May 282016

After taking a crack at a variety of wood I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite is Douglas (or Rocky Mountain maple). I was mistakenly calling this vine maple for a long time. There are some similarities. Both have smaller leaves than our big leaf maple. Vine maple and Douglas maple both have multiple trunks but Douglas maple gets a lot bigger though not even close to the size of a big leaf maple. I prefer the Douglas maple over the big leaf maple because the wood is more interesting. Douglas is two toned with a light and dark and it’s possible to design a spoon that is half and half.

Here’s a couple examples of spoons carved to show both colors.


Taster spoon

Taster spoon


(The big leaf maple and another maple we have around here, the water maple, seem to be one color unless some spalting has started.

Douglas maple is a very hard, dense wood. Native Americans carved it into snowshoe frames, bows, drum hoops and ceremonial pieces. Shoots and seedlings can be eaten raw or cooked like asparagus. The tree can be sugared and will produce a lot of sap. You can find a Youtube video of a guy collecting sap from a Douglas.

So, I’m on the hunt for Douglas maple. We took one down at our place and it’s provide me with lots of spoons. If you know of one that’s coming down or that could sacrifice a limb, let me know.

May 212016

As one might expect there is a Facebook group for spoon carvers. It’s very active with multiple posts each day, usually with photos of recently completed spoons, bowls and kuksa, most of which display a very high degree of skill, craftsmanship and artistry. There are some great carvers out there, often with distinctive styles. Viewing the work by others is inspirational but can also create a sense of inadequacy and inferiority.

My spoons don’t quite measure up and, frankly, I haven’t felt compelled to post photos on the spoon carver’s site. This is the only exception because it is, in fact, unique.

IMG_8059 IMG_8058







I had the idea to demonstrate a spoon emerging from a branch. Of course, it’s rendered in a way that is opposite of the manner in which one carves a spoon and it’s still pretty rough.

All my spoons seem to be kind of rough, not quite symmetrical, uneven in thickness, imperfect. This could be discouraging were it not for the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi.

Wabi sabi, at its essence, is the art of finding  beauty in imperfection and simplicity. “…it’s an intuitive way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.”  Recently, I collected a lot of spalted maple. It’s not greenwood and it’s hard to carve. Sometimes the wood is totally rotten and doesn’t work. But a nicely spalted piece reveals wonderful and unique patterns. Spalting is a vivid example of the cycle of growth and decay.








The spoon is perfect for manifesting wabi sabi. It is the basic tool—a small bowl with a handle useful for many applications. And, it doesn’t have to be perfect to work. It can be asymmetrical and uneven and still be appreciated. Wabi sabi works for me. I’m feeling better about my crude spoons.

Related to and evolving from wabi sabi is kintsugi, another Japanese ideal. Kintsugi it is the art of embracing damage. In bowl carving, for example, the wood can check (split). Should the piece be tossed? Or, possibly repaired? Or, just enjoyed with the imperfection being considered a part of the history of the piece.

This bowl checked badly, yet it still works perfectly as a bowl and the split adds to its character and rusticity.


Bottom view of the bowl


Top edge of the bowl








At it’s essence, carving a spoon can be seen as a basic survival or homesteading skill. It is a craft. Craft can rise to the level of art but it doesn’t have to.

Wabi sabi.

May 122016

My audio book for the last week has been a bio of James Stewart who was the ubiquitous actor of my childhood and early adulthood. Stewart made dozens of films or “pictures” as they called them in those days. Truth be told, his biography isn’t all that interesting except for the fact that he was the major motion picture star of the fifties. I can still recall scenes from “Broken Arrow” (with Jeff Chandler as Cochise). Playing cowboys and Indians around age 8 or 9 I was always Cochise. I recall saying to a friend that my name was Cochise because my arrows were a little bit yellow. Can’t recall if I was serious or making a bad play on a pun.

I felt I had things in common with Mr. Stewart. We were both tall and very skinny. And, I can attest that when, at a later date, I found myself in the same room with him, an event I will get to, I noted that he was the narrowest human I had ever seen. That is, looking at him straight on, he was not very wide. “Thin” doesn’t really describe it.

Stewart came from Indiana, Pennsylvania where his dad ran the local hardware store and was a pillar of the Presbyterian church. That’s something else we had in common—fathers who took a life long interest in influencing our lives and who found church going to be of the utmost importance. James Stewart as a personality is what one might expect of a boy from the midwest. He was a staunch Republican, exempt from McCarthyism, and best friends with Ronald Reagan. He wore a toupee, something I didn’t know and had a hearing problem from middle age on.

He was a hero of WWII. Not a fake hero but the real deal. A bomber pilot who rose from private to Lt. Colonel during the course of the war who was continually promoted to more responsible command positions. He continued as a reservist and eventually achieved a star although his promotion to general was opposed by Senator Margaret Chase Smith on the grounds that there were more deserving officers.

He became a family man at forty, marrying a divorcee with a couple of boys. Before that he had affairs with lots of actresses most notably Marlene Dietrich.

With the exception of the time out for WWII his biography is pretty much a recounting of picture after picture. I’ve seen a lot of them and this week took time to watch “Winchester 73” and “Call Northside 777”. Jimmy Stewart is a very effective and very watchable actor. The only contemporary actor who might have played all the Jimmy Stewart roles is Tom Hanks. There was an edginess to Stewart the actor, however, that Hanks doesn’t have.

When I was a kid living in Vancouver, Washington we learned that they were filming a Jimmy Stewart movie called Bend in the River up near Mt. Hood. We jumped in the car on a Sunday and headed up toward the mountain and were rewarded with a distant view of a wagon train circled in a clearing down below the hiway.

I got closer to Stewart, in his role as General Stewart, in 1967. I was at a base in NE Thailand when the Secretary of the Air Force with his entourage dropped in. I was an intelligence officer for the Air Commando Wing stationed there and, as was always the case with intelligence shops, worked in a windowless building. It was an inadequate facility with small briefing rooms connected by a long hallway. The main briefing room was full of pilots so the Secretary’s entourage couldn’t squeeze in. The Secretary, Harold Brown, who later became Secretary of Defense under President Carter, stood in the doorway and his followers trailed down the hall. I was just inside the door describing what was going on in a whisper to Secretary Brown who whispered the info to the next guy and so on down the line like “Pershing at the Front“.

The briefing over, the pilots made their way out squeezing past the Secretary and his posse who then circled through the briefing room glancing at maps and charts, then exiting. The last guy was General Stewart wearing tan 1505s, a short sleeved khaki outfit. It was just me and General Jimmy. He picked up a map of Laos and studied it a bit then turned to me as if to ask a question. I was waiting for his characteristic stutter, looking forward to answering. But he changed his mind and put the chart back on the easel, nodded and left the room. It would have been a violation of military courtesy to ask for an autograph.

It’s hard to know exactly what impact James Stewart’s films had on me. Watching his old pictures I have a sense he was a strong role model. I know for certain that his film “Strategic Air Command” was not the movie that tipped me in the direction of the Air Force. That distinction belongs to “A Gathering of Eagles” with Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor (1963). In a demonstration of shallowness, I was overwhelmed with the idea of how good I would look in the Air Force’s tan Class A uniform. I joined the next year, the same year the Air Force dumped the tan for a blue uniform that looked like something a bus driver would wear. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

I don’t usually read or listen to show biz bios. But I’m glad I spent some more time with Jimmy Stewart. I didn’t get to know him very well on our first encounter.

Here’s one of the spoons (lilac) I carved while listening to the book. I’m surprised it’s not skinnier.IMG_7994


May 082016

IMG_3358I’m still fascinated by the process of chipping away at a piece of wood until something useful emerges. Over time proficiency increases. This is the first spoon or scoop I did a couple years ago.

This was from a piece of alder and it’s very crude. Many hours and several more excellent tools later the results start to improve.

A neighbor took down a huge maple that was all rotted out. As a result of the bacteria and fungus working their way through the trunk you get these wonderful spalting patterns in the wood.









Chipping away with a hatchet


Spoon emerging


Finished spoon. You end up getting what the wood lets you have.