Head to toe carving: the eyes

I’m always rattling on during workshops that folks should use their whole body when carving. Now I’m not proposing you strap a carving axe to your head and run like a bull at chunk of cherry; that wouldn’t do at all. No, what I’m saying is that carving is about so much more than your hands, a tool and some wood.

Built into this incredible machine we all pilot is a whole range of woodworking gubbins that help us grip, slice, assess, chop and design. There’s a heap of information out there on carving techniques that focus on hands and tools, but not a lot on all those other handy bits from eyes down to toes.

So, seeing as I have to shoot in a minute to pick my boy up from school, and I don’t have time right now to go through the detailed anatomy and physiology of your standard spoonerd, I’m going to start a little series of guides that detail head-to-toe carving. And where else to start than at the top.

Carving with your eyes

Don’t worry, this isn’t a tutorial on how to perform a knife grip with your eyes; it’s not a fabled 11th knife grip to follow up the ten shown in workshops around the world by Messers Sundqvist. No, this is using your eyes for the purpose they are intended.

To see, not look.

So you’ve got a copy of the latest spoon carving book. If I’m up to date on this it should be Spon by none other than Barn the Spoon. A beautiful and inspiring book it is, filled with lots of photos that in recent months has encouraged many a new and experienced carver to have a go at a Barn made spoon. And as most have discovered, there is difficulty in replicating simplicity, which to me is the underlying beauty in many of Mr The Spoon’s creations.

But why is it so tricky? There are lots of reasons here, from being a carver still developing the dexterous skills to make such a spoon, to being an experienced carver set in their ways as to what works for them. The other reason, which can be overlooked, is that it’s too easy to fall into the trap of copying an image of a spoon by only looking at it holistically.

When your eyes fall over the overall image of a spoon and command your hands to copy what lies before them, they don’t pick up the function of individual parts, or the relationship of neighbouring sections before assembling them together in a seamless food shoveller or dolloper. They don’t see the spoon.

The same would go with making a spoon of your own design. Regardless of how long you spend on designing that elusive ‘perfect’ spoon, things probably won’t work out for you if you don’t see the spoon you are creating. The flow of the keel from the bowl to handle; the width of the neck in relation to the diameter of the bowl; the splay of the handle and how it enhances or clunkifies (real word in my world) the length of the spoon, and so on…

See that spoon, and when you’re ready, carve.

I think it was my favourite spoon carving ogre, Pat, who threw it out there a few months back, asking what makes a good spoon carver. There were lots of answers, and of course all were true, but in my humble opinion a good spoon carver starts with the eyes and ends with the hands (using other body parts along the way). Yes it’s important to always learn, to listen and to be humble, but these things make you a better human being, not necessarily a better carver. Being a better human is of course more important than being a top notch carver. Well just, anyway. But if you can nail the design by seeing the spoon, and build your tool skills over time, then you will end up a bloody good carver, like Pat. Check out Pat’s work over at @klipnockywoods on Instagram and you will see a carver who knows and sees every part of the spoon he’s creating.

Of course the irony of all this is I’ve been carving and squinting at little spoons for so long now that I’ve completely stuffed my eyesight. Oh well.

Peace & whittles,


Photo by: Liam Edward Brennan

Next up: carving with your neck


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