Hans Karlsson Gouges and making a dough bowl
Rob Exton reviews Hans Karlsson gouges and makes a Swedish style Dough Bowl
Hans Karlsson is a renowned Swedish toolmaker who produces fine carving gouges, used and appreciated by such luminaries as Robin Wood, Guy Mallinson and Drew Lansgner in the States.
With input I was able to pull together three tools which could be regarded as a good set for anyone wanting to acquire the means to get started in bowl carving. It goes without saying that a carving axe, adz and drawknife would facilitate rapid wasting of wood, but here I concentrate on the gouges.
These tools are imported into the UK by Woodland Craft Supplies (www.woodlandcraftsupplies.co.uk) which is run by Mathew Robinson (who bought the business from Jon Warnes last year) specializing in mail order supply of high quality green woodwork tools. Mathew is keen to develop the business and has kindly agreed to a ‘special offer’ for the set if you mention this article when ordering.
When using good tools I feel the connection of the tool with the wood and the tool maker with my craft. It is good to use my Ben Orford special crook knife, with the 15mm sweep, James Mursell’s small spoke shave or Duncan Chandler’s bowl knife. They are so right that they sing with the wood making you smile. There is an appreciation and connection of their crafting of the tool to my crafting of the finished piece.
With all of this in mind I asked Hans to tell me a little about his background and how his tool making business has developed over the years:-
“Well, I will make a try-; in the 70’s I worked as a machine repairer and shop mechanic at Electrolux Sweden. At that time I was a hobby-blacksmith having set up a small forge at home using my grandfather’s anvil and tools (he was a stonemason and made his own chisels etc.)
Blacksmithing got more and more exciting so in 1977 I enrolled in a school for blacksmithing and design which resulted in a journeyman’s certificate in 1983. I got my masters certificate ten years later.
At that school there was a blacksmith-teacher who was a skilled hobby violin-maker! he taught me a lot about tool making (as he was making his own tools for the violins) I got interested in tool making that way. So in 1981 I started a small business making woodcarving tools and some ornamental blacksmithing.
By the Mid 1980’s I had a range of over a hundred gouges and adzes, after picking up making of old tools that were no longer produced, some of them for green-wood carving and turning, which had started to become very popular at this time in Sweden, Europe and America.
In 1987 my brother, Mats, started working in my forge (he was also a shop mechanic and repairer). A few years later my wife Carina joined us in the shop undertaking the fine grinding, sharpening and administration.
1994 saw us take over another Swedish brand of carving tools, the Svensson Brothers who had started in1931, with a wide range of 640 different sizes and forms of carving gouges.
We use high carbon ball bearing steel for our tool production. We carry out all heat treating and hardening in our shop, also the making of handles, mainly from Ash. Our aim is high quality and function.”
The Set of Three
Hans makes hundreds of shapes and sizes of which Mathew stocks his most popular for the UK market. There are two important dimensions to the gouges, firstly the sweep of the curvature which is expressed as the radius of a circle and secondly is the width of the cutting edge, in Millimeters.
Straight gouges are more efficient at wood removal but are much less versatile than the bent gouges we have chosen as they will fit the inside curves and corners more ￼easily.
In order of the picture the bowl the gouges are:-
Nedbockat jarn – Dog leg gouge 150mm-45mm
Svangt jarn – medium hand gouge 55mm-45mm
Huggjärn – heavy duty gouge 55mm-40mm
Out of the box they all scream quality, I have yet to show them to anyone who has not appreciate the look and feel of them. The rough black steel of the forged blades gives way to the shiny clean working end with blisteringly sharp edges. They are all handled in Ash of different hues with ergonomic shapes and a solid feel.
The heavy duty gouge has a round handle and is double banded with brass and has a shock absorber pad at the head allowing this tool to be used with a mallet for maximum waste removal.￼
After the bulk waste removal we then turn to the Medium Hand Gouge which has a hand friendly shape for the more refined shaping that this tool is designed for. The greater sweep and width of this gouge means that you are flattening the peaks from the heavy duty gouge and rendering a much smother surface.
Finally the bottom of the bowl requires attention, with the dog leg dipping over the rim and gliding smoothly along the bottom. With an even flatter radius this gouge really hits the spot in creating a smooth bottom to the bowl.
Carving a dough bowl.
The early Swedish dough bowl, as used by the nomadic herdsmen, would have been a fairly rough affair, hewn from a log in the woods, used for kneading the dough and the rising and perhaps put on the fire before moving camp and repeating the process. Later, settled peoples refined the bowls (more oblong than round they could perhaps be better described as troughs) and sometimes painted and decorated to the outside, to use and keep as part of a working kitchen.￼
I have in the past made two dough bowls from poplar using a variety of hand tool and gouges from a mixed bag of sources and as the camp kitchen needs a big dough bowl for daily use I thought it would be an appropriate test and comparison to complete another. The previous bowls had turned out more like deep fruit bowls with small bottoms as I thought they were used for the rising only. Now appreciating their use for kneading I was intending to make a flatter more oblong bowl with a very stable base.
Often needing to bake 3 or 4 loaves at a time Lilly, the cook, wanted a decent size bowl so 30 inches by 10 was agreed and I roughed out the blank by saw and marked up where my carving could begin…….
This is a big bowl with a lot of waste to remove so I get started with the heavy duty gouge and wooden mallet. The gouge sinks nicely into the poplar with each strike of the mallet and a good size chip is removed. Working both across and along the grain produces good results, with cross grain being marginally crisper and quicker.
The tool was sharp straight from the box and did not dull for quite some time though I did touch up both sides with a large flat strop for the outside and a round strop for the inner curve. This brought the tool back to razor sharp very quickly.
￼￼After a few hours of wasting the inside of the bowl it was turned over and handles were roughly hewed with a big cross cut saw and cleaved with an axe. This resulted in revealing a square shoulder end to the bowl which needed to be angled back to a similar (about 45%) angle to the sides. The heavy duty gouge cut cleanly down this end grain and did well across grain creating nice rounded corners, a good flat to the underside of the handle and a nicely rounded channel as a finger groove.
At this stage I was about 7 hours in and had the basics of the bowl in place. After some discussion with cooks and others it was decided to reduce the depth by another inch or so and standardize the wall and bottom thickness to 1” to ensure even drying and hopefully prevent splitting. It was also agreed to make the working end (closest to the baker) a more gradual gradient with a softer rim shape so as not to impede the wrists when kneading, whilst the far end would have a more vertical shape to stop against.￼
This deepening of the bowl and the shape of the gouges created a very natural curved shape to the inside of the bowl which was thought to be perfect for the kneading of the dough in a smooth swirling motion. This necessitated further work to reduce the outside wall thickness at the lower sides and reducing the size of the base 1” all around.
At about the 10 hour point the hand gouge was used to smooth everything out, cutting crisp slithers from the peaks to meet the valley smoothly. This was an effortless process which resulted in a very nice finish to the bowl with enough marks to make it look rustic but smooth enough to be hygienic.
The dog leg gouge was a treat to use on the bottom of the bowl giving great access and no digging in. This shape did make my wrist ache a little (perhaps because I am not used to it) it would be interesting to try one with a straight handle.
To achieve this level of finish took about 16 hours. With poplar being a little fluffy it would be well to let this bowl dry and feed with walnut oil it. This will create a crisp surface which will take a fresh going over with the hand gouge leaving a nice final finish.
But we were impatient to give it a trial run so Lilly made a batch of dough and started kneading it in the new bowl. After using a table for so long it quickly became apparent the form the bowl had taken on was really good for kneading with a positive rolling action being achieved from side to side ￼and along the full length.
With a hot clay oven at hand and a wait of 20 minutes the success of the bowl was surmounted only by the delicious smell and taste of wonderful home made bread! I thank Hans and Lilly for their assistance in getting this far.
Although we have never met I have an affinity to Hans through these gouges. He is obviously a master craftsman who has developed tools of great function, beautiful form and with understanding. They are not the cheapest available, in fact they are at the upper end of the price range but I feel they are good value, which is remembered far after the price paid has been forgotten.
The tools performed better than I anticipated and were an absolute delight in the hand. Mathew had kindly loaned them to me for this test but there is no way I can return them without the feeling of losing some friends. So thank you Mathew and my cheque – is – in the post!