A few months back, I saw a pair of chopsticks on Instagram at @klipnockywoods and I loved them at first sight. So I gave Pat Diette a holler and bought them. The chopsticks arrived in the mail a few days later along with a bonus spoon. I was shocked, but as Pat told me after I thanked him for the gift, that’s how he rolls.
Pat has been a big inspiration to me both for his skillful carving, but also for his honest and humble approach to craft. I’m honored that he was willing to do an interview.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Pat, and I make wooden spoons for a living. Nothing else. We have no other source of income. Folks who want to can get an abbreviated life story by checking the “about” section of my website at klipnockywoods.com
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
Full-time now since 2013. I walked off my last carpenter job in 2012, and it was a bad situation. It was either time to quit or time to jump off a bridge. I’m still here. So there I was, fifty years old with a breaking down body and a trailer load of worn-out tools. Now what? Woodworking shop? I had always wanted to make fine furniture. Having struggled mightily to become debt-free, my wife and I were loath to take out loans on speculation. So I used what tools I had for more than a year making outdoor furniture and little huts for hunting blinds. We almost starved. Location, location, location… Then I made a spoon.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
My favorite carving tools are anything that I can sharpen easily by hand, doesn’t break the bank, and they have to hold a good edge. I use tomahawks, a northwest style adze, hook knives, bent gouges and straight-edged, no belly sloyd knives. My favorites are the ones that are handmade by someone that I know.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
There are a lot of good books and how-to guides out there, but you cannot go wrong with Wille Sundqvist’s “Swedish Carving Techniques.” It has everything you need to get started. Websites? I am a bandwidth starved hillbilly, but if you can make it work, YouTube is full of good information. Look for Barn the Spoon, Sean Hellman, Robin Wood, Jarrod Dahl, The Greenwood Guild and gosh, so many more. Go to gatherings! They are wicked fun, friendly and you can learn so much in a couple of days just by carving with others. Ask questions. Google is your friend here, and gobs of information is right at your fingertips.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
I am inspired by anyone who can carve a spoon, is humble, and willing to share what they have learned with others. I am most impressed by those who patiently answer all the questions for the new folks. I sure asked my share. Barn the Spoon has to be my inspiration, I found him first and blame him for planting the idea that I could earn a living from spoon carving.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
Initially, I made spoons with woodworking machines back in the late 1980’s. That effort was interrupted by some living of life. Fast forward to 2013, and I no longer had access to those machines, so I started with a dysfunctional cell phone connection, an old yard sale tomahawk, my grandfather’s old two-bladed folder, an old red DMT stone and a funky gouge made by grinding a butt chisel and gobs of sandpaper. Oh, how I hated that sandpaper.
I watched a couple of early Barn videos five seconds at a time on YouTube, just enough to make myself dangerous. I can remember the one in the woods with chickens at his feet! I began by gouging the spoon bowls out while held in a woodworkers vice, using saws, sanders, anything to get a spoon that I could sand smooth. Jungle rules. After about six months I gave up on sandpaper, bought Wille’s book, a Mora 106, a Gransfors Bruks wildlife hatchet and a Pfeil bent gouge. I made a bunch of really ugly spoons at first. The only real change in the next couple of years was teaching myself how to gouge out the bowls in hand.
I do all my work in hand now, no holding devices at all. I like to be mobile, just a small bag of tools, a stump and I can carve just about anywhere. I’ve now switched to hooks over gouges, but still have a gouge or two close to hand. I added a northwest style adze to my kit, have gone back to a tomahawk, switched to straight knives over bellied knives. Mine all ended up straight anyway. I have completely given up on power tools and no longer use a saw for much. Somehow I have managed to become a self-supporting spoon carver without starving my children or hurting myself. Roll with it. Be open to new tools and techniques, but repetition and practice are where the skill comes from.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
“If it feels good, do it” is what my biology teacher said. “Whatever floats your boat” is my Mum’s favorite. I use some milk paints and dabble in kolrosing and chip carving is one of the dark arts to me. I carve for a living, so I try to offer a little of everything while trying to keep the spoon affordable enough for everyone. There are some wicked good kolrosers and chip carvers out there. The milk paints that I use are based on colonial-era recipes, perfect for such an old craft.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
I don’t want anyone’s eyes rolling back into their heads so I’ll skip this one. I do have an understanding of each term, and we’ll leave it at that. For me, I’m an artisan based on today’s definition of the word.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
Something with a guitar. How much time do we have? I grew up on radio instead of television, so I have quite a wide range of musical tastes. If I’m in the shop, my old jobsite radio is on. Classical, some older country, grunge, the blues, big bands, reggae, the crooners, bluegrass, a lot of the newer blended styles and of course, rock and roll. Try any of these and remember to turn it up. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Gil Shaham on the violin, The Steeldrivers, Toby Mac, The Builders and the Butchers, Pearl Jam, Itzhak Perlman, Keb Mo, Third Day, Buddy Guy, The North Mississippi Allstars, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Fernando Ortega, The Wood Brothers, Jack Johnson, Eddie Vedder, The Dave Matthews Band, any of the Marleys, Dean Martin, Neil Young, Two Cellos, The Mamas and the Papas, CCR, Stone Temple Pilots, Led Zeppelin, are you getting all this? I love Spotify, when I can get it to work, what a great way to find new or old music.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
I needed a job, I carved and sold a spoon on request and never looked back. What drew me to spoons was the inexpensive start-up, I get to spend a lot of time at home with my family and in the woods hunting for spoon wood, and this suits me so well. Each spoon is a quick little journey in self-doubt, perseverance, and success. I carve what I want and have full control of my output and the finished product. There is no end to what you can do or achieve when carving spoons. People seem to like what I do, and I can do it anywhere I please, and It is so quiet and peaceful. Can you hear that knife work?
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.