Monday, May 27, 2019

whittling and turning

In an article in this month's American Woodturner magazine famous woodturner David Ellsworth used a whittling knife to teach the character of wood and to impart greater skill to woodturners. Whittling knives don't cut very well against the grain, and the same is true of gouges on the lathe. You get a cleaner cut when attention is paid to the direction of wood grain and to stand mindless at the lathe will not bring the best results. Ellsworth's point was to get turners to observe closely rather than standing dumb at the lathe.

Ellsworth said, "The basic principles behind woodworking, especially turning wood, are all illustrated through the process of whittling." In the article he also discussed posture and movement, thus suggesting other ways that woodturning and wood working in general can give shape to both the maker and what's made.

That's one of the reasons I introduce whittling to my students at Clear Spring School. They enjoy it, but also there are things you can observe and learn about the character of wood, and about about your self.

I have been reading online about making recorders on the lathe and was reminded of an artist who used to live in Eureka Springs. His name at the time was Garrett Alden and he made lovely carved netsuke from wood and stone that doubled as whistles and flutes. They were incredible works of art. After moving from Eureka he changed his name to Whittaker Freegard, and published an article in Fine Woodworking on making a flute in 1984. Whittaker Freegard passed away in 2006.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.


  1. Anonymous9:19 AM

    Taught 13 and 14 year old students of public school here the art of spoon carving. I think I learned more about carving and life for that matter then the students. Profound experience that continues to travel through my mind everytime I pick up a knife or carving chisel.
    Peace Bob Dow

  2. There's an old saying, if you want to learn, teach." I swear by it. The way I think it works is that when you attempt to put into words what you've done or are doing, you spread the knowledge out between cognitive processing areas in the brain. More of our important cognitive real estate is thus involved. It's somewhat akin to having an observational second party in your own head, giving you a slight distance from what you're doing and learning.