Cre­at­ing a stir

Carv­ing a spoon from the branch of a tree is a ther­a­peu­tic and time-con­sum­ing busi­ness, finds John Wright as he re­vis­its the an­cient art of whit­tling

Country Life Every Week - - Interior Design The Inside Track -

HE hum­ble wooden spoon, beloved of ev­ery cook in the world, can be bought for a pound or two. Why, then, would any­one wish to spend £100 or so learn­ing how to make one? Wooden spoon-mak­ing cour­ses are prov­ing hugely pop­u­lar, with scores of them fill­ing up ev­ery year with en­thu­si­asts ea­ger to learn from the earthy types who have mas­tered the skills re­quired.

In­spired by a new book—spoon Carv­ing by E. J. Os­borne—i re­solved to dis­cover why, ex­actly, peo­ple wanted to make spoons. Now, be­ing a man, and one who had spent 30 years be­hind the fur­ni­ture-maker’s bench, I won­dered how hard it could pos­si­bly be. As­sum­ing ‘not very’, I skimmed through the book’s beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated pages to get a vague idea of how it was done.

Self-de­nial seems to be in­te­gral to spoon­mak­ing. Only an axe, a knife and a hook-knife are needed and I was ban­ished from band­saw, lathe and sanding ma­chine. The raw ma­te­rial is also fru­gal, as it is in­vari­ably green (un­sea­soned) tim­ber. But it does cut eas­ily and costs ab­so­lutely noth­ing.

Armed with two min­utes of study and a length of re­cently felled lilac, I set to work. Fur­ni­ture mak­ers sel­dom find use for an axe. How­ever, sharp­ened to the best edge I could man­age, it proved a sur­pris­ingly del­i­cate tool and I had the shape of some­thing spoon-like within half an hour.

TThe at­tempt to re­fine the proto-spoon with my knife proved more trou­ble­some and I yearned for my spoke-shaves. The smooth, el­e­gant look I had in­tended seemed to be be­yond my ca­pa­bil­i­ties, so I redi­rected my aim to coarse me­dieval. Lack­ing a hookknife, I un­earthed my favourite gouge from the shed and, on more fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory, soon had a smooth bowl.

The whole thing took me two hours, plus three 15-minute breaks to al­low the feel­ing to come back into my arm. Dave Cock­croft, who runs spoon-mak­ing days in Glouces­ter­shire, told me this wasn’t too bad, but that he can make a com­pletely smooth spoon in less than an hour.

My knife had been dif­fi­cult to use, he in­formed me, be­cause it was a for­ag­ing knife with a dou­ble-bevel edge, a sin­gle bevel be­ing much pre­ferred as it gives a long, smooth cut. I was rather pleased with this in­for­ma­tion as it meant I could blame my tools.

Al­though my spoon (above) wouldn’t win even a run­ner’s-up prize at a spoon fes­ti­val (yes, they do ex­ist), I was ex­tremely pleased with it and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, en­tranced by the whole process. Pro­fes­sional spoon­mak­ers, such as Messrs Os­borne and Cock­croft, speak of the sin­gle-minded ab­sorp­tion spoon-mak­ing en­gen­ders; the sim­ple peace that de­scends when any­one crafts any­thing. Dave told me of the quiet pa­tience with which his stu­dents tackle their new craft. Few words are spo­ken be­cause all are en­grossed in a dif­fi­cult but achiev­able task.

Like am­a­teur dra­mat­ics, am­a­teur spoon­mak­ing is for the de­light of the par­tic­i­pants, not the re­cip­i­ents. How­ever, some spoons are truly beau­ti­ful, with an el­e­gance that comes from the skill of the crafts­man and the nec­es­sary util­ity of the spoon. Tim­bers are care­fully cho­sen for colour and grain; line and bal­ance are achieved by the artis­tic eye and ev­ery use for a spoon is ex­plored.

Dave sells his spoons on mar­ket stalls and says that peo­ple are more likely to buy one af­ter han­dling it. One el­derly gen­tle­man went much fur­ther. He was look­ing for a re­place­ment for his 70-year-old stir­ring spoon. He tried ev­ery likely con­tender, stir­ring an imag­i­nary stew and even pre­tend­ing to scrape off a bit of some­thing that had stuck to the bot­tom of the imag­i­nary pot. He walked away cradling his se­lected prize, leav­ing Dave with a warm glow, but lit­tle prospect of any re­peat busi­ness. Spoon Carv­ing by E. J. Os­borne (Quadrille)

‘Armed with two min­utes of study and a length of re­cently felled lilac, I set to work

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