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This past weekend I attended my first class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. I have been interested in taking one of their classes for a while and it seemed like a good time to take a break from building our house and do something fun.

The class was entitled “Wooden Bowl Turning: Norwegian Ale Bowls” and instructed by Roger Abrahamson. He is a big fellow standing six foot six inches and a great teacher and all around good guy. He has been turning bowls and teaching his craft full time for the past 18 years. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from him, it was a lot of fun.

Roger Abrahamson

Roger Abrahamson

This class also happened to fall on the 2nd annual Wood Week. This is a time when all the classes are woodworking related and the school puts on an extra day of mini classes allowing you to try out some of the other class offerings. The main benefit to this week for me was that after classes we had open shop time where many similar minded people hung out till late in the evening working and socializing.

The class was held in the school’s red building, which was an old timber frame building built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp for the Forest Service. When North House began back in 1997, this was one of the main workshops and is still the center of much class work. Our class was held on one end and had four other students besides myself. This was nice as the class had enough people to make it enjoyable, but still allowed plenty of one on one time with Roger.


We started out on Thursday discussing a short history of pole turning and Norwegian Ale Bowls. The other students as well as myself were quite motivated and got to work shortly after.

Bowl blanks were split out of white birch logs of around ten inches in diameter. They were then hand carved to a roughly round shape, and then put on the lathe. I did not take many pictures at this point as I was pretty engrossed in the work.

Here is the initial roughing out of the outside of my bowl on the pole lathe.


Here is a look at some of the other students working.



Here is the start of my first bowl. Not a bad finish for the first time turning a bowl and a pole lathe.



Here is a poor quality picture of my first bowl. I took this in the evening after getting back to the motel and the color is a bit off, but you get the idea.


The second day of the class I turned two more bowls. I only took a few pictures of the second bowl. I will take more pictures later after they are dry and oiled. Applying oil will make the bowls look much nicer.




Saturday we did not have class as that was the Wood Week day with mini classes. I took the “Decorative Details with the Slojd Knife” class for adding simple details to spoons and carvings. It was a fun class put on by Mike Loeffler who is a nice instructor and easy going. I did not take any pictures during the class, but here is a picture of a sample detail pattern I did.


That night after the mini classes the school hosted a pizza cook out in their brick oven. North House provided the pizza sauce, cheese, and dough made by the interns. Thanks guys. The toppings were a community affair with everything from herring to boiled eggs(that would be Jarrod Stonedahl’s contribution, hehe). Ben, one of the four interns, had the honor of standing outside taking charge of baking some 70+ pizzas. Thanks Ben!

Ben Baking Pizzas

Sunday, which was the last day, I slacked off after staying out till three AM the previous night. 🙂 I slept in late and did not get to class till around 11am, but still managed to chop out a blank and turn a bowl before lunch. This bowl turned out the best and is a nice size and shape.


During lunch Roger and I talked about blacksmithing, and decided to head over to the blacksmith shop and make some bowl turning tools. He and I got the forge fired up and then both put on demonstrations of tool making to the rest of the class. That was fun for me to do a small demonstration and teach a little bit as I have been blacksmithing since I was a kid.

Here is Roger working on his bowl hook.



Then I made myself a nice bowl hook out of some W-1 tool steel that Roger had.



So in around two and a half days of class I was able to get four bowls turned on the lathe and forge a hook tool. I am happy with the amount of work I was able to get done. Roger said that most people in these classes only get one or two bowls made, so I guess I was doing alright for a first timer.



After the class was finished and everyone else had gone home, I stayed and helped Roger clean up. When I was done sweeping the floor, I decided to take this picture as a parting shot. This picture is of my last bowl on the pile of shavings created during the class. I thought it was kind of cool.



I am glad to have had the opportunity to take this class and get to experience the North House Folk School. They are doing a great job at this school to create a nice atmosphere with a wonderful community of people involved in the school. It was such an awesome experience that I would like to continue to be involved and would love to one day teach a class just to be part of the school.

I signed up for what North House calls a service learning program. This is basically an apprentice style program working in their blacksmith shop making tools for their school. It works out well for everyone, as they get tools made for the blacksmiths shop, and I will get the opportunity to learn a few things working under their experienced blacksmith Dave Hanson. I am really excited about this program and look forward to going back to North House in April for it.

I cannot say enough about North House. It is a unique folk school that is interested in building a community of craftsmen in many old world crafts. They are working with people like myself (service learning / work study) and the public to keep prices down so that the average person can attend classes which is very different than many of the schools of this type. Great job North House Folk School!!!

I would love to hear your comments and any experiences you have had with the school. If you have not had the privilege to attend North House, I encourage you to check them out and take a class or volunteer, you will not be disappointed.

Take care,