I’m very happy to share this interview with Lee Stoffer
Tell us a little about yourself:
I’d consider myself a perpetual student with a thirst for knowledge who is most gainfully employed doing something challenging that involves the use of both my mind and body. I’ve had a varied career and enjoyed many hobbies throughout my life and I love sharing the things I’ve learned over the years with anyone interested enough to listen to me banging on about it, anyone who knows me would probably tell you I can talk at great length about any subject that has sparked my interest!
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I’ve been carving with green wood for over fifteen years now. I was a big fan of Ray Mears’ programs back when he was on TV regularly and enjoyed watching him make things that he needed while out camping with a fairly basic tool kit. Then I met a green woodworker called Mike Abbott at a local craft fair, he was turning baby rattles on a pole lathe, which was the first time I’d ever seen such a device, and felt compelled to learn more about it. I ended up going on an introductory course run by Mike, and made a shave horse in his woodland based workshop and was instantly hooked. I went on to make a pole lathe and learned a bit about turning but kept being drawn back to the first thing I’d tried after watching Ray, which was spoon carving. After enjoying the immersive experience of camping in the woods on Mike’s course I even ended up buying a small patch of woodland so I could harvest materials, camp, cook and carve in natural and peaceful surroundings.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
Without a doubt, my favourite carving tools are the ones that I’ve made myself. The satisfaction of carving with a tool that I’ve designed, forged, honed and handled is hard to beat, and over the years I’ve made quite a variety, some conventional and some experimental designs which have become valued by myself and popular with a few other carvers too.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
I really enjoyed reading Mike Abbott’s books and learned lots about green woodworking in general from them. Eventually I got hold of a copy of Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist when it got reprinted in 2013 and was pleasantly surprised to see that much of what I’d already learned about spoon carving by experience were established and documented techniques! YouTube is another excellent resource for gathering information if you’re an auditory-visual learner, I’d highly recommend my friend Zed’s channel, Zed Outdoors, which hosts a collection of fascinating and detailed videos on spoon carving as well as other related and engaging topics. I’ve put a few videos out on my own YouTube and Instagram accounts that have been fairly well-received too.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
My friend Martin Hazell has to come top of that list, he was the first spoon carver I ever met and brought a spoon from. His work is as unique and delightful as his personality, and he’s been supportive, generous and hilarious in equal measure and will always be held in the highest regard by myself and many others I’m sure. Years ago, Simon Hill and Magnus Sundelin’s spoons both inspired me to have a go at chip carving and eventually painting spoon handles. I was also inspired at the same time by the individual style of Fritiof Runhall and Nigel Leach’s spoons. Keith Matthews for persistence and variety during his 365 spoon challenge. Sean Hellman and Adam Hawker for their style and bar-raising quality and more recently, Joel Larabell’s clean lines and finish have impressed me. Last specific mention goes out to Pat Diette for being a genuinely talented and truly committed pro. There are plenty of others who’s work I admire and spoons I enjoy using, but if I mentioned them all it’d be a long old list!
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
My techniques have evolved quite a bit through the experience of developing my own tools. I have to mention that one game-changer for me was when Martin Damen showed me the technique that I’ve since stuck to and shared with many carvers of hewing the crank into cleft billets before cutting the profile. It works great for batch production work and individual spoons alike. When I was into making batches, I would often also rough out the bowl of the spoon while holding the square-sided, cranked billet in a vice, which I found to be very safe and efficient.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
Personally, I’ve never used milk paint and have minimal experience of kolrosing, although done well I think it looks fantastic. I enjoy chip carving and think that quite often paint works well to enhance a chip carved design. To begin with, I was dead set against painted spoons of any kind, but in the end, they grew on me to the point I quite often experiment with painted, chip carved handles on my own spoons and enjoy the extra character it can add.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
I’d consider most of what I do in terms of making things as craft. I believe the other two have fairly specific meanings that have become diluted by their fairly recent overuse as generic buzz words.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
My favourite genre is Hip Hop (not the mainstream popular stuff though), but if I listen to music when I carve at home, it’s generally whatever comes on the radio. If I’m in the woods, the natural soundtrack of trees swaying and birds singing is hard to beat. My mate John Mullaney on the banjo is a pretty decent accompaniment too!
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
These days I mostly carve spoons to share and demonstrate the craft, and tools I make, to the folks at shows and online. When I find the time though I still enjoy getting immersed in carving them for the meditative effect and pure pleasure of it. Carving in woodland among the trees that provide us so much in life is a very special experience and still one of my favourite ways to pass the time.
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.