One of the great things about taking a class somewhere is that you get to meet people. In March 2019, I went to North House Folk School for Wood Week and met Luke Jepson and his dad. Both guys were friendly and thoughtful in conversations, and both were clearly talented craftsmen. I kept in touch with Luke since then. He continues to impress and inspire me with his work, whether it’s spoon carving, knifemaking, or tree climbing. If I ever had reduce my tool kit to just one sloyd knife, I would pick the first knife I bought from Luke without a second thought.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Luke Jepson. I am 27 years-old. I live outside a small town in northern Minnesota in a timber-framed tiny house/ cabin that I built. I work full time as an ISA certified arborist- a tree climber. I do some blacksmithing, woodworking, and leatherwork on the side. I love the outdoors and nature.
How long have you been making carving-related tools and how did you first get interested in it?
Well, I’ve been carving spoons regularly for about 4 years, I guess, and making spoon carving tools for almost as long. I have been very fortunate in having a lot of talented craftsmen in my life from a young age.
My father started me young, making things, and instilled in me a love for working with my hands and enjoying the outdoors. My neighbor Danny has also played a big role in my life. He is truly a jack of all trades that can make anything. I would go over to his shop when I was a kid, and he would always take time to help me with whatever little project I was working on. He still does! I had another friend, nicknamed Quill, who had a forge set up in a garage, and as a little kid, I would go over there and watch him forge tomahawks and swords and all manner of things. I would always leave and ask my dad when I would be old enough to blacksmith. When I was eight, he signed us up for a blacksmithing class, and I have been blacksmithing ever since.
I went to college for a couple years in Charleston, SC, at The American College of the Building Arts for architectural ironwork. It is a unique school focusing on creating educated artisans in traditional building trades- blacksmithing, timber framing, woodworking, plaster, and stone carving. I learned and grew a ton from my instructor Richard Guthrie, a great teacher, blacksmith, and friend. As a maker, I guess it just kind of flowed into spoon carving as well and, in turn, spoon carving tools.
You also carve spoons. How does carving inform your tool making and vice versa?
Well, I think all different forms of crafts or making things carry over into each other and kind of go hand in hand. I like being able to carve and make the tools- I mean, I love carving but carving with something I’ve made is just that much better. And while carving, I get to test out my knives right away and see what works and what doesn’t, what feels good in the hand, and how practical certain things are- at least for me.
In your opinion and practice, what do you look for in a well made spoon carving tool?
A tool should be a joy to use. For me, that joy comes from a combination of a few things. First and foremost is its performance. Like any tool, it needs to work. Form follows function, as the saying goes. Feels good in the hand over long periods of time. Edge holding capabilities. Correct edge geometry for its use. After all, the important stuff is aesthetics. Not fancy necessarily, but it should look good. Have a nice fit and finish and be clean- at least to start with. For me, there is nothing I like more than a well used and worn tool. That has a story. Not shiny and new sitting on a shelf. The best tool is a used tool.
Are there any particular toolmakers who inspire your work? How about inspiring spoon carvers?
Tom Latane- incredible blacksmith and woodworker that I’ve been fortunate to work under and get to know. Very skilled and passionate about his craft and a true master if I’ve ever seen one.
Richard Guthrie- my blacksmithing instructor in college. His forgings off the anvil were super clean and fast. A true blacksmith with a love of historical methods and design. He really pushed me as a blacksmith. And taught me so much of what I know. Much of my techniques and methods, and styles come from him.
My neighbor Danny Yochumone is of the most creative people I know and has been a mentor in my life who has always pushed me to be better.
Barn the spoon’s book really got me going into spoon carving and inspired me to carve.
Tons of people on Instagram that I follow. Continually being inspired on there.
Any suggestions for books or websites to learn about spoon carving and toolmaking?
Spoon by Barn the spoon really was a turning point for me in spoon carving. Otherwise, I would say Instagram. I pretty strictly only follow other makers on Instagram, whether they are spoon carvers, blacksmiths, woodworkers, leatherworkers, or whatever it may be, and get tons of ideas, tips, and inspiration on there.
How have your toolmaking techniques changed over time?
Like anything, the more you do something, the more efficient you become in your processes.
As your tools changed, how did it impact your carving?
I think, to some degree, you can only progress so far with a poor quality tool. When I started carving spoons, I was using a Mora hook, which was great to begin with. But I remember the first time I used a Woodspirit hook made by Reid Schwartz, and I was blown away, and I instantly saw an improvement in my carving.
Any tips for sharpening carving tools?
It’s easier to keep a tool sharp than it is to sharpen a tool. So don’t let your tool become so dull before taking it to a strop or stone. Take your time and do it right and pay close attention. Many people I know make some incredible stuff and pay close attention to details when carving, but when it comes to sharpening, they rush and do just enough to get by. Approach it with the same amount of care that you would anything else. It’s important. I use a lot of different sharpening tools. I do some sharpening on a KMG 2″ x72″ belt grinder. I also use a jig from Hewn and hone for sloyd knives so I can hollow grind them on the Tormek. Once hollow ground, I sharpen across the hollow on 1000 and 6000 grit water stones. Hooks and gouges I use either sandpaper or polishing compound on dowels and paddles, along with different sized strops.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
I think craft, in general, is kind of a lifestyle that encompasses a lot of things. Self-reliance to make things or fix things yourself. The joy of working with your hands and using tools. Learning from others and teaching others. Something tangible to show for your labor. A sense of accomplishment. Making things to last and seeing them well used. But more than that, I believe that we are created and made through intelligent design and crafted in His image. And I believe people are instilled with a similar desire or pull to create and make things.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to your shop, what would they be?
I am all over the place with music. I have a very diverse playlist with just about every kind of music and keep it on shuffle. I spend a lot of time with Bluetooth earmuffs or just in the shop, and I can only listen to so much music. So depending on what I am working on, I probably listen to more audiobooks than anything. Some things it’s just too distracting, so I listen to music. But off the top of my head, some songs I like are:
Wayfaring stranger- by Hayde bluegrass orchestra
The way it goes by Gillian Welch
Dirty paws by Of Monsters and Men
The stable song by Gregory Allan Isakov
All my tears by Ane Brun
Civilian by Wye Oak
As far as audiobooks go, I would recommend:
Napoleon: a life by Andrew Roberts
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman
Anything by Tolkien
Pillars of the earth by Ken Follet
Patrick o Brian’s Jack Aubrey series
Bernard Cornwell- historical fiction
George RR Martin’s a song of ice and fire- as long as you don’t mind waiting a decade for the next book.
Lastly, why do you make carving-related tools and carve spoons?
Well, I always have an urge to be making something, and the nice thing about spoon carving is that it’s something you can do for a short period of time (or a long time). And it doesn’t take long to make a spoon compared to many things. You can see something to completion in one go. It’s also relaxing and a great stress reliever. You don’t need a bunch of tools, and you can do it just about anywhere. And it’s clean. So if I have church clothes on and have some free time, I can carve on a spoon, whereas I wouldn’t want to switch on a grinder or fire up the forge. Spoons are so simple in essence, yet they are challenging, and there are unlimited forms and shapes and uses to play with. I started making carving tools because I got into carving. Nothing is more satisfying to me than using something I’ve made or seeing someone else use something I’ve made. So making the tools just adds that much more to the whole thing.
Thanks Luke! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @lukejep21.