I’m happy to share an interview with Chuck Trella.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am a husband of 33 years and father to four fantastic adult children. Professionally I have worked for 20+ years as an IT Business/Systems Analyst in the Publishing, Insurance, and Professional Services industries, mostly in New York City. Prior to that, I dabbled in photography, recording studios, and various retail positions.
My passions since high school have been –
Music: I play guitar and sing (church musician since 16), play Native American Flute, Didgeridoo, and mess around with recording technologies.
Crafts: I have always admired pro crafts persons and had an interest in jewelry, woodworking, and the visual arts – namely photography (worked as a wedding photogragher for 11 years, and assisted in a small commercial studio).
Other: Faith, philosophy, community, nature, conservation, permaculture, and voluntary simplicity are other interests for me.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
In my late 30’s I dreamed of acquiring a full-blown shop and becoming a furniture craftsman (I have a strong affinity for Shaker, Arts & Crafts, and Japanese styles & aesthetics). Or of becoming a luthier – given my love for guitar. I would devour Fine Woodworking and the other such mags each month. But with a young family, tool costs were prohibitive, and I was nervous about having the big powerful shop tools around with young children. So I got interested in seemingly simpler forms of hand woodworking and that led to woodcarving as a less expensive and possibly less dangerous entree into woodworking. I managed to acquire a nice small selection of Flexcut palm gouges & knives. I loved doing wood spirit faces in hiking sticks & cottonwood bark, gnome and fairy homes, Christmas ornaments and Santa figures, etc.
Then I got interested in relief carving too, so I acquired a selection of Swiss Made Pfiel full-sized gouges. But commuting (4 hours a day in & out of NYC) and family life demands severely limited my time to little more than dabbling over 10 years. I also struggled with the design side of carving. I don’t sketch or draw all that well, so I usually just copied work in Carving magazines. My wife Theresa is the drawing & painting artist.
Then I stumbled on YouTube videos by Alex Yerks carving kuksas, and Barn’ The Spoon’ Carder carving spoons. So around 2013 and started thinking that spoon carving seemed like a simpler & less time-consuming pursuit that could satisfy my crafts & carving itch and allow for completing something relatively quickly, and maybe someday I’d get good enough to sell some to pay for gear. So I joined the Spoon Carving, Green Woodworking & Sloyd FB group and trying to learn via the web.
That led to going to a gathering in May 2014 at Oliver Pratt’s parent’s place up in the Catskills in NY about 2 hours from my home. That was my real immersion into spoon carving. Met so many fantastic carvers there – Oliver, Pat Diette, Alex Yerks, Darrick Sanderson, Don Nalezyty, Luc Lavoie, Jeff Kuchak, and others. I knew next to nothing. I bought a cheap Bahco axe, a Mora 106, and a twca cam that I got from Jarrod Dahl, but I hadn’t yet actually carved a spoon. Oliver was so very generous with his time that weekend to help and guide me and let me try tools from makers like Nic Westermann, Del Stubbs, Hans Karlsson, etc. Thanks, Oliver!
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
Well, I am very fortunate to have gotten the guidance at those gatherings. I’ve bought some very high-quality tools over the last 5 years. But the basics can be had pretty inexpensively to get started. I saw carvers like Luc Lavoie create fantastic spoons with Mora sloyd and hook and a hardware store axe. It is so so easy to get caught up in gear acquisition syndrome (GAS). I am no different and lust after great tools too. Yes – great tools DO make things a little easier, but people shouldn’t let that stop them from just getting what they can afford and get access to and START carving. So, my axes are the Svante Djarve Little Viking Axe, and the Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe. Love them both. For sloyd knives – I have several Mora 106, and the Nic Westermann sloyd and small sloyd blades that I put walnut handles on. Love love love Nic’s tools! It’s a long wait now – but worth it. I’d still love to get some of Matt White’s sloyd knives also. For hooks – I have Nic’s Finishing hook and his 65mm & 50mm Twca Cams. I also have Matt White’s Monadnock and Mellow hooks. I haven’t used the twca’s that much, mostly reaching for the Monadnock & Mellow (these hooks have really allowed me to do a much nicer job hollowing my bowls) and sometimes Nic’s Finishing hook. I am about to do a Spoon Mule build with some guys from Rise Up & Carve (more about Rise Up below), and I hope to get more into using the twca cams – using them two-handed with a good holding device.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
Well, my first source and the original ‘spoon carver’s bible’ was the blue reprint of Wille Sundqvist’s Swedish Carving Techniques, and it is an excellent place to start. Barn Carder’s Spōn book is likewise excellent. Joggë’s Sloyd In Wood from Lost Arts Press is also fantastic. Those are my top three book suggestions.
The web is a wealth of resources at this point. Look for YouTube videos by Barn the Spoon, and invest in a subscription to the Spoonclub UK site – an incredible resource & a wealth of videos from Barn and some of the world’s finest carvers. Also, YouTube videos by Jarrod Dahl, Lee Stoffer, Adam Hawker, Emmet Van Driesch (and his & Matt White’s – Spoonesaurus IG), & Tom Scandian (Spoon Carving With Tom).
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
Oh my – too many to list them all, but all the names mentioned so far. Most recent inspirations are:
Adam Hawker @adamhawker1
Roy Rocke @somnolentsparrow
Dan Lawrence @dan.lawrence.uk
Dane Licina @dane.licina
MaryAnne McGinn @turnaleg
Adam Kowalsky @donkadonk
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
Well – I make fewer blood sacrifices now than when I started, though still too many. (Not what you meant? Lol) I really just dabbled with my spoon carving for the three years after that first gathering. I think largely because I let a few things get in my way.
1. My perfectionism. In the sense of knowing enough to see quality – ‘perfection’ (from the carvers mentioned above IG feeds), and then seeing my results and the gap between the two led to discouragement.
2. Not getting good at sharpening. It really is critical to learn early on how to sharpen well to maintain edges. Nothing will sap your energy and increase risk of cuts more than dull edges. Spoon Carving With Tom is the best resource on the web for this!
3. Not having a solid grasp of a ‘process’ – or ‘order of operations.’ Lack of a good step by step approach led to inefficiency and inconsistent results.
4. Not going far enough with the roughing out axe work which led to too much wood to hog off with the knife and my hands getting tired.
So I tended to only carve a couple times a year at a gathering. Then Oliver moved to Maine, and his Catskill gatherings ended. What got me back on track was attending the Spoonesaurus gatherings at Matt’s (in March each year) and Emmet’s (in June this year, July the previous year). These re-ignited my drive and passion, and Emmet’s ability to analyze and articulate his process & order of operations really helped ground me and get me out of my head. I also got great advice from Matt and Emmet about sharpening and how critical it is. I made it to Pat Diette’s gathering for the first time this year and that was flat out phenomenal. Five straight days of greenwood bliss.
The biggest shift for me has been deciding to work on developing a daily carving habit. Just carving on weekends or a couple times a month doesn’t really allow for solid skill growth or retention. Emmet really pushed us to carve every day. (I did his free Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge (VAC) last Nov and the paid one in Jan). But I needed something more to help motivate me, and one of Emmet’s challenges in the VAC was to do something to foster community.
My wife does daily motivational & knowledge sharing video calls early in the morning as part of her work using the Zoom Video Conferencing platform, and I thought – ‘Why not a spoon carver’s version?’ That was the genesis of Rise Up & Carve – a daily ‘virtual’ Spoon Gathering using the Zoom Video Conferencing app. Perfect for those who either don’t have access to Spoon Clubs or gatherings or who like me need that extra motivation to carve daily. I need to leave for work by 7:30am, and by the time I get home around 6pm and have dinner, I usually just want to veg and watch a show or read before bed. So, in Feb 2019 I put it out there on IG that I had this idea and would anyone else be interested in getting on at 6am (Eastern US time) to carve for about an hour – 7 days a week? We can talk spoons, ask questions, share ideas, talk life, or even just sit in silence and carve together. The only guiding principle is no politics and no religious debate, as it can just get too divisive. There is no obligation, either. People are free to come and go as they please. I had a couple guys from the Spoonesaurus gatherings join me – Sean Miller and Dano O’Connor – and it has grown slowly from there.
We also have had spoon carvers from the UK, Germany, Austria, and Australia come on, and now there is a group in the UK led by @rachel_bainton @russelljwest and Sean Warburton @greenwoodtales doing a 6am UK GMT+1 call, and @jill_a_day is leading a 6am EAUS (Eastern Australia) call daily. I would love for it to grow to where at any time of day – you can join the meeting, and a group is on carving – going round the world. If folks are interested – check out the @riseupandcarve IG account. The details are on there in the second posting and the About. Or you can DM me (or any of the folks I just mentioned) on IG.
Carving daily and getting better about sharpening and stropping has been a game-changer for my carving, and will have the greatest positive impacts on your carving skill and results, in my opinion.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
Love them all. I haven’t yet done much with them, but do intend to. I’ve been more focused on form and the process and grasp basics for the last 6 months. But I have started dabbling with kolrosing and pyrography to add decorative elements and my maker’s mark. Really admire the likes of Adam Hawker, Don Nalezety and Ty Thornock’s kolrosing. Dane Licina’s too and his use of color. Maryanne McGinn also. Dan Lawrence’s bird finials. Lee Stoffer’s and Alex Yerk’s chip carving.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
Hmm – I see it as a desire to get back to the ideas and feelings that come when your focused and creating with your own two hands – in a state of flow; but tied in to the primitive and history of mankind and our ties to nature and the natural materials – like wood. It’s about creating functional objects of beauty, fostering your creativity, and getting back to an appreciation for the simple joy of making things by hand. It’s about moving away from the mass machine produced, devoid of soul, furniture, and kitchenware of our modern world and tying these objects to memories of people, places, and joyful experiences. A spoon is a simple item – but it contains a world of possibility with respect to form, function, flow, decoration, etc. Accessible to all – yet – challenging to even the more experienced to push their skills and designs. That’s no small thing to experience in this day and age where so many are disconnected from nature, natural materials, and the joy of losing oneself in handcraft.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
Oh my – that list could be very long indeed. I love classic rock, new age, fusion jazz, folk, world, Celtic and UK Trad folk and folk rock. My faves though are Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Solas, Michael Hedges, Shakti, and Kitaro. Any of these can get me ‘in the zone.’
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
Because I love craft and wood. For me, it’s a focused meditation and experience of “flow” and an outlet for my creativity and the desire to create a tangible expression of love & beauty – as opposed to my computer mediated screen-based world all day at work. Eventually, I think I’d like to create an income stream with it to aid financially in retirement and to share it more broadly. But I am approaching that very slowly. I am still trying to develop my skill and designs, and I am still very much in a copying others work to learn phase. Also – I am probably one of the slowest carvers on the planet. LOL, I worry it could become a ‘chore’ and strip some of the joy I currently experience with it to get into production mode, but I will eventually give it a shot.
I have no website or shop, and I carve to create gifts for family & friends. But I am open to trades and swaps and would very happily sell if anyone sees something on my feed that they like, and that isn’t already a gift. Just DM me on IG or FB. I was thrilled to make my first trade with Cynthia Main for a couple of her handmade booms and a leather dustpan. Look her up – they are perfect for cleaning up woodchips in your carving space.
Thanks Chuck! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @chuck.trella_woodsmyths.
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.