In my most melodramatic of moments, I wonder how society will cope in the event of some kind of disaster. How we’ll regroup, grow again as a society. Who will have the knowledge we need to survive. It’s one of the reasons I grow food, and save seeds. Ok, I know. I know. The zombie apocalypse only lives in my overactive imagination. But, should one arrive, I know how to use a hatchet now. And carve a pointy stick. So I’m all set should the vampires rise instead.
Yep, there’s a distinct possibility that I’ve been overdoing it in the Fantasy section of the library.
However, along with my overactive ‘apocalypse’ imagination, my rather more rational self longs to create, rather than merely consume. To learn genuine skills. Spoon carving is something that appears simple, yet is all-consuming. And making utensils for eating with seems like a pretty good skill to have. As Stephen has similar feelings, a course was a wonderful chance for us to spend some time on our last weekend together before his big trip. Which is how we found ourselves in the prettiest village hall in Somerset, learning how to carve a wooden spoon with EJ Osborne of Hatchet + Bear.
The day started with EJ teaching us how to split a log of fresh birch wood with a hatchet and a big lump of wood called a ‘beetle’ in place of a mallet, then demonstrating how to look for inclusions and knots that might cause problems when carving. It was a fascinating way to start learning about working with a natural material.
It has to be said, I wasn’t the most confident hatchet-wielder initially. I’m pretty clumsy and was somewhat terrified of losing a finger. But under EJ’s expert guidance, I practiced using the tools to peel away bark from branches of freshly cut green wood, split a log into two and cut that log down into a billet of wood suitable for drawing my spoon outline on, before the final carving. Through the day, I grew more confident in using the three tools provided—axe, straight knife and crook knife—until I ended up with a wobbly, crooked spoon of my very own. The more wood you can cut away from the billet with the axe, the less work you have to do to create the final shape, so I had to get used to handling tools pretty quickly.
The feeling of ‘flow’—being so engaged in what you’re doing that time passes without notice— is something that doesn’t happen often, but the day passed so, so quickly, and was over all too soon. I’ve spent masses of time since then looking at axes, reading about spoon carving, poring over photos of spoons, wishing I could have gone to SpoonFest ( which, brilliantly is an actual thing) and planning how to take my next steps on this journey towards being a competent spoon carver.
Part of my new-found passion for spoon carving definitely lies with the influence of EJ, who is passionate about her work, sharing stories about herself and other carvers, explaining which techniques she uses and which she doesn’t and being ready to answer any question you might throw her way. She’s a great teacher and she’s bloody good fun too; we laughed a lot.
In a world that thinks that reusable plastic spoons are more ‘convenient’ than washing up the spoons that you have at home, I’m proud of my wonky wooden spoon. Of what it represents to me; learning, sustainability, craftsmanship, great memories. And if you’ve never eaten with a wooden spoon, you really should give it a try. It feels good.