I’m very happy to share the following interview with Jeff Orgon.
Tell us a little about yourself:
Hello. My name is Jeff, and I’m a spoonaholic.
I currently reside in the hills of the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin near the shores of Gitchee Gumi (Lake Superior). For the past five years, I have been living on a 40-acre homestead hidden deep in the woods. Without the benefit of electricity (except a small solar system I found in an REI dumpster) or running water, my partner and I have managed to build a small cabin home. We have attempted to grow as much of our food as the thick clay soils will allow, and we venture into the woods to harvest wild edible plants and mushrooms when they are in season. During the summers, I have “worked” as a kayak guide in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, taking folks out to the sandstone sea caves as well as overnight camping trips on the Islands themselves. If you ever find yourself in this area, do yourself a favor and get out to see them! (through Lost Creek Adventures; shameless advertisement). The long northern winters (which is, let’s face it, most of the year) require one to acquire a hobby to ward off the madness of cabin fever. Thus, my spoon carving journey began.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I’ve been carving seriously for about a year and a half now. My interest started when I picked up a chunk of firewood with the curious intention of turning it into a spoon. Without the benefit of any skill or plan, I was able to make a thing that resembled a spoon. I was captivated and amazed by how simple it was to transform a piece of raw material into a usable object. I still have this first spoon and use it. However, I didn’t dive right into spoon carving after this first attempt. What got my woodworking itch going was when I carved my first Greenland kayak paddle. After I completed the paddle, I was hungry for more woodworking projects. The simultaneous simplicity and complexity of spoon carving became an obsession that I’ve yet to shake.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I have now accumulated a handful of different sloyd and hook knives. The ol’ trusty Mora 106 is the workhorse. I purchased this knife before I started carving. At the time, my workplace had a display of Mora knives, and I was drawn to the one with the cool wooden handle. The first thing I ever did was use it to open a can of beans on a camping trip, enough to make any self-respecting carver cringe! After abusing it and then realizing that it was a carving knife, I tried to sharpen it and gave it a very pronounced secondary bevel. Whoops! I struggled with carving and sharpening it until I realized what a Scandi grid was, and slowly but surely reshaped it. The blade is now about half of its original width; however, the super-slim tip is excellent for tight angles! For hook knives, I started with a Mora 164 and inflicted the same secondary bevel damage. Later I acquired a Pinewood Forge open sweep hook. The different blade geometry showed me how much the tool could affect the design of the finished piece. The cream of my hook knife crop is a Reid Schwartz Woodspirit Hook knife. Superb craftsmanship and design cuts like butter and keeps an edge for a long while. One thing I learned by using (and misusing) a variety of tools is that more important than having any specific tool is having a SHARP tool, which means that learning the skill of sharpening is just as (or more?) important that the skill of carving.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
Regardless of what the skill might be, whenever someone asks me, “How did you learn to do that?” the answer is unvarying: Youtube. There is such a wealth of knowledge available. If you have the interest, you can find the instruction. When I first started looking for more info on carving, I found many excellent teachers on Zed outdoors’ channel. Another gem is Barn the Spoon’s “Silent Carving” videos. You can re-watch them and focus on some specific technique or aspect and see how he manages to do it with such deftness and fluidity. Something to aspire to! As far as books go, I have Willie Sundqvist’s Swedish Carving Techniques and Barn’s Spon. Both are excellent resources and inspirational. For me, the best way to learn is to repeatedly attempt to copy different spoon styles until I can get it as close as possible. Each mistake is an invaluable teacher if you pay attention.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
Absolutely! The most influential spoon carver for me is Jarrod Dahl. I have the good luck and fortune of living in the same area as him and was able to take his “Advanced Spoon Carving” course in the summer of 2019. This revolutionized my approach to carving spoons and my mindset about handcraft, design, and intention. My view of spoon carving shifted from an anachronistic hobby to a connection with true craft, to intentionally mindful skill and emphasis on good design; in short Art. In addition to Jarrod being a great teacher, he also has an outstanding collection of spoons from some of the best carvers from around the world. Holding a great spoon, to be able to feel it and experience it in all it’s dimensions, is inspirational. Although videos and books are great resources for learning, there is no substitute for studying with a master.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
The best advice I ever received about getting into woodcraft was, “Carve a lot of spoons.” Most of the advances in my technique and ability I would attribute to repetition repetition repetition. Each time I do something differently (whether intentionally or accidentally) is an opportunity to learn. Was that technique effective? Was it efficient? Is it repeatable? Once I’ve encountered a new method, the challenge is to remember it and then implement it. From that point, the key is to repeat the technique until it becomes muscle memory. Once it becomes intuitive and fluid, it also becomes extremely satisfying. For me, the joy of carving is just that: carving. The result is great, and I love using wooden spoons. The actual act of carving, the interaction of one’s mind, body, the tool, and the material is a unifying experience. Intention, Mindfulness, and Flow.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I think these are all great ways to make a well-designed spoon look more interesting. I think I put too much focus/attention on decoration too early in my spoon carving journey. I saw all these awesome spoons with detailed kolrosing and finials. My attempts to jazz up my spoons with decoration resulted in weird-looking spoons with crappy decorations. In my humble opinion, it is far more important to learn how to carve a good spoon, and then you can take the time to learn the additional skill of decoration.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
To me, these concepts signal a return to connection. Connection to one’s environment through natural materials that are native to one’s specific locale. Connection to one’s mind in the clever use of these materials, the ability to transform them into something useful, beautiful, and meaningful. Connection to one’s body in the physical skill required to transform these materials through the use of simple tools that have been used for millennia. Connection to traditional cultures and ancestry in one’s appreciation of techniques and designs that have been distilled by generations of craftspeople. Connection to one’s peers in our simultaneous attempt to embody all of these values through our crafts and lifestyles. In a world that is at once all too connected by technology, we long for true connection in the face of our felt experience of isolation and purposelessness. Craft, sloyd, and wood culture are one path that can lead to a life of greater connection and purpose. This has been my experience, and it seems to be shared by many others.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
Honestly, I answered this question last because it is the hardest one.
I will resist the temptation to make an ungodly list of all of the artists I think everyone should check out, and restrict myself to a few that I’ve been listening recently. In the realm of Rock/Punk, I’d have to say Idles, who are killing it. Really good records and energetic live performances. For hip-hop, I’d go with Milo/Scallops Hotel/R.A.P. Ferreira, who has a diverse catalog of styles with consistently provocative lyrics and beats. Lastly, I’ve just got into a folk/blues singer named Michael Hurley, who has been putting out awesome records for half a century now. Impressive!
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
Carving spoons satisfies a specific part of my psyche that enjoys sitting down and fiddling with something detailed that I can repeatedly do. I realized that I’ve been doing things of this nature all my life, whether it be sewing, making screenprints, writing graffiti, playing folk tunes on the banjo, or carving spoons. I also see spoon carving as a gateway to a larger world of woodcraft, and I hope to expand into the world of turning and other kinds of green woodwork. In the long term, it would be cool to make a little money off my work at least make up for all the expensive tools I’ve bought and the ones on the wish list!
Thanks Jeff ! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @echo_valley_woodcraft .
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.