Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Carving NW Coast Ladles and Bowls


Carving NW Coast Ladles And Bowls



Some of the greatest Northwest Coast masterpieces are not masks or totem poles, but beautifully shaped bowls and ladles of pure, unembellished sculptural form.

These essential forms are more often than not the foundation of many elaborated bowls and ladles that feature depictions of animal heads, wings, feet, fins, or tails. These pure, essential bowl and ladle forms are not well known and are commonly misinterpreted, even by accomplished artists who may be masters at other aspects of traditional sculpture. 

This is not, then, a ‘beginner’s’ workshop, but one that should prove a satisfying challenge to carvers of all levels from recent initiates to the well-experienced. Some experience in the use of adzes and crooked knives is of course a requisite, in order to enable everyone to come away with at least one, and in some cases more than one, good example of some of the great traditional bowl and ladle styles. We’ll start with a simple blocks of alder and end up with some great, and very useable, sculptured vessels.

Class Description

Introduction to NW Coast Sculpture with Adze and Knife

The adze and curved knife from the NW Coast are tools that naturally reflect the convex and concave forms traditional to carving and sculpture from this area. An adze is the combination of two tools in one: the hammer and chisel or gouge. This frees up one hand to manipulate the workpiece while the other works the tool. A curved (or straight) knife similarly gives the work of two hands to one: a chisel or gouge by itself requires two hands for manipulation, while use of a carving knife again frees up one hand to hold the work and the other to work the tool. In each case, adze or knife, the movement of the tool coordinates with the manipulation of the work to create a smooth and efficient means of removing excess wood and reaching one’s sculptural intent.

Some of the best examples of what happens when these principles are successfully put to use can be seen in the carved bowls and ladles of the Northwest Coast. A great deal more than mere containers, Northwest Coast bowls feature graceful, organic lines and curves, often reflecting the forms of canoes, dictated by the tradition and the tools themselves, which have enabled these forms to develop. Even experienced carvers have sometimes overlooked certain of the subtle characteristics of such vessels that lend these sculptures the beauty and artistry for which they are deservedly known. 

Because these are hollow forms, essentially thin shells in which the inner and outer forms are very closely matched, they are sculpturally related to masks, which feature the same close conjunction of inside and outside forms. As a result, these vessels make an excellent prerequisite to mask carving, as well as providing a great deal of fun and accomplishment in their creation. Learning to use a single adze to shape out and nearly finish a bowl or ladle, completed by judicious sweeps of a curved knife, is an important initial step toward more complex sculptures. Using such simple but sophisticated tools to create graceful and visually satisfying, useful objects is a great lesson for individuals in an industrial age. 


At a minimum you will need to the following carving tools to participate in this class:

  • Straight edge elbow adze
  • Curved edge elbow adze
  • Curved traditional carving knife
  • Straight traditional carving knife

Steve suggests these carving knives from the following vendors:

  • Kestrel Tools:  
  • Full size standard bend; C-C
  • Full size not so crooked; C-B (Optional)
  • Three-quarter size standard bend; C-3
  • Three quarter size not so crooked; C-5

Note: For smaller hands or smaller work, particularly for the panel carving, bowls and ladles, and mask carving classes, the ¾ size knives are better suited for the work. 

  • North Bay Forge: 
    Crooked knives: Tip Bent Knife and Shallow Bent Knife
    Medium straight knife

If you are in the Port Townsend area, Edensaw now carries a variety of North Bay Forge tools. 

We will have some loaner adzes available but please enquire before registration.
Carvers  are encouraged to bring their carving kit with them. The discussions and history of various tools are great fun.


This class is designed to introduce the complexity of cutting and refining deep curves in wood. We welcome new and experienced carvers to the course.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $ 775
Materials Charge: $40

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.