This is an excerpt from “Slöjd in Wood” by Jögge Sundqvist.
Traditionally, households needed to be self-sufficient and had to make all kinds of everyday objects. There were many kinds of hewn bowls and troughs for baking, meat preparation, milk production and fermented drinks. They were made from a green blank from a tree trunk. The trunk was cut and split lengthwise into a half, then hollowed out from the heartwood side. Because these containers are exposed to moisture, the design incorporates strength and durability. The walls at each end of the trough must be three times thicker than the wood along the sides. The handles are placed at the ends of the blank.
I have learned another way of doing this from the legendary woodworker Bengt Lidström, who made beautiful bird bowls. He worked from either the heartwood side or from the bark side. Both methods are described in this chapter.
Tools. Chopping block, froe, wooden maul, axe, shaving horse, drawknife, adze, workbench, scrub plane, spokeshave, Japanese saw, sheath knife, long bent gouge (#8, 35mm), spoon gouge (#9, 13mm), ruler, pencil, folding ruler, screw clamp, chip carving knife, paintbrush.
Material. Straight-grained, knot-free deciduous wood such as aspen, alder or birch, wood glue, raw coldpressed linseed oil, and artist’s oil paint.
PREPARING THE BLANK
Choose a straight-grained, knot-free piece. Trim to about 10cm (3-15/16″) longer than the bowl you want to make. When a tree is felled, the pith always has a crack that begins in the end grain. When you split the blank, line up the froe blade with this felling crack.
Hew away about 1cm (3/8″) of the juvenile wood nearest the pith. While hewing, sight along the edge of the blank’s end-grain face as a reference for a flat surface.
If you are hollowing from the bark side of the log, further flatten the heartwood side so the blank sits steady on the bench. Use either a plane at the workbench or a drawknife at the shaving horse. Remove the bark with a drawknife.
Lay out centerlines on the bowl face. Transfer the lines to all four faces. Now lay out the shape of the bowl using the centerlines to guide the shape. Make sure there is 2cm to 3cm (13/16″ to 1-3/16″) extra material on both ends to fasten the blank on the workbench.
You will use a lot of force during hollowing, so it is important to clamp the blank firmly to your workbench. Now hollow out the blank with an adze.
To quickly remove material on the bark side, you can first use a thin, straight-beveled axe to cut off the upper layer. You can also use a bowsaw to make multiple depth cuts to allow the waste to chip out more easily.
Use an adze for hollowing out the blank. The adze has a bevel on the outside, which in combination with the short handle creates an arc when you cut. Lock your elbows to the sides of your body. Place the other hand around your wrist for control and accuracy. Holding the adze at the farthest end of the handle, drive it into the wood vigorously to make depth cuts into the surface. Start from the middle of the hole and work toward the ends.
Like hewing with an axe, you now change the angle of the cut to clear away the waste.
Turn the piece and refasten it if it is difficult to cut from the other side. Use your body to change the cutting angle as you follow the shape.
You can also use a mallet and a long bent gouge (No. 8L, 35mm) to start cutting in the middle of the bowl. To begin hollowing, it is easiest to cut across the fibers. Keep in mind that cutting the fibers across the grain doesn’t leave as smooth a surface as cutting with the grain.
For controlled cuts, place your left hand on the gouge handle just above the tool edge and use your wrist as a brake as you press it against the blank.
With your right hand against the end of the handle and supported by your chest, push the gouge forward by leaning into the cut. Use steady pressure to get long, even and controlled cuts.
This technique is particularly useful in the bottom when you cut near the cross-grain wood, where the fibers meet each other. The left hand acts as a control for both speed and depth of cut.
The narrow ends of the bowl are thicker and angled toward the bottom, making the end-grain fibers longer and therefore stronger.
Smooth the rim along the top of the bowl. At this stage, it is necessary to refine the form by marking new lines.
Check the level of the sides of the bowl by laying a straight edge across the top.
Measure for even thickness along the bottom by using a ruler to compare the height of the sides versus the depth of the bowl.
The fibers rise a little after drying. Remember to clean-cut the bowl when it is dry for a smoother surface. For a bowl 40cm (15-3/4″) long, I suggest a final thickness of 8mm (5/16″) along the sides and bottom, and about 20mm (13/16″) in the end-grain wood. If there is tear-out in cross-grain wood, you will need to carefully make the final clean cut at a 90 degree angle to the fiber direction.