An Interview with Peter Coulter

Tell us a little about yourself:

My name is Peter, I am 58 and live in a small village in Northumberland, England, right on the border with Scotland.

How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?

I was introduced to woodworking at school but was put off by what seemed to be a need to have a room full of machinery to achieve anything (this was long beforehand tool woodworking became accepted as a viable option once again).

Then in the late ’80s, I found a copy of Mike Abbot’s book, Green Woodworking, and it was a revelation! Just the fact that you could go from a tree to a piece of furniture, that you could build your own tools and machinery from what you had around you was just so simple and so right. I was hooked.

Since then I have dabbled in green woodworking as a hobby and built several pole lathes, but it is only since we returned to the UK a year ago, after 12 years in New Zealand that circumstances allowed me to commit seriously to learn spoon carving. I currently split my time between Spoon carving and caring for my elderly father in law, along with my wife Nicola, a textile artist. Our fledgling business is called The Hare in Winter, and we sell through farmers markets, craft fairs, and supply a few local shops.

What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?

I am very much into keeping things simple, I made my first few spoons (after seeing them on Instagram) with a $16 Bahco knife and a gouge using some reclaimed Rimu.

My current kit consists of a Mora 106 and 164, along with a Robin Wood (Wood tools Ltd) axe and open curve hook knife.

For turning, I have an Ashley Iles chisel and gouge, plain simple and British made by a family firm.

Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?

For beginners, I would recommend either Spoon Carving by E J Osbourne or Niklas Karlsson’s The Art of Whittling both will set you on the right track safely.

On the web, there are some excellent YouTube videos, particularly Zed Outdoors. Personally, the best thing I did was join Barn the Spoon’s, if you like his style, then it is an excellent resource.

Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?

Barn the Spoon (@barnthespoon) of course, Anna Casserley (@annacasserley) Niklas Karlsson (@_ahardslojdlife), EJ Osbourne (@hatchetandbear), Jarrod Dahl (@jarrod_dahl) and Mark Reddy (@toftmonkey).

I must say though that I find my best work is not inspired by other spoon carvers but by gardeners and potters, so I would include Dan Pearson (@coyotewillow) and Florian Gadsby (@floriangadsby) among others in the list.

How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?

A lot! At first, I used dry timber and so used a jigsaw, gouge, knife and spokeshave and then sanded them smooth. Over the last year, I have moved to greenwood carving and now use an axe, drawknife, spokeshave, and knives and leave a faceted surface.

While it may appear random, I’m quite focused on learning the craft. I have no plan as such, but at any one time, there is an aspect that I am exploring. So far, I’ve learned to carve a spoon, and now I am looking at the process, what happens when and why.

What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?

They’re great and can add an extra dimension to a spoon. I haven’t tried any as yet, except that a few days ago I had an idea for lettering a spoon rack and so now am learning chip carving to pursue that.

What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?

A rebellion, a revival and a connection to the past.

Despite the efforts of big business to teach us incompetence and make us totally reliant on them and their products, I think that in all of us there is a memory that this is not how it used to be or what is natural. Because of this, we are drawn to use our hands and connect with nature. Making a spoon is a very accessible way to discover this for ourselves.

If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?

Hmmm, difficult one, but my favourites would be Roads by Portishead, I Have Seen by Zero 7, Cortez the Killer by Neil Young, Sins of My Father by Tom Waits and Hell is Around the Corner by Tricky.

Lastly, why do you carve spoons?

I love pattern and texture, and the way shapes flow around and relate to each other. Spoon carving is a way of exploring that while still ending up with something to eat my porridge with.

Thanks Peter! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @petercoultercarvesspoons.