The start of the new year has been productive. I carved four spoons from applewood, finished a bed frame for my son, and got back into carving wagatabon.
I love wagatabon! I had the good fortune to study last March with Shinichi Moriguchi and Masashi Kutsuwa at the North House Folk School. It was a fantastic experience! I made a couple of wagatabon, but then the year got busy with other things. On Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law and I took down a massive red oak branch that fell in an autumn storm days before, so I had a lot of new wood to work with.
Traditionally, wagatabon were carved from chestnut, but I was curious about using red oak. It was great to work with!
One of the things that I love about wagatabon is the minimalism and simplicity in making them. A gouge, chisel, and mallet. A simple bench to work on. The meditative technique that creates that exhilarating yet calm feeling of flow through repetition. It’s a joyful process that clears your mind.
While this wagatabon is a bit rough, I like it. It made me realize that as much as I love spoon carving, there will be a day when my poor eyesight might limit what I can do. But this is an option to keep chasing the grain and the wood chips flying.
I carved a skinny applewood cooker spoon, roasted birch spoon, three spreaders (roasted birch and butternut), and three roasted birch cookers.
Last Spring, I ventured by myself to the local lumberyard. I decided to make my son a proper bed. I sketched out a quick design based on my bed and took some measurements and recalculated them to go from a queen size to a full. Like most of my ideas, it was fueled by a combination of impulse and confidence that I’d figure out a way to build it even though I never had made, or designed, a single piece of furniture. Well, not counting a spoon mule because I’m not quite sure if that falls on the furniture or tool side of the fence. Anyway, I went in search of birch or maple and came back with poplar. It was a practical economic decision – birch and maple were expensive, and that wasn’t even factoring the cost of my likely mistakes between measuring and then using the table saw. Besides, I embraced poplar after I found out that it was just another name for the aspen tree, and my son and I have good memories with aspen trees.
So I planed and sawed, and jointed and sawed some more. I worked out of a local woodshop with thoughtful old guys who never minded stopping what they were doing to answer my silly questions. A rhythm developed week after week at the shop, and as I cut the lumber to length, I started to feel that I actually might build that bed.
Summer came and went. The cut wood lived under my couch for months until this Fall when a good friend helped me with the joinery and assembling it. He is a woodworker that lives on precision but apparently also patience after he saw my design. Every Friday, I laughed my ass off as we worked because his sense of humor equals his kindness. But we did it, and just before Christmas, the bed was built. I finished it for my son’s birthday.
I built it extra strong, so it could withstand the thousands of jumps that a child must do to break in their new bed, but also for the inevitable journeys that I hope that he and the bed take in the years ahead. Time passes too quickly. Someday, he and his bed will leave home. Perhaps to college, then to other cities, apartment after apartment then finally to a home that he will call his own, where I hope, his child will sleep in it and dream sweet dreams too.
I finished a wooden cup from birch. Embellished it with minor chisel work to mimic the memory of summer prairie grass. I hope to season it with a bit of bourbon every now and then to create a proper patina.
I also roasted the red oak wagatabon. You could say I charred it. My wife commented that it looks like it survived a house fire. It was an experiment. I roasted it for about an hour at 450 degrees. Way too hot. Way too long. Live and learn.
What I read this month:
As the new year begins, I’m focusing my reading on a few of my favorite things: spoon carving, stoicism, and writing.
Massimo Pigliucci has a wonderful new book, A Handbook for New Stoics, that provides a weekly perspective on the philosophy and how to implement in your life. For me, this is an excellent follow-up to The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, which I read last year.
I’m re-reading The Art of Whittling by Niklas Karlson, which is one of my favorites about carving. I think that this line gives a good feel for the whole book, “It felt as if we had made a pact, the wood and I. We had come to understand each other, as I sat beneath that spruce as a child and during those endless days up in the northern landscape where I spent most of my holidays.” If you haven’t read his book yet, get it! It’s rich in both inspiration and instruction.
The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar
I’ve been curious lately about sisu, and the role of courage can play in life, so The Finnish Way is the second book I’ve recently read on the subject.
The other two books were prompted by a recent Instagram post from Dan Lawrence about creativity. After reading it and sharing a few thoughts myself, I felt an urge to go exploring a bit in the art/craft world to see what other folks think about it. I’m enjoying Stankard’s book, and while it focuses heavily on the world of glass, much of his writing could be applied to spoon carving or any other craft.
Into the Woods: Trees In Photography by Martin Barnes
Drawing Trees and Leaves by Julia Kuo
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.