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Apprentice Up

jarrod dahl

I've always thought that apprenticeships were a good thing. But what does the word mean in this day and age? The ideas of a 'traditional' apprenticeship are pretty much dead in the Western first world. Classic apprenticeships basically ended with the guild systems hundreds of years ago. But you can still find a few of them today in the tattoo and pottery worlds to name a few. When I was learning I got paid for it. I think there is a difference between a job and an apprenticeship, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Do they attract different types of people? Folks that desire to gain something a little deeper than a paycheck maybe? I'm not sure. I do know that when I was hired in the boat shop 20 years ago, I was paid a very small amount. This was to insure I was a certain type of person. The type that wanted the job real bad. Boats and boat building attracted all kinds of wannabes, dreamers and yahoos. My boss knew this, so he posted the job at something like 2-3 dollars an hour. This was a way of protecting himself from the trouble of dealing with folks who were more in love with the idea than the work. I'm not sure how well his strategy worked, but I did take the job. 

I just finished up a making stint with apprentice Tom Bartlett, who worked with me for over four months. As a way of reflecting on that experience, I'll share a little backstory and some of my usual ramblings.

In the past I've always been open to the idea of having folks come and learn from me. For years I had an open door policy. Even though I never actively advertised for it, folks came asking on a regular basis. They liked what I was doing, wanted to help and learn a little in doing so. This worked fairly well for years. At that time I was homesteading with my ex-wife April. We always had things to do around our home in addition to the many tasks related to the craft business. Pounding ash splint for April's basketry was a fail safe project for folks to help with. I also had a band saw and asked folks to make spoon blanks with it. It was a simple enough task without much oversight or instruction. All they needed to do was split and rough hew the billets then take them to the saw with template in hand. I had garbage bags filled with blanks stuffed in the freezer, all ready to carve.

The idea to get some help in exchange for labor was a good thing. However, the skill of the people helping limited just how much help they could do. Setting someone to sharpening and tuning up all my teaching knives was not an option. In quick time not only would my knives be farther away from sharp, my water stones would be messed up as well. In no way would a short term labor exchange like this work without me also getting the short end of the stick. But I did want to figure out a way in which it could work, both short and long term. 

I ended up developing a work-trade option. This allowed folks to come and work off the price of a one-on-one workshop. It also meant that the work could be unrelated to craft. The common projects were splitting firewood or again, pounding ash splint. With this arrangement I got some help with my day to day chores. This freed me up to spend more time doing business/craft work. This in turn helped me make more stuff, which paid the bills.

After a while, I grew hungry to teach about more in depth subjects like fine tuning knife skills or sharing my process of refining a design. To do this I needed more time than just a few days. I started offering 5-day workshops at places like North House Folk School and Port Townsend School of Woodworking. This year I've also added the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. Increasing the duration of my classes beyond the normal 2 to 2.5 days was really nice. It took the pressure off folks to complete their projects and it gave me more time to go in depth about the skills I wanted to share. I now had ample time to address subjects like sharpening, painting and decorating. I had more time to spend with each student. And I didn't have to cut short my wild tangents on various essential subjects like art and craft, zen, parenting, good music and movies— things that are part of our very real and very human experience.

This extra time to talk revealed that working with our hands has a way of bringing us together. It has a way of knocking down our personal walls. When this happens its a little easier to hear each other's points of view, even if those ideas are opposed to our own. Finding common ground in this day and age seems harder and harder, so it's worth the extra effort to plan for it in my workshops.

And yet, the 5-day workshop still didn't get to the deeper levels I wanted to address. I hoped that working with someone for even longer would go to that place. In the last 3 years I've had 3 'apprentices'. Two of the apprenticeships lasted for about a month each and the latest one lasted 4 months. The shorter 2 were more experimental. I've learned quite a bit from these experiences—and on the whole it has been positive.

There is one negative experience I have to mention and I believe it happened because I was too open and naive, too trusting with the information I was sharing. That information continues to be distorted from it's truth and used in ongoing attempts to defame me both publicly and privately by one of my past apprentices. This has been a really difficult thing to deal with because I've grown very cautious about what, how and with whom I share my knowledge with. I guess it comes with the territory. I partly question myself for wanting to bring it up here, but I feel the need to acknowledge it so I can move on. Ok, I'm done.

The four months working with Tom was a really great experience. I was able to use our time together to increase my production and at the same time offer quality skill building opportunities for him. This is what I have been craving. It's hard to get into the details with someone because many of them are minute. These subtleties are revealed through making the same designs over and over. When you have a pile of these objects, all intended to be the same, you can then compare them to each other. This is when you can see the difference between the ok, the good and hopefully great. I recently went to listen to the world renowned designer Ingregard Råmon speak about her work. She talked about working within millimeters and that the difference between good and great is sometimes very small changes in form. She also did not use ornamentation at all. Pure form. When I heard all of this I was filled with confidence. I was in the right place in regards to how I see my own work and what I was sharing with Tom.

Through the help with my production of bowls, spoons and both birch bark and turned boxes Tom's technical skills increased many times over. Tom was also really receptive to feedback which I think was key to his rapid improvement. He understood what I meant on the first day when I discussed that we will be critical of designs and ideas, but not each other personally. This was very important to understand because critique is often misunderstood and taken for a judgement of one's own person. We are not our thoughts and we are definitely not the things we make. After the daily work of helping with my production I challenged Tom to make one bowl or cup a day. Some times I prodded him to make the most perfect bowl he could. Some days it was to make the smoothest finish possible and then make it smoother. These things need to happen over time if they are to be lasting. He rose to the challenge every time with such a great attitude.

We also had a few critique sessions of my work. After every run we would set out all my work and find the best and worst. We would explore the whys both objectively and subjectively and then move on. When his time was coming to an end we did the same with his work. I believe that giving and receiving critique is so very important to being a good craftsperson—back to the idea that we are not what we make. We also spent time discussing the behind the scenes part of running a business. Because Tom is already running a fairly successful craft business we had a lot to share with each other. I really appreciated Tom's honesty and perspective.

In the end, even though I subjected him to too much sludge metal and other weird music that I listen to, he enjoyed his time with me. I can't wait to see what he will be making in a year's time after it all settles in. But you don't have to take my word for it. You can read about every day he worked with me on his blog here. 

I'm still left with questions.

Is there a need for apprenticeships today? Are they really just paid employees called apprentices? How do we teach folks about the business side of things in the craft world? Those skills are arguably just as important as the hand work. How do we share or pass on our skills with others on the deeper levels? and also when? after a few years or ten, twenty? Any thoughts? Please share them.

I'll be offering up the position (minimally paid) again in the fall. If you're interested check it out here. But it's not as simple as just asking questions via email. If you think you'd like to learn from me send me the info requested and we'll go from there. 

 

 

Workshop for Spoon Carving Instructors

jarrod dahl

It's been interesting to be part of the growing spoon carving scene. When I carved my first spoons back in 1991 or 1992 I used crazy tools to do the job. My girlfriend's dad suggested I make them for Christmas gifts and handed me a thick piece of air dried maple timber. I didn't know where to begin and ended up using the tools on hand in his cabinet shop. I cut out the spoon shapes with a bandsaw and hollowed the bowls with a horizontal mortising machine built the early 1900's. To smooth the horrible mess that the mortiser made I used a carving burr on a Dremel tool and then moved on to sandpaper. A few of those spoons are still around, returned to me after my grandmother passed away. I still remember feeling so excited about those spoons I gave her as Christmas gifts and so proud. But they were poorly designed, thus ending up in the back of the drawer until her death. My mom has some as well and again they are never really used due to poor design. We call them 'clubs' in the spoon carving circles I run in. 

 
 Some of my first spoons, found in the back of my mom's kitchen drawer.

Some of my first spoons, found in the back of my mom's kitchen drawer.

 

It wasn't until years later, maybe the 2001 or 2002 that I started carving again with great momentum. Still with no instruction. I made better spoons. But at that time I preferred spalted wood and I'm afraid folks loved the wood more than the spoons. This is a common thing in the woodworking world. Spalted and figured wood or highly decorated spoons always win over plain, simple and well designed spoons to the uninitiated. Of course there can be great spoons made from figured wood or that are decorated heavily, but mine were not. This time I used gouges, a small adze I forged myself and an axe to carve them. It was again very inspiring and exciting to make them. I was hooked.

A few years later I gave up building houses and went into craft full time. This time there was the internet and I had found Del Stubb's website. It was loaded with all kinds of spoon carving resources. I spent days and days looking at every page and following every link. I learned a lot just by studying the photos. Sooner or later I got a copy of Wille's book. It was still out of print and I payed over $150 dollars for it. I was serious about spoon carving!

I also attended my first Spoon Gathering in Milan, MN the second year they held it. I think they are on year 11 or 12 now. It was attended by maybe 20 carvers. This is where I met—now good friends—Del and Mary Stubbs, Fred Livesay, Tom Dengler, Jim Sannerud, Yuri Moldenhaurer and Rod Termaat. I was blown away that there were other 'spoon freaks' as I called myself, obsessed with spoon carving in the midwest. It was great to visit, carve together, and learn. What I learned from Fred and Tom particularly changed the way I carved spoons forever. Tom attended Wille's spoon carving workshop at Drew Lagsners's years earlier and Fred had been carving spoons since a very young kid, and was influenced by one of North House's Founder Charlie Mayo. These guys carved Scandinavian spoons. Over the next year I adopted the style and began to add my own tweaks and twists. I never looked back.

I guess it's been a few years now and I've carved many spoons since then. I spent years carving them for market and craft shows before getting turned on to pole lathe turning. I carved lots of spoons and made them quickly. I didn't have access to much crooked wood so I focused on straight wood. I started teaching here and there eventually teaching all over the world. It's pretty mind blowing really. I remember getting strange looks from folks who asked me what I did for a living and my reply was "I carve wooden spoons".

I started teaching basketry with my ex-wife, April back in 2001. Over the years I have probably taught 1000's of people. I have become good at what I do and I'm quite proud of it. I have had many great years of teaching awesome folks how to use their hands to make things connected to the earth and our very ancient human experience.

I'd been developing some pedagogy for teaching teachers of spoon carving over the last few years. I'm pleased to announce that I'm offering a workshop this spring for spoon carving instructors. I think that as the spoon carving craft grows so does the need to teach and share with folks about how to teach too. It's a natural progression to want to share what we know, but with the risks in carving I think it shouldn't be taken lightly. Being able to carve is a great skill to have. After that, being able to teach and show people how to carve safely is another very important skill to develop. And don't forget that honing your sense for spoon design is again another step. 

I won't say too much more here, I'll let the description speak for itself, but I hope that folks that are interested in teaching, have taught a little already or folks that have taught a bunch will all be able to take something back to their workshops and classes from this Course for Teachers of Spoon Carving.  

If teaching isn't your thing I'm also offering a spoon carving workshop here in Ashland too. It'll be full of all the good stuff -how to carve and design spoons. The details are here for Spoon Carving Ashland

 

Pole Lathe Turning: Teaching in England, Sweden and Home- Part 3

jarrod dahl

 The demonstration at the Skara museum

The demonstration at the Skara museum

It's been far too long since I've sat down to write for this blog. I have mixed feelings about it, but I've also been super busy. It takes a lot to run a small craft business. I don't think there is enough time in the day to do it all. There is no outside income from a spouse, trust funds, big grants, savings or business loans to help keep this thing going. It's all work and a lot of it. The business administration side of is quite complicated—scheduling sales and workshops, marketing them, finding materials, taking product photos, website stuff, bookkeeping, and the all important budget (there's a difference) the list goes on and on. Even with Jazmin taking on a good portion of the admin work, I spend almost equal time with admin as I do making. And what about my personal life, wait is there a difference? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Because my time is so limited I've had to pick and choose between spending time writing my newsletter or this blog. The newsletter wins out most of the time as it's more tied to engaging with more identifiable customers and patrons, as brutal as it sounds that is tied to sales and that is what keeps the margin in the black. 

Looking forward I am planning to write a few posts back to back over the next few weeks to bring you, dear readers, up to speed. I still really appreciate folks following along even though I haven't been that active here over the past few years. I'm getting into a nice rhythm these days, though, so there might be a little extra time to breathe some life into this blog. This rhythm is in part because I'm writing a book on pole lathe turning. I sit to write every day of the week and have done so for about a month. Things are flowing and I'm feeling more comfortable. I'll share more on the book in one of the aforementioned posts. The other reason for rhythm in the workflow at 'Woodspirit Handcraft' is that I have an apprentice helping me with production. Tom's been a great help and is learning a lot while he's here. Again I have a post started on that aspect of my business too. 

We left off 2 months ago with a post on my teaching tour last fall. For those who don't know, I taught 5 pole lathe turning workshops over about a month's time. I last wrote about the England part of the trip. This post is about the Sweden leg of the trip.

It's hard to pick a favorite because the whole European trip was a blast and each leg had it's own highlights. They all contributed to the whole. But having said that, my trip to Sweden was pretty special because it tied some of my past research and views on production work together.

 Anders and I in Kviberg.

Anders and I in Kviberg.

Last year sometime Anders Lindberg, a well known Swedish craftsperson and author, emailed me to ask about attending a pole lathe class I had scheduled in New York. It ended up he couldn't make it, which was ok as I had to cancel the workshop anyway. It was full, but the spoon carving class that was in tandem didn't fill so the trip wouldn't have been worth it. Anyway... Anders thought that maybe he could talk to our mutual friend who worked for Västarvets as a Hemslöjdskonsulenter.  This is a government organization who's job it is to promote handicrafts in the country. Anders wanted to see if they could help bring me over to teach. In 2014 when I went over to Skedfest I also visited the same region Anders lives in. It has a very rich turning history. I wrote about it here and here. For over 300 years it was Sweden's turning center. Records show that something like 30,000 turned boxes and as well as other impressive quantities of different craft goods left the region to be traded all over Sweden every year. Learning about the craft industry of that area helped to inspire my ideas about production work and also set the tone for my business today. So the trip that Anders was hoping for was really exciting to me. If I could help inspire folks to turn using the same techniques of the past and breathe a little life into the old and lost traditions of that area, my work would come full circle. Sharing what I'm learning is a key part of my ethos as a professional woodworker/traditional craftsperson. 

The hard part of teaching pole lathe turning is that the lathes are big and heavy and the tools needed to turn aren't something you can buy from a tool supplier. So part of the plan was that Anders needed to build the lathes before I arrived. He and I emailed back and forth for a few months sorting out construction details before he began to build them. 

 Center: Sara Degerfalt, Craft Consultant, during a radio interview in Boras.

Center: Sara Degerfalt, Craft Consultant, during a radio interview in Boras.

 Four generations of Slojdar!

Four generations of Slojdar!

I'll leave out a lot of the little details and just say that it was a busy week. The whole trip was organized by Sara Degerfält, a craft consultant, who took us around and made sure everything was in order. Thank you Sara! I gave two talks with a photo slide presentation about my current work which is very much inspired by my research in Sweden back in 2014. I also gave 2 turning demos at 2 different museums in the area. Both were very well attended. It was exciting to see the interest. In one demo there were 4 different generations in attendance. This was powerful to see. I  also had a chance to visit a museum archive where I looked at more turned goods. Then there was the course I taught on pole lathe turning.

As far as I know there hasn't been a pole lathe turning workshop in Sweden since my friend Robin Wood taught one at Saterglantan over 15 years ago. There are also just a few folks that I know of turning bowls on pole lathes in Sweden. I find it a little surprising since the craft scene in that country seems to be very well supported and holding strong.

IMG_4675.jpg

The workshop was filled with young people! This is not always the case with  hand tool related events so it gives me a lot of confidence to say that the trip was a great success. I know these folks will keep at it and hopefully the use of the pole lathe in Sweden will grow.

Someone who has been turning on a pole lathe is Daniel Lunberg.   I'd been following him on Instagram (@storslojd) for some time and has a few years of experience turning on the pole lathe. He began turning during his time at Saterglantan, and learned on one of the pole lathes left behind from Robin's course all those years ago! That's just insane. I mentioned to Daniel that I was working with Anders and that we were going to have a class in Goteborg. Daniel came down from the north, helped with set-up, was my assistant in class, traveled to help with the lathe demos, and visited the museum archives with us. He is not only a great guy but is also a very talented woodworker, an attentive teacher and was a great help in the class. We had some good laughs too. 

 Daniel and I goofing around before one of the demos

Daniel and I goofing around before one of the demos

 It's been a few years since I trained in Aikido but can still stretch....a little...

It's been a few years since I trained in Aikido but can still stretch....a little...

All in all I met some really kind and generous people. Folks that choose to steep their lives in craft and the handmade-this could be anything from shoes and clothes, houses and furniture, to the love of wooden spoons that we all seem to have in common. I can't help but think that people, at least in this scene, desire to know where things come from and how they are made. They will search for quality (and that comes in many forms) in those things and add what they can to their everyday lives. They understand that those things give us a certain quality of life.

We had 2 extra days at the end of our trip and because Jazmin has never been to Sweden before, we spent those days wandering around Stockholm. It's such a cool town. To top it all off we got to see the new Blade Runner on the big screen there too. Ha.

 Stockholm

Stockholm

 Jazmin and I wandering around 

Jazmin and I wandering around 

Once home we turned around and headed up to North House for one last turning workshop. It was nice to be in my home turf. Ironically there was a visiting instructor from Sweden teaching that week too. Stefan Nordgard was the guest instructor for about a week. He is the turning instructor at Saterglantan and uses modern electric lathes. It's also wild that he was responsible for inspiring Daniel to pursue pole lathe turning when Daniel was a student. So this trip had a few paths that came full circle and intertwined together. These are the experiences and stories that make this world seem small at times. It's amazing.

North House is an amazing place. It usually brings a few folks from all over the country to attend classes there.  It's great meeting folks from all over. Sharing stories is what ties us all together. I always feel pretty inspired after teaching.

I hope my stories will inspire you to get out of the house and your town, go travel, meet people, carve together, learn together, share....

 Stefan and I traded bowls.

Stefan and I traded bowls.


 Demo in Borås

Demo in Borås

 The workshop in Göteborg

The workshop in Göteborg

 Workshop at North House

Workshop at North House

 North House class proudly showing off there hard work.

North House class proudly showing off there hard work.



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