I remember well the day I that read a wonderful post on Samuel Alexander’s Instagram feed. In it, he shared that he planned “to be more open with people about how therapeutic carving can be and how it can help with people’s struggles and bumpy roads.” It’s a recurring theme among many of the spoon carvers that I have interviewed, and one that I personally can relate to as well. As I’ve told many folks, making a spoon is more than making a spoon.
So that was what drew me into Samuel’s carving world, and what a wonderful one it is too! I’m grateful for his answers to my questions below, but when you’re done reading the interview, go check out his sketchbooks on his website. I’m certain you’ll be as inspired as I was by his drawing and carving.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Samuel, I am a 24 year old carver of spoons! I am from North Devon England, from a small little coastal village, but now I live in the depths of East London (with the coast and the woodland still in my heart). I studied illustration with animation here in London but now I manage a busy outdoor store, make spoons, and teach spoon carving.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I have always had an interest in green woodwork since I was a little sapling. Although I wasn’t aware of what woodworking was, I was very aware that I needed to make swords from sticks to fight off imaginary enemies. I would borrow my late grandfather’s pairing knives and make things like bows and arrows, fishing rods for the ponds, swords and more!
I sort of lost touch with that as I grew up but rediscovered the meaning, freedom and value of green woodwork about two years ago in the form of spoons! Now I make, sell, and teach Spoon Club at The Greenwood Guild.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
Oooh! Good question! I love my Svante Djarv axe. It was my first big purchase at Spoonfest and have treasured it since. I have a few Nic Westermann knives which are always a joy to carve with. My favourite tools are the ones that my good friends have made. I have two lovely chip carving knives. One was made by James Wood (@jameswoodmakerofthings) it’s beautiful, the other is one forged by Nic, but ground by Adam Ashworth. I love this one because of the journey it’s been on. As makers, we tell stories, so I like tools that do that too!
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
There are some amazing resources out there! Spoonclub.co.uk is in my opinion, the best online resource. Hosted by Barn The Spoon, It has wonderful video tutorials that are for both beginners and the most experienced of wood workers. It’s not just videos about spoons, but other projects from bowls, to chopsticks but also videos featuring our favourite green wood workers from around the world. There are a few good books out there, Spõn for example provides excellent tuition. There are great tree guides here in the UK made by the woodland trust. They have books and apps that you can use for tree identification that come in really handy!
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
I guess I kinda jumped into spoon Carving without any influence. I needed the craft (I will touch on why in the last question). I just started making! I love the work of other makers and I guess shape and form happens naturally. I am a big fan of makers but I feel that my spoons have always looked a little different and strange to another makers.
I think that there are some amazing makers who do a lot for the craft and who have certainly taught me techniques and safe practice that I’m able to pass onto other people. Barn has taught me a lot about technique and also how to teach people well, and safely. Tom Hepworth has been a great mentor of mine over the years! I have met great friends over the years who drive and inspire me. Alex Yerks, Sam Cooper, Jack Storey, Allessandro Bossio, Adam Ashworth, Dan Lawrence and many more! I love hanging out and getting nerdy about spoons.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
With confidence! I see it now still, the more I work, the more confident I get. I practice very safely and use proper technique that uses less energy. I have grown stronger in my own hands and this has allowed me to work faster and have a much higher output. I love repetition. I can make the same spoon over and over and tweak the way I approach it each time to make it as efficient and the best version that it can be. Initially facets were hard to get along with, but now I’m good friends with them.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
I love it! A spoon can be so so playful. I think that there is a grand celebration happening for the art of the wooden spoon. And I believe that makers, making in there own way is something so beautiful. For me, a lot of the time, I obviously remove wood but I feel that I can relate more to a spoon by what the makers has left behind.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
Freedom! When we work, we are free. People lose so much in their lives. With craft and sloyd, I have gained so so much and I am thankful everyday that I am able to make. The new wood culture is growing fast and it fills me with joy.
If you had to pick few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
I actually make my own spoon carving playlists! They are on Spotify I think. I have a Spotify account called ‘smaddonwayrecords’ I have a few playlists. I like folk songs and storytelling.
My top three would be:
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
I carve spoons because I feel alive when I do! I have suffered from a deep spell of depression, anxiety and PTSD and through different forms of therapy (that didn’t seem to help) I found spoon carving.
The process of being completely emerged in a craft began to distract me from the big dark cloud. Little did I know, it was clearing the skies over me. The more I made, the better I felt. I can honestly say that I feel ‘cured’ of depression, I feel lighter, healthier and have such a better outlook on life itself, and I know that it is hugely to do with the fact that I make spoons. It’s the idea of using all the good parts of yourself to make something and then it looks back at you. You can hold it, admire it, feel every facet and then release it through a gift or selling. It’s wonderful!
I lost so much, relationships with family and friends, memories, the ability to do well at university but through this craft I have repaired the leaks in my hull and have gained more than I could want.
I owe so much to the craft and that is why I now teach and inspire others. I love giving back to it. In my head, the more spoons made, the better people feel. Thus the more people I can influence, the more could be saved. I am a huge advocate for using craft as a prescription.
Thanks for reading and carve on!
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.