Just looking at some of the whittled spoons I have hanging around in the kitchen whilst waiting for the toast to pop up and the kettle to boil this morning. Every one of them has a story to tell – many are the product of heading out to the woods, sometimes with no agenda other than to go home with a new creation. A spoon is clearly a functional item, as is a basket, bowl or cup, a bark container but carving a spoon goes way beyond the need for a tool to shovel food into face. The materials have been harvested paying close attention to the type of wood and their differing properties, the condition of the timber, maybe even the time of year. The finished piece bears the ever-lasting marks of your hard work, perhaps giving others an indication of your craftsmanship but more importantly on a personal level, serving as a physical reminder of where you were, who you were with, what you were thinking as you carved. Such an investment of time and labour imprints these memories deep within the wood grain itself, far better than any photograph. As time passes, a unique patina develops through use telling a story all of it’s own…
Here's a handful of favourites, starting at the bottom with the crook knife (don't try and eat your cereal with that one..) and turning clockwise through the photograph:
1. A Ben Orford small standard crook knife with a hybrid handle which lives in the lid pocket of my daysack. Excellent for spoon hollowing and thanks to the extended, curving handle great for larger projects too. You need this tool in your life!
2. Oak spoon – carved on a winters day whilst being not particularly successful at hunting rabbits on the Sussex estate where my brother in law works as a game keeper. The green oak was easy to carve and showed the characteristic oak medullary rays in the spoon bowl before greying through use. This one is probably about thirteen years old.
3. Little Cedar spoon – carved whilst sitting next to a campfire in Morocco around ten years ago, surrounded by sand dunes and stars. The bowl is shallow because I hadn’t packed a crook knife so used the curved tip of my pen knife instead. I increased the bowl depth slightly through burning using a glowing ember from the fire, then sanded it smooth with sand grains and cloth.
4. Small Ash spoon – carved as a demonstration several years ago, this little spoon became the camp coffee spoon, hence the dark colouration in the bowl. I lost it after a course and suspected a shady character who had been admiring it all week, of it’s theft. Six months later I found it again hidden under the leaves where the washing up bowl is often emptied and had to forgive the formerly accused and entirely innocent person quietly to myself.
5. Extremely curvy birch spoon – Again, another demonstration piece however, this one started life as a dramatic failure. Whilst demonstrating the benefits of a ‘stop cut’, I didn’t stop at all and ended up shearing off the whole of one side of the bowl. I can still hear the laughter (not mine obviously..)! After this shameful episode I persevered and ended up carving a smaller spoon using the extra bit I normally leave on either end of a spoon blank ‘just in case’. So the shape is a little strange but it has it’s own unique elegance and is probably perfected suited to some sort of role somewhere….just need to find it.
6. Ash spoon, also from the lid pocket of my daysack – the last remaining (not finished) member of a set of four similar spoons. The other three were slowly seasoning in a bin bag when they were mistakenly included with the rubbish and chucked out! A warning to fellow forgetful folk…
7. A beech eating spoon – this is my current eating spoon. The bend in the handle isn’t intentional, instead the result of warping as the wood seasoned. As it happens it curls round my hand perfectly! The other half of the split beech limb was carved into a spatula and has also warped in the same way to make a perfect matching set.
8. Sweet chestnut spoon – made during a bushcraft course attended after leaving the army quite some time ago. Made some good friends and learnt some fantastic skills. The lead instructor was a quietly understated but extremely skilled Swedish chap. He had a good look at the spoon (my first ‘proper’ hand-made wooden spoon) and told me to go away and make another, but this time just using an axe. I think it was his way of telling me I’d passed that particular test.
9. Black oak spoon – carved in Portugal from seasoned wood about eight years back. Extremely hard work, my thumbs never forgave me! This served as my eating spoon for a while and could probably have doubled as a club for knocking out tiny assailants.
Make some memories - happy carving!