I often look through my Instagram feed to connect with and be inspired by other spoon carvers. I’ve really enjoyed seeing David White’s (@thewhittlings) amazing photos and his beautiful carving. I reached out to him and he was kind enough to answer some questions that I had for him. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I have been making with wood all my life, but having studied and worked as a graphic designer/photographer, I have always been interested in expressing my creatively in 3D objects as well as on 2D media. Using green wood and simple tools allows very freeform design.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
Without doubt my favourite tools are by Nic Westermann – his tools are very organic in shape (as apposed to using cut bevels on tools) allowing them to flow freely around corners. In terms of knives – you actually can’t beat the cheap and simple Mora carving knives, IF you know how to get them dangerously sharp.
Any suggestions for books or websites to learn about carving or woodwork?
There is a lot on YouTube (see Barn the Spoon, Zed Outdoors), but the classic book is Swedish Carving Techniques. There is a Green Woodworking book that’s like an encyclopaedia.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
I am more inspired by makers who work in ceramics and metal making spoons that other wood workers – different materials lend themselves to different shapes so more diverse inspiration can come from looking outside of the same materials in craft.
Any tips for new spoon carvers based on what you have learned?
I did a 52 spoons in a year project to get my skills honed – I actually would have done 365 in a year if I had the time but we have a young child who of course takes priority, most of the time at least. The constant practice is the key to unlocking skill in any creative endeavour.
Your spoons are really beautiful. Please talk about your technique.
Thanks. Carving technique is quite subtle and perhaps easier to explain by watching than communicated in words. Technique starts with selecting the appropriate tree species and part of the tree for a given project. That’s what I really love about green woodworking – it brings you closer to nature. Using shop bought seasoned wood tended to lean me more towards buying more power tools to make the job easier. I try and keep it simple with my working practice – an axe, a couple of hook knives and a mora knife.
Are your spoons for sale? And how can someone buy them?
Of course – www.thewhittlings.co.uk
What do the concepts of new wood culture and sloyd mean to you?
The concept of New Wood Culture I really buy into but haven’t seen defined clearly – I expected to in Barn the Spoons superb book Spon but he doesn’t really cover that in any depth. In the past, green woodworking was a really skill most rural folk would have understood and also that many practiced as their job/work either as part of farm work or making bowls, spoons, chair legs etc. The majority of the contemporary interest in the craft of making using a few simple tools is based around how freeing it can be from the stresses of modern work life and how accessible it is in terms of being able to buy a few simple tools and have a go pretty much anywhere, even in a city centre flat with a bit of thought. The New wood culture is going to mean something different to everyone but I see it as a movement somewhat divorced from the need to make it pay the bills for most people, which in a positive way means people have time to experiment and make interesting designs/products that don’t have to always preform a lifelong service in the home/kitchen.
The photos of your work on Instagram are amazing! Do you have a photography background? Any tips that you can share for photographing spoons?
Yes, being self-employed, I work as a food photographer and teach photography workshops, which of course helps with photographing my work. Getting great shots is all about good light – a simple background and using a north-facing window as a light source with no electric lights on will go a long way. Then think about the photo as a design or a composition. Tell a story.
If you had to pick few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
We go up to Scotland as much as we can, and over the years, I have picked up on the new Scottish folk scene while on the islands. So, you are likely to hear Celtic fiddle coming from my workshop, much to the irritation of my son.
Any final thoughts on pursuing a craft like spoon carving?
Making eating and cooking spoons (and bowls) from easily available coppice wood was a necessity for many people until fairly recently and metal cutlery was reserved for the rich. It’s been fantastic to see that what is actually a very old craft, being re-learned and reinterpreted into the new wood culture if you like. This means there is loads of easy to find information online and in books on how to get up and running. The tools needed are few, and making a spoon from a log is so satisfying. The ease of selling wooden kitchenware on websites like Etsy or a simple ecommerce website means there is a lot of competition. It would be hard to make a living from just carving spoons, but with a little thought, it’s perfectly possible to sell lots at local events, craft markets and festivals.
A simple way to get started is to find a spoon carving workshop near you. I am running a couple of workshops this summer, near Chester / North West / North Wales.
Thanks David! I hope that you visit his website – www.thewhittlings.co.uk – and are as inspired by his work as I have been. As I have said previously, my goals with this website are to learn more about spoon carving and connect with the great community of spoon carvers out there. I welcome carvers to contact me if you would like to be interviewed to share your thoughts on the craft of spoon carving.