Tag Archives: wooden cup

White Wolf Fian

There is an Arts and Sciences group in Ealdormere called the White Wolf Fian. It is a challenge-based order where membership and successful completion of a project conveys no rank or award beyond being able to say, “I did it!!!”. The goal of the Fian is to push artisans to a higher level of skill and knowledge in a particular field or topic. Challenges are to be of an intermediate level (with the Kingdom A&S rules as a guideline) and require between 6 months and 1year to complete. During Royal Court at Pennsic XLIII, I challenged for admission to the Fian.

My challenge is  straightforward…build a pole lathe, the tools needed to work on it and produce some functional bowls. Sounds simple enough but I think this poses a few significant challenges for me.

1. The tools used for making bowls and cups are called hook tools. The only way to acquire them in the 21st century is from a few select blacksmiths, most of whom live in the UK and Europe. These smiths charge a fair rate for their work but it is out of my price range. So, I need to make my own. Lots of greenwood turners do this but my only attempt thus far was a dismal failure, which makes me a little nervous.

2.  The lathe itself, while not requiring a high level of precision, is nonetheless a very large project for me. I mean, I’m a woodturner. I make wooden bowls, cups and urns. A lathe is a large piece of furniture! Heck, it’s  industrial equipment! Oh, did I mention that I am inept at measuring anything accurately? Yeah, furniture sort of depends on measurements for its creation so this will be a challenge for me…a very big challenge.

3.  As I said, I am a professional woodturner and I am pretty good at what I do. I know my way around my lathe and arsenal of gouges and chisels. Woodturning on a pole lathe requires very different tools and techniques to what I used to. Imagine putting a 9ft spear in the hands of the best fencer in the Kingdom. They still understand distance and timing but can’t make it work with a log in their hands. When it comes to hook tools for making bowls, I am that fencer. I understand wood and how steel can be used to cut it but this will demand a whole new set of biomechanics (never mind that I’ll be standing on one leg while the other pumps up and down on the treadle!).

The first will be building something I can use as a forge. I will not be using a coal forge because while that would be a more period method, I am not up for the mess and expense. The challenge is to create bowls using period techniques, not become a blacksmith (I’ll save that for another time). I’ll be using some firebricks and a propane torch for my heat, a hammer and anvil to shape the tools.and a combination of my modern grinder and slips tones to create the cutting edge.

Of course, I will document the entire process here. You have been warned.

Thanks for stopping by.



Hell and Heaven

We all know that artists are their own worst enemies and some of us are worse than most. For a lot of months now, I have lacked that excitement, that wow factor about something I had created. I’ve made a bunch of good stuff (some, very good) but nothing that has made me want to simply hold a finished piece. It almost didn’t happen tonight either.

I have been working on some drinking cups that will fit & function nicely in the SCA. Now that I think on it, my first SCA related project was a cup. A selection of folks were gathered around the Marchmount table & someone asked if I could make a wooden cup. I said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out” and proceeded out to the shop and a short while later returned with a goblet-like thing that now belongs to Lady Ailis.

Anyway, tonight I had a beautiful piece of freshly cut ash on the lathe. The grain was nicely figured and had great promise…until I started working it. The stuff Would. Not. Cut. Cleanly. I sharpened my gouges. No love there. I honed the cutting edge to a mirror polish & took the lightest cut I could. Figured ash doesn’t care. Figured ash does what it wants. I kept going, doing my best and resigning myself to a future filled with much sanding.

Working on the inside was even worse. I tried every hollowing tool in my arsenal to no avail. The torn out grain was so bad that in spots, I could see light coming through the walls. No happiness in Einar-Land could be found. Realising this cup was no longer going to work out the way I wanted, I grabbed a gouge & cut the top half of away.

Lo and behold, the wood cut cleanly. Like, so cleanly that surface shimmered in the light. At this point I could only assume that Loki was up to usual mischievous self, playing with my hands and mind.

Another pass with the gouge…brilliance.
I move to the bottom of the piece, searching for the perfect curve that had alluded me so often in the recent past. And to my utter amazement, there it was; a perfect, sensual, organic curve that pleases the eye and thrills to the hand. (looks over his shoulder, no sign of any of the Norse gods except Odin. I couldn’t tell if he was winking at me or dozing off). Well…damn.

I returned to the newly established upper portion of the piece, determined to continue that precious, delightful curve towards the top, gently travelling in towards the centre. Success.

Now I had to turn my attention back to the inside. It continued to scoff at my efforts to make it clean and fair. In desperation, I picked up my detail gouge to try and get a decent surface. It wasn’t perfect by any means but, it was easily sandable (I know, not a terribly period technique but back in the middle ages, turners didn’t use lathes with 2hp motors, electronic variable speed and 600lbs of Australian iron either).

After I sanded the entire piece, including wet sanding with tung oil on the outside, I stepped back. I was happy.

Parting this cup off the lathe I was left holding it. I checked every surface under different kinds of light, looking for flaws, touching it, checking the curves and proportions. It was…perfect.

I wonder whether a little cup like this will have commercial appeal. It ought to hold about 250ml so it’s hardly big enough for a cider or even a coffee. Scotch perhaps? (I doubt that because scotch aficionados are rather particular about their drinking vessels). For now, it is going to rest with me so I can enjoy it. Maybe I will use it as a mead cup at Pennsic. I don’t think I will sell it because to out a price tag on it would…demean it somehow. Perhaps, I’ll leave it lying around somewhere on Runestone Hill with a note attached to it. I’ll ask the finder to care for this simple cup; to use as his/her own as it certainly now is and just ask that they pass it on to someone special.

Yes, I think that will work nicely.