Oddball hand tool question

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Forum topic by cuttwice posted 12-28-2011 10:30 AM 2575 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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60 posts in 3740 days

12-28-2011 10:30 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question cherry carving shaping turning woodburning hand tools

Greetings all -

I have a question my sister asked me – I don’t know enough about carving to answer it, but I told her that you all might and I would ask.

She has a large black cherry stump that she would like to carve into a big bowl if she can. The stump is roughly 30” in diameter at its base, and splits into three trees partway along its length (I haven’t seen it, but she describes it as being still a single piece of wood after about 24” in height, but showing rings for three trees’ growth systems at the top, which is about 36” across).

She would like to carve this stump into a bowl by hand. I told her I didn’t know, but it sounded like a job that might require a lathe, to control the tools from making deeper cuts into the wood than she wanted (as well as taking her the rest of her life to carve by hand!)

Again, I don’t know anything about either turning or hand carving such a large chunk of raw wood. What do you all think? Is this a doable project? By hand? I so, what tools and techniques would be required, and where should she go to find out details of each? The stump is from a recently cut tree (in fact, the it’s still attached to the root system, and will probably have to be hand cut from the base). How long will it need to dry before starting to work it? If you had such a project under consideration, how would you proceed?

I hope this is a sufficiently weird question to provide some entertainment, and that you can provide some guidance in return. Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give.

- John

10 replies so far

View deebee71's profile


76 posts in 3745 days

#1 posted 12-28-2011 04:14 PM

Some very good “How to Carve Wood Bowls” on and on youtube, shows how to mark the blank and some of the tools. Don

-- Don, northern Maine

View cuttwice's profile


60 posts in 3740 days

#2 posted 12-28-2011 08:03 PM

Thanks, Don. I looked at some of those articles and videos, and they’re very helpful. I hadn’t thought of dugout carving, and it’s plain that whether one uses a dugout method or not, working a big bowl without a lathe is perfectly possible.

Unfortunately, the videos don’t seem to get much into the details of how long to dry a big blank like this and how else to prepare it, what tools to use (except the Lancelot grinder blades and Merlin power carving tools, which look like a great help, but my sister might view as “cheating”), and whether the three-tree split presents any special challenges or things to be cautious about. Anyone have any suggestions about those questions?

Thanks again,
- John

View Greg's profile


335 posts in 3928 days

#3 posted 12-28-2011 08:18 PM

Hi John. It’s kind of hard to answer all of your questions w/o seeing the stump or not knowing when it was cut or even if it still in the ground! However, in general, things to look out for are pockets of dirt or dirty bark inclusions which can throw rocks into one’s eys, and dull blades quickly-I can vouge for the king Arthur tools as they speed up the process GREATLY! The alternative would be to use a combination of carving toolls like and adz and gouges. She would be best off carving it green because it will take years to fully dry all the way through. She can expect cracks too, though there are techniques available (like coating with wax or painting after finishing up a round of carving)to slow the drying process which is what causes the cracks. A lathe just scares me. I wouldn’t want those flared trunks swinging around! Leave that to the experts.

-- You don't have a custom made heirloom fly fishing Net?

View Waldschrat's profile


505 posts in 4491 days

#4 posted 12-28-2011 08:23 PM

Hello Cuttwice,

with three trees growing out of one, it might be next to impossible to get that chunk of wood to dry with out any cracks in it, and even if it did not have the three trees growing out of it, in a perfect world so to say, with out a relief cut of some kind it would crack no matter how you prepare it. The wood needs to be able to shrink so if you cut a relief cut with a chainsaw, that might help reduce the amount of cracks. If you paint the ends with wax or tar, that will slow down the escape of free water out the end grain. This is important.

I am also told, but I have never tried this myself ,that when you leave the bark on the wood should dry faster.

Speaking of chainsaws, this might be a fast way of getting excess wood out of the way to hollow out the bowl.

Caution is needed to watch that the tip of the saw does not kick back. I have used a chainsaw to cut notches, saddles, relief cuts, dovetails and all sorts of joints when I did a short stint as a log builder… that is how I would do it a chainsaw to rough it out, and a nice sharp gouge to finish it off.

Other than that a large gouge, is probably the safest way and a good mallet.

Maybe a large Forstner drill bit to help remove all the waste and then using a gouge to get the inside all nice and cleaned up.

One important thing not to forget either is that she should do the inside before the outside, and make sure to leave some sort of support (leave wood going between the insides of the bowl to keep it from breaking, depending of course how thin she wants to make it), it will help with clamping and holding on to later.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 3464 days

#5 posted 12-29-2011 02:31 PM

Tell her to contact J P Madren. I dont have his email in front of me right now but she can do a internet search and he will pop up. He is an expert of the highest order at this sort of thing and will be able to instruct her.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View mtenterprises's profile


933 posts in 3748 days

#6 posted 12-29-2011 04:50 PM

Ok a couple ideas. First close to the botton will be the best way to try to take this bowl but then maybe you can get a couple out of the stump working your way down also. A bowl adz is the perfect tool for this size project, short handled concaved blade. The other tool you might use is a 4 1/2” angle grinder with one of those chainsaw tipped disks, though IMHO it might be a bit slower than the adz. No matter how you go about this it WILL be a learning expierance and hopefully the finished product could be very unique. Though it may not come out as a functional “bowl” I think it will certainly be a very interesting piece of art. Have at it! Don’t talk about it do it! And let’s see what you made.

-- See pictures on Flickr -[email protected]/ And visit my Facebook page -

View cuttwice's profile


60 posts in 3740 days

#7 posted 12-30-2011 09:37 PM

Thanks all for the ideas.

Greg & Nicholas, your notes about cracks are very well taken, and I’ve passed them along, as well as the advice to paint the work after each carving session. (Greg’s advice that carving the wood before waiting for it to dry was well received, as I don’t think she wanted to wait years to start!) Nicholas, can you give me a little more detail about how you’d make the relief cut you’re talking about? Will it make the bowl unusable as a bowl? Do you fill it in after the carving is complete? Pardon my ignorance, but while I understand the concept of reliving the strains in the wood to prevent them from wrecking the bowl, I’m not sure how to go about it without, er, wrecking the bowl :).

planeBill, JP Madren’s bowls are gorgeous, and I’ll let my sister know about the site and suggest she contact him for advice as well – it does look like he’s doing very well what she’s hoping to do with this stump. And Mike, it looks like what you’re suggesting is pretty much what Madren does, so we know it ‘can’ come out well, even if there’s no guarantee it will! :)

In the examples on JP Madren’s site, it looks like he’s left a wall thickness on his bowls of about 1/2 – 3/4”. Would you say that’s a good final wall thickness to shoot for? I know someone who carves gorgeous bowls that are much thinner, but they are much smaller than this stump is, and I think she starts with spruce driftwood which has been drying on a beach for years, so that may not be possible here.

Thanks again to all for the advice, and if there’s any more, please don’t hesitate!

- John

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4038 days

#8 posted 12-30-2011 10:08 PM

Thought I’d offer this entertaining piece by Roy Underhill on wood and water. While it may not answer your questions on how to, it does offer some entertaining information on working with green wood and hand tools.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Bluepine38's profile


3390 posts in 4140 days

#9 posted 12-30-2011 10:33 PM

The first thing she has to do is cut this stump away from the root system, as far down as possible, she can
always cut more off later, but it is hard to add wood. My next thought is that if possible, she should
hollow out the bottom of the stump, this would allow the wood to dry faster and also prevent many
stress cracks, how far the hollowing will go will depend on the depth she wants in the bowls and the tools
she will be using, leave enough thickness to support the work and give stability. My next thought is that
perhaps to carve three bowls, one in each of the set of growth rings. She will have to look at the wood
and decide what will look best for her project. Please post any progress, this sounds like it could be a
fantastic project.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View JP Madren's profile

JP Madren

6 posts in 3368 days

#10 posted 01-25-2012 07:24 PM

I found this website by googling my name to see where it was being used, and would be glad to help out here if I can.
The problem with “multiple trunks coming out of one stump” ... you’re going to have a “heart” for every trunk and a bunch of beautiful graining where these trunks are tied together. The problem being that this (although being beautiful) is going to make that wood much harder to work. Heartwood is going to crack 99 times out of a 100 so minimize any heartwood used.
It CAN be done, but she’ll earn that bowl.
I suggest you first of all buy some mineral oil before you start … and then get her to try to follow the steps I have shown on my website. The “How they’re Made” page will show what you should try to do each step. You can do all the work with 1 hand-adze. I have several and I like one that is flat across the fron face (no sweep) for the outside, but I am working on bowls pretty much 7 days a week year round where you’re just wanting to do one or a few as a hobby so the extra expense probably wouldn’t be justified.
Feel free to give me a holler if I can be of assistance, advice is free and I don’t mind helpin’ out. One more thing – keep the wood as green as you can until you have the bowl completed. If you can’t do it all in one day (you won’t) cover teh unfinished bowl in damp sawdust/woodshavin’s or you can lightly oil it and put it in a plastic bag. Don’t leave it in a warm room room in the bag or it will mold. Also you’ll want to finish it in as few of days as you can so that you’ll minimize the chance of its cracking on you. when I first started making bowls 24 years ago I lost a bunch by havin’ a bad case of the “can’t hep it’s” and had no idea what I was doing. I’m pushing 2,000 bowls made now – still don’t have all the answers, but there’s a mite fewer mysteries.

-- If I can't help you I won't hurt you

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