One of the reasons that I carve spoons and started this website is because I felt like I needed a greater sense of community in my life. It brings me great joy when I can connect with other spoon carvers online or even better in person. This past June I received an email out of the blue from Tad Kepley. It was simple but kind thank you for creating this platform for spoon carvers to share their thoughts on their craft. It made me happy to get his email, but I’m even happier now to share this interview with Tad.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Tad, and I am married with three grown children. I also have two grandsons. Like my father, I retired from law enforcement after 30 years. Currently, I work three days a week at the local Community College coordinating Advanced Law Enforcement Training, and when I’m not at the college, I’m usually carving spoons. I did not start carving until after retirement. I have been shooting pistol competitively for about thirty years, and four months into retirement, I reached over and picked up my grandfather’s carving knife, and I never put it back down. I guess you could say I put my pistol down and picked up a knife.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I have been carving spoons for 4 years now and never carved anything before that. My family has a history of carving, starting with my grandfather, who was born in 1899. Ironically my grandfather lived to be 99 years old and carved many of his birds in his 90’s. My grandfather did paintings and also carved a lot of wooden toys for all the family kids. That led my father and brother to carve. My grandfather and father both carved birds from whatever kind of wood they could get their hands on. My brother does relief carvings and natural wood carvings. My brother carved a cooking spoon for my mother roughly thirty years ago, and I saw it for the first time four years ago right after I retired. I was so intrigued by its curves and how smooth it felt in my hand. That spoon is what got me started, and I have carved roughly a thousand spoons to date. Although I have only been carving spoons for four years, I am very passionate about it, and I love it. I carve spoons probably six days a week, and I enjoy helping others to get into spoon carving when I can.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I love my Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe, my Rune’s Sloyd knife and my Nic Westermann 65 mm TWCA knife. It doesn’t stop there. I have knives from a lot of makers and too many to mention. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful tool makers for spoon carving.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
“Swedish Carving Techniques” by the late Mr. Wille Sundqvist is a great book for green wood spoon carvers as well as other green wood projects. I also have a subscription to Spoonasauras magazine from Emmet and Matt that I enjoy. I enjoy Barn’s Spoon Club online for a minimal yearly subscription. Barn has tons of videos for new spoon carvers as well as experienced spoon carvers. Youtube is where I learned almost everything about green wood spoon carving, and I would strongly recommend new spoon carvers to search out videos to learn from.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
Dan Lawrence and and Darrick Sanderson have been mentors for me over the last couple of years, and that has really helped me in my spoon carving journey. I would encourage others to mentor new spoon carvers and give to others when you can. These two guys did it out of the goodness of their heart, not expecting anything in return. Emmet Van Driesche and Tom Scandian have helped me a lot as well. There are many more in the green wood spoon carving community that have helped me along the way, and I appreciate all of them. I follow all four of them on Instagram as well as many others and get a lot of inspiration for my spoons this way. Thank goodness for Instagram and other social media websites that have brought spoon carvers of the world together to share our love for carving spoons.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
In the last couple of years, I have reduced the amount of time it takes to complete a spoon mainly because of repetition. I am more systematic in my process, and I remove more material with my axe now, so I don’t get bored with the knife. I also have an extensive collection of wooden spoons carved by other makers to study and learn from. The spoons I have purchased support other makers, and it has helped me to learn by seeing them and using them. I would encourage beginning spoon carvers to buy spoons from other makers who they respect and learn from them.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
For me personally, I think decorative techniques allow us to inject a signature or style to our spoons that otherwise might not be possible with just our knife. I believe function first and decoration second. When I carve spoons, it is as much an art to me as it is a craft. The decorations are fun and add to the joy of everyday use. As I search for a signature in my spoon carving journey, I plan to explore decorations even more.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
It’s all a form of art for me that gives me satisfaction in being able to create with my hands. All those words or terms represent something that I thought would never be possible for me and something I would have told you 5 years ago that I could not do. Sloyd means accomplishment as well as a responsibility to pass on to others what has given me so much joy. When I take a walk in the woods, I don’t see just a tree anymore. It is so much more understanding and respect for what can or cannot be.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
I start with Andrea Bocelli a lot, but at the same time I may end up with the Marshall Tucker Band and everything you can think of in between. I listen to a lot of different artist and genres. Music is important to my spoon carving and is something I really enjoy. I listen to music when I rough out my spoons in the garage and whistle to the music. I love to whistle and carve. Just ask my neighbors.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
I carve spoons because I love it. I carve spoons almost daily, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment that fills a void since I retired from law enforcement. Carving fits my personality and style and allows me to create something in a relatively short period of time that somebody can get joy from and use daily. Spoon carving is timeless and therapeutic for me. My wife says that I’m either zero or 100 and that there is no in-between with me. Right now I’m going 100 mph with my spoon carving, and I’m not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
Thanks Tad! You can follow him and see more of his spoons on Instagram at @tad_william_kepley or visit his website at www.tadwilliamkepley.com . Currently, Tad does not sell spoons from his website. He only sells face to face at the local farmers market in Lexington where he lives, and he also does a few craft shows each year. Tad says that he enjoys meeting people and making the spoons in front of people while doing the shows.
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.