Sylva Spoon

Tools Shape the Work

Thomas Bartlett3 Comments

Apprenticeship Day 11

Pile of freshly carved wooden spoons

Today we focused on boshing out some spoons. I cut a birch log into some rounds last night. This morning I set about converting it into spoons: cleaved into billets, axed into blanks. While I was axing Jarrod stopped me. He noticed that I was using a lot of small axe strikes. He remembered that I wrote about wanting to achieve the same result with fewer hits. So he grabbed his axe and demonstrated his process. 

The blank he axed out was a lot rougher than mine. That's fine because the blank goes under the drawknife before the final shaping. I haven't had the spoon mule as part of my process for very long. So my axed blanks have a smoother finish, easier to work with the slojd knife, but more time with the axe. Another aspect Jarrod pointed out was that we each use different axes with different grinds. He has a heavier Granfors Bruks Swedish Carving axe with a more obtuse grind. It's better suited to popping chunks of wood off the blanks. My lighter Svante Djarv Little Viking has a much more acute grind, better for slicing. So when I try to waste wood, it's more likely to stick. You need to dial your technique into what your tool is suited for. 

It's a small difference between the two tools. Certainly not an issue someone looking for their first carving axe needs to worry too much about. But it will shape how you carve. A light, thin axe will slice, a heavy thick axe will cleave. It'll show up in the work in subtle ways. 

While Jarrod was carving the first blank I took off the spoon mule he started to comment on it, then changed his mind, saying 'it didn't matter'. I pushed to find out what he was going to say. Turned out that I add a curve to the handle that he doesn't. He noticed it while I was axing and it wasn't changed on the spoon mule. He didn't ask me to change it because it's a design choice. It's just not a choice he would normally make. Jarrod usually puts a straighter handle on his spoons. 

Top with curve, bottom without

Top with curve, bottom without

I think this is partly due to the styles we all develop. Early in my spoon carving I went on a major dolphin spoon kick. I really liked that shape and it seems to have stuck with me. I also think the tools have a major influence. As I 'tick-tick-tick' the axe down the handle I can add a curve. When Jarrod kersmashes away all the wood in one fell swoop, it's more likely to be a straight line. If we both leave our blanks chunky enough, we can add or remove curves later. However that initial shaping is usually a major influence on the final design. 

The action of the tool and how it's best used will influence the design of the items we're creating. As makers and designers we need to be aware of this. Jarrod kept that curve in the handle because you can make it work just fine. It requires that you notice the difference is there though. That one small change means that all the other lines of the spoon need to be adjusted so that it fits. If Jarrod just carved his regular spoon shape, leaving in my addition, it would probably look unbalanced and function poorly. 

In the afternoon we continued with spoons. Jarrod asked me to axe out some ladles and there was a bit of a miscommunication there. I envisioned a round bowl with the handle coming steeply from the bowl. What Jarrod actually wanted was a larger and deeper version of a regular spoon. We'd talked a little about carving ladles from straight grained wood before lunch, obviously imagining different things. With the first blank I axed out, Jarrod kept giving me a bit of a funny look. With good reason, the blank I was creating was nothing like what he wanted. 

I started out by axing in the crank, which isn't how Jarrod does his blanks. When I had that the way I thought Jarrod wanted it I handed it over to him to draw on his design. It was my turn to give Jarrod a funny look. I took it off him, stared at it for a while, then awkwardly asked him about his design. We soon realised that we were working to different visions. As the apprentice, I should have asked Jarrod specifically what shape he wanted. In the end he made it work, but it made more work for him. I axed out three more ladles, with the fourth being the closest to what he wanted.

Large spoon/ladle