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Two videos of the OneOak Sounding Bowl have been released this week.

The first shows the making and turning processes by Tobias Kaye of Sounding Bowl-310, plus a second bowl that unfortunately developed a fatal split during the making process.

The second video is of Tobias Kaye playing Bowl-310 to demonstrate its beautiful deep melodic tones.


Last week we posted the story of a Sounding Bowl made by Tobias Kaye as part of our OneOak project. We asked Tobias to tell us more about his work and inspiration. Here are his words.


The making of Sounding Bowl 310

I should mention that not all of any tree is worthy of instrument making.  Again and again foresters have been puzzled by my choice of bits from the trees I am offered.  Through watching Sounding Bowls develop and each one change as it began to sing I noticed that the wood deepened it’s musical response as it took up the huge tension of many steel cored strings.

Woodworkers sometimes use the wood from the fork of a tree for decorative panels because the grain goes wild at the point where it ‘has to decide’ which branch to go up. the action of growing this way and that to fill in the gap between the branches knits the grain together and forms a strong area in which huge growth stresses actually bind the branches together resisting the winds tendency to pull one off.

In some situations, forks branching at less than about 25% apart this growth pattern fails and leaves a huge bark inclusion deep into the tree. Branches from this growth pattern are frequently pulled off by wind. Branches that fork at greater than 30% have a pattern within the wood, if cut at the best angle that is called ‘Flame Grain’ by furniture lovers. Experiments showed that stressed-in-growth, flame grain figured wood created an instrument in which the sound was immediately richer, more resonant than using straight grain.

Using this wood does create real problems in drying. The stresses of drying wood combined with the stresses already present require huge amounts of monitoring and care during the drying process. Sounding Bowl No.310 was first kept in a plastic bag , then given periods out of the bag, then longer ones and given repeated coats of oil during this time. Some woods do not like being bagged, Oak handles it well.

Another problem arises in cutting such discs from the tree. Wherever the centre of growth, the pith or heart of the tree is included splits will spread out from this point as drying proceeds. The best figure in the grain is right up against the heart. Finding the bits that will provide really good music takes a good deal of experience. Especially when a fork has supplementary branches going off at other angles.

After all this one also finds that the flame grain is fairly planar and the bowl form cuts most of it out, leaving the grain looking comparably normal. You might then ask “why bother”

The Music is the answer.

OneOak Sounding Bowl 310 by Tobias Kaye

OneOak Sounding Bowl 310 by Tobias Kaye


Sounding Bowls

Sounding Bowls are one of the few instruments made entirely with hardwoods. Most musical instruments have softwood sound boards.

Every wood has its own personality. One sees this in the shape of the tree, in the colour and feel of the wood, in the way a tree relates to it’s environment as well as in the sound it gives when made into a musical instrument.  Oak is famous for it’s remarkably strong personality. In the woods it harbours more other forms of life than any other tree by far. In a beech wood very little grows underneath. Sycamores take over, crowding in so densely that even they themselves suffer loss of light. An oak wood is full of understory life and an oak tree is more inclined to allow room for other trees; Birch and Holly seems to love the company of Oaks.

Each musical instrument has its own voice. Every Sounding Bowl sound different, shallow, deep, five string or fifteen string, Melody pattern or Bridging pattern all have different sounds yet the sound of the wood is still a major factor in how one Sounding Bowl is different from another.  If you were to visit the Sounding Bowls you tube channel and compare the sound of Melody Bowl 326 with 327 you might notice some of these differences. I will get around to doing a video and soundtrack of the OneOak sounding Bowls soon.

I say might because if you just listen to the music you will not hear the ‘voice of the singer’ the sound of the wood can be felt within the sound of the notes. If you listen particularly to the ‘strike’ the initial hit as the string is released from the finer, and to the ‘decay’ the way in which the sound fades as the note dies you will begin to notice that one wood sounds really different to another. To get a feeling of the personality of the wood you can delve into two areas of your personal response to the strike and decay. The first question to ask is “which area of my body do I feel this in” you might notice that your lungs, or your stomach or your head respond particularly to this or that wood’s sound. The other question is “how does this sound affect my feelings” you might notice that one wood gives a cheerful feeling, another a comforting feeling or a third gives a feeling of quiet, wise reliability.

It can take some practice to learn to ‘listen in’ in this way, and even when you manage it what you begin to gain is not really a sense of the wood itself but a sense of how that wood figures in you. In other words you are delineating a relationship that you as a unique personality have with this wood as it manifests in this particular instrument. This it takes some time to come a real feeling for the personality of any wood distinct from the instrument that is playing it today.

The sound of any wood is true to it’s tree-nature. Cherry is bright a joyful in sound, emphasising the spring-time experience of life which is when it delights us most with it’s flowering. The sound of Oak is hard and strong with none of the wishy washy bending before the wind nonsense of smaller trees. Like the branches that change direction suddenly the inner sound of Oak is direct and uncompromising.

Oak is not a wood I expect to use for Sounding Bowls a great deal as, personally I like a little more willingness to go with the flow in my music. But given that Sounding Bowls are used in therapy and healing more than anything else I suspect that Oak will find a good place with people who are seeking to develop their assertive skills. If life has left you too bent by the wind perhaps some time playing an Oak Sounding Bowl could be just what you need.

Tobias Kaye

Sounding Bowl 310 for the OneOak project by Tobias Kaye

Sounding Bowl 310 for the OneOak project by Tobias Kaye

2012 is an exciting year for the OneOak project as the dried timber is now with dozens of craftspeople who are working on making many diverse items. We are building up towards several major exhibitions later in the year, at which we will be bringing together the art, the science, and for the first time, all the wooden products from the OneOak tree.

We are very excited to have been sent this image of a truly beautiful meditative Sounding Bowl made by Tobias Kaye, numbered 310, from the OneOak wood. Sounding Bowls were developed by Tobias over 20 years ago and are now in use in hospitals, hospices, private clinics, care homes and special education situations in four continents. They are used by singers, poets, healers, registered therapists, doctors and nurses in a huge variety of situations. Tobias says that “they assist people in opening up hearts”.

Back in October 2011, Nick Bainbridge from Blenheim Estate, the forester who felled the tree, skilfully wielded his chainsaw to cut two giant discs for Tobias Kaye, whose requirements were demanding. We needed to find a large piece of wood from the tree that contained a crotch or fork, as this would have the immense strength needed in these bowls, which have to withstand the tension of the strings. We had kept all the crownwood in a pile at Blenheim Estate where it has been drying slowly. The photos below show the steps necessary to cut two large discs which were then sent by Courier to Tobias Kaye’s workshop in Devon.

Cutting the discs for the Sounding Bowls

Nick from Blenheim Estate cutting the discs for the Sounding Bowls

Tobias is currently working on a second smaller bowl (numbered 331). We have asked Tobias to write about his work, and we will post this here soon, together with a film of the making and a recording of its wonderful sound.

Sounding Bowl made by Tobias Kaye

A unique project following the full life story of a single oak tree reaches a finale this week, with the first of a series of manor exhibitions at Art in Action, where all the items made from the tree are being brought together for the first time. The products range from the waste sawdust used by legendary chef Raymond Blanc to smoke salmon, to a throne chair worth £6000, and dozens of other items including charcoal, wood block prints, tables, benches, door, house, boat, and woodchip for bioenergy.

  • The OneOak project is an environmental project of the Sylva Foundation, following the full life story of one oak tree.
  • The aim of the project is to bring people closer to the importance of our woodlands and of wood in modern society.
  • The 222 year old OneOak tree was felled on the Blenheim Estate in January 2010, witnessed by 250 school children. It had been grown in a plantation for its timber, having been planted in 1788; the same year that The Times was first published and when the French Revolution was just beginning to stir.
  • The OneOak tree is now the most studied oak tree in Britain: it has been weighed, measured with lasers to create a 3D model, studied by a dendrochronologist, and had its carbon content estimated.
  • It has been featured by dozens of artists, sculptors and photographers.
  • Many of Britain’s leading designer-makers have made items using the wood of the OneOak tree. These total over 40 different products, and counting.
  • The 250 children who witnessed the felling each planted a young oak tree in January 2011, one year after the tree was felled, to fulfil the cycle in sustainable forest management.
  • The first exhibition is at Art in Action, followed by six weeks at Blenheim Palace, then six weeks at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.


Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation and project co-ordinator Dr Gabriel Hemery said “this has been an amazing project that has inspired both the public and those who make a living working with wood and caring for our woodlands. Everyone has given their time to the project in so many different ways because they have been inspired by the concept:- the realisation that trees and wood are still vital to life even in modern society.”

Dr Hemery continued “after three years of hard work it is immensely exciting to be bringing together all the various elements of the OneOak project for our exhibitions during the Summer and Autumn. We will be able to show the public the stunning artwork, spell-binding films, earth-shattering science, and the myriad of truly amazing wood-based products. The only products that we won’t be able include in real life in the exhibitions will be the house and the boat!”

The OneOak exhibition at Art in Action is replacing the usual ‘Woodworking’ section; the marquee will be filled uniquely with all the products of the OneOak tree. Artists, musicians, sculptors and designer-makers will be on-hand to talk and demonstrate about their work in the OneOak project. Some 25,000 people are expected to attend over the four days, and where special measures have been put in place to cope with the soggy ground.  See note from Art in Action

The following have been made to date: firewood, woodchip (to heat a house for 6 weeks), sawdust for smoking food by Raymond Blanc, charcoal, bracing beams for a house, transom beam in a boat rowed in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Flotilla, door and frame, chest, pedestal table, coffee table, throne chair, clock, lantern, moebius sculpture, jewellery, acorn oakbot sculpture from waste slabwood, memorial sculpture, carved bowls, carved spoons, turned bowls, carvings, automata, commemorative garden bench by disabled workers, five benches for primary schools including the spider bench, contemplation bench, MakeIT! bench national school design competition, nesting tables, fine furniture competition winners pieces, small craft items, deer, viola chin rest, printing blocks, relief carving, sounding bowl.

Details of the OneOak products along with the stories of their making can be found here:

The project website is

Exhibition dates:

Art in Action, Waterperry                             19th – 22nd July 2012                      Art in Action

Blenheim Palace                                               25th July – 4th October                  OneOak at Blenheim Palace

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh               12th October – 2nd December    Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

More information

download the full News Release

download the full News Release

Download the full News Release


end of News Release

OneOak website

OneOak website

Over the last two and a half years, ever since the OneOak tree was felled in January 2010, we have been endeavoring to make as many and as varied items as possible from the tree to demonstrate how important trees and wood are to us in modern life.

Now that the first of our finale exhibitions is about to open (Art in Action July 19-22), we can list for the first time the number and variety of items made from the OneOak tree.

Here is a list of items made so far that exceeds 30 in number, while for some items there have been multiple versions (e.g. benches for five different schools) – the links point to stories on the OneOak blog over the last two and half years. See also our Products page on the OneOak website

  1. firewood from branchwood
  2. woodchip, from branchwood, for heating a house
  3. sawdust for smoking food, waste from processing other items
  4. charcoal
  5. bracing beams for a house
  6. transom beam in a boat, rowed in the Queens’ Diamond Jubilee Flotilla
  7. door and frame
  8. chest
  9. pedestal table
  10. coffee table
  11. throne chair
  12. clock
  13. lantern
  14. moebius sculpture
  15. jewellery
  16. acorn oakbot sculpture, from waste slabwood
  17. memorial sculpture, from branchwood
  18. carved bowls
  19. carved spoons
  20. turned bowls
  21. carvings
  22. automata
  23. Commemorative garden bench
  24. five benches for primary schools, including the spider bench
  25. contemplation bench
  26. MakeIT! bench, national school design competition
  27. nesting tables, fine furniture competition winner
  28. small craft items
  29. deer
  30. viola chin rest
  31. printing blocks
  32. relief carving
  33. sounding bowl

We will update this list in the future and include information on some of the items that so far have not been featured in the OneOak blog.

We hope to see at one of our exhibitions during 2012



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