I’m very happy share an interview with Sebastian Ungh.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Sebastian Ungh, I’m a 36-year-old teacher, who’s living in southern Sweden, and teach Swedish for immigrants in the daytime and carve in my spare time. I always come back to spoon carving, but I also make Kuksas, bowls, and other sorts of bits and bobs. To me, it’s liberating to know my way around basic woodworking. My skills with hand tools have been to great use for mending broken household items.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I started when I was a child, whittling together with my grandfather. He taught me how to use a knife and make simple stuff. After that, I didn’t carve for many years. Instead, I played the guitar and other instruments, composed, and released a few albums with my project Monogatari. Eventually, family life took up most of my time, and I wasn’t able to pursue my musical ambitions. That lead to a great need for a creative outlet, and one day in 2015 when I was at home with sick children, I stumbled upon a YouTube video that Zed Shah had recorded with Lee Stoffer for his channel Zed Outdoors. After that, it has been no looking back. I always come back to music too, but I carve more, it’s so much easier to do that with sleeping children around. It’s like every self-respecting assassin says: a knife is more silent than a guitar.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I am so lucky to have a lot of tools made by Nic Westermann. The quality of them is out of this world, and they have made me a better craftsman. Before getting them, I didn’t understand the need for sharp tools, so for me, they were a real eye-opener. But it’s more than them arriving sharper than anything I’ve used before. They are, above everything else, perfectly designed for what I need and therefore makes life easier.
I have also got a bunch of tools by Svante Djärv and among the ones I cherish most is my axes, drawknives, and adze. All of them are top-notch.
The trusty old Mora 106 deserves to be mentioned as well. I have four of them for roughing out my knife work. Having more than one, guarantees that I have a good, sharp knife to change to when one is dull, so I don’t have to take a break from the fun part, which is carving. Knowing how to sharpen the blade is necessary, but I find little pleasure in that task.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
Zed’s channel as mentioned earlier is great, and there are lots of other free videos on YouTube, for a small fee, you get hours and hours of excellent videos at Greenwood guild, and you can also read Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist. That book covers a lot.
However, there’s no better way to learn than from your own mistakes, mishaps, and fuck-ups. Get a knife, get some wood, and get going. That’s it.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
Yes, of course. There are so many great carvers out there, and more people are experimenting and raising the bar all the time. The whole fun and exploration part of carving makes me tick. I like playfulness and leave the muscle work to others.
If I should start name-dropping, many chip carvers, spoon painters and artists with a sense of humor come to mind: Don Nalezyty, Ty Thornock, Anja Sundberg, Jögge Sundqvist, Amy Umbel, Dave Cockcroft, Penelope Nicholls, and Magnus Sundelin. There are so many more great people who inspire every day, but it would be way too time-consuming if I listed everyone.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
I do believe that I have become better at it. My spoons today are more functional and prettier than my first ones. Different tools have made me faster too. A spoon mule and a draw knife remove a lot of material quickly when roughing out blanks and a twca cam is helpful when hollowing bigger spoons and ladles. I don’t have to have them, though. With a sloyd knife and a spoon knife, I can carve wherever I want. That is the beauty of our craft.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I love it. It adds variety, makes the objects very personal and is fun. Fun is important to me. I like the idea that you play music, you don’t work it, like wood. I understand that there’s a risk for double entendre though if someone said that they play with wood, so I stick with the word work.
Milk paint is something I’ve never tried myself. I use acrylic paint and like how it turns out because you can see the grain of the wood through my colours.
I’m impressed by the kolrosers out there. I have a spoon carved by Nick Murphy, and it is utterly exquisite. Never in a thousand years, could I dream of making anything similar.
Chip carving, on the other hand, is my game. By combining simple lines and triangles, I can get an infinite amount of patterns. By now, I have carved many hundred spoons and never have I ever made two that look the same. That makes me proud. Themes return, of course, like in music, but that’s okay. There’s coming new songs composed in C-major all the time, and they can still sound fresh.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
It is empowering to learn a craft, and that has been important for me, but my number one thing is the sense of community. I’ve made great friends through craft and have found support from them when going through difficult times. There’s no way for me to put into words, how much that has helped me. Woodcarvers are the best.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
I prefer to have it quiet. For me carving is meditation or a bit like running; I must do it at my own pace, find my inner tempo, and be able to take in my surroundings. I’ve heard of pole lathe turners who listen to songs having a specific BPM, but that is not my way.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
Because I can, and I want to. I sell only a fraction of the spoons I carve, so I’m not doing it for the mighty dollar. The seemingly simple, and from an universal perspective, utterly meaningless task of carving spoons do me a lot of good. Some others enjoy looking at or using my utensils. That is good too. Therefore, I carve spoons.
Thanks Sebastian! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @sebastian_ungh.
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.