Wood has always been integral to the world we live in, and it’s still the best material for many jobs. Consider the power lines held in the sky, suspended over our houses and streets by millions of wooden poles. Even things so seemingly disconnected from trees – concrete structures such as bridges and skyscrapers – depend on plywood forms. Many houses are made of wood, as are the cabinets and furniture in them. Wine and whiskey are still aged in wooden barrels. All of these are carryovers from the old wood culture that we mostly take for granted. Because of modern industrial processes and extensive international trade, it’s hard to imagine these products were at one time related to whole living trees, grown on someone’s land, felled and shaped by human hands. Even if we don’t realize it, we are still connected to that old wood culture that goes back millennia, and to the processes that have evolved over thousands of years.
Intrigued by the sudden growth and popularity of the craft, a curious journalist once asked me, “Why spoons?” The mainstream finds spoon carving a bit out of the ordinary and is shocked to discover the small but vibrant international community that has such passion for making what is understood as a common kitchen object. My answer to this journalist began by explaining that the required tool kit is pretty small – you could get started for a little over $100, even less if you were thrifty. Compared to most other types of woodworking, this is nothing. There is no need to go to a lumberyard for material; fresh wood is available everywhere if you look for it, even in big cities. And though a spoon seems simple, it is only deceptively so. Carve one spoon and this fact becomes very clear.
There is always room for growth in the making of such a small object – developing the knife skills to make crisp cuts, developing patience and focus through practice, and developing design skills by learning to see shapes, forms, and fair curves. Spoons are small sculptures that blend utilitarian, aesthetic, and ritual functions. Although this is a very modern take on wooden spoons, there are historic examples that were seen as cultural and ceremonial objects, instead of merely utilitarian items. For instance, in both Scandinavia and Wales, highly decorated spoons were used as courting gifts, and in Native American traditions, spoons are used for ceremonial feasts. I’ve been carving since 1993, and after making thousands of spoons, I still feel that the design possibilities are endless.
–Jarrod Dahl, excerpt from “#thenewwoodculture,” in Issue Seven