Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Study, fail, replicate

Barn Carder once inscribed "I believe in replication" in one of his spoons.   Like writing drafts of prose, replicating a spoon must help you pare away the superfluous, reveal weaknesses, and distill the full idea.
But honestly I wouldn't know--because I can't seem to find the time for replication.
I finish a spoon every week or two, from time carved out of my busy life.  Regretfully, I can't seem to take a weekend and just make a mess of spoons.  I know it would really help my carving, but work and family beckon.  Also, I definitely feel that my taste in spoons is still evolving.  I am still coming to terms with what makes a great spoon, and I rather not copy junk.
And so, in my case I have found that there is a step or two before replication:

  • Study: I have tried to carve a lot of different types of spoons--different bowl designs, different handle lengths, different angles.  It has been really nice to sit down with a wide variety of spoons and see what I like about each.  It has helped me inch towards a vision of a "good" spoon.  That, and studying spoons from master carvers.  I have a few spoons from the likes of Jarrod Stone Dahl, Don Nalezyty, and Oliver Pratt.  They have given me new ideas for how far I can push the material, what bowl shapes work, and how the handle interacts with the hand.  I don't love everything about all of them, but they give me great ideas.  I guess through study I am developing my taste.  Once I feel firm on that, maybe I will feel better about replication.
  • Failure: The other day my daughter asked for a bowl of ice cream, and while prying out a rock-hard chunk, my spoon split.  My daughter was horrified.  She literally moaned, "oh daddy, Oh Daddy, OH DADDY!"  My wife was cross and snapped, "Why didn't you use a metal scoop?!"  Me, I just shrugged and reached for another wooden spoon.  Yes the spoon represented a few hours work, but its failure brought me great insight.  I now see how the bowl was too thin for its short, straight grain.  With radially split blanks I need different thicknesses in different places than with bent crook spoons.  Seems obvious, and I understood it intellectually, but nothing like a splintery mess to drive the point home.

I recently received a spoon from Steve Tomlin.  It too was made from radially split wood.  It works perfectly and feels very comfortable in the hand and mouth.  The finish is top notch, with subtle details that belie its apparent simplicity.  And yet, my first reaction was that it felt a bit too chunky.  Too much material in the bowl and the handle, I thought...  Until now.  

Study, fail, replicate.

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