Jan 302016

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.

Jan 232016



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!