I’m honored to interview Minnesota spoon carver Jeff Ward for the first of hopefully many interviews with people who carve spoons. As I mentioned in a previous post, I took up spoon carving because it was a way for me to get back into the world of craft after many years away from it – I used to be a metalsmith and specialized in a Japanese technique called mokume gane. After I became interested in spoon carving, I created this website as way to gather up all the spoon carving resources that I was discovering and put them in one place for myself (and you too). I also wanted the website to be a way to connect with woodworkers who inspire me and learn from them. Please contact me if you would like to be interviewed.
I discovered Jeff’s spoons while passing through the beautiful town of Lanesboro in Southeastern Minnesota. I loved his work and I was elated when he agreed to talk with me about it.
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been carving spoons and how did you first get interested in it?
I reside on an acreage near Rochester, MN; my day job was in healthcare. Woodworking has been a hobby for many years as I’ve made small furniture (quilt racks, plant stands, coffee tables etc.). I also carved shore birds, abstract art sculptures and a few spoons. About 10 years ago we built a barn with heated shop and I had a place to start storing/drying wood, mostly local walnut and cherry. I retired in 2013 and began making model boats as I was prompted by two grandsons. Most were stylized and adapted for children’s play, some were wheeled pull-toys. I also started making detailed 1⁄4”:1’ display models of Great Lakes commercial fishing boats/tugs. Small scale production occurred and boats were sold on commission at a few shops in Minnesota and Wisconsin as Reef Point Boat Company. During the winter of 2014 I took a month break from boats and repurposed some furniture wood to make about 40 spoons. Most of the designs came out of my head with coaching from my spouse to make them functional. Some of the shops added my spoons and I soon found that spoons were more popular than boats; some additional gallery/shops became interested in that work. I then initiated Hawkwood Spoons. Most are made of cherry, walnut, ash or birdseye maple.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
The bladed hand tools I find most useful include sloyd knives from Pinewood Forge, as well as a mini spoon carving gouge made by Hans Karlsson and sold by Country Workshop. Power tools include a bandsaw and a (vertical) oscillating edge belt sander. I have also found that using a Foredom flexible shaft tool with medium and fine Saburr tooth burs reduces bowl finger-sanding time as many spoons are made from dry hardwoods. I suspect purists may take exception to this approach. In terms of finish, I experimented with a range of products but settled on Watco’s Butcher Block Oil and Finish which offers a nice satin look, is food safe and stands up to repeated washing compared to most oils.
Are there any particular spoon carvers that inspire you in your work?
My wife’s grandfather came from Norway and she and I have been members of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, IA. I became inspired by their collection of vintage spoons and those I’ve seen while touring in Norway. Currently I make reproductions of several antique Norwegian spoons in hardwoods; birch was commonly used for the originals. I also was impressed by the work of Frank Wright, a carver (now retired) from Lanesboro, MN.
Any tips for new spoon carvers based on what you have learned?
The only tip I can provide is to be as creative as you can but make sure the spoons work well. I’m a believer in the connections between form and function. Although I’ve developed patterns for about 35 different designs, I try to make each spoon a bit different (except for the traditional Norwegian spoon reproductions). Most fun comes from one-offs in which the wood helps design either the shape or decorative aspects.
Are your spoons for sale? And how can someone buy them?
A wise friend warned me to protect my retirement. Consequently, I do not have either a storefront or an online store. Although the financial rewards are less, the advantage of selling on commission at shops and galleries is working on my own time and having the fun of interacting with shop owners. Currently there are 4 locations where my spoons can be purchased ….some also sell my model boats.
Simply Scandinavian Gift Shop, Gills Rock, WI
The Black Crow Gallery, Lanesboro, MN
The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA