30 Aug 2012

Little Beech spoon (part 2)

Last weekend I spent a glorious few hours in the company of some lovely people at the Teddybear's picnic in Sloughhouse Wood. This is a  gathering held at the 25 acre woodland owned by Nick and Katie Abbott, two amazing woodworkers

There were many people I had met before, Nick and Katie Abbott, Sue Holden, Will Wall, Mark Baigent   Eric Rodgers, Simon Lamb and some who I didn't know but they were a very friendly bunch.

The weather outlook was grim as storms with thunder and lightning had been acurately predicted and around 16:00hrs......the tide came in! luckily there were enough shelters and tarps to keep the rain at bay and we could carry on carving.

Keeping dry

I had taken with me a chopping block I had made the previous day like the one Fritiof Runhall was using at spoonfest. Mine was made from some willow I had lying around but it was good enough to try it and see how I got on, the legs are ash.

Fritiof Runhall inspired chopping block

I was not the only one inspired by Fritiof's demonstrations as Simon Lamb was making one as well though it seemed to take forever for his auger to cut through his log. 

Simon's (sitting) Fritiof inspired chopping block

I had also taken with me the Martin Damen spoon that I bought at spoonfest as I had intended to spend the time trying to copy it as per the advice given by Steve Tomlin (see Little Beech spoon post below)
I had some Aspen which whilst not the same wood as Martin's, it was all I had to hand and is nice and soft for carving. I tried to copy as exactly the specimen spoon and was determined to reject any mistakes and start again. Luckily I only had to reject one. The photo below shows two copies waiting to dry before I go over them with a finishing cut.

Two copies of my Martin Damen Beech spoon (center). The right hand spoon looks slightly distorted as the wood I used for the background wasn't flat.

I was pleased with the two spoons that I carved and rather enjoyed Steve's disciplined approach, It gave me a totally different mental approach than the rather free method that I normally employ. I think I will now start to collect more spoons and copy them as well as continuing to copy Martins 'little Beech spoon'. I would recommend this approach to anyone.

As for the chopping block, well it will take some getting used to, different axing position etc but it felt like I was controlling the axe and the blank much more successfully than usual so time will tell, so far so good.

Unfortunately I could only spend a few hours in this wonderful setting before I had to head back home. Many thanks to Nick and Katie for their hospitality.

21 Aug 2012

Little Beech spoon

At spoonfest I attended a workshop run by Steve Tomlin http://stevetomlincrafts.wordpress.com/ One of his words of wisdom was to buy spoons we liked and to try and copy them as a learning exercise, in retrospect this seems a bit obvious but the idea had passed me by in the past.

With this in mind I decided that if I sold any spoons at spoonfest I would then reinvest in a spoon I had fallen in love with. Well I did sell a couple and bought the little beech spoon by Martin Damen  www.martin-damen.co.uk  that is shown below.

There were a lot of spoons I would have liked but this one was whispering "buy me buy me and lie about the price to the wife" well I didn't have to lie to the wife as it was only £15 and the price was on the ticket so she would have caught me out anyway.

So what is it about this spoon that tickled-me-fancy? well I love the shape, it's simple but also has an underlying elegance. Steve also talked about balance and proportion and I think this spoon has both in the positive, subjective I know but hey it was my £15 so for me it works.

I am going to try and copy it and I will post the results when I have done so.


20 Aug 2012

Spoonfest 2012

Here is the longer account to my twitter and Facebook feeds I have been posting whilst attending Spoonfest.

Spoonfest was born from a dream by Robin Wood and Barn Carder (Barn the spoon) and held at Edale in Derbyshire in the UK between 17th and 19th August 2012, and was to be "The first international celebration of  the carved wooden spoon"

I set off from North Essex on the Friday lunch time with a car packed with all the neccesary camping equipment and a bag of sharp knives and axe. I wasn't sure what to expect but knew that I would come back with more knowledge than when I went.

The journey should have taken about four hours but at just over seven and a half I was more than a bit anxious that I would miss the opening speech by Jögge Sundqvist.

As I drove high, by Mam Tor, there in the bottom of the Hope valley, looking like Shangri-La was the village and large white marquee, journey over phew. 

I checked in at the gate and found a place to pitch my tent. There were about sixty other tents already there with people milling around. I made my way into the marquee for the opening speeches. Robin and Barn must have been a tad nervous at this point, it was about to happen, all this planning and well over 100 people if not many more, had traveled from far and wide, for example there was James Carroll www.stickman.ie who had traveled from the Wicklow mountains in Ireland on a moped that in his words "didn't do over 40mph" there was an Italian from Germany (I couldn't attempt to spell his name), people from Sweden, Germany and many others so would spoonfest deliver? would people enjoy the weekend and how would it be judged a success or not?

Robin opening Spoonfest

There was a quick welcome with some house rules, tools away at 19:00hrs keeping them and the bar separated, an introduction to the first-aider and other bits of information. All the instructors for the weekend introduced themselves and then on to the presentation by Jögge Sundqvist.

 His talk was worth the long disjointed journey, he spoke enthusiasticallyinformatively and with the authority and wisdom of a master of his craft. He captivated the audience with a brilliant talk about his traditions and work, he told stories of old men in the mountains that didn't exist but who now form part of his professional persona, he described wandering the forests looking for suitable wood and showed us many examples of his work. It was a great start to what was to be a great weekend.

The event was on the playing field of the village, a large area was for tents, cars parked away from them, the massive marquee dominated the field. Behind it was an area with piles of wood separated into species which was there for the using. and general carving/socialising.

wood stock/carving area

Just along from that was an area where there were a couple of open fires, communal areas to chill and chat. Inside the marquee at one end was a large area used for presentations, in the middle, cordoned off areas for the workshops, these had ample chairs and chopping blocks.

The working areas looking toward the presentation end, in the foreground in the hi-viz vest is the first-aider who was ever present.

There was one brilliant area that had a large selection of hook knives to try and having the opportunity to use different knives in the same piece off wood at the same time was just great, personally I fell in love with a couple of Fawcett finishing knives made by Nic Westermann www.nicwestermann.co.uk and will be ordering one soon. Other people loved the Ben Orford or one of the others which highlighted how subjective these things are but it was a great place to try them out.

Next to the try out area was the shop, a three sided area manned in the main by two of the nicest friendliest people one could meet, a gentleman and lady who sold the tee shirts, organised the spoon shop where you could leave some of your spoons and they would sell them for 10% commission, there was also a small selection of tools for sale. This couple, like many of the volunteers and helpers, manning the gate, supervising the exhibition space etc worked for hour upon hour and all deserve a big debt of gratitude for making the event such a success.

The shop

Saturday was to be a day of workshops, queuing was to start at 09:00hrs on a first come first served basis. I got there at about 08:30hrs and the queue was already populated by about 80 people!

Queuing for the workshops

Don't get me wrong, the queuing wasn't a problem, it made opportunities to meet and talk to new people. The mood was always buoyant, calm and bubbling with enthusiasm.

The day was to be made up of workshop sessions, demonstrations and general carving around the site.

At 10:00hrs Jögge Sundqvist gave a practical demonstration and insight to how he works, again it was inspiring and a great start to the day.

I didn't manage to get onto any of the workshops as they where well over subscribed, I think they had underestimated demand but hey this had never been run before. Very quickly and seamlessly, other workshops were added, times re-jiggled and the day progressed.

We had rain and sun and rain but it didn't matter as the marquee was giant enough to cover all, no problem.

As I wasn't booked into any workshops I wandered over to the village hall where there was a small exhibition of spoons and treen from Robins and others collections. There was also a large collection of Stuart King’s historical spoons, books from Robins collection and an informal wall of any spoon that people wanted to put up on show.


spoons by Wille and Jögge Sundqvist

Wille Sundqvist

Jögge Sundqvist


Eric Rodgers

Sue Holden

Jarrod Stone Dahl


Nigel Leach

Barn Carder

It was great to be able to see, feel and smell these spoons all together, and absorb inspiration.

On Saturday afternoon I watched a demonstration of sharpening techniques given by Sean Hellman.

Sean Hellman's sharpening demo

The day drew to a close, tools put away and and an atmosphere of general contentment settled on the site.

Sunday. I woke at 05:30hrs and wandered off to the loo, the carmine sun was just rising, and created the most wonderful rainbow in the sky above. A cup of tea and breakfast then off to queue again.

Carving in the queue

The spoonfest team had been beavering away to rearrange times so that more people could book into workshops and I managed to book onto one by Fritiof Runhall and another by Steve Tomlin.

The Workshops and demonstrators.

I didn't manage to attend every workshop but below is my impression of what went on from personal experience and the impression formed by talking to others. This is however only my opinion.

Barn Calder
I didn't get to attend or talk to Barn but everyone spoke well of him and his workshop, he seemed to have patience and time for everyone as well as a spoonfest to run.

Fritiof Runhall
I did get to attend one of Fritiof's workshops and he gave a passionate and informative demonstration of axe techniques using some interesting chopping blocks to do most of the carving with an axe in a quick and efficient manner mixed with body positions that are more relaxed yet controlled. 

Fritiof  Runhall

Jan Harm ter Brugge
I didn't attend but the general opinion was that it was informative and very interesting. He did a workshop on carving small scoops and one on engraving both of which inspired people to try techniques they may not have tried before.

Jarrod Stone Dahl
He did a workshop using bark and root, it was a popular workshop and he also did a demonstration on Sunday which very much left the question  as we have ample supplies of bark and root in the UK, a lot he has no experience with but hey, why not go and give it a try. great demo.

Jarrod Stone Dahl

Jögge Sundqvist
What can I say, both his talk and demonstration where truly inspiring. I feel very privileged to have seen him (sounds a bit sycophantic I know but he was inspiring)

Martin Hazell
He gave a talk  ‘The Hermit Spoon Maker; St Peter Damian and the Contemplative Tradition of Making’
I didn't attend but he had a huge audience and my impression was that he had a deep and interesting knowledge, I know little more but it seemed to be a great talk.

Mike Abbott
Mike gave a demonstration outside the marquee on using the shave horse to make a spoon, I overheard general comments that it was very useful.

Robin Wood
Robins infectious laughter could be heard everywhere, but far from someone who was taking it easy he seemed to be managing to organise, re-organise, instruct and keep calm and unfazed. I have attended one of his sessions at the bodgers ball in the past and would recommend them to anyone without hesitation.

Robin keeping the show on the road

Sean Hellman
I watched his demonstration about sharpening, informative and it didn't matter if you were a complete beginner or had some experience, Sean is a born communicator and his you tube videos are well worth a watch.

Steve Tomlin
I attended Steve's workshop which was deep and disturbing, deep because he knows his subject matter very well and oozes passion, disturbing because he makes you look and re-evaluate your own work, every facet and cut is there for a reason, great advice about copying other peoples work as a way of understanding but also about looking at design, balance and proportion. fantastic!

Steve Tomlin hard at it

Terence McSweeny
I spoke to some people who thought his workshop “Exercise, Posture, and Ergonomics for the Passionate Spoon Carver” would change the way they work and therefore was of great use.

The last event was in some ways one of the best. Spoon club was where everyone sat in groups of about ten people in circles, each person had a chopping block, axe, straight and hook knives. Everyone also had a spoon blank and was given five minutes to free carve, the spoon was then passed to the person one the left and you had another five minutes to work on that (already part-worked) spoon. Once the spoon had gone round the group you got your original spoon back but after nine other people had worked on it as well. It was a collaborative exercise, great great fun, quick and is a must do at any event.

The ten spoons from my groups spoon club

Spoonfest was a first and I very much hope not the last. It was well organised, full of skill, excitement, dedication, insight and I left with my head crammed with ideas also I had acquired new skills and techniques.
It was a must see event and I sincerely hope it happens again next year. With this, the bodgers ball and other events, green woodworking has a great future in the UK.

30 May 2012

'White Wood'

Here is my proposal for the featured space at Tent London 2012. The featured space is a competition which is going to be voted upon by the readers of the Tent London  newsletter, you can sign up to it here if you so wish: http://www.tentlondon.co.uk/ and if you feel like it I would welcome your vote.

White Wood: A proposal for a Tent London feature space 

“Imagine a steelworks run entirely on solar energy, producing all its own solar panels and making no noise; or a plastics factory that actually purified the atmosphere and required at most only a few hours’ human input a year; picture a fiberglass works supporting all kinds of wildlife where people drive for miles to spend a day strolling around the production unit “-(Mike Abbott)

This proposal sets out to highlight some of the beauty of the sustainable natural resource we know as wood

Greenwood is exactly as it says, wood that is worked whilst still green (unseasoned). It is an abundant  resource in the UK, which is being used in contemporary design by the likes of  Charlie Whinney, David Colwell, Sebastian Cox and Pinch.  Initiatives like Bodging Millano and The New Green Woodwork project have provided opportunities for designers to develop work with wood and ancient greenwood techniques.

White Wood will provide an intimate setting, where members of the public and design community can observe this ancient yet engaging process of taking a freshly felled unseasoned log through five production stages (split, cut, chop, shave, turn) to product.  

The space will be framed by a white picket fence and to accentuate the natural beauty of the wood, everything within the space will be white, the logs, tools, clothing and equipment, creating a blank canvas. Throughout the course of the exhibition I will work the pile of logs, gradually revealing its natural colours and textures which will stand out against the white setting.

White Wood has no power requirements as all tools are hand tools.

No chemicals and no dust just fresh green wood chips and shavings.

To highlight the longevity of wood as a material, cross sections of an older tree will be on display, marked on the exposed rings will be dates relating to our recent history of technology (first publicly available computer, first mobile phone etc).

Whilst this is not going to be a comprehensive overview of greenwood techniques and processes it will be a taster, a glimpse into the world of working wood with out machines. I am not anti-machine, in fact I love CNC (computer numeric control), laser, water jet and RP (rapid prototyping) and RM (rapid manufacturing) technologies but I also love the synergy one gets with working green wood, for example, when turning on the pole lathe, as opposed to a power lathe which is basically power on/power off, the power comes from my leg and I adapt a fine micro-control constantly changing the power I put into the cutting stroke, there is an exciting connection between hand, eye, mind, and leg.

This way of working is not just creatively rewarding but makes economic sense for me as well. I can make prototypes and finished pieces on very inexpensive equipment with material which is often considered only good for the fire. By intimately handling the material, it's smells, it's changing colours and textures of course one gains a better understanding of it's possibilities. 

19 Apr 2012

Heavy moving!

I have recently sent off four Sunday Papers tables to Holland, Two 32cm diameter and two 63cm diameter. The large ones where very heavy and at the limit of what I would make from this method (rolled newspaper). The Easter bank holidays postponed delivery by a few days and unfortunately in my rush to get them to the customer I haven't got any photos of the finished pieces (cardinal sin) but it was more important to get them shipped ASAP.

I was delayed the week before as the glass supplier didn't check the glass and the first time it arrived it had zinc contamination marks, annoying and slack and it's this sort of rushing that can ruin a relationship with a supplier, luckily I always check things personally and noticed it.

Examples of this type of table can be seen at :
(The closest image is the second from the right.)

12 Apr 2012

Junk food #1

I have a very unhealthy obsession/craving for junk food, be it biscuits (cookies), cake or crisps, I am a sucker for the sugary hit and the salty overdose so yes that puts me in a bad demographic. I am not alone in this as the western world has a problem with people eating bad diets which of course increases the chances of impending health problems.

One has to have been living under a rock to not know about the health messages that come from eating such a bad die,t but an awful lot of us choose to ignore them. I had thought I was just week willed but as I gave up smoking about sixteen years ago I don't think it's as simple as just will power, though obviously this is very important

So what to do? I thought it would be interesting to document my battle with the junk food, which I take complete responsibility for, I eat it and nobody forces me to do so, but am I battling only my relationship with this muck or am I in a more complex relationship with subliminal messages selling techniques and culture. What I aim to do is understand the problem fully and play with some design based responses, it may lead nowhere, but I have a feeling it could be an interesting journey.

The custard tarts in the photo by the way will absolutely not go to waste.......

3 Mar 2012

Chris Wood, a master class in craft.

Last night I went to see the singer, songwriter and general musician/genius, Chris Wood. He was playing at a small folk club in Bury St Edmund (Suffolk) and sang with just his guitar as accompaniment. He is apparently a self taught musician and music is a language that I know nothing about (apart from listening) but to me he seemed to play with different tunings, timings and generally kept you second guessing what was about to come and wanting more. The lyrics were beautifully crafted, even when dealing with difficult subjects like the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes (Hollow point). He was constantly bringing in new elements and there seemed to be a fair bit of risk and a huge amount of originality.

So what has this to do with design, well for me they are very similar, both have to pull together many elements, some familiar and some not so, these need to blend and work in some sort of harmony but discourse and serendipity can also add an exciting element.


Rant about bad toilet/rest room design

Design should be about making things better, easier to use and understand, make better use of materials and resources etc but one area that the concept of design has rarely visited is the world of the public toilet/rest room.

I once had reason to go to the UBS investment bank in Bishopsgate, London. The toilet facilities were as you would expect, clean, well maintained and well laid out and it was obvious this reflected the wealth of that particular organization,  this I find however, is a rarity. Recently I used the facilities for the staff in one of the many stores of a major UK supermarket giant, and it was dismal, don't get me wrong , it was clean but the layout was just not a consideration. To use the urinal one has to put your coat, bag etc on the sink units as there is no way are they going on the floor, but the taps and soap dispensers are all automatic, they work well enough but they can't tell the difference between a hand and a coat, yes you can see it coming, I ended up with a coat  sleeve full of soap and the strap of my bag soaking wet. The problem here is not the technology it is in the fact that who ever designed (and I use the word very loosely) the facilities did not think for a moment as to how they are used by others!

Here I see another and rather wider problem, familiarity. Of course the designer of the facilities has a need to use them but this can create a complacency, 'why think about what is needed, why make it hard work, I use them every day' and of course they do, but they are probably office based which is a very different environment from the one I visited on that soap filled sleeve day. They had not considered where people put things, coats, bags, paperwork, PDA's, safety equipment (hard hats, gloves etc).

Is this a trivial moan, well I think not. The toilet facilities are vital to the good running of a building and organization. A food outlet should have impeccable hygiene standards, they reflect on how well the organisation cares about such things which in turn will influence the customer experience. I can not empirically prove that good clean well designed facilities = good clean general hygiene in the shop but my gut feeling (no food poisoning pun intended) is that it does.

It's all to easy to overlook what seems like unimportant detail and seemingly concentrate on trivia but it is odd, if not perverse, that more thought is often given to the front facade of a building than one of the important areas within.