Sylva Spoon


The Accountability of Craft

Thomas BartlettComment

Yesterday I read an article on the BBC that set me to thinking. The article was titled 'Can an English Suit be made in Cambodia?' The article is about the suit the England football team will be wearing for formal dos during Euro 2016. The design is British, the cloth is British, but what about the rest? 

This is a fantastic diagram to demonstrate the complexity behind creating the suit. 

And this is just tracking one material: wool. What about the things that are made from more than one material? I'm currently writing this on a Macbook made from hundreds, if not thousands of different tiny components; from screws to microchips. Each component is likely to have made a journey similar to wool in the above diagram, the raw material originating in one country, refined in another, shaped in a third and put together in fourth. For complex products like electronics it might be nearly impossible to trace the journey each part has made from raw material to functioning smartphone, microwave or TV.

This difficulty in knowing where things come from is a massive challenge for sustainability. If we can't trace an item's origins, then we can't know if it was sourced responsibly. The more items a final product is made from, the more complex this supply chain is until we have no idea if the copper mined for my laptop came from the US, Chile, Zambia or Poland. 

The fact that we're using complex products with complex supply chains is not in itself a bad thing. However this complexity can hide issues that can create sustainability problems. The same raw material can be sourced more or less responsibly depending on the location (the same can be said for the raw material's refinement, transport, assembly etc). Not thinking about the lifecycle of our products and the potential harm therein is a problem. And that's where I think craft helps. 

I make simple wooden items straight from freshly cut wood. All the wood I use comes from less than five miles from where I make the items. The wood is from local trees removed only because of insects, disease or circumstance. I shake the hand of the person that cut down the tree and can show people where the cherry tree their spoon came from once grew. 

Using this kind of local material and teaching other people how to make a simple practical item from a raw material they can understand the origin of helps to spark the conversation about the wider issues outlined above. The complexity of laptop can leave us overwhelmed, but starting with something as simple as a wooden spoon can help lay the groundwork for trying to understand where other products come from. 

Many crafts can easily trace the origin of their raw materials, and by learning the skills to make the products that surround us we gain an appreciation for the difficulty involved in making other, more complex, items. Hopefully this understanding will lead to people questioning the impact of the items we use in our everyday lives.






Tom BartlettComment
I opened up a cherry log. It really useful to make a couple of wooden wedges before starting the split. The wedges help split the log, and won't damage the axe if they come into contact.

I split the log into ten sections, ready to be turned into ten cooking spoons. 

By the end of the morning I had ten spoons roughed out. 

I used my adze to help speed up hollowing he bowls out. 

The twca cam also quickly removes wood from the bowl, and I find it easier to get a smooth finish.

I've got five pretty much finished, with a few minor refinements still needed. I am really surprised with the variation in colour between the spoons, especially as they're all from the same log. 

Oak burr

Tom BartlettComment
I was digging through my wood pile and found some oak burrs that are about a year old. I'd completely forgotten about them. The swirling grain is amazing, so I thought I'd make as many tiny spoons out of it as I could. So far I've managed six.

Most of the time I will just have a tooled finish to my spoons, but with burrs I like to sand them as I think it helps the patterns in the grain to stand out.

With the first one, the swirls weren't that apparent, even after oiling. 

The grain patterns were much more pronounced in the second spoon.

 Here are the six I've done so far, and I've still got a few lumps of burr wood left. 

Tool-roll: Mora (Frost) 106 Carving Knife

Tom BartlettComment

Probably the best wood working knife out there at this price. 

From the Frost (Mora) website:

Our woodcarving knives are well known and appreciated precision tools that are used by wood carvers in Nusnäs, for example. This is where one of Sweden’s most recognized national symbols – the Dala Horse – is carved.
Woodcarving knive with a thin, tapered blade of laminated steel. Oiled birchwood handle. Plastic sheath.Blade Thickness:2,7mmBlade Length:82 mmTotal Length:188mm

The Mora 106 is a brilliant woodworking knife, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just beginning. The first thing that I think makes the 106 great is that it’s a cheap knife, but is top quality. The laminated steel blade takes a razor’s edge without a great deal of effort, and holds it. The barrel shaped birch handle, whilst plain, is comfortable to hold in a variety of grips.

The shape of the blade is really what makes it a winner for me. It tapers to a thin point, great for delicate curves or kolrossing. The stick tang goes all the way through the handle, allowing you to make bigger, more powerful cuts. I prefer this longer, thinner blade to the Mora 120 (another great woodcarving knife from Mora at a similar price).

The plastic sheath supplied with the knife is cheap and cheerful, protecting the edge but with no real style or grace. If the knife isn’t pushed solidly enough into the plastic sheath it can fall out. If the knife if wedged in too tightly, just trying to pull it straight out can be dangerous when the sheath suddenly releases its grasp. A much safer way is to twist the handle, jiggling it as you gently pull it out.

The birch handle is symmetrical, which means you can’t tell where the edge of the blade is by just gripping the handle. If you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, this shouldn’t poise a problem. However I have rested my thumb on the edge of the blade by accident on a couple of occasions. However, the handle is easily customized.

The 106 blades are also available without a handle, allowing you to make your own. 

106 blade fitted into an oak handle I made myself.

London's Carving Workshops

Tom Bartlett1 Comment
I recently held a couple of carving workshops in London. One near Old Street and another in Victoria Park. Both of them were great fun and they kind of surprised me with how eager people were to learn crafts.

Both of the workshops were a part of Keep Britain Tidy's Waste less, Live more Week. The week was themed 'Be Resourceful' with daily challenges. The first challenge was 'Make it' and that was where my workshops came in.

While I spend most of my time making spoons, butter spreaders are a better project to start with as they only need a knife and are less complicated objects to make.

I split billets of cherry ready for the event.

I also brought along some thin sticks for people to practice the various cuts with. 

For the workshop in Old Street, I took bookings and the seven spaces available filled up very quickly. 

Very impressed by some of the work they were able to produce in the short time available to them.

The Victoria Park workshop was slightly different. There's a patch of land currently being turned into an outdoor classroom/community garden. I was there to help encourage people to get involved in that project. 

I was set up next to one of the park's entrances and sat there whittling away to get peoples interest. 

Over the course of about three hours I had seven people take part in some carving. Three of them were children, whose behaviour and attention to instruction I was very impressed with. 

It did feel a little strange to be in east London handing out knives to people! Fortunately we didn't have any accidents, just several happy folk who now know a little more about woodwork!

The workshops in Victoria Park might become a regular, monthly event, so if you live near there, let me know and I'll send you the details of the next workshop once the details have been sorted out.