There's no story about growing up with an adze in my hand; no particular moment of discovery. Nevertheless, I have always had a passion for creating. One of my most vivid school memories is being handed a block of clay in kindergarden; it struck a joyful chord within me. As I grew up, I enjoyed many hours with legos and crayolas, moving on to high school wood shop projects and experimenting at Dad's basement workbench.
Pursuing other interests, I graduated from college with a history degree, and have been a teacher for twenty years. Throughout that time, I continued to draw, carve, and practice woodworking in general, making all sorts of things. Carving bowls, for me, developed out of a desire to do my woodworking with hand tools and have more of a direct interaction with the material.
Much about bowl carving appealed to me; the variations of forms, the reliance on hand and eye, working directly from a log, and the involvement of my senses -- to name a few. Like just about everything I have learned in woodworking and the arts, I learned abut bowl carving through a process of reading and trying, but it is the "trying" part that has been the best teacher. Each new piece of wood teaches me more.
Along the way I developed my own preferred methods of work. Although my focus has become wood carving and sculpting, I continue to be fascinated by diverse types of art and handcraft.
First of all, bowl carving does require a bit more of an investment than spoon carving. Spoon carving is a great place to start with this sort of work, requiring only a small hatchet, a straight knife, and a hook knife. I realize that with enough patience you could carve a bowl with nothing but a pocketknife, but allow me to suggest a more reasonable tool kit.
I am not in alliance with any toolmakers or retailers, and I am not promoting one brand over another. There are many excellent maker's tools that I have never tried; in fact, I really haven't tried many. So please don't assume that I am concuding that these tools are the best tools, or the only tools you should use. There are many good toolmakers today, and just as in the past there are some tools being made that will not serve well. I'll share with you the ones that I use that have served me well, in the hope that it might be of some help. Your style and preferences may warrant other choices.
The left photo above shows the four tools that would make the most basic bowl carving kit for me. It includes (beginning on the left) a sloyd knife. In this case, it is a Frost's model 106, but there are many excellent sloyd knives available. See my links and sources page for more information. I only use two adzes. If I had to use one it would be this 22 ounce adze by Hans Karlsson with a blade width of 2.25 inches. I handled it myself, but you can also order it with a handle. I also like this Hans Karlsson bent paring gouge that is 40 mm wide, but similar gouges made by Pfeil and others serve well too. The important thing is to have a long-bent gouge to work the interior of the bowl. My axe is a Gransfors Bruks carving axe. Tools like these will last you a lifetime and go on to serve some other fortunate soul.
If you want to expand your kit, I would recommend tools like those in the photo on the right. The first on the left is a drawknife. It can really help to shape the outside. I have a few, and they are all old ones. There are many good ones out there. As for all of these tools, good honing is of utmost importance. Next, a spokeshave is especially helpful on the rim of the bowl. A large compass helps with layout and relative measuring tasks. A couple more gouges will give you more options in terms of the boldness or subtleness of the surface. My other adze is a Pfeil (Swiss Made) that required some regrinding. It has a tighter sweep and a tighter arc from front to back. This is useful for tighter areas and bowls with steeper sides.
My production is quite limited, so I don't go through hundreds of logs a year. And it is very rare for me to go looking for a particular type of log. Basically, I make things out of the wood that becomes available. Often this comes from a yard tree that has had to be taken down. Some pieces of it might be useful for my work. Sometimes I will pick up a piece or two of a fallen branch in the woods while on a walk. Sometimes, I can use shorter chunks of logs that a sawyer had to cut off of a longer log. Basically, I am able to use wood that most often would otherwise rot or become firewood. Still, those pieces have to be carefully screened for knots, checks, and other things that might cause problems in the finished bowl. Most pieces don't make the cut.
I love the woods and I prefer trees that are standing, of course. They are the most beautiful then. But things happen and I can give a tree new life as a special object. I feel priveledged to work with such a warm, wonderful material.
When I get access to a good green log, I leave the pieces as long as I can (and still move them). When I get them home I lay them in a shady spot and paint the ends with two coats of cheap latex paint. With the bark intact and the paint on the ends, the moisture doesn't escape too quickly. I find that in most cases, logs are quite usable six months later or even longer, especially with decay-resistant species.
When I'm ready to use a log, I'll cut a couple inches off of the painted ends (to get rid of any checks and reveal the unpainted end grain), split it, and have a look. One long half might be cut into two pieces, and so on. I'll start working on one chunk, and while the others are waiting, I'll keep them in a plastic garbage bag. They're ok for weeks that way depending on the temperature. Maybe a little mold on the outside when you get to it, but that hasn't been a problem. Anyway, that's what has worked for me.