I’ve looked forward to making a shrinkpot for so long, and today, the day finally arrived! My only concern was that the whole experience might not live up to my (possibly too high) expectations.
There are books about shrinkpots (looking forward particularly to
‘Sloyd in Wood’ by Jögge Sundqvist being published in English), and I’ve read about other people’s methods of making shrinkpots. There has been nothing to stop me from just getting on and making a shrinkpot myself… except for tools.
The first step to making a shrinkpot, after selecting a piece of green wood (birch, alder, hazel…), is to drill a hole right through the middle of the wood. You can do this manually, with an auger, or with a power tool. Not all augers are created equal, but I’ve worked out that what I’m looking for is a barrel (or scotch) eyed auger with a diameter of around one inch – or a little bigger. I want the lead screw to be in really good condition, and the cutting edges not to have been fiddled with. If the cutting wings are curved (as on the left auger in the photograph), then I’ll be even happier. I foresee some trawling of car-boot sales in my near future.
Obviously, I could also use a power drill. But I’d need to get one that was able to provide high torque at low speed. And I’d need self-feed bits (lead screw is still needed).
I have one of these! I’ll have to tidy the garage to use it properly, but at least I have one. Secure the choose branch into the vise and use the auger to make a hole down the centre. Maybe avoid the pith with the lead screw of the auger – it might tear out.
Use a friend to make sure that the auger continues to head in the right direction, apply some pressure to keep the lead screw engaged and pulling in, and enjoy the scraping crunching sound of the end grain cutting.
Note, at this point, that the branch has not been cut to the final intended length of the shrinkpot. It’s better to leave it oversized at the moment: If it’s cut to length before drilling the hole, then the lead screw will have nothing to pull into, and the last quarter inch will remain uncut.
Sloyd knife and hook knife
I have these too! My new Monadnock hook was really effective at growth ring removal. Use these knives to widen the hole in the centre of the wood out towards the outside. Vary grips and knives here to reduce stress on the body. Keep going until there’s only about half an inch of thickness left. Be very careful if you’ve left the bark on – it can deceive the eye into thinking that there’s more wood left than there actually is. Mark a line for a rim of around 7-8mm thick. Slow down and carve to the line, leaving a clean finish on the inside.
Once the rim is at the final thickness, use a dirty surface (I have one of these too) to show where there are high spots on the rim. Shave these off until the base is flat.
Never sharpen your pencil with your carving knife. OK? Use a sharp pencil to mark two tramlines spaced at 2mm around 10mm up from the base of the pot. Use the tip of a sloyd knife, or a shorter, stubbier knife, to incise along each line. Make these cuts meet to form a V-shape groove, and remove the shavings of wood.
Find some dried wood, and shape it with an axe (or a drawknife if it’s long enough to be held on a shavehorse) until it’s an even 8-10mm thick. Once it’s thin, use a (sharp) pencil to mark down the inside of the shrink pot. Make sure you’re right into a corner of the flat piece – it saves work when cutting out the shape with the axe.
Instead of shaping a piece of cleft wood, you could also buy some milled board (say 8mm) and use this for the base. Do make sure that the pencil is long enough and sharp enough to mark accurately to the full inside of the base. Also use the pencil to make an alignment mark the base and pot. You need to be able to line up the base and the pot for fitting.
Carving implement of choice
Once the base is cut to size, it is chamfered around the edges so that the edges are small enough to fit into the groove in the base. Then do some iterative shaving of the base so that the edge is chamfered to around 2mm thick. It needs to fit into the groove in the pot. With a little fettling and persuasion, it should be tapped into position with a squeeze and a click.
Once the base is fitted, let the shrinkpot dry naturally. As it dries, the rim will shrink around the base, leaving no gaps and a firm fit.
Then let your creativity have free rein. These pots can be painted, textured and decorated. You can even carve a lid to fit. Such fun, and definitely lived up to expectations. After the car-boot sales, I foresee more shrinkpots in my future…