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Pole Lathe Turning: Teaching in England, Sweden, and Home, Part 2

jarrod dahl

We left off last time with the 2 workshops I taught in London which were spread out over two weekends. In between we went up to Brookhouse Wood where I taught another workshop, this time for experienced turners.  

Brookhouse Wood

Brookhouse Wood

Brookhouse Wood was built by Mike Abbott who ran green wood courses there for many years, and because of this, it has a very special place within the green woodworking scene for me.  Mike published a book on 'Green Woodworking' in 1989. He along with Drew Langsner and Jennie Alexander were some of the first to use this term for woodworking with fresh timber. He is one of the Grandfathers of The New Wood Culture.  

Mike's book was a foundational book for me when I was starting out. Mike also had many interns over the years, folks like Ben Orford, Barn the Spoon, Owen Thomas, Jojo Wood. Names like these prove his place as a very influential teacher and mentor.

Brookhouse Wood is a magical place, built of traps and lashed poles, earthen floors, a sunken fire pit, woodfired oven and a giant table surrounded by handmade chairs. The place felt steeped with stories. Today, one of Barn's past apprentices, Will St. Clair, runs workshops and a glamping business at the Wood.

Another main player in this story is Yoav Kafets. I met Yoav when he was in my Prefest Course at Spoonfest a few years ago. Yoav's a really talented craftsman in both spooncarving and pole lathe turning and is also a great musician. We have kept in touch through social media since then and at one point he had planned to come and work with me for a few months. That idea ended up on hold for a while. I have a few of his spoons, a handled cup and a spalted beech dish which we bought from him on this visit. I use all his work regularly and they are some of my favorites. Here is the link to Yoav's website and Instagram feed.  

Yoav in his home

Yoav in his home

During our time at the Wood Yoav was camping out in his van/truck which he converted into a great little home on wheels. I have a sweet spot in my heart for the van/truck-conversion-house-thing.  In my past I lived for a time in 2 different converted school buses and also a 1970 VW transporter. Seeing his home brought back a lot of fond memories of those times. Yoav's home was simple and very cozy and full of all kinds of nice woodenware too. Yoav parked up at Brookhouse for the summer and helped Will run workshops. When my plans were being formed for the trip, Yoav and I discussed the idea of running a workshop. He pulled it together and made it happen.

The class was intended for folks that had a good deal of experience turning. It was very important in many ways. Not having to cover any of the basics like hook tool cutting techniques, sharpening, design, and basic forging really helped bring the subject matter of the class to the highest level possible. As I reflect on it now I think that a class of this level has never really been done before, anywhere. To me this is very humbling, but also very exciting. It is a testament to the growing pole lathe bowl and cup turning community. 

After class day one

After class day one

Of the 6 turners in the class I had met Sharif Adams, Owen Thomas and of course Yoav during previous trips. Then there was Matty Whittaker, Paul and Dave (sorry I don't know your last names). This group was a powerful force of turners. They all arrived still reeling from the first 'Bowl Gathering' the weekend before in which many of the hardcore pole lathe bowl turners in the UK attended.  

Turning and forging

Turning and forging

Here's what we made in two the two days

Here's what we made in two the two days

On the first day after everyone set up their lathes, we got to work. We prepared the wood, I did some demos and started with turning handled end grain cups. Throughout the day we all shared our techniques and processes, talked about hooks and got to forge them for immediate use. It was an awesome day.  In the evening people sang ballads, played bagpipes, fiddle, and the tea chest bass after a delicious meal cooked over the fire by Will.  On the second day it was all about locking lidded boxes with more free sharing of skills and ideas. There was so much that happened—too much to write here.

This was the first time I worked with folks with a lot of experience and it forced me to really think about and even rethink some of my techniques and processes. Teaching the more advanced techniques was very refreshing, equally challenging and very humbling. It was hard to call this just a simple workshop. There was a spirit of sharing among all of us that is hard to describe. Many of the group had turned both end grain and locking lidded boxes mostly in isolation (save for limited contact through social media), so getting together like this and sharing techniques, skills, process and experience was paramount. It just doesn't happen that often.

After all this reflection I can't help but consider the future, the future within what we are calling The New Wood Culture. It may be very small today, but it's surely growing. Just look at the size of the scene when folks like Mike Abbott started. 

The objects we make and use today are defined within a different context than that in which they were made in the past. It was not too long ago when people had no choice but to use the materials at hand to make the things they needed for everyday life. In today's time our world is filled with so many choices it's mind numbing. But just because there are cheap alternatives to vernacular handmade craft doesn't necessarily mean we should use them. What kind of future are we creating by setting out to make and use these things? I believe that because our choices are different than they were in the past, so will the future be that we are creating by those choices.

Sharing with one another is a very important part in this and there can be many ways to share.

The things we make embody this sharing, embody our stories, embody us and our choices..... 

From Left Owen Thomas, Sharif Adams, Myself, Will St Claire, Dave the sailor, Paul, Yoav Kafets, Matty Whittiker 

From Left Owen Thomas, Sharif Adams, Myself, Will St Claire, Dave the sailor, Paul, Yoav Kafets, Matty Whittiker 



 

 

 

  

Pole Lathe Turning- Teaching in England, Sweden and Home- Part 1

jarrod dahl

Its been quite a while since I've had the mind space to sit down and write.  The past year has been a wild one in so many ways both on a personal level and professional level. I admit at times it's hard to tell the difference. This year has been very exciting and also very challenging.

In keeping to a mostly work and wood working related post I'll share my most recent adventures in a few parts. The story is too long for one post. Looks like 3 parts from where I sit so I'll roll them out every week or so.

Always travel with baskets if you can. This is the new wood culture in real life in the public eye.

Always travel with baskets if you can. This is the new wood culture in real life in the public eye.

This year has seen the most travel for me ever. If you've been following along on my Instagram page you know. I've been across the country a few times and overseas too! As this year unfolded I said yes to about every teaching gig that came my way. It may have been too much. As the year comes to an end, I can take a step back and reflect on that. One of the things I'd like to tweak this coming year is to be a maker who teaches rather than a teacher who makes. So next year is a little more planned out with a 60/40 split of making/selling and teaching and believe it or not it's pretty much fully booked already.  I haven't updated the calendar yet, but after a few more confirmations I will.  I sure like the feeling of having a plan for the full year before this one is even finished. But I do know that whenever I'm making a lot, I long for teaching and vice versa. Maybe it'll always be that way.

Great pub roast on Sundays.

Great pub roast on Sundays.

  In September I traveled with my lovely wife Jazmin and my daughter Ayva to England.  I had scheduled to teach 4 turning classes in England and Sweden over a 3 week period. The first leg was to London which is a town too big to see in a few weeks let alone while working for two weekends. I had never been there before so it was especially exciting.  I ran two workshops at Barn the Spoon's Greenwood Guild.  In the middle, we went to the Herefordshire countryside and taught up at Mike Abbot's old place Brookhouse Wood. The second part of the trip was a week in Gothenburg, Sweden and the surrounding area teaching, giving slide show talks and demonstrations. The finale was 2 days in Stockholm just to kick around with Jazmin.

We planned the trip so we could spend 5 days in London before the first workshop on the weekend. We used Air BandB for our lodging in the Shoreditch area. I'll just say it proved to be not quite what it was sold to be. Photos are a funny thing. We did get it sorted and got a new place a few days later.

The Globe Theater

The Globe Theater

That week we went to the Globe Theater and saw King Lear. The theater was amazing and the play was pretty good too (admittedly I'm not a Shakespeare buff). When I was timber framing in the early 90's the reconstruction of the Globe was a really big deal. The building is basically built in the same construction methods as the original back in the late 1500's/early 1600's, joined timbers, thatched roof, etc...very impressive and a must see if you visit London. 

We also went to a couple very hip parts of town and walked around all the shops, had tea and lunches, ate delicious Turkish, Sunday Roast, etc... 

I got a hand poke tattoo from a tattoo artist I've been following on Instagram for a few years. This was really nice as I like it when I meet the people I only know on the web. It's my first tattoo I haven't done myself. 

The Cloth House, some great Japanese fabrics

The Cloth House, some great Japanese fabrics

Jazmin went to the Cloth House among other hip shops on her list. There was awesome cloth from all over the world, much of it handspun and woven, plus glass buttons, cakes of indigo, and other special items. She's into sewing, weaving, cloth and textures, both visual and tactile. She also visited In-ku, a cool designer and maker of clothes, and bought some pants inspired by Japanese work clothes.

Ayva got to see the London Eye and Big Ben as well as visit the Harry Potter Shop. While Jazmin and I were shopping she got to hang out in several stylish London coffee shops. It was her first time overseas and I'm super proud of her. She even flew back on her own after the England leg of the trip. She helped us navigate more than a few times in the tube stations and train stations.

old school iron work. Amazing

old school iron work. Amazing

We visited the V&A Museum. This was an all day deal with way too much to see. A lot of it was rich people stuff  like silver cups and chalices and shit. There was a lot of great exhibits about different regions and cultures of the world, filled with everyday objects and the like. There also was an exhibit on Balenciaga, a Spanish fashion designer. Interesting enough. I think there is much to learn from the clothing fashion design world in relation to craft. But that's for some other time. My favorite was the blacksmithing exhibit. Ton's (literally) of great old-school work, pierced and banded, riveted, etc..from the days before arc welders. Mind blowing work. There was a bench by Albert Paley, a sculptor and blacksmith who I was inspired by long ago in my forays into the blacksmithing world.

There was a lot of subway 'tube' and bus travel. London is a huge town.

Barn and Jazmin looking at spoons

Barn and Jazmin looking at spoons

We stopped by Barn's spoon shop on Hackney Rd. I had to see it. Barn changed the spoon carving world when he opened this shop 5-6 years ago. It is just as small as they say. It was great catching up with Barn. The last few years we have had pretty limited time together at woodworking events. This trip was nice because we were able to visit, have dinner a few times, talk about craft, the Greenwood Guild, our work, etc..I even carved a spoon in his shop.

Misc bench top goods at Barns Shop

Misc bench top goods at Barns Shop

Barn talked about his future plans with the Greenwood Guild and also his 1000 spoon project. I can't say it better than Barn so follow this link to his 1000 spoon project. The work we all do needs support, so go on...buy one of his 1000 spoons.

The Greenwood Guild is who hosted my workshops. This place is pretty amazing. Situated within a city farm, the Greenwood team, Tom, Tim and Barn, offer workshops, and are also doing an online video tutorial for members. This place is doing some great things by getting greenwood in peoples' hands and showing them how to use their hands to make useful objects from wood, like spoons and stools. They also teach youth. Really important stuff.

Barn, Tom and Tim you guys ROCK! Thank you

Barn, Tom and Tim you guys ROCK! Thank you

This was a working trip as they all seem to be. 

Teaching pole lathe turning is a trick because of 2 things, the lathes and the tools. There is no way to send 6-8 pole lathes anywhere let alone overseas. Because of this these classes are rare and hard to get set up. Thankfully the Guild had their lathes already. They just needed a few modifications to get them ready for turning bowls and cups. The other part of the challenge is the tools. As hand forged hooks, you really can't buy them anywhere as easily as say a Mora 106 knife.  I can't think of any makers that sell them that don't regularly turn with them and this I believe is very important in their design--as with all tools. The hook part is the real challenge to growing this style of turning. Most hooks will work in a pinch, but truly nice ones are hard to get even if you make them. Because of this, I provide them for my students. On this trip I brought 25 pounds of tools with me in our checked bags. It was a real pain to get them split between our 3 bags, not go overweight, and still be manageable while we travelled to and from the airport with them. Not all tube stations have lifts and they are deep down underground, so lots of stairs....

Class underway

Class underway

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The two classes in London were a great success. Both were full and I met some really great folks. When I teach it's a fine balance between process and finished object focus. I always lean toward the process first. If I could --and I've tried-- I'd love to just teach process with no finished object as part of the workshop. Once the object focus sets in, skill building, the understanding of technique, and the like gets put aside. It's really a problem in many ways. But this also has to do with my own personal focus as a teacher. What I want to teach, what I see as important -- I have to put all that aside when some folks just want the thing that they made and may not ever make another again. I see the object focus thing happen with spoon carving or basketry more then pole lathe turning. With turning there is a bit more invested from the start and the process, lathes, tools, sourcing and preparing wood limit the idea that you can just give it a try once in a while at home. 

Barn turned too

Barn turned too

I like to get folks into thinking about how the tools work. I've said this before that pole lathe turning is one of the hardest things I've ever learned to do. I say this after building boats, blacksmithing, house building, steam bending, etc..It's one thing to take a class and make a few bowls under the tutelage of the instructor. But what happens after getting back home. Sometimes weeks have gone by. Then what?  I've had this happen numerous times when students can't seem to get the same results at home on their own. So I focus as much as I can on the process and the understanding of the technique. But in the end it takes practice and lots of it. It's not easy. Some folks in class were beginners and a few had some experience. I describe the classes as a tutorial style so that any skill level can attend. I try to customize the workshop for each student the best I can.

Pole lathe turning is an amazing thing to learn. It's very empowering to overcome the intense obstacles, both physical and mental that this style of turning seems to demand. There are few clear rules with hook tools besides that they need to slice the wood. Above center, below center it doesn't matter. When standing at the lathe we are bound to the foot pedal and that does limit where we can stand while turning. The low speeds and torque allow the tool rest to be placed at farther distances from the turned object than when using an electric lathe. The hooks are all different and don't forget about the shape we are turning too. Put that all together and it becomes clear that it's far from simple. There are 100's of variables to sort out. It's hard to teach and to teach it well. Many techniques just need to be memorized through practice and all I can do is support and encourage and make a simple adjustment of the tool in use as I walk around the room and show folks where the sweet spot is until it clicks.

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It was a really great time teaching so many classes back to back -- I learned so much. Tuning my techniques in teaching and learning more about the tools we use, are part of it.  Having to think and step outside myself and consider what the question is and framing the answers in another's point of view is something that can always be improved. 

I hope to see more turning on pole lathes. I think it's really rewarding because it requires the full use of body and mind. The spirit part is a personal thing--I won't assume anything there. 

I also did a cameo for the Greenwood Guild video series on micro-finials.

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More next week.

Up and Coming Workshops- Minneapolis, Port Townsend, London and Sweden and more

jarrod dahl

 

This year is the year of travel for me.

The first part of this year has been a interesting one. There was lot's of travel. I've been to and from the San Francisco Bay Area visiting my sweetheart. While out there I ran 3 workshops in the Bay Area and one in Portland. I also spent 3 weeks adzing 750 fence parts as well as some giant timber log benches for my friend Greg Reeb. If you follow my Instagram feed you will have seen photos from all this. I am currently writing and editing a blog post about my experiences adzing those parts.

I am writing this as I settle in after teaching at Greenwood Fest in Plymouth, MA, where I taught pole lathe turning and did some demos. If you missed it, Greenwood Fest is a must attend event. Over 150 great folks were there carving, eating, and sharing stories of craft and life, and I got to work with some of the best greenwood workers in the world. What could be better?

For the next two months, besides two back to back workshops at North House, I will be staying home. I will be spending 2 weeks teaching a fellow funded by Pennsylvania's Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program here in my shop.  I am also really excited to make, to set up my new lathe, grill meat, and spend time with my daughters.

There is still room at North House's Spoon Carving Workshop

In August, the teaching tour begins again with two classes at Port Townsend School of Woodworking then in September, Spoon Carving in Minneapolis MN then over to London and Sweden!

I'll be teaching two pole late turning workshops at my friend Barn Carder's Greenwood Guild in London. The first is fully booked, but there is room in the second class. You can check out the details here. I am sure you know who Barn is, but if not, he runs the Guild and a spoon shop, and just released an awesome book called Spon. I have known Barn since the first SpoonFest and it's great to be working with him on this. His site is here.

The Sweden leg of the trip has more of a story to it. A few years ago I studied in the old turning region of Borås. You can read about it here in an old blog post. This year I will be going back to teach pole lathe turning in Gothenburg. I'll also be doing some talks and demos about the work historically turned in the area and my current work inspired by it. It seems there may be a growing interest in pole lathe turning in Sweden, so I'm excited to be part of it. Anders Lindberg, a talented craftsperson, and the Västra Götalandregionen Västarvet was instrumental in getting these workshops going. There will be info on my workshops page on how to sign up as the details get finalized.

I wanted to get the word out on all this here on the blog, but subscribing to my newsletter gets you in on this stuff before any other social media platforms so subscribe here.

Many of these workshops are nearly fully booked so if you are workshop inclined don't hesitate. It'll be a blast! or give it as a gift. I bring and share a massive amount of craft experience to my workshops. 

 

 

The Spoon Mule-Just Part of the Story

jarrod dahl

I like stories. I think they are a big part of what craft is. One of the highlights when I’m on the road teaching or attending events like the up and coming Greenwood Fest, is hearing stories. Craft objects are more than just for utilitarian use and this is because of the stories that are bound to them. Sharing stories is how we learn and have for so millennia.  Craft is very personal this way, but add everyone up and it’s a culture. 1000’s of individuals. I like to look at and consider what the collective ideas and thoughts may be. It’s just something I like to do.

In this spirit I will share my part of the story of the spoon mule.

I’m not sure exactly, maybe 6-7 years ago, I was going through a phase of purchasing woodworking books. This happens every few years for me.  I’ll spend some serious coin on out of print and hard to find books. Usually it starts with a book I’ve been considering buying showing up for sale somewhere online. This time was when the famous book, Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist, was out of print and was for sale at $125-$250. I ended up buying Wille’s book and another titled Carving and Whittling Swedish Style by Gert Lunberg. Gert’s book is a pretty good although not as popular or as well known as Wille’s.

Wille’s book is tied to another story some may be aware of which is worth mentioning briefly. It’s a good story and at some point I hope it will be told more completely. That story is linked to the reason most of us are carving spoons today and it revolves around three people and their meeting, the late Bill Coperthwaite, Drew Langsner, and Wille Sundqvist. If you could track your own reasons for spoon carving, where your inspiration comes from, most roads lead to these three individuals and what came out of their meeting thirty plus years ago. I got to hear this story while accompanying Wille to the airport after the first Taljfest. I sat next to him on that train ride and I listened.  I’ll tie this leg of the story in later….

Within Gert’s book was a photo of a production spoon carver. The photo showed this old man working the neck of a spoon with a drawknife. The spoon was being held in a device and was pinched by two pieces of wood along its neck. The photo didn’t show much else. I couldn’t see the whole device and how it worked, but I knew that whatever it was, it was very important. The problem carving spoons with a drawknife and common shave horse is that as the head clamps the spoon it also blocks the drawknife from getting at the full length of the spoon. Yes there are tricks to getting around this, but I find them all a little cumbersome when trying to carve quickly and that was what I was after.

 

At that time, mainly under the influence of my friend Del Stubbs of Pine Wood Forge. He stressed that some production work should be taken up as it is a great way to take your craft and skill to the next level. Before Del’s current profession as a knife maker he was a world class wood turner and his ideas about production work came from that experience. I had already been exposed to the idea and kind of blown away by Robin Wood turning his bowls in this way using his spring pole lathe.  At that time Barn the Spoon was also setting up shop in London and doing the same thing, cranking out lots of work. I remember we had great conversations at the first Spoonfest about the idea that large volumes of work may be part of the answer to how to make a decent living at spoon carving and possibly growing the market as well. This is nothing new if you are a potter, but within the adolescent green woodworking scene back then, production work was really not heard of. Even today production work in traditional craft is not done by hand in most of the first world, it’s left to the so-called fair trade items we buy from the third world. There are exceptions, of course, but a common method of making a living from craft today is to make and market one’s work as one-off art pieces, made by hand or with electric tools. This is a great subject for endless debate and arguments with no right or wrongs,  so I won’t go further here. I find myself running that gauntlet as most of us do.  

Back then I was selling lots of spoons at my local farmer’s market and at a few retail gallery spaces. I was settling in and getting very comfortable with production work.  I began to understand that production work was very important for skill building like Del had pointed out. I also began to be aware that there were other skills I had overlooked, one of which was my mental attitude toward my work. This sets the tone for the long haul, being comfortable with a life of repetitive work to the end of my days. I think that attitude was paramount for me and I’m sure I have wrote about it in the past. This attitude helped me relax into my profession in ways I never felt before. I knew that whatever the device was in the photo, that it was very important for the type of work I was doing. It wasn’t until a few more years of asking around that I found some answers.

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One of my teachers, a Swede, Ramon Persson had the answers. I can’t remember exactly, maybe I asked him in an email or in class if he knew about this device, but he sent me some plans for the ‘sked marr’. The drawing didn’t have much detail, but I finally understood what this device was. It was a long awaited answer. I set out to design and build one of them and began to explore how it worked.

Around this time I was attending the Skedfest in Sweden that I learned from talking with Jogge and Ramon that the word mare in Sked Marr (spoon mare) was not a nice word in Swedish. The word is derogatory in some way. Perhaps it’s like the word nag. I don’t remember for sure, but somewhere in that conversation the name spoon mule was thrown out as a good name. That’s what I began to call it.

Eventually I put up a Youtube video of the spoon mule I made along with a few other short videos of it in use. I felt a device like this needed to be shared with the larger spoon carving community and I hoped that my Youtube videos were all that was needed for people to build their own. 

Today we see its use here and there by folks interested in production work, those that carve who don’t have the strength and prefer to use a drawknife, or those that fetishize things like shave horses and work benches. You can see these spoon mules in use by others on Youtube as well.  Some of these seem to me pretty flimsy and they don’t look like they would take the long haul of hard production work. I think they need to be designed and built better. Folks sent me emails asking for plans and tips. I toyed with the idea of selling plans, but I knew my drafting days were over.

This brings me to Dawson. He is rolling on Instagram as Michigan Sloyd. He’s cranking out some sweet spoons and using the mule to do it. Dawson messaged me a few months ago asking if it was ok with me if he sold plans for the spoon mules he's designed.  I don’t hold any idea of ownership on the mule. I am just a part of the continuum as is everyone in this story. I really respected his attitude on this. I gave him my full support. He had taken the basic design of the mule I made from my videos and put it on the body of Tim Manney’s shave horse (which has another long story of development, ask Tim).

Dawson’s idea was brilliant. His mules are top notch. Why? because they are made from select lumber and precise joinery, and they have proven themselves through his production spoon carving work, day in and day out.

I recently got to meet Dawson and to try out one of his mules at Wood Week at North House Folk School this past March. Dawson is a great guy and talented woodworker. I love it that he’s into the production mindset too. I have a lot of respect for that and it’s refreshing to see more folks taking green woodworking and spoon carving on as a profession. Dawson is selling spoon mules and I think plans are in the works too. Check out his website here and get on Instagram (if you are not already) and give him a follow. You can ask him about having him build you a mule or sell you some plans.

As far as Dawson’s story that’s for him to tell, and I hope he does.

I think most of us agree that it feels good to meet folks in person that we know only through the social media networks. I always think that at some point one needs to put skin in the game and go meet face to face. This has great meaning in the way of intent not just in reference to participating within a community on a very real level but also reflects a level of understanding or maybe a certain perspective in regards to our craft as it ties to sharing stories. At some point we need to look at each other in the eyes when we talk about skills, design, and technique. The sharing of our stories face to face connects us to others. It helps to keep the continuum intact. In this day and age it’s really easy to go to the internet to learn and research (we all do it) and leave it at that. I would encourage everyone at some point to go meet people face to face, carve together, take a class, get to an event, organize a carve-in, whatever it is you are interested in, take it to the next level, make it a point to meet your people.

The spoon mule made it into the open for everyone’s benefit because at some point I left my house. I left home to go hear the stories of others and I returned home to share them in my own way.

If we can follow the example of those three individuals who lead the way we may come to realizes that experiences are not just for ourselves nor are the stories we tell.  We need go out of our way to look at each other in the eyes like they did. There is power in it.