The above photo was taken at the end of the last spoon carving course I ran in 2012. By October I’ve usually finished teaching for the year, but Steve, a woodland owner/worker in nearby Wendover wanted to book a course for his partner Annie as a birthday gift, so I made an exception. They invited some friends along too. It was a high-spirited, throroughly enjoyable day.
Steve told me recently that they’d all got together again in his wood and spent the day making tripod-style chopping blocks like the ones I use on my courses. They’ve also bought spoon knives, carving knives and axes and have made sharpening blocks using the wet and dry paper method I showed them and have since been enjoying carving spoons at home. I love hearing from people who’ve spent a day with me that they have been well and truly bitten by the bug and that the skills they take away with them enable them to go on and practise the craft on their own.
Here they are starting the axe work, carving out a spoon blank from some freshly cut hazel.
And here’s Steve using the axe to carve close to the line around the back of the bowl where the shoulders meet the neck of the spoon. I like this chopping block design; the raised section provides a very useful, stable rest helping to make the axe work a little easier and also safer to some extent, especially for people new to carving. Another benefit is that the axe doesn’t bite in to end grain if it hits the block the way it does when using a chopping block made with the log on it’s end.
2012 was a good year for me with a steady stream of people coming on courses from March through to October. Mostly they were people I met while selling at markets, but some also through word of mouth. I had a set number of course dates on my website but ended up doing more on days which suited some people better. This year I will again be happy to accomodate people at other times through the year (whenever I’m able to).
It makes me glad to be able to pass on these old ways of working with wood in the hope that others will get as much pleasure from the craft as I do. A great craftsman once told me that we all owe so much to some very clever people who developed these techniques in the dim and distant past. I like that spirit of humility among greenwood workers. It’s not so important to me that people leave with a really well made spoon. In one day that is not realistic for someone new to carving. What matters to me are the little ‘aha!’ moments that people have; a subtle difference in the way the tool is held or a slight shift in position when suddenly a technique ‘works’ the way it should. Helping someone discover that is a feeling hard to describe. There’s a smile all of a sudden and a nodding of the head…something which only a moment ago was out of reach has suddenly been grasped. I know how it feels to make those connections and it’s a joy to see others find the same sense of satisfaction. Then begins the life-long journey of working to perfect it!
When a course is over I’m always happily exhausted. It’s 100% focus all day to ensure everyone is working safely, that I’m explaining things in a way that people understand, that things are moving along at the correct pace..and somehow with so much going on we always seem to thoroughly enjoy ourselves as well.
This year, as well as my usual course venue in Hertfordshire I’m also running two spoon carving days in Devon. One with the Steward Wood Community, a two day event which is now fully booked, and also a one day beginner’s course at the Bulworthy Project on 25th May. (They featured on the ‘Tales from the Wildwood’ series on TV recently…an inspiring couple who have made their home in a beautiful woodland, managing the wood and running a charcoal burning business as well as courses. See the info on their website here.)
I’m looking forward to another year of courses and meeting new ‘spooners’ in the spring, but first there’s a winter of making things and low-impact living at Steward Wood in deepest, darkest Devon. In a few days I’ll set off on the long drive in an old landrover, heavily laden with a heavy bowl-lathe and cherry logs for turning…just when ‘arctic conditions’ are apparently going to descend upon us here in the UK…
I’ll wrap this up now with a few testimonials from some of the people who came on courses this year. It’s so nice to get emails from people a few days after a course.
I had a nice email from Georgina Cope who booked a day for her family. She came with her Father, Brother and Boyfriend. Her Dad and Brother both had some experience with carving but almost all the Sewdish axe and knife techniques were new to them. Georgina kindly sent me a link to her blog. There’s some nice photo’s of the day they spent with me and a little write up. See it here
”We really do use the spoons we made on the day and the spoons we made after everyday, my one, the rather ‘robust’ one, is used every morning for making the porridge. Wood is just so much nicer than metal or plastic!” – Georgina Cope
”I really enjoyed yesterday – thank you for making the day so relaxed and informative. The family’s very impressed with my first spoon!” – Paul Taylor
”Thank you for a really enjoyable and interesting day” – Andy White
”Thank you so much for Saturday. We both really enjoyed the day, and are really thrilled with the spoons we produced. We have been proudly showing them off to anyone we can find! We have already started looking into getting some tools so we can try on our own (bearing in mind all the safety aspects you instilled into us of course)”. – Caroline Sullivan
”You’ll be pleased to know that, as I write this, Annie is sitting by the wood-burner and working away at another spoon! She has been setting up her sharpening equipment too, so she is very excited by the joy of such sharp tools.” Steve Roberts
And last but by no means least; some spontaneous, verbal feedback…from the last course I ran…Annie’s son, Joe Shepard, looked up from his carving towards the end of the day and exclaimed, ‘Today has been a whittler’s wet dream!”
For course info please go to the courses page on my website here