large hand hewn pine bowl

Pine Hand Hewn Dough Tray

When I made the (so far) final move of my shop it was a real chore to load all the wood on the rental truck. It was the third time in nine years that I had gone through this painful procedure.

I glanced back in the almost empty warehouse and saw a big block of loblolly pine wood. It was propping a canoe so that it could stand on end against a wall and thus take up less room. I thought twice about just leaving it there but on an impulse loaded it onto the already overloaded rental truck.

After all, that wood had a story behind it. We used to eat frequently in a Chinese restaurant called the Port Arthur while living in Newport News, Virginia. Over time we became familiar with the staff and then the owners. The owner had a rental property and wanted this tree taken down. It was a seventy foot loblolly pine.

I went to check out the tree and there was a space of about thirty feet to either side that was clear. Thirty feet to one side was the power line for the neighborhood. Thirty feet to the other side was the rental house. So, I would just drop it neatly between the two.

I enlisted the help of my two neighbors, both older than myself. We all heated with wood stoves and would forage for wood and split it together in the winter. One had a pickup truck which was most helpful.

On the appointed day we went to the site. One of my helpers decided that things weren’t quite right and decided he needed to go across the street to the grocery store for an urgent purchase. I had just completed making my notch and then started the back cut. When the tree started to fall I realized with horror that I had made my notch incorrectly and that the tree was headed for the house.

My helper who had gone to the grocery store to avoid being implicated was off on his timing and came back just as the tree was going down, Then for some reason the tree twisted on the stump and fell neatly between the house and power line. This was obviously the work of my guardian angel. I can’t think of any other explanation for it.

I got the tree sawn into large slabs but there was one part near the base of the trunk that I cut into thick chunks. This piece of wood was one of those chunks.

It was on its fourth move across the country (from Virginia to Iowa to New Mexico to Kentucky to Maryland) when I decided to hew a bowl. I was in Maryland and all my tools were in storage as I had not found space for a shop yet. So it had to be a job for simple hand tools.

Most of my energy over the next year went into making this bowl. I made an ellipse outline using the old trick of two nails and a loop of string between them. Holding a marker taught against the string I traced a perfect ellipse on the surface. My landlord saw me working on it as asked if I was making a bath tub. It was that ambitious in size.

Now, loblolly pine is about as difficult as any wood to carve or maybe more so. The early wood of the annual ring is fast growing and very soft and light in color. The late wood is extremely dense and dark and is laid down in the late Summer and Fall when growing conditions are not so lush.

With a carving tool it takes much pressure to get through the late wood and then the gouge goes flying in an uncontrolled way into the soft early wood. Sheer determinism saw me through.

At the end, some wood chipped out due to my frantic poundings. On second glance I decided that it would make a nice notch for a serving spoon. I called it Symmetry Broken as the notch spoiled the perfect symmetry of the ellipse.

All in all, the color effect of the early and late wood adds interest to the piece. I suspect this is the first and last such hand hewn bowl of loblolly pine that you will ever see. Other woodworkers have more sense.