Thursday, April 7, 2016


It's been ages since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd share random things I've been up to lately. El Niño recently toppled a diseased birch in the front yard, and after several days with a chainsaw, I thought it a shame that all that wood should go to waste. Sure, quite a bit of it had bin ravaged by the bronze borer beetle, but there were enough good logs to make me wish I had paid more attention in shop class back in middle school. But wishing is worthless, so I resolved to learn the art of carving.

But what would I carve? My drawing skills are rather sad, and so I had every reason to believe sculpting things meant to resemble other things would be a fruitless task. But a spoon I might be able to manage.

I ordered a lovely set of two Mora carving knives from Sweden and a cheap hatchet from the local hardware store, and over the course of a month I buried myself in wood shavings. I was quite surprised by how the first spoon turned out, and even more surprised by the second. By the end of March I'd created several pieces I'm quite proud of, and had only two failures. And they were complete failures—a tiny fork and a honey dipper. Lessons learned.

It's amazing how the hours can fly by when immersed in an activity like carving. The image of the old bearded man whittling away on the front porch makes so much sense to me now. It's a great stress reliever, and March was a stressful month. A tiny part of that stress was due to the editing process. I'd finished my novel, but the last two chapters didn't work. There was too much material, and it didn't feel cohesive with the rest. Bottom line I was good and stuck. But as I whittled, I realized how liberating it can be to remove, to carve away, to shave off all of the extra stuff covering what it is I wanted to see or reveal.

When you're carving a spoon, you start with a log, split it, then chop away everything but a flat, rectangular block of wood. On that blank canvas you draw a spoon, preferably using the grain as a guide to the most pleasing shape, and with a knife or two you simply cut away everything that isn't the spoon. Sometimes you cut too much, or you meet a knot you didn't expect, or even a poor bug that had made the wood its home, but you adapt and find the spoon that's there, even if it isn't exactly the spoon you thought was there.

a 10g coffee measuring cup in progress

My first two spoons carved from the same half of a split log

A birch santoku taking shape

following the curved grain in this small cypress spoon

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