Last week, I interviewed Jeff Ward. It was great to learn more about Jeff’s spoon carving and woodworking! I’m equally excited to share the following new interview with the amazing spoon carver Tom Barlett this week. Tom is owner of Sylva Spoon in Wisconsin. I’m grateful that he took the time to answer my questions and share his thoughts on spoon carving. Enjoy the interview!
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been carving spoons and how did you first get interested in it?
I carved my first spoon in 2009, while living in South Korea. When I was young I enjoyed making pointy sticks, turning big pieces of wood in little pieces of wood and generally mucking about with sharp things. As an adult I was travelling and teaching and started to look for a creative outlet. I think the seed of spoon carving was probably planted after watching a show with Ray Mears where he carved a spoon. I bought myself some tools and just had at it. Mate, I bled so much during those early days. If you’re a new spoon carver and have the opportunity to take a course, or just hang out with more experienced carvers, save yourself some platelets and reach out to them.
What are a few of your favorite spoon carving tools?
However, my absolute favourite thing about spoon carving is that you don’t need a lot of tools, and they certainly don’t need to be fancy. Any axe with a narrow bit will work. The Mora 106 is, in my opinion, a near perfect sloyd knife. A nice spoon knife does help, but the readily available Mora 164 hook knife can be made to work (Mora will soon be releasing a redesigned hook knife that Beth Moen helped design, exciting news for spoon nerds like us). If you’re reading this and you’re new to spoon carving, the most important thing about tools is that they’re kept sharp. Like, really sharp. Think of your sharpest kitchen knife. WAY SHARPER THAN THAT. I’ll stop shouting now…
Are there any particular spoon carvers that inspire you in your work?
*Deep breath* Barn ‘the spoon’ Carder, Jane Mickelborough, Adam Hawker, Jojo Wood, Anna Casserley, Jan Harm ter Brugge, Yoav Elkayam, Amy Leake, Dawson Moore, Anja Sundberg, Willie and Jogge Sundqvist, Martin Hazell, Jarrod Dahl …
I’m a frequent lurker, part-time poster on a couple of Facebook groups, I scroll through Pinterest a lot and own spoons from Barn, Anna Cassarley, Jane Mickelborough, Maryanne Mcginn, Yoav Elkayam, Amy Leake, Yuri Moldenhauer, Derek Brabender, Robin Duckmanton, Chris Allen, Emmet van Driesche, Jojo Wood, Adrian Lloyd, Steve Tomlin, Adam Hawker, Sean Hellman, Tom Standen, Martin Hazell and Simon Hill. I’m also following about 900 people on Instagram, so might just be easier for people to scroll through that list! I also really like visiting museums and seeing ancient woodenware. I love looking at an item made by a long dead craftsperson and feeling a connection to them through the items they made. So I get a lot of inspiration from a wide variety of sources!
(Dan’s note: visit my resource page to see links to many of these spoon carvers)
Any tips for new spoon carvers based on what you have learned?
Tom’s Top Three Tips:
1. Sharpen your tools. Like right now. The rest of this interview can wait (honestly, it’s not my best work). If you’re new to spoon carving I can almost guarantee that your tools are not as sharp as they could be. Heck, mine could probably do with a bit of stropping. One moment, I’ll be back in a jiffy…
2. Take a course, hang out with carvers that are more experienced than you, failing that, buy a spoon from a carver you admire and make copies of it until you can make an identical spoon. Feel free to reach out to whomever you bought a spoon from for tips or advice on areas of the spoon you’re struggling with. They’ll probably be more than happy to give you some advice. Spoon carvers are all lovely people. Apart from one, but we don’t talk that person. They know who they are. (I’m just kidding (not really (it’s a joke (or is it?))).
3. Think about design. Before starting a spoon, have a clear goal for what kind of function it will serve. Is it an eating spoon? Do you want it specifically for soups and stews? Is it a cooking spoon? What kind of cooking? Stir fry? Porridge? Scramble eggs? Or perhaps a serving spoon? Do you want to serve mashed potatoes? Or peas? Thinking about the intended use can drastically change the design of a spoon. It’s incredibly easily to hollow out a scoop on the end of a handle, but to make a utensil that gracefully fulfills a specific task is a much harder, but more rewarding task. It also gives direction to your carving and will help you determine if you’ve made a ‘good’ spoon or not.
Are your spoons for sale? And how can someone buy them?
My spoons are available on my website www.sylvaspoon.com/shop.
If you live in Wisconsin, or it’s neighbouring states, you might find me at a craft fair selling my wares. A lot of my Instagram work is available too. So if you see me post something you like, just send me a message.
Thanks Tom! 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 readers to contact me if you would like to be interviewed to share your thoughts on the craft of spoon carving.