It’s funny how projects get sidetracked. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands on how many out there have a project that they started and still haven’t got around to finishing – I’m sure it would be practically unanimous. We all start with grand ideas, a flurry of activity, and a flash of lightning. Then, something happens, usually near the end, that causes us to lose momentum. Many, like me, are less than enthusiastic about applying a finish. Others run into technical problems or simply lose their vision for the piece. Whatever the cause, the masterpiece in question languishes in some forgotten corner, often for years.
That was the case with this dough bowl. My wife had been after me for years to make her one, saying that if I did, she’d make biscuits more regularly. Initially, I had problems finding an appropriate piece of wood without doing a lamination, but this was solved when I found a lovely slab of spalted river birch at a carving show and promptly set to work. I went with a simple, fairly thick form with a wide base and a fair amount of mass in consideration of the folding and kneading that would go on within. The interior would be finished with walnut oil, and the exterior with Shellawax.
The lid’s shape has a story behind it. Granny, my mother-in-law, had made biscuits for decades in a dough bowl that my father-in-law had turned. It was a simple unadorned shape that he had turned on a large metal lathe. Basically a cylinder, it was made from the full cross-section of a log, but had amazingly not checked (probably due to the moisture from the dough). Granny had always covered it with an old blue enamel pot lid of a type common here in the South. When I made the lid for this one, I decided to pay tribute to Granny and her biscuits by echoing the shape of her enamel lid for her daughter’s bowl.
Things progressed well enough until it came time for the knob. The enamel lid had a simple loop handle that would be problematic to reproduce, so I decided to use another shape. I had the picture in my head of a black bakelite knob from cookware , and started looking for wood. I had ebony and cocobolo laying around, but didn’t like the look. They both had a very warm cast to them, and I wanted something cooler to work with the dark black spalt lines in the river birch. I decided upon blackwood, but then ran into trouble. Everyone I checked with was out at the time, and it took me several months to find a suitable piece. By the time it arrived, I was off on other projects and just tossed the blank on the bench next to the lathe, intending to get to it, “as soon as I finish this.” And then this. And then that. Meanwhile, the bowl just sat on a table, looking rather sad without its knob.
I was reminded of it when I stumbled upon the blackwood blank while making the handles for my turning saw. This time, I got right to work (sort of). I made some pine prototypes for my wife, but she wasn’t interested in a cookware-type knob. Eventually, she decided on a simple shaker-styled one (That’s it??? Nothing fancy???). A quick turn and polish, followed by a dollop of glue, and the piece was finished. Four years to turn a bowl – scandalous.
In any event the deed is done, and the bowl now stands ready to fulfill its appointed task in life. If nothing else, I hope this encourages you to go to that place (you KNOW you’ve got one), take out one of those unfinished projects, and put it back on the path to completion. You’ll feel better, and have more room in the shop.
Now, about those biscuits…