Carved wooden spoons and other treen goods

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

TreenGoods1Never two of carved wooden spoon and other treen goods will ever be alike when carved along the lines of the wood, letting the grain guide the carver and dictate the shape, curves and such like are what make every piece a unique item. Unlike the stuff you will find - “cheap” - in stores, which are almost all 100% alike; those are machined.

When carved following the way the wood guides the carver the strength of the wood is retained. When a piece is machined, however, and that even when “just” the blank is cut by means of a band-saw, or such, in order to be able too produce (almost) uniform pieces, that strength almost always is being undermined if not even destroyed. That is even the case in this instance should, in the case of a spoon, for instance, the bowl be carved by hand with a gouge or spoon knife. Most of those bowls when kitchen spoons (and others wooden ones) are mace by machine also appear not to be hand carved but done by some kind of machine also.

Anything that is carved by hand entirely, however, retains the strength of the grain and thus the product will last so much longer than any “mass-produced” item, even if it is made of wood.

Working with so-called “green wood”, and green wood means either freshly cut or up to eighteen months old timber, is different than using wood that has been seasoned for many, many years, and is cut by saw and then worked with a saw, etc. Green wood is easier to work, while it is in that age range, though some woods, such as Ash and Oak, can already be very hard to work after just resting six moths, as I found out when trying to cave a drinking cup, a Kuksa, out of a piece of Ash after it has been resting for some time, but no more than half a year, of that I am sure.

The greenwood worker once upon a time, and no, I am not about to begin a fairytale, was found in every village and more than one would be found in the towns as well and he did not just make spoons and bowls. Wooden spoons and bowls, however, were still very common around World War One in almost every home in the rural areas and both were used for eating with and of even. And that wood, from which those treen goods were made, and they were not just spoons and bowls, all came from the local area, mostly from local coppice woods, managed in a way that goes back thousands of years.

Machined wooden utensils, as in sawn timber – often seasoned already – and then, if it concerns spoons, the hollow, the bowl, being gauged out by machines, have, to a great extent, lost their natural strength as they are often cut in such a way that no consideration is given to the natural run of the grain of the wood. Hand carving (or turning on the pole lathe – or even other kind of lathe) works with the run of the grain and the grain per se of the wood. And while it is not possible in that way to create products that are uniform in shape and size each and every one is, however, unique and much thought and work has gone into them.

Such handmade items, generally, will outlast machined ones by generations and many handmade spoons and other treen goods, with the patina of years of use, have found their ways into many a museum.

Wood, and that includes and especially green wood, is a very versatile material but unlike steam bending and other treatment often given to products made of seasoned wood are, generally, made by working with the way Nature has grown the tree or branch and thus there will rarely be one piece that will be exactly like the other.

Green wood was also used for the building of the timber-framed houses in Britain (and elsewhere) from stately homes to the smallest hovel and many such houses have withstood the ravages of times so much better than any modern building ever will. One particular house that I do know, in the village of Oxshott, in Surrey, was built before the time of Kind Henry VIII even and is still standing to this very day.

In the days of yore the task of the forester was to identify such shapes in the trunks of trees as could be of use for shipbuilding, the building of timber frames for homes, and much more. And it was one of those old foresters, working for the mines, from Germany who coined the term “sustainable forestry” and introduced this form of management to the woods and forests of his native lands.

© 2016