Birch Boat Bowl

My oak and my ash have been giving me nothing but trouble.   Hence no recent progress on the Kingsteignton Idol or the hilt for the bronze sword that belongs to our local Young Archaeologists’ Club handling collection.

But I have finished my first attempt at a boat bowl.   It’s not based on an archaeological artefact.   I was inspired by some of the bowls and the toy boats that I saw in Denmark last year.   Making it has been an exercise in carving – a practice piece.

The silver birch came from a local farm.   There are very few silver birch trees growing where I live, the conditions aren’t favourable for them.   I jumped at the chance to get hold of some logs, because it’s lovely to look at and lovely to carve.   Mostly I get oak, ash and field maple, but the farm has a few silver birches dotted throughout its woodland.

The logs had been in my store for a few months, so the wood isn’t fully seasoned but it’s not sopping-wet either.   However, it has spalted.  The spalting is the patterns of colours brought about by fungi growing in the wood.   If the rot is too far gone then the wood is useless for carving (unless you can impregnate it with an acrylate to hold it together as you cut into it).   If you can catch it just right, however, the wood will hold up and your carved piece has all these amazing patterns and colours in it.

The bowl hasn’t been oiled yet, it needs to dry out fully first.  The oiling should really bring out the effects of the spalting and I can’t wait to see it – so I have to restrain myself and wait until the right time to do it!

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Spalting is one of the ephemeral characteristics of biodegradable materials that is missing from the archaeological record.   However, just as there are beautiful prehistoric axe heads made of multi-coloured and patterned stone, I think people in the past would have enjoyed wooden objects with different colours too.

The end of a cherry tree

A friend has recently given me some lengths of cherry wood.  The tree has been cut down to open up an area of her garden, and a second will also be subject to the tree-surgeon’s chainsaw.   I’m fascinated by the changes that the wood is undergoing when cut.   The logs have been “bleeding” while sitting against my workshop wall, exuding a jelly-like sap from the cambium.   The sapwood cuts white and then oxidises to a livid orange colour.

I’ve posted some photos of a bowl that I’ve carved in the cherry, on my Gallery page.   You can glimpse the oxidised interior, which I’ve yet to finish.   As I took the photos shortly after finishing the exterior, the sapwood on the outside is still quite pale.   It’s really interesting to think about these simple, but striking, transformations in raw materials.    Although there are some dramatic transformations evidenced in the archaeological record – from hide to leather, from ore to metal, from clay to pottery – some changes are just as striking and mysterious even though they are simple.   I wonder what people in the past thought about the colours, textures, and smells of wood?