Spoon Carving at By Our Hands We Make Our Way

I’ve had a bit of a lucky streak the past few weeks, so when It’s In Nottingham posted a competition to win tickets to a spoon carving workshop, I fancied my chances. I didn’t win.

But just when I thought my luck had run out, one of the original winners couldn’t attend the workshop and thanks to my speedy typing skills on my mobile (gained because I’m old enough to have learnt to text on a Nokia 2110) I managed to bag myself two tickets.

Tom and I had wanted to give spoon carving a go when we went to Scotland early last year but we just couldn’t get the dates to work and wrongly assumed it wasn’t something we could do in the city.

The course was being run by ‘By Our Hands We Make Our Way’, if you haven’t heard of them before you may have spotted their amazing handcrafted puppets hanging in the window of their unit in Sneinton Market.

Hand Carved Wooden Puppet
The amazing hand carved puppets at By Our Hands We Make Our Way

‘By Our Hands’ describe themselves as Professional Entheusers, running courses for adults and young people of all ages. Working with schools, communities and therapeutic projects, they aim to connect people with their everyday creativity, using art as ‘a balm for any wound’ and a way ‘to get stuck things moving again.’

It’s a great ethos and Martin, who runs the studio (alongside his young family), starts the day with giving an overview of his previous work and his aims as an artist, whilst we enjoyed a nice cuppa. The relaxing vibe and beautiful setting instantly put me at ease, making the fact that the last time I made anything out of wood was in year 7, suddenly not seem that daunting.

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As well as spoon carving, they offer courses in making a stool, wood block print making, relief carving and family craft sessions. It’s hoped that these will be expanded out into workshops for very young children which will involve story telling and creative play. Something I will definitely be taking Margot to once it starts running.

The group was mixed ability and ages, although most were fairly beginner standard. However, there wasn’t reams and reams of instruction and theory which I loved as I don’t learn well from listening. After having a brief but interesting overview of working with green wood and it’s history we jumped straight into picking the wood we wanted to work with (with Martin’s advice and guidance).

I have to be honest, I didn’t expect to be on one end of a crosscut saw  with my mother in law within an hour of starting the class but that’s exactly what happened. (For those not down with the wood cutting lingo that’s one of those two men saws that I think I’ve only ever seen in cartoons up until that point).

Tools at By Our Hands We Make Our Way
Crosscut Saw – not just for cartoon lumberjacks!

We then spent a good few hours shaping the wood with an axe to get to a rough spoon shape. Now I’m not going to lie, Martin makes this look easy, IT IS NOT EASY! It’s definitely the most physically demanding craft I’ve ever done but at the same time I didn’t find myself getting too fatigued ( especially as Martin provided fuel in the form of some amazing brownies from Oozee Boozee Bakes and the best dates I’ve ever tasted from Murat Food Centre).

Taking shape

It’s going to sound weird but it was actually relaxing! Using the axe required just enough concentration that your mind couldn’t wander, so I didn’t find myself dwelling on whether Margot was playing up for my mum or the mountain of things I had to get done over the weekend, I was just concentrating on what I was doing in that moment. I definitely see how it is used as a therapeutic art.

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Once we had the rough shape of the spoon, Martin taught us several techniques for shaping the wood with a knife. This was the point when the spoon started to look like something that could actually be used for cooking or eating. Again, rather than lots and lots of instruction, once we had practiced on some scraps of wood, we were left to try out of new skills on our spoons with Martin on hand to offer one to one advice.

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The final part of the whittling process was creating the spoon’s bowl. Now you know when your freezer is set too low and your ice cream basically turns into concrete and you’re just scratching tiny bits out with the scoop? Well it’s exactly like that! But again the satisfaction when it starts to take shape is on par with when you finally get a decent bowl of ice cream, worth the effort!

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Scooping the bowl

The workshop developed very organically so there was no pressure to meet deadlines or milestones throughout the day but everyone seemed to reach the same points together. My spoon ended up completely different from what I’d envisaged I’d make when I first started but that’s the beauty of it – each group member, despite being taught the same techniques, created completely different end results.

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My finished spoon

Another bonus of the workshop is that because the studio is in Sneinton Market you can spend the lunch break exploring some of the other fab businesses that are located in the surrounding units. I had the most amazing vegan toastie at Blend and after the workshop we had a walk around the Friday Market in the sunshine, which was a lovely ending to a really great day.

Upcoming Workshops at By Our Hands We Make Our Way

Saturday 3rd August – Family Making

Saturday 21st September – Introduction to Green Woodwork

Sunday 8th September – Spoon Carving

Saturday 7th September – Relief Wood Carving