just a handful in the entire world. I learned from the best and I wrote about it here a few years ago. The trick is having the right tools and being able to turn by feel alone, as you can't see or touch the bowl as the slot for the tool is minimum.
   My thoughts have also been on some pretty heavy things relating to craft, language, and culture. I'm still working out how to write about it. As the snow melts (theoretically)I find it harder to sit and write when the temperatures outside are in the 30f/1c range. That's warm.
   I've also been playing around with Twitter and Instagram if you are using either search me out.

these will make some great bowls
just a little more work with the chainsaw and they are ready to turn
cutting a nest saves time and wood
this is my favorite shape right now for an ale bowl once painted, mmmm

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Few Spoons and Baskets for Sale

     I don't do this that often here on my blog, but I wanted to mention that I just put up a few spoons and a few of April's black ash Baskets up for sale on the website. I also have a few spoons from the crooked wood I harvested last week. They did turn our pretty nice, but they are not up for sale just yet. I'll tease you with a few photos. Spoons....It's my world right now that and emptying sap buckets.
Spoons for sale here.
Black Ash Baskets for sale here.

a few spoons and spreaders drying
a new design inspired by the Sundqvists
nice small market basket

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winter's Walk for Spoon Crooks

     Yesterday I went out for a long walk with my snowshoes looking for crooked wood for spoons. I did find a few among the reaching for the sky trees in the forest around where I live. I sometimes find the crooked ones near the ground or on the side of a hill. I was hoping to find a really nice crook I spotted last year but with all the snow this year I think it's buried and I couldn't find it. I did find a few chaga mushrooms which have healing properties. So a brought one of them home too. I'll be carving the crooks over the next few days and sending the best three over to a spoon carving contest in Sweden.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Winter Reflections and the Carve-O-Rama

     The past few weeks I have been wrestling with the never ending winter. I never thought that as I grow older my love for winter would be compromised. We've had some serious cold all through the northern Midwest. Many weeks with night temps at or below -20f/-29c and near record snow as well. We burned an unbelievable amount of wood to keep the house warm. There is a firewood shortage this winter across the Midwest because of the weather and deep snow. This of course has now ended and temps are up nearly above freezing at night.
    I decided to not trap this winter due to the extreme cold and snow. It's really hard to get out and chisel through 3 feet of ice to set traps, let alone walk miles on snowshoes in what we call 'sugar snow'. It's the kind of snow you get when it has been really cold, so cold that the sun and/or air doesn't settle the snow down. So we have 3 feet of snow in the woods and without snowshoes you sink to the ground, wallowing around in it. Not too bad if you have nothing to do, but when there are tasks at hand it takes more time and energy. It's good I have some tight weave snowshoes for the family it helps to keep us on the surface.
   The sun is really packing some heat so the surface snow is now getting packable. We walked around the sugar bush and 'packed a float' which when left over night settles into a hard semi packed surface that the snow machine/snowmobile can ride on. We use this to get firewood back to the sugar shack and carry the heavy piles of metal buckets into the woods. But with the deep snow the snow just under the surface is still sugary and if you break through the machine just digs itself into a hole. This happened twice a few days ago. We had to pick up the machine and set it along side the hole, fill the hole, pack it with snowshoes then wait until the next day. We did get it out. I'll be heading over to the massage therapist next week to work the kinks out from my back.
    I sure long the sun this time of year. It's really nice to feel the heat of it on my face I know that spring is on the way, even though word has it that the farmer's almanac is calling for 30" of wet snow in April.  Enough of the venting on the winter/spring. I'll write more on the sugaring season as it unfolds.
    A few weeks ago a few friends stayed with with my family for what I called the winter carve-o-rama. These guys, are in my opinion some of the best spoon carver's in the county. The Midwest seems to harbor a disproportionate amount of spoon carvers. Maybe this is because of North House or the fact that many of us grew up looking at the family heirloom spoons carved by our immigrant ancestors.
    Thomas Dengler, Fred Livesay, Yuri Moldenhauer, and Mike Loeffler arrived on a Friday and stayed until Sunday. Not nearly enough time, but it was a blast and a lot of fun, good talk and carving.  We all have a love for good ale and drinking from wooden bowls. Dinners were filled with laughter and stories while wooden plates filled with great food were passed around the table. We also had a sit down talk about the need for some organized group to help advocate for the traditional handcrafts her in the states. We had a few hours of discussion and decided to move forward with a spoon carving group to start. We are still not sure how this will pan out but we hope to meet again and take the discussion further. The one thing that strikes me as a big obstacle is the vast size of the US. There is a lot of space between folks. We thought that a 'greenwoodworking' group would be a good start but after trying to decide what greenwoodworking even is, we thought to start with one genre. It seems simple sometimes when we think to ourselves, but when it comes down to articulating and writing thoughts down it becomes a different story.  Putting the idea though a critique to test its soundness is another thing that is quite hard. I'll post more on how it unfolds as time goes on. I'd also be into hearing from folks who are interested in the idea. Send me an email or go through my website contact form here.
     I still have strong thoughts on the traditional crafts in general and where they stand in our culture. I have been corresponding to a few key folks in the craft world. It seems that something is brewing but as my son says "there will be a new word to describe what you do and you'll be talking about this your whole life" I think he's right. These things take time....changing culture, our perceptions, our values. The wood culture renaissance is just a part of what is happening. There's more to write on this, but I'm still working out a few details. I'll write more before the end of the month. More stories to share.
Here's the photos for the spoon carving weekend.
Think Spring.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

North House's Woodcarver's Week

     This past week I found myself up at North House Folks School. They were hosting a wood carver's event that brought many folks with a love of wood together. The event was a really big success and I still find myself sorting out all the subtle things I've learned or experienced while there.
     Fred Livesay and I co-taught 2 spoon carving classes. This was a first for us and I think it went really well. We were able to give the folks in the classes more attention than if we were teaching individually. We both have a different style of spoons, but we use the same basic spoon carving skills and knife grips. this is a good thing for students.
     Roger Abrahamson taught pole lathe bowl turning. Roger has been turning bowls on a pole lathe for many years and knows a great deal about the Nordic style ale bowls I love so much.  Phillipe and Else Odden taught Norwegian Relief carving, both were schooled in a traditional format in Norway. Else is a native Norwegian as well. Harley Refsal a very well known flat plane carver taught a few days as well. Jock Holman taught a really nice letter carving class. Cecilia Schiller a wooden automata class, and last but not least Jon Strom taught a bowl carving class.
     A few of us went up to the Grand Portage National Monument which has a great interpretive center. Grand Portage was a key place during the fur trade for many years and has a very rich history.  During the winter not much of the grounds were accessible but we did get to visit the woodworking shed, which is filled with bark canoes! One of the biggest canoes was a replica of the big canoes that carried nearly tons of fur and gear from the west to the Montreal, measuring in at nearly 40 feet! What a site.
     This was quite a weekend! Besides the day time classes we had a open shop during the evening and plenty of live music, carving and visiting. I think I can say a great time was had by all. I wish I could have got it all on camera but had little time to take photos. I got a few of the classes in the building I was in but there was so much more happening. I hope you will consider attending next years event.
Fred talking about design
Roger talking about bowl turning
some bowls from Roger's personal collection.nice!
Fred at the chalk board
Roger talking about the tooled surface of the old bowls
design talk
Phillipe's ale hens
Happy students
My friend Paul working at the grinder
Philippe showing a student the technique
bark canoes
bark canoes
the canoe in the forground is a 120 year old style long nose canoe, the the big fur trade boat in the back.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Robin Wood's Teaching at North House

     If you have been a reader of my blog you will know that I teach at North House Folk School. It's a fantastic place to learn, nestled right on Lake Superior in the town of Grand Marais, Mn.  The school is one of the older folk schools in the country, creeping up to 20 years old.
    This year Robin Wood will be offering a class at the school on bowl turning with the pole lathe. If you have not heard of Robin his website is here. I met Robin over at the bodger's forum a few years ago when I was learning to turn on the pole lathe, later I attended the first and second Spoonfest and got to know him personally. He's a great guy and very skilled teacher, a knowledgeable craftsman and good friend. I'm happy to have helped get him over here to help spread the 'Wood Culture Renaissance'.
    There will be a high demand for this class so the school decided to have a lottery for enrollment. You'll have from March 1 to the 7th to get on the list.
    Here is the link to info
It will be good.