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Big Old Alder Bowl

Red Alder
Handmade, one-of-a-kind
excellent display piece, or fruit bowl
finished w/ food-grade tung oil
made by Zach LaPerriere
Sitka, Alaska 2018
bowl measures 13 1/2" X 5"

Everyone needs a big old fruit bowl.  Or two!  And they can hold a lot more than just fruit.  Ask my wife: we recently paired down from about 40 to around 25 bowls in the house.  We've used bowls for everything including mittens, and I routinely hear of new uses from my customers.

I shaped this bowl with a lipped rim that angles gradually inward.  The process of shaping a bowl (for me) is to first look for the most intriguing elements in the bowl and once I'm close, fine-tune the bowl for aesthetics and feel.

Speaking of feel: for a hardwood, alder is fairly light, even this tight growth-ringed ancient wood.  So I usually shape these a bit thicker than the wood bowls you may have grown up with or be used to.  The truth is that wood is incredibly strong, especially in a shape that is roughly that of a full dome. You want a certain heft to a bowl, unless their is a specific reason to shoot for ultralight, which I also do on occasion.

Now for the actual wood.  There's nothing dramatic or obvious striking about this bowl—it's more subtle, like a soft spoken friend.  If you look at the end grain (curved growth rings) you'll see medullary rays radiating outward.  These are the lighter colored lines that grab and reflect light and run exactly perpendicular to the growth rings.  Rays transport nutrients from the outer parts of the tree to the inner and for some reason you only see these well developed in old growth alder, not the faster growing alder in Alaskan towns.

There are a modest number of ambrosia beetle holes: those black tiny holes you'll see mostly in the lower part of the bowl.  If you look closely at the final photo, you'll see dark tracks between the holes the beetles tunneled.  On the base of the bowl are two tiny light colored areas from spalting that contrasts either side of the beetle hole.

This is why I love salvaging ancient old growth.  You can't help yourself—you want to pick up the bowl and study the fine details.  Knowing that you're holding a piece of a huge alder older than the oldest official recorded alder, it settles into our mind that you are peering into a tree that stood for a century and half in the same place in a wild river valley a mile from the ocean.  It doesn't take a vivid imagination to think about the generations of bears that walked past or the countless warblers that ate late Spring bugs from the leaves.  How does a tree grow to weigh more than a semi truck out of thin soil and air?

This bowl is best for display where it is easily picked up, or it will hold fruit in style, or even a dry salad—but not recommended for salad dressing because of the small beetle holes.

Because it is crafted from a single piece of wood, it will last for generations with minimal care.

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Story: In February of 2017 I cut two massive standing-dead alder about a mile up a wild river valley about five miles from my home and shop.  The official oldest alder in the world is recorded in Washington at 100 years old.  The two alder I cut were at least 120 and 130 years old.  Alaska is full of secrets!

After cutting and prepping the bowl stock, my family and I took three days to sled out material in 2-3 feet of snow.  We followed frozen creeks and bear trails in a magical winter wonderland.  It was our best snow in seven years, and I'm still grateful everything worked out just right, from getting my USFS permit to the weather so graciously cooperating with our effort.

You can watch a video of our alder salvage effort here: