celebrating birch

A friend recently recommended this book “Celebrating Birch” published by North House Folk School in Minesota. I ordered a copy and it arrived a couple of weeks ago. It is a lovely inspirational book, full of projects using this most versatile tree, from bowls and spoons to birch tar glue and bark boxes.

The first project I was inspired to try was “shrink pots”. I have been aware of these for many years in fact made one nearly 10 years ago when I had a visit from a Hungarian woodworker who showed me how to do them but I had not done one since. They are a very nice example of working with the natural properties of the wood and using the shrinkage as a tree dries as part of the design. A short section of the trunk is hollowed out completely by drilling a hole then expanding it with a knife. Then a groove is cut for a base to fit into. The base is made from dried wood and cut so it just fits the internal diameter of the pot. As the pot shrinks the base is drawn further into the groove until it makes a tight fit.

These shrink pots are sometimes regarded by archaeologists as the precursor to coppered vessels and they were common in Britain in the Bronze age. In Eastern Europe they are still made today, in 1998 I visited Ion Constantin a Romanian bowl turner and one of his products was butter churns made in just this way. In Russia I have seen big vessels made like this out of hollowed trees 2 feet in diameter but my favorites are Scandinavian. Here are some that we just made from a small birch log.


And here is one with carved and painted outside from the shop at Saterglantan, Sweden’s national folk school, http://saterglantan.se/eng/index.htm I have always wished I bought this pot.


And a couple of small pictures from North House Folk School’s website, it looks an inspirational place. www.northhouse.org/

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4 Responses to celebrating birch

  1. TREEWRIGHT April 14, 2008 at 2:57 am #

    But could you turn a bowl from the instructions given ?

  2. Robin Wood April 14, 2008 at 6:57 am #

    Good question. I am not sure what the remit of the book was intended to be, inspiration or instruction? The answer is that despite all the “step by step” photos unless you were already highly skilled and could work out many gaps you would not be able to follow the projects. I think the book is better at inspiration. In view of that I would have designed it with fewer bigger photos and less repetition…Tony Boases first book “woodturnong masterclass” is a lovely example of this type of book designed really well. Despite its shortcomings I love the birch book, mainly for the inspiration of reading the story of North House Folk School and how rapidly it has grown from humble beginnings.

  3. TREEWRIGHT April 14, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    Had a look at the Swedish Folk School website. What a great attitude they have to the traditional crafts over there as opposed to the “sink or swim” approach in this country.

  4. paul March 16, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    i bought this sometime ago, clearly it has a mighty reputation now: £180 on Amazon.a good book but unbelieveable price rise!

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