2018 Ashville Viking FestivalIssues

Half-Axed Spoons

Wooden spoon maker from the Ashville Viking Festival

Wolf CrescentWalker is bringing Half-Axed Spoons and Utensils to the Ashville Viking Festival. Wolf is a Living History Re-Enactor, and she will be making and selling spoons at the festival. Here’s our conversation:

How does one get into spoon making?
It was an offshoot from learning the basics of woodworking to be able to build instruments. I’m a guitar – banjo – mandolin player and the first time I saw and heard a cigar box guitar, I was a goner. In the process, I learned how to carve wood. Being a Living History reenactor, its all about the old – time skills. Wooden spoons are a good starting point: useful and uncomplicated. It is also incredibly addictive. I have not built an instrument since I started carving spoons. I can’t stop.

What do you do for a day job?
I am a moosician. Seriously, I have a Bluegrass/Blues band, “Second Wind.” I also moonlight in a couple of other groups, and I pursue a solo career as well. I have performed at Ashville Viking Festival many times in the past, but this is my first year out with the spoons.

Where does someone learn to make spoons?
I am blessed to know a fellow who, while disguised as a mild-mannered dulcimer player, turned out to be a master woodwork and cabinet maker. He took me on as a student. He is Paul Kerns, and his work can be seen in the Starbrick Gallery in Nelsonville. But if you are a self starter, there are many how-to videos on the net.

Did it take you a long time to learn?
No.
I’m one of those aggravatingly fast learners when it comes to anything crafty. I broke a few at first, but the tricky part is learning to read the board or the branch to know if it’s gonna be a good one or not. Trees are tricky.

What’s the history of spoon making?
So very old, I have no clue. Basic necessity, a sharp blade, and a tree. You can chase that back to the Bronze Age, maybe earlier. How old is soup?

Why do you make spoons?
Aside from the spoon addiction mentioned earlier, I like to cook and have the physique to prove it. And I really am a back-to-basics kind of person: I recycle, sew a lot of my own clothes, make things rather than buy them. Plus, wood does not react to certain acidic foods, so you don’t have to worry about an aluminum spoon dissolving in your pickle juice or chili soup.

How do you make a spoon?
Grab a branch or a chunk of firewood and cut away everything that isn’t a spoon. Stop throwing things at me! Here’s the short description: for green wood, I split the log with a tool called a froe and a mallet. Then I split the sections down into what is called a billet, or a smaller slab of wood. Then I use a small hand axe to start roughing out the shape of the spoon. I usually do not plan a style or shape, just let the wood tell me what wants to come out. Then, when the axe work is done, I go to a spoke shave (another old time tool) to smooth the shape, then a gouge to carve out the bowl. Beyond that, its a matter of refining with a knife, sand paper, and finally coat it with mineral oil to seal the wood.

Do you use a specific wood to make spoons?
Some are not well-suited for utensils. Hardwoods are best like maple, oak, cherry, walnut. Pine is pretty but may not last through generations. I’ve been carving walnut and cherry lately and walnut is my new sweetheart. What becomes profound is carving spoons from a tree someone planted, or carved their initials in when young, or a salvaged board from an old family home or barn. I have a special spoon from an apple tree I planted when I moved onto my land 40 years ago. It was badly damaged in a storm, had to be severely cut back, but survived! I carved a spoon from the damaged branches.

How long have you been making spoons?
Just about a year, maybe a few months more.

What if I told you… the fork makers said that the spoon makers are posing, and that the real skill is in fork making!
I would say it depends on how many tines they are cutting. I can do a wicked 2- tine fork. Four tine carvers are just show-offs. My specialty is the fish spork: looks like a fish with a spoon for the head and a fork for the tail. I am currently sold out, they seem to be popular with campers.

A lot of wooden chopsticks are disposable. Are wooden spoons disposable?
If you buy a bag of chipboard ice cream tasters from a craft store, they are intended to be disposable, which is environmentally nasty. You can make something cheap and quick if you don’t care. I do care. I make things that I think people will treasure and pass on to their heirs. A good wooden spoon is multi-generational with minimal care.

What are the tools required in spoon making?
Tree, saw, axe, knife, gouge, oil, band-aids.

Being a wood worker, how much wood would a wood chuck chuck, if a wood chuck could chuck wood?
It is April and it is still snowing. There is no woodchuck.

Will you be making spoons at the viking festival?
Yes!
I’ll be under the roof of the open shelter. Look for Half-Axed Spoons, or the gray-haired Viking woman carrying an axe and covered in wood chips.

How long have you been coming to the Viking Festival?
Probably ten years or more. I’m usually walking the grounds playing an octave mandolin and singing murder ballads.

Why the Viking Festival?
I think it’s the most fun festival I have ever attended, and its growing fast. You can experience everything here from authentic Viking historical re-enactment to the full renfaire entourage of pirates, fairies, Roman soldiers, jousting, and the variety and quality of craftsmanship from the artists is impressive.

What’s the best thing about the Viking Festival?
You can learn, laugh, donate to the food pantry instead of paying a big entry fee, and indulge your shopping genes because the things you find here are simply not available at the local big box store. Wal-Mart does not stock chainmaille.

How far do you travel to be at the Viking Festival?
Not too far, about 40 minutes. I’m just one county away.

What are your favorite things to do at the Viking Festival?
Walk through the period encampment, catch a garb or fighting demo, listen to the other musicians, cheer on the belly dancers, revel in the renfaire atmosphere. The costumes are amazing! Not just those of the reenactors, but also of the attendees.

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