The most surprising thing about spoon carving is how much is done with a hatchet. It’s amazing how precise you can be in rough shaping a spoon. One master spoon carver said that one minute with a hatchet is worth ten minutes with a knife.
Of course, the hatchet has to be a good one and it has to be sharp. Many carvers use hatchets that look like Viking war implements with large curved blades. In fact, the majority seem to use hatchets that look like this one:
Notice the gap near the top of the handle. This is so you can choke up and grip right below the metal giving you much more control and precision.
My hatchet is a bit smaller:
It’s a Gransfors Small Carving hatchet and weighs less than a pound. When I first started carving I could only use it for five minutes at a time. Hatcheting used some new muscles and it took considerable time to build them up. Many carvers stand when they carve using a variety of stumps or work surfaces on which to hold the wood. My stump is on the floor and I sit on a stool so I can rest the elbow of my hatchet hand on my leg. This takes some of the pressure off the elbow joint which, frankly, is now sore a lot of the time. I’m pleased that I haven’t developed tendonitis over the last couple of years.
This much of the spoon was done with the hatchet and I wasn’t done yet. Using the hatchet like a chisel on a stick, I kept chipping away until I was down to the lines. A heavier hatchet might work even better now that the arm is in shape. There are many small forges popping up around the world making high quality hand tools. There are two forges in the San Juan Island making carving knives and adzes.
As always the key is to keep the axe sharp and to make certain the bevel makes contact in a way that the axe can actually slice wood.
Here’s how the spoon blank pictured above ended up.
As a recovered sports fan I now find amusing our attachment to professional teams, normally made up of young millionaires from other communities, many of whom will soon move on to teams in other cities. Seahawks mania has been especially intriguing as the Hawks have become the personal avatar for hundreds of thousands of NW fans.
It is impossible to not be affected by the impact of the Seahawks. Their ubiquitous logo appears on the back windows of autos: 12th man flags fly from flagpoles, evidence of the delusion that makes the non-participant believe they are having some sort of impact on the outcome of the contest. I suppose the emotional involvement is part of the entertainment. And, granted, when the Seahawks are on they are fun to watch. When they lose the community angst and anguish is palpable.
Each game becomes a week long discussion around the office cooler and on sports radio. During the off season the next season’s speculation is endless.
I have not contributed much to Seahawk fever. But I did carve a Seahawk bowl from a dry chunk of big leaf maple. It’s my kind of bowl game now. Felt pretty satisfied with this one.
Linda’s Grandma Ersie’s jam spoon was worn down from use. It was my favorite spoon to cook with but it was declared an historical artifact and removed from service. A year ago I decided to make a copy of it. At the time, I must have been happy with my replica of Ersie’s spoon. Looking at it now I realize that it is a piece of crap, very crude and poorly done.
I must have been delusional to think it was an acceptable piece.
But, hey, self-delusion is one of humanity’s greatest defense mechanisms. It protects us from true self-awareness.
In fact, self-delusion is quite necessary for all erst-while crafts people and wannabe artists. The Bell Curve rules and when one embarks on a new creative endeavor odds are that one will end up being mediocre. But we are all so happy with our creations, because we created them, that very often we are actually willing to show them to people. The “showing” arises out of a desperate desire for positive feedback.
I am blessed to live with someone who is a positive feedback machine. Every carving I bring in the house is praised to the rafters, even my crappy jam spoon replica. The wonderful thing about positive feedback is that even if we know our creation isn’t really that good, the feedback is soothing and keeps us going.
Self-awareness is a positive virtue and lack of it is extremely notable in those who don’t possess it. On the other hand self-awareness can be depressing. It’s not that much fun to take a close look at our warts and blemishes.
So in a burst of self-awareness and self-criticism I realized that my try at making a jam spoon like Grandma Ersie’s was a failure. The question that arose from this insight was: A year later could I do a better job? I set out to try. It could be delusion but I think I succeeded. I must be improving a little bit.
Part of the reason for improvement is tools. (At some point I will try and reconstruct my tool acquisitions). A lot of the fun of a new hobby is getting to buy stuff. Boys like to buy tools and really sharp things like knives, saws and chisels are especially satisfying. There’s some danger involved. (At some point I will try and recap my cuts and how I try to avoid them).
Part of the reason must be improved technique. Technique involves manipulation of the tools but also sharpening. Sharpening is really important. I’m getting better but have a way to go. Sharpening opens up a whole other shopping opportunity with diamond stones, water stones, Arkansas stones, etc.
Although I now have a working replica of Ersie’s spoon it is only a replica. Missing are those years and years of stirring strawberry jam, so much stirring that the edge of the spoon is worn down. I once read a book by the quirky British archeologist TC Lethbridge who believed that emotions could attach themselves to inanimate objects like rocks or, I suppose, spoons. Using a pendulum (dowsing) Professor Lethbridge could determine the emotion that was attached to it. I can’t know if his findings were as valid as they are interesting but all of us know that historical artifacts are fascinating because they have been used. We can visualize a pioneer churning or hewing or whatever.
Ersie’s spoon is different from mine because she used hers for maybe fifty years making jam, stirring so much that she wore off an inch of wood in the process. There’s a whole category of spoons called “love spoons.” Hard to beat the amount of love in Grandma Ersie’s jam spoon.
Since this blog space is paid for I’m going to use it to document a project I’ve started. I’m documenting it for my own benefit. I pretty much have said all I want to say on the subject of “transition” which was the original motive for this blog.
Many years ago I started carving. A year ago I started carving in earnest. A few months ago I got into carving spoons (also forks, bowls and kuksas—a wood cup). I am “self-taught” in the way that anyone is self-taught in the age of Youtube. There are many, many excellent instruction videos on how to carve spoons, bowls and kuksas (a traditional cup from Scandinavia). There is an amazing Facebook page where carvers post photos of their work and where one can learn about and discuss techniques, tools, finishes, etc. There’s another Facebook page where carving tools are sold.
Carving is addictive. Some might say “meditative.” I don’t use it for meditation, however, because while I carve I listen to audio books. Often when I look at a piece I’ve carved I recall what I was listening to at the time. There’s a “Dearie” spoon for that Julia Childs biography, an “Inferno” spoon for that great book on WWII that took forever to get through. There’s a Jack Reacher kuksa. Time flies while one carves.
It’s pretty easy to carve something that looks like a spoon. It’s difficult to carve a really good one. I feel like I’ve moved out of the beginner stage and am somewhere in the vicinity of intermediate. I can tell by the photos spoon carvers post that I’m a long way from expert. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s well-read book, we were told it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of a skill. At three to four hours a day I might not live long enough to achieve “mastery.” I am willing to set my sights lower than “mastery” and “expert.” But, why would anyone want to spend several hours a day whittling on pieces of wood anyway? I can’t answer that. I have never been willing to spend hours a day doing any one function having always been something of a dilettante. There is something magical about taking a chunk of firewood or a piece of old 2″ X 4″ and reforming it with hand tools into something useful, sometimes even artful. There is a connection to transition and self-reliance as well.
Yesterday I spent several hours hacking away a big kuksa (cup) that I was trying to carve out of a piece of cedar 6″ X 6″ that I found in my lumber pile. Dry wood is harder to carve than wet and cedar has a big tendency to rip, tear and shred. I was really unhappy with the wood but refused to give up. I wasn’t happy with the finished kuksa either. Finished, it looked like something one might have dug out of the ruins of a pioneer home. Very crude. Rough. Uneven. If it had been my intention to make something that looked really old I might have been happy with it. But, it was an accident. The point being that in time past people carved their tableware, bowls, plates, cups, etc. Some of what they did, maybe most of what they did, might have looked as crude as this:
So, I decided to set a goal of carving 300 spoons in 2016 to see if I get better or just plateau somewhere. Certainly, technique is involved. Tools are important. You need to learn how to sharpen really well. But, I expect, that somewhere along the line I will find out if I have any natural ability (talent) for the process.
If I don’t become too obsessive carving will be a fine way to pass the time.
And, it’s a great way to read!
The New York Times on line for July 30, 2015 has a great twelve minute video on Sandor Katz whose book “The Art of Fermentation” is the bible of the kraft. “The best known style of fermented vegetables in the United States and most of Europe is sauerkraut.” Sauerkraut is just shredded cabbage and salt. We keep making more of it each year because it is so darn tasty and a great way to preserve cabbage for use throughout the year. Our problem is getting to be refrigerator space because we are making a ton of kraut using three then liter water seal crocks and trying to make two batches with each crock. The fermentation process using this method takes at least six weeks so, at some point, you are warehousing cabbage waiting for an empty crock.
The process is pretty easy. You can slice the cabbage using a knife although we use a Cuisinart to speed things up. It helps to break up the cabbage fibers to help release liquid. A potato masher works well. And, you need something to put the sliced cabbage in like a crock or a jar. Here’s the process in a series of photos.
I’m not a “foodie” but am interested in food. I grow much of my own food and use the gardening principles best described as “mineral augmented organics.” Proponents of this method like Steve Solomon (The Intelligent Gardener), Michael Astera (The Ideal Soil) and Gary Kline of Black Lake Organics in Olympia, Washington argue that we have to go a step beyond the organic method which urges the use of compose, biological additions and cover crops and add minerals as dictated by an annual, or more often, soil test.
So, I am naturally predisposed in favor of the farm to table movement which Dan Barber gets credit for starting. Barber was featured in the recent Netflix original series called, “Chef’s Table.” In that he seemed quite obsessed with finding the best tasting food and delivering it to the table of his very upscale restaurant to diners who have paid a small fortune to taste his creations. One complaint that reviewers have of his book is that it has an arrogant, top down view where the big time rock star chef as a conductor directing farmers to grow certain foods and training the customer to try new things.
Farm to table is a concept I endorse and kudos to Mr. Barber for the progress he has encouraged through his farm, restaurant and book. I listened to the audio version with Barber reading and I made it to the end. He had lots of interesting food adventures. It’s great when you are an important and wealthy enough chef to fly off to Spain multiple times to research foie gras and the best ham in the world. And this is where I get confused by the idea of a third plate which, apparently, includes humanely raised foie gras and ham from pigs who fatten by foraging on acorns in a particularly fertile area of Spain. I’ve never eaten foie gras. Most of us haven’t. I just wonder of the third plate might make more sense if it included foods that are more accessible to the average eater.
However, if you want to take a tour of high end food, high end millers, cutting edge farmers and top of the line plant breeders (including a lot about Steve Jones who runs the WSU research facility in Mt. Vernon) there is much of interest to read about in The Third Plate.
We live in a small community that boasts a James Beard Award winner and our roads are full of cars heading to a destination where their dinner experience with wine will cost $250 per plate. The Netflix Chef’s Table series feature six chefs (some quite weird and eccentric) who create tastes that make foodies willing to pay big bucks. I suppose the foodie thing has its place but, personally, I’d prefer an affordable meal at a farmer’s market food stall or from a good food truck. (My kind of food show is “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”)
In reality, I hope the ultimate “third plate” will include food from everyone’s personal garden and from local farmers. Essentially, if you take out the fancy ham, the goose liver and a few other esoteric delights that seems to be Chef Barber’s goal as well.
Taste, rather than nutrition is the goal Barber is chasing. There has to be some correlation between taste and nutrition but there is little if no discussion of nutrient value. Perhaps the goal of superior nutritious food will come with The Fourth Plate.
Since I don’t seem to have much of interest to tell these days I should report on my day in court which turned out to be a demonstration of growing senility or at least my inability to focus on the written word.
So, I reported to Bellingham Municipal Court this past Thursday at 1:30pm with about 50 other violators. We were divided into “mitigators” and “contestors.” The mitigators got to go first. What I learned was that if you have the time and some kind of story to tell you have a chance of having your $30 ticket reduced to $22 or even $15 or even dismissed (if the judge can’t find the police report on his computer). If you happen to park in a handicap spot where the ticket is $450 then you really need to come up with some kind of tale and the judge might cut it in half. The judge was quite lenient. The mitigators were an entertaining bunch and that portion of court lasted for an hour.
Two brothers (farmers) in Central New York state are going to try to survive the year eating only food that they produce, forage or hunt. It’s an interesting experiment and one that you can follow on their blog. They have allowed themselves some exceptions:
- “Salt and pepper are allowed.
- Vitamins and seaweed are allowed.
- Barter is allowed, particularly if the item we’re trading for is produced by the other barterer.
- Gifts of food, so long as the giver grew them him/herself, are allowed.
- Seasoning added by the butcher to meat we raised e.g. bacon and ham, is allowed.
- Cider (mostly hard) made from apples we picked at a nearby farm is allowed. We paid for the apples as it was a u-pick operation. The wild apple crop in 2014 was very poor, so we made an exception about purchasing food for those apples. Plus, we still put in all the labor gathering them and Garth did all the labor fermenting the cider.
- (They will quit) if (they) lose 15% of (their) starting body weight.”
The last caveat is interesting and might be a bit conservative although from the photos on their website they seem to be pretty lean to start with. However, I will note from my own personal experience that when I experimented with a radical diet (raw food) for a full year I lost 37 lbs (thought gained back about 20 for a net loss of more than 15).
These guys are going to blog about it, of course, and it should be interesting. If you want to follow their progress (or lack of it) you can sign up with blog trotter and you’ll get an email when they make new posts.
With a farm, the ability to barter and an omnivore’s diet they should succeed. After all, it’s been done before by generations of people who lived on self-sufficiency farms. In our day and age, it’s quite radical.
I’ve had very poor luck (but a good experience) trying to be a beekeeper. In three seasons I bought three packages of bees, caught two swarms and once got two hives through the winter. In the end, I lost them all for various reasons (weak hive, inadequate population, yellow jacket attack, robbing, poor management).
After year three I made a decision to not buy any more bees but to catch a swarm if one were within my grasp. It’s nice to have bees around the place. Even my deeply insensitive nature can feel the uplift when honeybees are present and working diligently to support their hive.
Like most activities in life there exists the conventional wisdom and the alternative. For reasons I’ve tried to explain before on this blog I gravitate toward the alternative particularly in areas like politics, economics, medicine and, in this case, beekeeping.
The conventional beekeeper keeps bees in a box with preformed frames, doses them with meds and attempt to interfere with natural processes like swarming. The aim of the conventional beekeeper to maximize honey output. The typical beekeeper manages the bees for the beekeeper’s benefit. The alternative approach is to use a top bar or Warre hive and try to create a natural environment, leaving the bees alone as much as possible, letting them build their own comb as they see fit, feeding them (when necessary) honey instead of corn fructose syrup and eschewing pharmaceuticals. Like any subject, it’s very complicated with arguments at every level.
Jacqueline Freeman is a leader of the natural beekeeping movement and lives in SW Washington. She just published an interesting and readable book called The Song of Increase about her conversation with the bees. I know that Jacqueline is the real deal and one can verify this for themselves by watching her part in the famous bee movie Queen of the Sun or in various Youtubes like this one:
And, full disclosure, though I’ve not met her personally, Jacqueline has been kind enough to respond to emails questions I have sent her. The Song of Increase may not be for everyone. When a person claims to be in communication with the bees, that they, if fact talk to her in enough detail that their communication can be transcribed in voluminous enough quantity to make up supplementary chapters of a book, most will roll their eyes. I personally have no problem with channelled information, or the suggestion that nature spirits and fairies, if you will, play a role in nature. Though I’d like to and I have tried, I don’t see them or sense them and am unable to talk to them.
Clearly there are undefinable energies at work in the fields and gardens. The success of biodynamics is evidence and it’s not surprising to learn that Jacqueline also practices biodynamic principles as laid out by Rudolf Steiner whose philosophies are responsible for practices such as Waldorf education.
I enjoyed and will benefit from Jacqueline’s insights and experiences with her bees. The book is chock full of extremely interesting and helpful information. And, if these insights came directly from the bee’s mouths so to speak, so much the better. Her writing style is lively and engaging. This brings me to the only quarrel I have with The Song of Increase. And that is the writing style of the bees. I found it to be a bit pedantic. Boring even. Who knew?
As a writer, trying to communicate bee thoughts finding a “voice” is a challenge. As I read the book I kept wishing the bees would just shut up and let Jacqueline tell the story in her own voice.
The go to sources are Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener and Michael Astera’s The Ideal Soil both available via Amazon.com. Steve’s book should also be available in local bookstores.
The gist of soil testing and its rational are summarized at Growabundant.com, a website operated by Steve Solomon’s co-author. Both Steve Solomon and Michael Astera recommend a Melich III test from Logan Labs.
Logan Labs soil test is now $25. Logan provides soil sampling instructions here. You send a copy of this worksheet in with your soil sample and a check for $25 or more if you are getting multiple samples. Growabundant.com has a series of short essays to get you started.
Subscribe to Organicalc Organicalc is a function on the Growabundant website that allows you (for $9.50) per year to input the results of your Logan Labs test. Organicalc will then give you a recipe for your garden’s custom fertilizer.
There is another essay that tells how to apply the amendments. Applying amendments
Amendments can be easily mixed in an Oddjob Mixer.
When you’ve been a vegetarian for 40+ years you get all sorts of questions. One of them is, “Does it bother you if I eat this?” Usually referring to some kind of meat. Answer is, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.” In fact, I’m abnormally interested what people eat. Food, at its essence is political. It defines cultures, regions, even localities. Right now, control of the food supply is a huge issue with the Montsantos of the world seemingly getting the upper hand.
Recently the island had its version of a brouhaha over food—what style of food might be served at the local cafe, its price and whether or not the cafe’s business plan was right for the island. Feelings run strong on the subject of food.
Driving down any strip mall street in America one gets the idea that we don’t have much of a food culture. All these streets look the same with MacDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Wendys, etc. lined up in more or less a regular order. But, we actually have a pretty interesting and lively food culture. One recent development as illustration is the evolution of the food truck from “roach coach” to gourmet dining. I will attest to the excellence of El Tapito’s vegetarian burrito made in their truck located near the end of Bakerview Road.
Food is endlessly fascinating. It doesn’t have to be the new cuisine. Street food is really the most interesting. One of the best documentarians of food culture is Anthony Bourdain who explored street food (and some fancy stuff too) around the world for eight seasons on the Travel Channel with his food/travel show No Reservations. He got mad at the Travel Channel for inserting product placement into his narratives and bolted for CNN where he is in his second season of Parts Unknown. Parts Unknown is a bit more newsy than No Reservations but Bourdain is a writer with talent and, luckily, a fellow with a cast iron gut who will eat just about anything especially if it’s food made from the less savory parts of an animal: tongues, brains, noses, heads, ears, guts, you name it. He can also drink copious amounts of booze.
He’s also pretty antagonistic to vegetarians which doesn’t bother me at all. He will reluctantly eat vegetarian and in a recent Parts Unknown episode on the Punjab was actually complimentary.
Most of us are a bit reluctant to try food from street vendors or even local establishments fearing stomach upset. But I’ll bet that just about everyone can recall some kind of interesting food adventure. I look back fondly on my successful search for a genuine bird’s nest soup in Bangkok, samosas from a station vendor in India and fry bread from a greasy spoon near the Navaho Rez. Each is an interesting story and indelible memory. We can learn a lot by paying attention to people’s food, how the raise it, get it to market, prepare it and eat it.
Food adventuring is a lot easier, I will admit, if one is an omnivore But, I’ll let Anthony Bourdain do my traveling for me now.
Some more good food shows and films:
Spinning Plates—”This documentary profiles three restaurants based in very different locales: Chicago; Tucson, Arizona; and Balltown, Iowa.” Their only similarity seems to be personal tragedy.
The Mind of a Chef—”This mouth-watering series produced by Anthony Bourdain takes viewers inside the world of culinary artist and restaurateur David Chang. Traveling the globe to research what we eat, the Momofuku founder brings an exotic dash to all his creations.”
I Like Killing Flies—“…filmmaker Matt Mahurin peers into Shopsin’s, a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village restaurant that’s been dutifully serving comfort food to satisfied customers for more than 30 years. Lording over the eatery is hilarious, ersatz philosopher/owner Kenny Shopsin, who caters to his regulars while dispensing tough love with his okra chowder. And he’s just as likely to throw his customers out as he is to take their orders.”
Best Food Ever—”From the South’s best BBQ to the Big Apple’s most delicious delis, “Best Food Ever” profiles America’s top food destinations and highlights what makes them the best in their culinary categories.”
Kings of Pastry—”Acclaimed documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus venture inside the deliciously cutthroat Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the legendary French pastry competition, to capture this fascinating account of what it takes to be the best “patissier.”
I’m glad I’m not in this gardening thing for the money. I might get discouraged by the lineup of pests and pestilence we gardeners face each season. There’s slugs, of course. There’s this years ubiquitous tent caterpillar. There’s the new girl in town—the saw fly, voracious in the larval stage. There were rabbits but our garden security officer has disappeared them along with the voles and rats. Later, the raccoon families appear to feast on cherries, plums and corn. A radio tuned to 24 hour talk helps save the corn crop. Last, but certainly not least, are the herds of deer who roam the island looking for treats.
Deer can do a tremendous amount of damage and do it quickly. They can jump fences, scooch under them if there’s space and even push them in. They get up on their hind legs to eat apples and other treats.
Last year a friend showed me a possible solution and I’m nearly ready to conclude that it might be working. Behold the Wireless Deer Fence, a step short of a full electric fence which would no doubt do the job. The trouble with an electric fence is that it will also shock the grandkids and is in the way for mowing and weed whacking, checking for caterpillars, etc.
The Wireless Deer Fence, on the other hand, is a rather elegant solution. I was intrigued after watching this video:
The website for this product claims it is a deer training system. There are two AA batteries, four metal probes sticking up and surrounding a scent tube. The scent tube is supposed to attract the deer and when they try to sniff it and make contact they get a shock.
Animal advocates might think this cruel. I can attest to the shock of the shock, which feels kind of like a bee sting without the lingering pain caused by the injection of venom. It shocks you, you react, you don’t want to get shocked again. You watch out.
To be clear, I didn’t intentionally test this on myself. My shock was accidental but confirmed what the manufacture had to say.
They are a bit pricey but will last a long time. You do have to change the scent tube about once a month and change the batteries each season.