Wooden bowl and wooden spoon

Vikings and Wood

Learning by Creating

Something that makes carving a constant process of learning is the simple diversity of tree species that we might receive our wood from. Within each species there are new characteristics to be discovered as we work, and those characteristics can be slightly different depending on where the tree grew and the environmental forces upon it. 

A balsam poplar might be tall and straight with nice smooth bark, or it could be stunted and twisted with lumpy, lentacil filled skin. Even within the same tree we can learn to work different angles and bends as the grain inside shifts and turns and exits as branches that will make our knots; wood near the roots may be more dense and fragrant than wood from branches up high. Each carving can become a lesson in environmental science and biological anatomy.

Person looking through a spiders web, a metaphor for learning by creating
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

I think about a wooden spoon in the center of a web. The threads going outwards are all the different things we can learn about the wood and the tree that it started as. The lateral strands connecting the outward threads are the connections that our mind makes, the clarifying and understanding of larger processes or systems.

Threads can connect to other things that we can learn about in the process of carving, perhaps cultural ties or biological. Maybe as we sit and carve we’ll learn about the weather or become curious about a bird sound we keep hearing. Learning looks like a web for me. It’s just beautiful, intricate.

This little salt dish and bent spoon were made utilizing the natural shapes of the wood. I enjoyed a beautiful warm morning creating this set out of some apple wood a friend salvaged for me. The dish reminds me of a viking longship, which is fitting since I utilized a similar technique. When vikings would make their famed ships, which were lighter and faster than anything else of that time, they used a different technique from other boat builders.

Bowl being carved out of a bent branch
A bent bit of apple wood makes for a uniquely shaped bowl here.
Spoon being carved out of a bent branch
A bent branch of apple wood makes for a nice wooden spoon!

By finding the right shaped trees and splitting them down to make their keels and hulls, (or bending split planks) they were able to make much thinner and lighter planks than the conventionally sawn boards which sever the grains to create a curve. By keeping as much of the wood grain un-severed, they could retain far more strength and be whittled down quite thin.

diagram of split grain beside diagram of sawn grain for woodworking.
The diagram on top represents a tree that had a natural curve that was split, see how the grain is all in tact? This is strong. The diagram on the bottom illustrates the same curve sawn from a straight tree. Notice how short the grains are on the bend – these are much weaker because there is less surface area binding them together.

So here is a set of bent wood utensils that were also split, so to optimize strength while minimizing thickness, ready for my table top. They also look cool being so bent and wonky!

Wood carving tools and wooden spoon in wooden bowl
I used carving gouges for this one to get deep into the bowl.

Think of a passion you hold dear. Can you trace any learning threads backwards to the centre of a web?

What first inspired your passion? What topics directed, joined, or morphed to lead you to the perspectives and knowledge you have for it? Please share in the comments below or submit a write-up of your own to Whittled! Weekly through our submissions page here!

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