About 13 years ago I tore a page out of the Guardian weekend magazine and stuck it to my fridge. It was about a man calling himself Barn the Spoon, who lived in the woods, carving spoons, pottering about, and generally seeming to have a lovely time, free from the shackles of capitalism. I admired Barn the Spoon. I wanted a bit of that feeling for myself.
Every time I moved house, I’d take Barn off the fridge and carefully fold him up and then when I unpacked at the other end, back he’d go, reminding me to follow my dreams, even if they didn’t make me a lot of money or involved living in a hut.
Here he is:
Just before Christmas I took Barn off the fridge once more, carefully folded him, and took him to London to a spoon carving workshop. My host? BARN THE SPOON.
I know right? Talk about dreams come true. I added ‘carve a spoon with Barn the Spoon’ to my list of 50 things to do before I’m 50 when I realised that Barn’s own spoon carving dreams had evolved into teaching regular carving workshops, holding a spoon festival – Spoonfest – and even publishing three books all about carving spoons.
I was nervous. When you hold someone up as an inspiration, a model of how you want to shape your own life and ambition, you attach certain feelings and traits to them. They represent something, something that can mean whatever you want it to mean. When you actually meet that person on a cold December Sunday in a city farm in East London, well… there’s scope to be disappointed.
Barn did not disappoint me. In fact, if anything he enriched my idea of him by being smart and funny and talented, with lots to say, and not the sort of wise but semi-mute woodland bear type creature I’d morphed him into in my head. He took us through a whole day of carving that felt like about half an hour because it did exactly what I had imagined it would – it absorbed me, it soothed me, it made me forget to check my phone.
The process is relatively simple once you learn the basic carving techniques, but simple in that Barn makes it look simple. In reality you feel initially clumsy and terrified of taking off a finger. You have to take the time to let the tools feel comfortable in your hand and to trust your instincts.
The hardest bit for me was going from a featureless chunk of wood, to the basic spoon shape. You do this initially with an axe, chipping out the shape on a wooden stump. Then you can switch to a knife and start carving out the more refined shape of the handle.
When you’ve done this, you switch to a round spoon carving hook shaped knife, and start scooping out the inside. It’s delicate work – at any moment you could slip, take it too far, and all of your good work will be undone. It’s not fast, but it draws you in.
When we finished for the day, I immediately wanted to buy a selection of tools, imagining that every evening from now on would be spent around an open fire, exchanging stories with interesting people from around the world whilst sipping whiskey from a metal tumbler and gently carving an ornate yet rustic spoon. My spoons would become admired for miles around, my ability to turn a blank rectangle of wood into a thing of beauty would be celebrated far and wide.
That did not happen.
I went home and showed Belle my spoons. She looked at them, distinctly nonplussed, as though she’d been expecting me to come home with a fully formed 24 piece cutlery set, and I put them in a pot on my desk. I know though.
I know that inside me is a dormant spoon carver, just waiting for someone to light the campfire.
Book your spoon carving workshop now or sign up to the newsletter or Instagram and look out for special offers. Barn often does buy one get one free on workshop spaces.