I’m very happy to share this interview with Toney Randazzo.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am a 51-year-old born and raised Michigander. My wife and I have three children (15, 17, and 20). We live in a little suburb of Detroit called Harper Woods. I ran a wine shop for nearly 20 years with a couple of stints as an arborist nestled in there. Currently, I work in IT inventory management and recycling (which is just as interesting as it sounds). I have to admit that while I was thinking about the answers to these questions, the voice in my head was Jimmy Rabbitte, famed manager of great Irish soul band The Commitments, so you can probably glean a little about me from that as well.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I have been carving for a little over two years now. I was reading actor Nick Offerman’s autobiography Paddle Your Own Canoe, in which he talks about the importance of making things. They didn’t have to be big things like furniture, but something to unlock your creativity and have some fun. While I was an arborist in my twenties and thirties, I really wanted to make greenwood bowls on a lathe. It didn’t happen at the time, but that thought came back to me as I was searching the internet for a project. I came across a video from Fine Woodworking with Peter Galbert called The Simple Art of Spoon Carving. I was sold – hook, line, and sinker. I went from never even contemplating a hand-carved wooden spoon to complete obsession.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
I started with hardware store hatchet and the basic Mora tool kit – a 106 (which is still my workhorse) and a 162 double-sided hook knife. I upgraded pretty quickly with some Christmas gifts to a Deepwoods Ventures long-handled hook knife, a Robin Wood open curve left hook, and Wood Tools carving axe. For Christmas this year, my family gave me a Kalthoff carving axe. Did I need it? No. Do I love it? Heck yeah. I picked up a Del Stubbs sloyd knife at the Spoon Gathering last year, which I use for finishing cuts and some detail work. I’ve also been patiently waiting for some Nic Westermann blades to arrive – a Finishing, Fawcett, and 50mm Twca. It’s easy to get carried away with tool purchases, but that should probably do it for me. I love the fact that there are real live people behind the tools that I’m using. I also love that I can carve a perfectly good spoon with the original tools I started with that cost well under $100. I really do like all of my upgrades, though!
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
I can’t add anything new here. All rabbit holes start on YouTube. Zed Shah’s Zed Outdoors page is an invaluable source of information and inspiration for all kinds of crafts. His video with Adam Hawker is spoon carving canon as far as I’m concerned. Both Emmet Van Driesche and Tom Scandian’s Instagram accounts and YouTube channels abound with information and tips. Barn’s books and videos, of course. A spoonclub.uk subscription is a great idea for beginners. For less than the cost of a day or weekend class, you can get a year’s subscription. The ability to go back to certain steps in a process helps tremendously. Finally, Fine Woodworking has been publishing articles on green woodworking that are always worth a look. Two of the libraries in my community have particularly nice reading rooms, so I try to pop in and catch up that way.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
There are so many really talented folks out there. Scanning through Instagram is a constant source of inspiration. I try to make sure I leave a comment rather than just a “like” when something really grabs me. On the home front, fellow Michiganders Dawson Moore, Sean Hearn, and Cale Stoker all give me something to aspire to. The first spoon I ever bought was from Darrick Sanderson. I had only been carving for a few months, and holding that spoon pretty much blew my mind. My food would get cold because I was concentrating so much on the spoon. Everything I had carved up to that point went in the fire, and it was time to get serious. If I had to pick 3 carvers whose posts always brighten my day, it would be Maryanne McGinn, Karel Hekrle, and Sven Kramer. Their work is always playful and surprising.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
I’ve become competent at producing better than spoon-shaped objects. I’d say I’ve passed the beginning stage, and I’m at the long slow path towards becoming a true craftsperson. This involves constant practice and patience. I try to carve every day even if I only have a half-hour during lunch to make some finishing cuts. This means I always have a few spoons at various stages. I’ve found the patience part of the equation to be just as daunting as building physical skill. It’s easy to get down on yourself when things aren’t going your way – the spoon in your head isn’t materializing, the grain is fighting you, a stupid mistake forces a change in design, etc. I try to imagine a policeman with a megaphone telling me to put down the knife and step away from the spoon. I’m a hobbyist, so it’s important for me to remember if it doesn’t turn out as intended to take what I’ve learned from the spoon and move on. It’s not like I just dumped a bunch of money on a stack of exotic hardwood. More often than not, what I’m carving was going to be chipped or end up in a landfill. And none of my friends or family care if a spoon is a little wonky.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I don’t currently use any of these techniques, but I definitely think they can enhance a well-made spoon. In the case with some carvers, it takes their well-made spoon and elevates it to the highest levels of the craft. I’ll stick to trying to make a halfway decent spoon for the moment.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
Before I began carving, craft meant a bunch of folks selling barely hand-made tchotchkes in a middle school gym on the weekends. It also meant something less than art. I look at craft differently now. Craft to me is reclaiming some of the important knowledge and skills that were once commonplace and have fallen into disuse – using hand tools such as a knife and axe, basketry, sewing, leatherwork, etc. It also contains a good bit of frugality and self-reliance. Using resources that are at hand as well as reusing and/or repurposing those resources.
In early 2018, I had only been carving for a few months…by myself…in my basement when I came across the website for Greenwood Fest. I was turning 50 later that year, so I proposed to my wife that a really great birthday present would be a solo vacation in Massachusetts to carve spoons. Thankfully she indulged me. The level of creative talent in that one small campground was absurd. To say it was intimidating for a novice like myself is an understatement. I quickly came to realize, no matter the level of skill, everyone was there for the same purpose of fellowship. I was surrounded by folks committed to the open exchange of knowledge and ideas. I was surrounded by the new wood culture. On the drive home, I knew I could never go back to my basement again to carve alone. I started looking around my corner of South East Michigan and found others looking around as well. Once a few of us found each other, it began to snowball.
We now have a monthly meet up, which seems to attract a couple new faces every month. If you are in the area, we can be found on Facebook groups under Southeastern Michigan Spoon Meet .
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
If I’m in the mood for surprises, I’ll stream the music programming on my local public radio station WDET or KCRW out in California. Sometimes I’ll go on a jag where I’ll listen to nothing but various recordings of The Goldberg Variations, or Charles Mingus, or Emmylou Harris, or Velvet Underground bootlegs. Sometimes the quiet house or the sounds of the neighborhood are the perfect accompaniment. I listen to audiobooks on my daily commute. If I’m in the middle of a particularly juicy part, that goes pretty well with carving as well. A quick soapbox moment – support and promote your local public library. If you are not already aware, you will be surprised at the depth and breadth of resources available to access from your phone and/or computer. And they are also great places to visit.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
Like so many folks, regardless of their craft, I find it therapeutic. It eases my stress and anxiety. It helps me drown out the noise and negativity that seems to flow in endless supply around us. Losing yourself to that intense focus, then coming out of it with an object you created, is just magical. Plus, it is so freaking fun! I don’t understand why everyone isn’t doing it. Both of my sons play baseball all summer, which suits spoon carving to a T. No matter where we are, I set up my chair in a shady spot, pull out my tool roll, and I’m good to go.
Thanks Toney! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @randazzotoney.
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.