I was well aware of Ty Thornock’s spoon carving and kolrosing skills, but when I went to Vesterheim Museum’s spoon exhibit that Fred Livesay curated in 2018, I saw a small spoon with three fish kolrosed in the bowl that Ty had made. It was magical, and that’s an understatement, but it made me feel something that I’ve yet to experience with another spoon. Like many others, I have followed Ty on Instagram and wait for his posts to inspire me to keep carving and learn how to kolrose. I’m happy to share the following interview with Ty.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am a husband and father of 6. I am an educator by trade with a passion for teaching young children. I have had a variety of artistic interests over the years ranging from drawing and painting to crocheting, photography, lapidary work, and wood carving. I live on 3 secluded acres in rural Iowa surrounded by trees.
How long have you been carving and how did you first get interested in it?
I grew up in a home that worked wood. My father had a woodshop that was somewhere between a hobbyist and professional shop. I would hang out with him sometimes making things on the belt sander or the lathe. I was given an X-acto carving set at a young age and promptly cut my thumb deeply. I whittled sticks into swords and bows and arrows but never had good carving and sharpening tools. I put it aside for other artistic pursuits until about 2013. About that time, I was working on my school principal licensure, had 5 young children and was working full time. I needed an artistic pursuit that was affordable and relatively quick. I saw Peter Follansbee on the Woodwright’s Shop and started getting interested. For Christmas, I asked for a Mora 164 and 106. I hacked out my first few spoons and was hooked.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
Oof. What a hard question. There are so many good tools out there. 1. Mora 106 carving knife. I appreciate how they create a carving knife that is both professional quality and affordable. 2. KJ Groven sloyd knife. The hollow grind makes it easy to sharpen, and the solid steel (vs. laminated Mora) means the tip is tough. I like Nic Westermann’s hook tools because they are easy to sharpen and keep an edge for a long time. Other smiths making quality tools I enjoy are Hans Karlsson, Del Stubbs at Pinewood Forge (nobody makes a kolrosing knife like him!), Deepwoods Ventures (robust blades), Josh Whitehead of Greenhaven Forge is also producing good tools. His adze is every bit as good as the Hans Karlsson small adze.
Any suggestions of books or websites to learn about spoon carving or woodwork?
Tricky. I learned from Wille Sundqvist’s book, Swedish Carving Techniques. Barn (The Spoon) Carder has the book Spon out that is good as well. Videos by Jarrod Dahl, Jill Swan, Peter Follansbee, Jogge and Wille Sundqvist and others are great. On Facebook, the group Spoon Carving Green Woodworking and Sloyd has great files. I have also produced about 100 pages of documents that are free on different carving topics.
Are there any particular spoon carvers who inspire you in your work?
My work tends to be highly decorated. The carvers I follow also decorate their work. Some of them are Don Nalezyty, Magnus Sundelin, Maryanne McGinn, Jogge Sundqvist, Dan Lawrence, and others. Sometimes I see particular pieces that really catch my eye as well.
How have your spoon carving techniques changed over time?
My techniques have not changed a lot. I have gotten more confident and with that comes efficiency, but the basic steps have remained similar with a few changes here and there.
What are your thoughts on popular decorative techniques like milk paint, kolrosing, or chip carving?
Decoration is fun! So long as the spoon can still function well, I think they can be great. When you put decoration ahead of the utensil, or design solely with decoration in mind, is when I don’t like it because you end up with spoons that are not good for moving food. I think they can be a good form of expression and can help spoons stand out. I like a good plain spoon, but I want my spoons to reflect me or to make a statement. I find this easiest through decorating them.
What do craft, sloyd, or wood culture mean to you?
This is a very big question. We live in a culture that is increasingly disconnected from each other. If you wanted, you could stay home through your education, job, and order everything you need online. While I tend to be a solitary person, I think developing community is important. Craft can be a vehicle for that. Green woodworking, in particular, can do that because you must make use of local resources. It is difficult to ship greenwood for consistent craftwork. That is the main driver for me. Second, while we are ‘advancing’ as a society, our skill sets become increasingly ‘primitive’ as we rely on others and automation to do work for us. I think there is a balance of using tools to help you achieve the forms you are looking for in the material and letting the tools dictate the form. When you automate craft, there is no collaboration between you, the material, and the tools. This leads to sameness in work and a stagnant skill set. A manual lathe, electric, pole, or treadle, can be great in helping you realize a vision. A repeating lathe will only cause you to get stuck. This advanced skill set, the ability to see raw materials and make functional items from them, is sloyd. Along with that, the ability to see a need and fill that need by making something is sloyd. This is true for whatever the material is: wood, clay, metal or fibers.
If you had to pick a few songs to listen to while carving, what would they be?
The song of birds in the trees and the wind blowing. I don’t often listen to music when I carve.
Lastly, why do you carve spoons?
I carve because it makes me happy. A spoon is both simple and complicated. It’s easy to carve a bad spoon. It is difficult to carve a very nice spoon. They are accessible to all people, which makes them very democratic in many ways.
Thanks Ty! You can follow him and inquire about purchasing his spoons on Instagram at @tythornock.
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.