Oncle Hoonki’s Fabulous Hornshop

Wow look, it’s 2016 already. Actually, closer to the end of it.

Here’s a link to an upcoming event at MacLean Park Fieldhouse in case you want something other than our regular, Tuesday night potluck carving nights:

Big Draw at Oncle Hoonki’s

Thanks for looking.



Dutiful blog post – November 5, 2014

Yes, we are still plugging away at the Fieldhouse, though I’ve not posted a thing here for many days, entirely on account of having lost my camera, and living in denial about it. The weather has turned to definitive Vancouver, and we are routinely indoors, gathered about the table making wood-chips and chewing down calories to clearly set stores in for the wintertime. When the rain lets up, and Lorne Gray is about, the forge is assembled, lit, and we crowd again upon the pavement, poking various tool projects into the chamber, hammering them lustily upon the anvil when they’re hot.

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Now that my new camera is purchased, its batteries will be, next week, more completely charged allowing even more entertaining documentation. If you are keen to play, we are participating in a Studio Hop for the Heart of the City Festival. It starts this Saturday, November 8th at 12 noon at the MacLean Park Fieldhouse, heads over to Strathcona (Oncle Hoonki’s) next, and ends at the new park, Trillium North by about 2:30. Doesn’t everybody love a parade?


September 8th! How did we get here so fast?

A momentum is found, and we all begin to grasp after it, a desire for more, one evening never enough. Now with the light fading sooner, we, the pointy tool on the lawn people find ourselves returning indoors, great piles of saved woodchips at our feet.

Seeing is believing, I suppose, though you should be there yourself in my opinion. If coming out on a Tuesday night to play with sharp tools is not your thing, yet you want, in some way to support, you could heap some cash into a sack and head on over to the Roundhouse Community Centre for the Field Guides Show, wherein Oncle Hoonki’s Spoon Cult, I mean, Fabulous Hornshop will be well represented.  Opening Reception Thu Sep 18, 5-8pm. Wear something purple. Thanks for looking!


So, Porchapalooza just happened. I’m going to post some early pictures for those of you who are photographically hungry following that luscious, well lit evening of monkey mayhem.

We had three new band members joining us (after just the one practice session). Jamie MacDonald on guitar (with daring red thermal underwear in 30 degree heat), Alex Babeanu on drums, and Alexis Greenwood on Wa-wa II (a fuhorn that has had precious little stage time until now). We are officially a new, wild beast. But this evening was the perfect start to what should be a very fine collaboration of music. Thanks for looking.

Extra horns available for keaners who must honk.

Extra horns available for keaners who must honk.


Allow me to report on last Tuesday’s Tool Fun class at Strathcona Fieldhouse.  Better yet, let me allow the photos to tell the tale.

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Before everyone arrived, I had my own small journey beginning with a large piece of plate glass found at a boat-yard in New Westminster. This will count as my Lithic Skills Update for June 29, 2014.

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Tuesday Night Tool Fun is currently every Tuesday night from 6-9pm at the Strathcona Fieldhouse. You are welcome to attend. Persons bringing food to share will be celebrated and praised. End transmission.


Tuesday June 24, 2014, in case you might miss it, threatens to be special. We are bequeathed a loan of the finest tool additions from the marvellous Mr. Lorne Gray, practicing old-skills interpreter (blacksmith and steam-operator!) with Burnaby Village Museum. I do hope you can all come out and play.

6-9 pm at Strathcona Fieldhouse - 857 Malkin Ave.

6-9 pm at Strathcona Fieldhouse – 857 Malkin Ave.

Between an Artist and a Guy on the Porch – June 11, 2014

This keeps happening: people come up to me while I’m at my residency (the Strathcona Park Fieldhouse for those of you joining the conversation, wherein I have one marvellous year of unfettered studio time and space) to ask me if I’m homeless!


What’s more is the emergence of this repeated sub-scenario in the form of two Park Rangers (a different pair each time) who appear in their Ranger-mobile an hour or so after I’ve begun a work session on the porch. They exit their vehicle and saunter directly toward me with a look of mild authoritarian concern upon their faces, clearly obliged to complete a task, the nature of which is revealed by a now familiar first question,

“So, are you one of the guys sleeping on the porch?”.

june 11 2014 002a

De lepel is een traditionele vorm.

Let me interject here with some scene description. My pal, super-artist Martin Borden and I are set up for some workshop time on the lawn just outside the fieldhouse. We’ve got chairs and a folding table (city issue furniture), carving tools, snacks and projects on display. My larger horn projects are standing on the porch next to the sign saying ‘Oncle Hoonki’s Fabulous Hornshop’ next to the open door to the fieldhouse itself. Martin is very skillfully carving a spoon from yellow cedar and I am pressure flaking a glass arrowhead (update further below) which may be the best one yet. I want you to conclude from this description that we do not look particularly homeless.

june 11 2014 003a

Een houten lepel is zowel functioneel en esthetisch.

Though I suppose I had not shaved for a few days. ‘Yes’, I said because I’m a saucy jerk, ‘I am homeless’. Martin started to chortle with poorly contained laughter.

june 11 2014 006a

De maatstaf voor uitmuntendheid is opgenomen in de eenvoudigste expressies.

Eventually, I confessed my co-operative housing, indoor-sleeping status and revealed the Parks Board approved plan of our presence upon the lawn there in Strathcona. The Rangers seemed relieved, though not reminded in any way of a situation about which they’d already been informed. As in – artists in fieldhouses was news to them.

june 11 2014 007a

Ze maken ook uitstekende presenteert voor bruiloften en Kerstmis.

I would propose a scenario that is surely preceding all of these authority figures and their ‘Are you homeless’ inquiries. In this given park populated by normal, cel phone owning citizenry, many will pass by my busy worksite on the way to the washrooms (attached to the same building). On any regular day at Strathcona Park prior to my residency, the people you would see on the porch were homeless, and commonly making a big mess (usually in the form of spread cardboard, food packaging, food waste, cigarette packaging and smashed glass). So now you have a new guy on the porch making another big mess (wood chips!), only now he’s got the audacity to set up a table and invite friends over! The nerve.

So what does the average citizen do in this given scenario? Why, call the authorities, that’s what.

‘Yes, I’d like to report a person behaving strangely at the park. There’s a hairy man with sharp tools, like a knife, and he’s doing something odd all set up outside of the washrooms. We’re all just hoping to have a pleasant game of baseball (beer drinking and yelling) and I’m hoping you could send someone over to move him along.’

june 11 2014 009a

Pijlpunten zijn aantrekkelijk, maar geen praktische betekenis in een moderne samenleving.



The Very Large Horn Project – Begin!

Wednesday May 28 2014, an auspicious time for making a loud racket on the fieldhouse porch – special because time is fleeting, and my year at 857 Malkin will only go too fast. A 5 year cured piece of the finest empresswood serves as my main chamber (the ‘up-pipe’) for what will become the largest horn in the current series of Fuhorns. Why? Because we have Brad Muirhead, Vancouver’s finest sousaphonist, who, while playing my largest horn keeps saying, ‘Hey man, you need to make a really big one!’very late may c 2014 001a very late may c 2014 003a very late may c 2014 006a

Random Tuesday Porch Time – Early May 2014

The standard question asked of me by random passersby when their curiosity overcomes their fear of strangers seems to be, ‘Do you live here?’. The hope behind their query is that, seeing a man playing with tools at the local park fieldhouse, the old times have returned and Vancouver can, once again, afford to hire a full time caretaker to live in residence and care for their every blade of grass with that personal touch.

Alas, my answer is temporal, and art. ‘No, I don’t live here. Parks Board has granted me this space for the year as a studio to activate for community engagements and art production.’ I try to sell it with largess, make it exciting. But the people looking for a caretaker don’t switch topics, or ideals, easily, and I watch them glaze over at my art-speak.

Tuesday May something 2014 001a

Give them something to read. That’s the ticket!

Tuesday May something 2014 004a

The fallacy of the printed word states that most people will believe you if you put your words into print.

Tuesday May something 2014 008a

Interesting, though not in any way related to the business of park caretaking.

Tuesday May something 2014 009a

‘So, you don’t sleep here?’

Tuesday May something 2014 011a

‘Well, I’m certain I’d be permitted to sleep here. They didn’t say one way or another. But in this case, ‘Residency’ has a different meaning. Plus, I already live somewhere else.’

Tuesday May something 2014 012a

‘So, what, like, do you sell these?’


Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens AGM! – April 27, 2014

My very skilled friend, Martin Borden, who took the fine pictures that are to follow, suggested I make an appearance at the Annual General Meeting of Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens such that:

  • proper introductions to my fieldhouse residency could be made
  • local gardeners could understand where their Empress Tree went (and why)
  • and the strange man poking about in the bushes would result in less calls to the police.

We were fortunate with sunny weather and a very good turnout. I would like to personally thank everyone in the communities of Strathcona and Cottonwood Gardens who are only too enthusiastic and supportive. Also, you put on a mean potluck! Cheers! Hope you like the pictures. Again – photo credit goes to Martin Borden. Mirthful additions by Mr. Fire-Man

In my defense, I was joined by several ringers in our audience, including the amazing Mr. Jason Harder and Geoffrey Colpitts. A fine way to spend an afternoon. Coming soon – the start of Hornmaking Sessions at the Fieldhouse. Message me if you can’t wait!

Pipe-making Workshop Report!   –  April 15 2014

Wherein the secret knowledge of miniature-trumpet making was revealed to participating Vancouverites. To those of you who did not attend my workshop, the following slideshow may or may not contain the knowledge you seek. Smoking is bad for you. Behold the amazing photography of Sharon Kallis, graciously donated to my cause:


The High-Speed Horn Project

With the sun shining, my dog agitating to go outside, and my chores in a state such that they could be ignored until a later time, it became necessary to head out for a Sunday Fieldhouse visit.  This was to be an opportunity for an experiment in high-speed horn making, as I had prepared a horn-blank from last year’s cull, bisecting it on the bandsaw a year earlier than its suggested curing time (normally two years minimum) in the hope that it could be stabilized by some quick channel-cutting and binding to prevent massive, project wrecking warpage.

By now, careful readers will have surmised that my idea of a high-speed horn still takes more than a year to produce. Future hornmakers note – in the absence of patience, may I suggest building a kazoo?

The channels are carved on the inside, and the blank halves are bound together to continue drying until my next visit. I’d say keep your fingers crossed, but even a high-speed horn will probably still take the better part of the next year to finish. But if its gonna warp, we’ll know very soon.

Because black is beautiful.

Because black is beautiful.

Empresswood shaft pollarded March 2013

Empresswood shaft pollarded March 2013

Dog plus carving project plus porch equals happiness.

Dog plus carving project plus porch equals happiness.

Visited by many friends! 'Rachel Ashe, JD the dog, and David' by Boris Mann

Visited by many friends! ‘Rachel Ashe, JD the dog, and David’ by Boris Mann

Coming up Tuesday April 15th from 6-9pm – the second Fieldhouse workshop: ‘How to Make a (big ass) Gandalf Pipe’. $10 to learn, $10 for a pipe-blank. Class size limited to 10 participants. Message me if you want a reservation.

My apologies to Ian McKellan, who was not consulted prior to the making of this event poster. Smoking is bad for you!

My apologies to Ian McKellan, who was not consulted prior to the making of this event poster. Smoking is bad for you!

Here is the link to the facebook event page if that’s your thing: Pipemaking at the fieldhouse – Apr 15 – 6-9pm Thanks for reading!


Stolen hours at the Fieldhouse.

March 30, 2014

Even the briefest of moments pay a dividend when it comes to the fine/messy art of hornmaking. The studio (as we are referring to it) is a small sea of drying empress bark. The smell is lovely. The corners of the room are filled with sticks, large and small (mostly large. Very large). Two weeks after harvest and initial de-barking, the exposed wood is noticeably darkened. I have painted the cut ends of the majority of the projects with gesso to prevent checking (splitting) and returned on this day with my lovely Sharon and the fuzz-beast for some more de-barking on the largest projects, and initial hollowing of the bell ends, work that is done with a mallet and chisel. So long as my 47 year-old elbow tendons hold up, this is the happiest of pursuits.

March 30 2014 003a

The rain finally quit, and we seized the moment for some porch time. Pictured are the two largest horn projects from the Empress pollard at Cottonwood Garden.

Someone out there is asking this question –

‘Why take off the bark?’

Thanks for asking. Empresswood has the wonderful property, once de-barked, of oxidizing from almost pure white wood into a near-black surface colour over the course of a year, creating a rich patina that cannot be imitated by paint or stain. More – it can be carved back to the white wood with ease, allowing for very rich contrasts to be built into the design of the horn. So sexy!

March 30 2014 001a

Can you believe this started as pipe-making?

Since you’ve come this far, expect an upcoming announcement for the next workshop, this one titled, ‘How to Make a Big-Ass Gandalf Pipe! – an introduction to hornmaking’.  Thanks for reading.

This February, at 857 Malkin Ave. begins
an Artist in Communities residency in the Strathcona Fieldhouse studio and park areas. This project is co-sponsored by the Vancouver Park Board, the Cottonwood Community Garden and the Legion of Flying Monkeys.

Project Statement –

‘David Gowman, the artist called Mr. Fire-Man dedicates a year to a series of workshops about, or directly relative to, the craft of building musical horns from local wood. Workshops will include: toolmaking, sustainable harvest of local wood (from 200 metres away in Cottonwood Garden), wood curing and storage, horn playing and musical improvisation (with assistance by the Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra), and, obviously, horn making.’

Behold the logotype:

Oncle Hoonki type block

Who wants a t-shirt?

I will continue to write in this column with updates to Oncle Hoonkis Fabulous Hornshop activities, so stay tuned. Meantime, please book Saturday March 15th from 11am to 3pm for a tree pollarding event at Cottonwood Community Garden (just 200 metres east of 857 Malkin Ave at the corner of Raymur and Malkin by the dog pound).                   Bring your own lunch.

Here is the source tree, a nine year old empress planted by Hartley Rosen, then of Environmental Youth Alliance.

Impossibly large for 9 years.

horn outlines added to convey excitement

Back in the day I suspect nobody knew it would become a problem so quickly. But the empress may be the world’s fastest growing hardwood, and nine years later, she’s around 40 feet high and has a 25 foot skirt that shades out a very big patch of land that EYA would rather cultivate, so I’m told. Fortunately, it is also the finest hornwood and responds to pollarding (heavy pruning) by shooting out many new branches that reach for the sky and produce fine, straight, hollow shafts ideal for my craft. As such, creating space and light for EYA gardeners and others at Cottonwood has the added bonus of creating a renewable hornwood factory.

At the Strathcona Park Fieldhouse the empresswood cut from Cottonwood Garden will be processed, cured and further processed resulting in the possibility of many, very fine, very unique musical instruments.horn pics april '11 005I should include a few pictures of the space, just so we can have a ‘before and after’.

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Thanks for believing.


3 thoughts on “Oncle Hoonki’s Fabulous Hornshop

  1. Pingback: Some Things I’ve Made: Part Two | Martin Borden

  2. Pingback: Winter musings and workshop updates | Sharon Kallis

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