Sitka Spruce StumpHandmade, one-of-a-kind
excellent display piece
finished w/ food-grade Tung & citrus oil
made by Zach LaPerriere
Sitka, Alaska 2018
bowl measures 12” X 6 1/2”
Discoveries were never meant to be easy. Some are hard—literally, as I’ll tell shortly.
I have become a purveyor of intriguing stumps scattered across the remote beaches of Southeast Alaska. It’s always a discovery cutting into one. A stump with amazing grain on the outside might be beyond beautiful inside… Or, it could be rotten, and not even fit for firewood.
Often I’ll cut into a stump and find a hidden rock, which means several minutes of resharpening the chainsaw.
With this stump I thought I had cleared both hurdles: not rotten, and no rocks. The grain looked promising. But there was something strange about the piece of stump I put on the lathe. It was heavier than I would have guessed for spruce. Can you see where this is going?
The first part of a bowl to be shaped is the curved base. I had taken a handful of passes when all of a sudden—thunk, and my gouge was dull. I stopped the lathe, looked closely, and found the edge of rock.
Carefully cutting, I found the outer edges of the rock. Usually these are small and can be careful dug out. I have a special chisel just for this task, that I use with a hand-turned crab apple mallet. I started cutting into the stump, and the visible rock grew, and grew, and grew!
I decided to stop with the chisel, and turn the wood lathe back on, and shape the top of the bowl and—bammo! Another rock. That pretty much determined the outer profile of the bowl that you see now.
I still didn’t know how big the rock was, so I cut the interior of the bowl, careful to leave the intriguing outer live edge at the rim of the bowl. Only halfway in, and—bammo again!
You have to understand that by this time I already had well over an hour into just shaping the bowl, having sharpened a pile of gouges. Every time I touched a rock, it was time for a new sharp gouge.
Call me stubborn, but the more time I put into the bowl, the more it grew on me. To see wood grown totally around a rock fascinated me. To cut the wood cleanly requires a freshly sharpened gouge. I generally sharpen about ten gouges at a time. I didn’t keep track, but I would guess I sharpened at least 100 times to get a decent finish on this bowl, then began the hours of sanding wood and polishing the rock.
For me this was a lesson in persistence. I loved seeing the direct evidence that this stump grew underground, and grew completely around a good sized rock. How many other bowls have a grown-in rock?
You’ll see in the photos the three main edges of the rock are exposed. The inside edge is highly polished, as is the upper small edge outside. I left the broken rock edge in the base, because this is what was left after the loose pieces were carefully removed.
As for the live edge rim, you’ll see that the stump sat on the beach for a long time. The pictures don’t show it well, but just under the inner edge of the rim are some worm holes from a long ago.
There are also hatchet marks on the rim, courtesy of my youngest son who was six at the time. My oldest son is a blacksmith, and he had just given my youngest a brand new handmade kid-sized hatchet. My youngest terrorized a few logs on the beach, and took a few whacks at this stump below my shop! You’ll also see where I cut a broken piece of the stump. Originally I didn’t plan to keep the live edge, but the rocks led me in that direction.
Two more things I need to point out. The first is the color differences in the wood, which is caused by both sap and pitch in the wood. And the second is to look at how the grain curves and folds. The growth of a stump is where a tree adjusts its foundation for the myriad factors of weight, stress, storm, nutrients, water table, and so much more.
When you stop and think about what a stump is: the intersection of tree and Earth, it’s no wonder we talk about our roots, even though people obviously don’t have physical roots as trees and plants do.
This bowl is heavy in the hands—as you’d expect a thick vessel with an integrated rock. People will want to feel the smooth polished surface of both the wood and the rock. I finished both with multiple coats of tung oil, and the rock really shines.
The vessel is of course meant to display, to observe, to consider, to talk about with friends who pay you a visit and want to hear the story. But it’s still a bowl, and if you choose, you are welcome to use the bowl to hold a special item or two.