North House Folk School

I first read about North House Folk School several years ago when I discovered their website.

IMG_9628It seemed like an inspirational place for the teaching of traditional crafts and I marked it down as a place I needed to visit one day. The opportunity finally presented itself and last week I taught a bowlturning class there.It’s a great facility right on the bank of Lake Superior.

IMG_9624We drove up Saturday night arriving at 7pm and worked to 1am getting the lathes set up, poles tied up in the roof and working ready for the students Sunday morning.
IMG_1853In the morning after a brief introduction we axed out bowlblanks and set them on the lathes.

IMG_9563Everyone was focused, I sometimes forget how hard this sort of turning is for folk that are new to it, for me it is just like riding a bike or driving a car, almost unconscious activity, it just happens.

IMG_9574For the students it is a voyage of discovery as they search out that sweet angle to hold the tool where you get the perfect cut. For most it comes and goes but each time they hit the sweet spot it is very gratifying.IMG_9575

We took a break from turning on the second day to forge tools. I remember when I forged my first tools over twenty years ago. I had seen a demonstration of toolmaking by American green woodworker Don Weber. He demystified the process, you don’t need to be a fully trained blacksmith to make good tools, it really is little more than heating your iron in the fire to red hot and bashing it around to get the shape you want. The hardening and tempering is something you can learn in five minutes, certainly a lot easier say than baking a cake.


IMG_9616I did a quick demo showing how to make a tool then everyone that wanted to had a go.

IMG_0026As Don Weber said to me all those years ago when a tool user becomes a tool maker it is a tremendously empowering experience. IMG_9615I ticked another thing off my “must do sometime” list because Peter Follansbee was on the course. We have coresponded for many years but not met up. Here he is turning with Jarrod and Roger Abrahamson, both talented bowlturners looking on.IMG_9578

in the evenings the workshop stays open and on the first evening after all the students finished Peter Jarrod and I turned bowls, carved spoons and put the world to rights. Peter really is a very very funny guy.IMG_9587and on the second evening I gave a talk entitled adventures in traditional woodworking, several of my friends were dozing off, their excuse was that there was no air in the room and they had read it all on the blog anyway.IMG_1887Toward the end of the class when everyone was getting tired we also did a bit of theory, helping folk to understand the three planes of shrinkage within timber and how they relate to good bowl design.IMG_1889It was the first time I have taught a bowlturning class to a group like this so I was rather feeling my way along. I am sure there would be things I would do differently another time but everyone went home with some bowls and tools they had made and hopefully the knowledge on how to make more themselves at home. I have very fond memories of a fun group of people and a great place, I hope to be back.

IMG_9639Last couple of photos, I share with Peter a love of the natural world and particularly bird life. He pointed out cedar waxwings to me, not just an odd one but huge flocks. They strip the berries from rowan trees much as redwings and fieldfares do at home. Its a poor photo of a beautiful bird but shows the numbers.IMG_9602and here is a chipmonk, these sorts of creatures are the things that are very ordinary but when you don’t get them at home they are real cuties.IMG_9607Other highlights so far have been hearing wolves howling, a coyote pack in full voice and seeing a bald eagle, oh and of course Lake Superior itself, the largest fresh water lake in the world, pretty impressive.IMG_9643


One Response to North House Folk School

  1. Dave September 24, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    That looked like a lot of fun. I wish that I could have made it since I am only an hour and a half away. I did not see that you put on a class there until now. I am in the process of building my own home from the ground up so it would have been hard to make it, but it would have been good to meet you at least. Your work inspired me to build my own pole lathe a few years back and have been wanting to try bowl turning for a while now.

    Take care and please come back and do another class soon.

    David Sims
    Traditional Skills Blog

Science Websites for students . Try FREE the cool label and barcode software from