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Fall Time and Blog Revisited

jarrod dahl

A lot of time has past since I found myself writing for my blog—over half a year in fact. I've been struggling with prioritizing my time and energy spent writing and making/teaching . I've also been a bit on the fence about writing in general. I'm more interested in the bigger ideas around craft, making, etc. than talking about how to do something, but at the same time I wonder what it's worth.  I'm not a trained writer so it's pretty hard for me to break down the ideas in the fore front on my mind, especially in relation to complex subjects like craft, skill, ethos, etc.... I've been on the fence because I know that developing writing skills deserves a lot of  attention. Building skills takes time and dedication. I've worked myself into a corner in many ways. Knowing what I need to do to improve my writing skills is clear. Part of this is also having to grow thicker skin. I've realized that I've been a target by a few within my making community and I've reacted to this by second guessing everything I try to write for the past 6 months. This has been a real challenge for me to overcome. I shut myself down. There will always be folks that disagree or make emotional arguments, but for me to hide away is not the best reaction. There have been many more people with very positive things to say about my writing and ideas. I've come out of my hiding place and I'll be adding new content here on a more regular basis, so look forward to new ideas and posts.

Bjorn runs this small basket shop with his wife in Tallberg Sweden

The past summer has been quite an experience. It began with heading over to Greenwoodfest in Plymouth this June. It's been nonstop since then. Later in the summer I traveled over the Atlantic to teach and attend both Spoonfest in the UK and Täljfest in Sweden. They were both very great events. Spoonfest has a very special spot in my heart. I've attended all but one, year 4. It's amazing, the spoons that are being carved today. Such great and talented carvers creating all kinds of new designs, in fact these are innovations from my point of view as subtle as they might be. There were too many highlights to both trips, but the two I'll mention here were from the Sweden leg of the trip. These were being able to visit a pine splint basket maker named Björn Majors, and the other was being awarded the Sundqvist-Copperthwaite Slöjd Fellowship.

Jögge Sundqvist took me to spend a morning with Björn. He demonstrated how he splints the pine and preps it for weaving. He also wove a small basket. I got a chance to try my hand at splitting some too. I've splint lots of cedar in the 10 years of birch bark canoe building so I wasn't a complete novice when I made my attempts under his watchful eyes. I did ok, he said with a smile, but the splints I created were not very uniform in thickness and that was what was needed to make a good basket. Björn is a true master. I'm always in awe when I can watch folks that have built technique into muscle memory. He moved without a touch of hesitation while acknowledging various characteristics in the material and adjusted his technique to them. These characteristics were so subtle I could barely understand as I asked him about them.  These things are hidden to the untrained or inexperienced. This gets me thinking about how the traditional craft community struggles to talk about what we do. Our 'innovation' is within these subtleties of refined skill and experience.  

 insane skills splitting the pine.

insane skills splitting the pine.

I've been toying with the idea of trying to weave this style of splint basket here in the States. It was of great interest to see what the characteristics were that are needed for riving the thin splints. In the end I don't think we have the right material here, but I'll keep trying and looking for suitable materials.

Jogge checking out the finished basket Bjorn made while we visited him.

Being awarded the Slöjd Fellowship was a great honor. This was the first year they awarded it. The first round was to Beth Moen and Jojo Wood. This time around it was to Peter Follansbee and myself. I'm planning something special with the award monies to carry my work in the traditional craft world further and always with a focus on sharing with the broader craft community in some way. I'm still planning. It's a very humbling honor to receive this award.

Here's a little excerpt from the description Peter Lamb, the Fellowships founder, sent me. 

"The Wille Sundqvist and Bill Coperthwaite Slöjd Fellowship is awarded to craftspeople to further deepen the meaning, skills, and connections among those passionate about simple living and handmade objects. The Fellowship provides financial support to green woodworkers and other craftspeople to travel from their home country and share their thinking about handcraft, showcase their skills and design work, further their own research, and extend the international community of interest."

The other major thing—and this is the big one—is that April and I filed for divorce a few weeks ago. I really don't feel the need to go into my personal life in great detail, but I do need to bring it into the open. With this there will be some changes in regards to the business over the next few months. As we sort out how we move onto this new path, things will become more clear. April will still have things up for sale on the site, but we're also exploring ideas about her own website too. It'll most likely be linked to the Woodspirit site in some way, which I'll keep the rights to. The important part to know is that we are treating each other with kindness and respect as we move forward through this challenging time.

Until next time.....I hope there are wood shavings at your feet....

Context is Important

jarrod dahl

This is good....

A few weeks ago I taught a 3 day pole lathe turning and a 2 day spoon carving workshop in upstate New York. I've been back home for awhile now and I'm still reflecting on my experiences from the trip. There is something about meeting new folks, carving together and sharing stories about life and craft that strikes a deep feeling in me.  These experiences solidify the many facets of what I call Realcraft.  It's the people, food, stories, skills, life, the sharing, etc.. the real life backstory to the images on your favorite social media platform or "how to" video on Youtube, blog, etc... that defines Realcraft for me.  I find that the information age and all that comes with it, at times, depicts the craft objects separate from the whole story.  I don't think it's intentional, it's by default, unless we go out of our way to explain it or to look for it.  But I do think that when taken out of the full context - craft is misunderstood or over simplified. There are many angles to craft but at the least I like the story to include us, the folks, and our individual context we bring with it, whatever that might be.

We make things for different reasons. This is a fact. As a professional, I may have very different reasons for making the things that I sell than someone who is enjoying the weekend sitting around carving spoons as a way to relax between family life, work, and all the other stuff daily life brings. At some earlier point those reasons may have been the same.  It's hard to say without individual personal dialogue and I dare not assume.  Some of the reasons for making could be parallel,'s complex. But when I continually search for folks like me, I come up short. There just aren't that many folks that take the professional road. This is ok as it's the way it is.  But when I want to talk about turning handled cups on a pole lathe with someone else on a technical level, as a peer, there are only two others that I've the world. I've looked long and hard.  One is in the UK (my friend Robin Wood) and the other in Spain, but he doesn't speak very good English and never replied to my inquiries. There might be more but either way...not many. To be clear, this is my context, with no intended offense to anyone who makes for other reasons.  I'm looking for folks who have put skin in the game in a similar way as I have.  Earlier this winter, after I stated I was probably the only person in the world making a turned wooden flask that day, I was asked by Charlie Ryland, a craftsman who was staying with us, "how it felt?" to which I replied, "lonely".  I don't think it was the reply he was expecting. While at first thought one would think it's special to be the only one, I don't.  I'm very interested in the rise of the traditional craftsperson, and on a professional level. There needs to be more of us.  But this takes time.

That's the backdrop to what's context should be clear.

Derek Sanderson is someone I met over the internet within the green woodworking social media network. We had a few personal dialogues via Facebook messenger before we met face to face. Derek and Oliver Pratt (another very talented spoon carver) both stopped by to visit before The Spoon Gathering last June. They traveled about 250 miles out of their way to visit.  This is the problem with the U.S. in that it's way too big.  They still found the time to stop by and we fell right into it, carving and turning, too.  It is always good to meet face to face as it brings the context to the written words.  I find considerable enjoyment with meeting folks in 'real life'.  Going out of our way to meet face to face is important and I pay close attention to those that do go out of their way to participate.  It ties back to the Realcraft ethos.  For me, folks that are putting skin in the game are worth paying attention to.

Derek put me up for my stay in New York and after my arrival and an hour or so of catching up I noticed the hundreds of spoons sitting delicately on top of Derek's cabinets with all the tips of the spoons peeking out. There was also a big basket of spoons in the background. It hit me as he handed me one of his current spoons that all these spoons have lead up to the spoon in my hand!  This was Derek's continuum of spoon carving progression.  In comparison, I sold all the spoons I made over the years, as I made them.  I have no body of work to look at or to be reminded of the progression that happens, save for memory or photos that I never really look at. But here was a makers progression...all intact, there to see, and handle.  I was taken aback.

The spoon Derek handed me was a really nice spoon; I'd say exceptional in many ways. I recognized this instantly but I also knew that there is always more to the discovery - things I cannot see or recognize instantly. These subtle things become clear with time and use.  This is the tacit part of it.  I own a few of his past spoons that he's carved over the past few years.  The experience from their use also adds to and ties to the present comparison, or story.  As I write, I've used this latest spoon fifty times or more and while used it was fondled and studied.  I'm still a bit blown away by how nice the spoon is and then I remember all the spoons on the cabinets. 

Over the 4 years Derek has been carving spoons, he's made about 1400 of them.  He's saved nearly all of them. For whatever reason Derek's context is for carving all these spoons - I won't go into here. You can ask him yourself if you meet him. Being able to see what led up to his most current spoons is a pretty rare opportunity and I really enjoyed seeing this. This may also be a context folks tend to forget about with all the quick images that we see every day. If you want to be good at something it takes time, practice, and dedication, but I'd also add honesty, humility, and knowledge of the backstory, too. Whatever the combination is, the fact is, there is a context in all our stories that we need to consider.

Thanks for the spoon and sharing your story Derek!

Derek's spoons on one cabinet

More spoons from the other cabinet

Derek's sweet spoon with lot's of subtle curves

Derek's sweet spoon with a few carefully chosen engraved lines

Derek's sweet spoon more curves but not to much....

Birch Bark Bread Basket

jarrod dahl

-Originally posted on Instagram on Feb 3, 2016

Last night we had our first real snow storm of the year. April and I had been trying to plan a night were we could sort some birch bark for weaving bread baking baskets. This was the perfect time. As the snow fell and over a glass of wine, we went through a big roll of bark we harvested this past summer. April had been after me to weave her a bread baking basket. So after the sorting we prepped some strips for weaving. Once we had enough, I wove this basket.

I’ve been working with birch bark for over 12 years and when working with it I’m still constantly in awe of its subtle feel, its flexibility and the many other great qualities. It’s no wonder why that in earlier times wherever in the world the birch trees grew, its bark had a very important place in the lives of the people living among them. The bark was used to make all kinds of things needed for daily living; from woven shoes, a multitude of different styles of canisters and baskets, and of course, the iconic birch bark canoe.

This basket is designed to bake bread in. It’s just a touch smaller than a regular loaf pan. Once it’s oiled and seasoned, kinda like a cast iron pan, it’ll be ready for baking in. The finished bread will have a nice woven imprint on the underside. I’m not sure if this type of basket has a history before bread pans or not, but I think it’s still pretty cool.

A woven birch bark bread baking basket

Cut it to See It

jarrod dahl

Instagram post on Feb 16th of so....with slight editing. This was before I figured out how to get the format right on Instagram.

A little extra learning this morning. This exercise is the hardest for beginner turners to do, especially pole lathe turners, due to the extra energy and skill involved. We have a lot invested in our work. But in the end lessons that give us more information to base a comparison on are very important. 

I would argue that if you don't do this once in awhile you may be missing a lot. Chop or cut the good bowls and the bad, we need the comparison in order to improve our skills to 'see'. 

I was pleased with tall tumbler.  I use a pole lathe and basically have the wood I turn between two centers, I need to leave a small spindle of wood on the inside of the cup until it's complete then cut it off. So when turning I can only see and feel with my tools what I'm doing on the inside. For me cutting it in half helps me see how well I did at getting just a slightly different inner cup compared to the outer. 

These end grain cups have been used for 1000's of years and I'm proud to be using the same technology as back then, a foot powered pole lathe. Using this type of lathe is not some over idealistic notion of the past, but the search for a aesthetic and ethos that can create objects that don't look so ‘machined’, as they do on an electric lathe. Because objects on my lathe moves back and forth, there are natural anomalies in the surface when the direction changes. These anomalies add something that I think our eyes enjoy looking at, even if it's happening on a unconscious level. I'm always digging deeper into my craft. There's no hurry, just careful steps forward. Every object building on the other. I'm in this for the long haul so cutting one cup is much more valuable than not. This is the story of #realcraft and the #riseofthecraftspersonclass