I’m very happy to share this interview with Nick Murphy.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m a husband to a wonderful wife who is tolerant of woodchips all over the house, and a father to two busy children (with another on the way!). I run a Forest School in Devon in a beautiful piece of woodland where we host a variety of sessions for kids and also run adult training. I love my work; I function at my best when I’m outdoors surrounded by trees, and it allows me to tailor sessions to the needs of those who attend. I’ve been doing it for nearly six years, and my belief in the Forest School ethos strengthens with each session. It also allows me first dibs on any fallen wood I find whilst rambling through the woods.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
Six years ago, I trained to become a forest school leader, and as part of the course, I was required to make some useful items from the woodland, and so I made a spoon. Something strange happened to me that day as I entered my first ever spoon-trance. I found the axe work mesmerizing, and completely lost myself for the best part of the day, sat peacefully in the woods whittling away. Little did I know it would evolve into what it has. I studied music at University and still play every day, though once the kids are asleep, I can’t be making too much noise, and so carving satisfies my creative needs whilst being relatively peaceful. My first spoon sits on the chest of drawers at my parents’ house, and when I visit, it’s a lovely reminder of where it began and how far I’ve come.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I love my tools. You can’t deny that one of the best carving knives is the Mora 106 for its quality and price. I do like handmade tools, however, and my go-to sloyd knives are made by Svante Djärv and the equally fantastic Nic Westermann. Superb craftsmanship at its best. I use several different hooks regularly; a Nic Westermann fawcett blade, a Robin Wood compound curve, and a lovely little hook made by Belzeboo Crafts. I struggled with a poorly made hook knife for well over a year before I spent a little more on these knives, and it was a complete game-changer for me. A good knife is a pleasure to use and easy to sharpen. I seem to have some sort of problem with Axes. They are such awesome tools. Whereas you can get by very well with a cheap axe, and also find and restore some lovely old heads from junkyards, I like Viking style axes. I like a bearded axe with a decent sweep and a good blade length. I regularly use a Hans Karlsson Sloyd axe, the Njord from Landvirke forge, and my most recent and increasingly favoured axe from Peter Kovacs of Soulwood Creations.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
I’ve only read two books on carving. Willie Sundqvist Swedish Carving techniques and Spōn by Barn. Two fantastic and very different books. I think most others interviewed have spoken enough about these, so I won’t repeat all that has been said. I’m a kinaesthetic learner, however, and there is a huge difference between reading how to do something and seeing it done and putting tools to wood. I wish I had gone on a course when I first started to get a better idea of how to apply the technique, and I’d advise anyone interested to do so. The ‘Spoon Carving, Greenwood working and Sloyd’ Facebook group was endlessly helpful to me initially also, and the admin team and members are very generous with their knowledge and advice and encouragement. I probably wouldn’t have continued carving after my first spoon without the inspiration I found there.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
There are many. Buying spoons from makers I admire helped my understanding of form and function. My first spoon was purchased from Patrick Diette and blew my mind. The finish achieved from a good maker through knives alone is something to wonder at. There are many others who inspire me hugely and to make it simple, just look at those I follow on my Instagram account. I only follow carvers, so you won’t have to look far. I’m thankful for the connections I’ve made with many of these lovely people and to those who have helped me along my way, you know who you are, and I thank you.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
I’m a clumsy sod at the best of times, and thankfully for my own health, my technique has become safer. This is in part through learning how to sharpen my knives to a razor-edge, which allows cleaner, precise, and more efficient cuts to be made. I’m better now at visualizing a spoon prior to starting carving, and experience in working the wood and reading its grain allows me to gauge better how to achieve it. Practice. Practice. Practice. Enjoy the process without pressure to achieve the final result……and accept the failures as learning experiences along the way.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
Go for it. Or not. It’s your spoon, and you should do what you like with it. I used to kolrose the heck out of every spoon I made…..though I think in my early spoons I was trying to polish a turd. For me now, the focus should always be on form and function. Once this has been achieved, decorating can either enhance the spoon greatly or detract away from the beauty of the wood. The decision is completely with the maker to express themselves how they wish.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
Okay, this is a minefield and a potential essay in itself and encompasses so much more than just spoon-carving. From my understanding of sloyd, it’s an ethos of teaching, learning, using, creating, and sharing the experiences of doing so. It’s about being resourceful and practical with respect for the materials in use and doing so in a way that benefits and enriches the lives of the maker and others.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
Where do you even start with this question? I’ll tell you where the last week has taken me; Dirk Powell, Todd Snider, Tom Waits, Cody Jinks, Chris Smither, Colter Wall, Kelly Joe Phelps……I could go on all day.
I despise shallow music. Studying Music at degree level broadened my tastes hugely and made me appreciate the amazing diversity in music, the skills of those who create it, and the importance it has always had in our stories as a people. That’s what it’s all about….. it’s stories. I love them. Give me a tune and song that has a message and something to make you think. A story that immerses you completely and forces you to stop and listen. If I didn’t listen to music when I carve, it’d probably take me half the time it does. I wouldn’t change it, though. Here’s a good one I found a few months past that isn’t too demanding, but utterly beautiful and relevant to our times; ‘Mercy Now‘ by Mary Gauthier. Get your hanky ready.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
Simply put, I’m a maker. I need to create stuff, be it music, spoons, a tent peg for a shelter at work in the woods, or a simple fire to boil a kettle. Carving spoons is a creative outlet that satisfies my needs. It’s mindfulness at its best and allows time for reflection whilst at peace. I find it almost meditative.
Thanks Nick! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @murphys_spoon.
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.