An Interview with Steve Dawe

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m in my late 20’s and live in Sydney, Australia. I work full-time in strategic procurement, lecture and tutor at a postgraduate level part-time for two masters subjects and provide supply chain and logistics advisory services part-time. I often feel like work gets the better of me and it can be hard to find a good balance, but I enjoy everything I do and am very thankful to a lot of people for the opportunities I’ve been given. Aside from woodcarving, some of my other passions are music/vinyl, mid-century furniture, beer, movies (Tarantino, Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers particularly), my family’s dogs and travel.

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

I carved my first spoon (that resembled a clog) in 2017… it was pretty terrible, but I’ve been working at improving since then. I don’t get much time to carve because of work so may go weeks where I’m ‘out of action’ so to speak. The craving is always there though.

I became interested in woodwork after two trips to some of the Scandinavian countries in 2014 and 2015, where I saw a lot of hand carved kuksas, spoons and Scandinavian design. I also worked with a Canadian carver and turner who was Superintendent Operations for the company I was previously with. I’d stay back in the office after work and he’d show me photos of the gate he carved for his house on Vancouver Island and the incredible vessels he’d turned. I’ve always loved wood as a material, but those trips and Bob were what inspired me to start carving myself.

What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?

My favourite tool is a HNT Gordon large flat spokeshave. I use it for all of my fine shaping work, chamfering and often for finishing cuts because of the glassy surface I get from it. I’m very proud that this tool is Australian made too.

I also rely heavily on Pfeil’s 7L series gouges for spoon bowls and the 8a and 9a series gouges for kuksa bowls. While I was in Tokyo last October, I visited Inoue Hamono and bought an Atsushi Sakai/atsushi_sajiya thumb gouge, which is quickly becoming a favourite as well. I received so much hospitality from Inoue San and his family and would thoroughly recommend this store and their tools to anyone visiting Japan.

My favourite knives are Pfeil’s Brienz carving knife, the Mora 106 and the smaller Mora 120. I often use all three for different purposes, but I’d fall back on the Mora 106 if I could only use one.

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

‘The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker’s Reflections’ by George Nakashima is a book I’d recommend to any woodworker, regardless of what they make. Jögge Sundqvist’s ‘Swedish Knife Grip Sessions’ videos on YouTube were very helpful as were Jarrod Dahl’s spoon carving videos. Instagram itself is an incredible resource for me as well. I’ve learnt so much from observing technique and design in photos and small videos that others have posted and am grateful for how much everyone shares.

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

Can I say all of the other carvers that you’ve currently interviewed and that I feel very amateur compared to all of them? Emmet van Driesche, not just as a spoon carver but all-round role model. Everything michigansloyd (Dawson Moore) and woodcraftbyjonasals/Jonas Als make is very appealing to me. Atelier_dehors (Makoto Hasegawa) for his incredible contemporary take on traditional kuksa styles. takahashimcgil (Takahashi McGil) for their use of texture, urushi and designs that blend Japanese and western styles. Danielle Rose Byrd’s often combined use of clean lines, texture, large facets and gold constantly wows me. And I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of the Japanese and Korean carvers including Khoutorou Okhubo, Uda Masashi, march8studio, kinosaji_kinjo, maedamitsuru, atsushi_sajiya, kiya.kamino, tomoharu_funahashi, tonari_mokkou, shibajiochiai, yoshiakitadaki, svale_furniture, j.sun.k and eventhoughsmall.

How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?

I started using a Mora 164 hook knife for spoon bowls but because the wood I work with is all dry and Australian species can be notoriously hard, I moved to using gouges to carve the bowls. Early on, I would remove waste material using a coping saw but I now use a drawknife for shaping followed by a spokeshave and/or sloyd knife for finishing. The first few spoons I carved also had rounded/smoothed handles, but I quickly changed to squared handle profiles with chamfering of the edges to soften their feel.

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

I actually just received some different shades of white milk paint samples to start experimenting with. I’ve also sketched some designs for cups and spoons that incorporate chip carving elements, which would be new territory for me. But I’m still deciding if I’ll go ahead with making those designs. I love the kolrosing styles that others incorporate in their work, but I don’t think I’ll integrate kolrosing in my work. I’m playing around with texture a lot at the moment so textured finishes, milk paint and chip carving may feature on the horizon.

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

I started carving before I came across the terms sloyd and wood culture, so I must admit they still feel relatively new to me and I’m still developing my own meaning for them. Whether or not it’s the same as the terms craft, sloyd or wood culture, I can describe what wood carving means to me (hopefully without sounding too simple or like I’m preaching). Woodcarving makes me feel like I’m connected to nature in some small way, while living in the middle of a big city. It contributes to my appreciation for the beauty in natural materials. It forces me to be mindful of waste by reminding me how long it took for the wood I’m working with to grow. It helps me respect natural imperfection and how to work around that. It makes me feel self-sufficient, to an extent, and that through practice, I can make items I don’t want to buy or that I can’t buy because they don’t exist in the exact form I’m chasing. Woodcarving also means working with my hands. Cuts, sweat, grime and all. And being able to see the direct, tangible result of this work.

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

Of all these questions, this was one of the hardest for me to answer! I listen to a lot of stuff but if I had to pick just a few songs, right now they would be:

The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Day

Love – Always See Your Face

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

Magic Sam – That’s All I Need

Neil Young – Mellow My Mind

The Rolling Stones – Love in Vain

Iggy & The Stooges – Search and Destroy (Iggy Pop Mix)

George Harrison – Got My Mind Set on You

Lastly, why do you carve spoons?

Like many who carve spoons and other items, woodcarving is a form of relaxation for me. It provides me with time where I can choose how I think. I can choose to process thoughts and reflect quietly on work, my personal life and everything around me, both the good and bad. Or I can choose to turn that off and think solely about the object I’m working on and the approach I’m following. When my mind is racing, I can sit down and make the choice to divert my thoughts to how I am using a knife or gouge. How will the item look if I take another cut in a certain spot? How could I perform a task faster in a certain way? Carving and woodwork also lets me express my creativity. I can experiment and try new things in an environment where I feel like it’s safe to fail. If I make something I don’t like, the silver lining to me is that, if anything, I’ve learnt what not to try again. And when I make something I like, that started as a thought then a sketch then an object sitting in front of me, I’m left with an immense satisfaction that is hard to articulate.

Thanks Steve! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons, cups, or other items that he posts on Instagram at stedhandmade. He also has an Etsy store which may have his work available for sale too.