The People Have Spoken

What good is a wooden eating spoon?

If you ask the people who frequented my Etsy shop since its inauguration two weeks ago, not much. So far among the tally of items sold: cooking/serving spoons – 10, eating spoons – 0.

Redbay eating spoon.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system for an old spoon carver like myself. I’ve surrounded myself with an Instagram feed and Facebook Groups that include a daily abundance of carved spoons. I’d estimate that 90% or more of the spoons that I see on social media are eating spoons.

It makes sense if you’re a carver. Cooking and serving spoons are big. They take at least two or three times as long to carve as an eating spoon, and they take up a commensurate quantity of space in the kitchen. Once you get the spoon carving bug, you’ll probably start out with a few cooking spoons before quickly realizing that they’re going to consume every junk drawer in the kitchen if you don’t start giving some away. Sure, a few of the prized specimens will remain in the vase on the counter meant for oft-used utensils, but you’ll quickly settle on your favorites and the rest will stored in a dark corner, forgotten and forlorn.

Eating spoons, on the other hand, take up little of both your time and space. You can turn out a rather nice one in an hour or two. Unlike cooking spoons, for which a single spoon will suffice to prepare and serve an entire meal for the family, eating spoons are used in quantity. They’re cheap to ship and easy to carry to swap meets, so they make a convenient currency among spoon carvers. Most spoon carvers, therefore, will quickly switch from carving cooking spoons to mostly eating spoons.

But we forget, sometimes, how strangely the rest of the world views us and our wooden eating spoon habit. I know, sometimes it seems as though the whole world is carving spoons, but trust me: That’s just another social media bubble that we’ve created. “Normal” people think wooden eating spoons are weird. Eating spoons should be metal. They should stack neatly in a flatware tray, not lovingly displayed on a wall rack. They should have shiny polished bowls, not gently faceted surfaces from the hook knife. To “normal” people, the wooden eating spoon elicits imagery of a peasant sipping watery porridge from a communal bowl. It’s a relict of a bygone era.

The wooden cooking spoon, meanwhile, reminds people of grandma’s chicken and dumplings. Or grandpa’s peanut brittle. It feels nostalgic, but not antiquated.

The irony, of course, is that many of the most talented and creative contemporary woodworkers I know are spoon carvers. Check out the work of Maryanne, Amy, or Adam if you don’t believe me. My own work may not compare to theirs, but I can tell you that few things bring me as much joy as eating a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream with a little birch spoon that I carved for myself at Greenwood Fest three years ago.

Honestly, I think a wooden eating spoon is a bit like good beer or bourbon: You probably won’t like it the first time you try it, but if you’re motivated to like it, it’ll soon be one of those simple pleasures in life that you’re not likely to want to give up (and unlike beer or bourbon, you’ll not find yourself half-naked and surrounded by empties in the back of a pickup truck if you have one too many wooden spoons). Geez, I’m a terrible salesman. To conclude this subtle sales pitch, my little menagerie of eating spoons are patiently awaiting new owners. I’m rather proud of them. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I do if you give them an honest try. But I must confess, I doubt if I’ll be carving many more. As far as I’m concerned, the people have already spoken.

Not Brave Enough

1990. That’s the year Home Alone came out.

Why am I awake, thinking about Home Alone at 5 AM on a Monday? Apparently, your brain makes funny connections when your seven-year-old daughter wakes you up to get her sound machine and stuffed dinosaur from the basement at 4 in the morning. (She had slept downstairs with her cousin the night before.)

Scared of the basement…Learn where the light switches are, kid…Although, Kevin McCallister was 8, and he was scared of the basement, and look at what he accomplished. Man, what an awesome movie. When did it come out…1990? Holy crap, Ellery is exactly the same age that I was when Home Alone came out…And that was…29 years ago…

And just like that, I’m wide awake and pondering my own mortality. And suddenly realizing that in about a third of the time that has elapsed between the release of Home Alone (which, let’s be honest, feels like yesterday) and the present, my oldest child will be packing her bags to go to college. And it’s the exact amount of time that I have been out of college. And I’ve spent every one of those years working for someone else. While dreaming about doing something else.

And that is why I’m self-employed.

Will I fail? That’s a definite possibility. One that I am prepared to accept. But life is short. A few people in the last week have congratulated me on having the courage to chase my dreams. I really don’t think that’s necessary. My family isn’t going to starve. If things go badly, it might mean taco night includes more rice and beans and less beef. We might have to put off buying new cars for a few years. The worst-case scenario is that I have to go back to being an employee. Is it really all that scary? I’ve already done it for a decade. What scares me is the thought that I might look back at my life and realize that I never tried. I don’t think I’m brave enough to take that risk.

You probably thought this blog was dead.

That’s never a good way to start off a blog post, but with a grand total of five posts since June 2016, you’d be forgiven for thinking as much. The last three posts, from just over a year ago, were in reference to the workshop that I was planning to build. If you follow me on Instagram, then you already know that the workshop has been “finished” since earlier this year. I’m pleased with it.

Okay, that’s an understatement. For more than a year, I poured sweat and stolen hours into this workshop. I sawed thousands of feet of oak, pine, and poplar. I built trusses, doors, and restored vintage windows. I hammered nails until my shoulder throbbed, and then I kept hammering. This shop is the culmination of two years of planning and work. It’s not big, and it’s not perfect, but I’m damn proud of it. There are still a few projects (insulation, interior paneling, and stairs) to work on before I can remove those quotation marks around the word “finished”, but at least my tools and workbench have a home.

The big news today – and the reason for the re-emergence of my blog – is to announce a change in my life that will afford a few more hours each week within these walls, and perhaps (fingers crossed) even a couple of hours for blogging. That’s right. Beginning this week, I leave behind the cozy comfort of gainful employment and begin life anew as a “business owner”. I’ll still be working about 3 days a week as a contractor for my former employer – and only one day a week at the office – which feels like a good balance to me. I quite enjoy the work that I do there, but I less enjoy being tethered to a desk for 45 hours a week.

My new life as a “business owner” gives me a laundry list of new obligations: quarterly taxes and accounting; marketing and business development; and perhaps most intimidating, learning to make things out of wood for profit and not merely for pleasure. I realize there is often a disconnection between “what I want to make” and “what someone will pay me to make”. I hope to bridge that gap over time. Meanwhile, my risk-averse wife would kindly appreciate your positive thoughts as I recklessly throw our steady, predictable life into utter disarray.