A saw, an axe, a knife, and a pebble: the ancient tools of a Waikato greenwood carver

Waikato maker Jeff Fryett of Woodenjeff hand carves elegant and tactile wooden spoons and spatulas from green wood, fresh from the trees. Using minimal tools — just a saw, axe, and knives — to shape his products, he then burnishes them with a pebble to leave a smooth tooled finish.

 Hand Carved Eating Spoon by Woodenjeff

What do you make?

I carve wooden spoons by hand from green wood (tree branches from storm-damaged trees or prunings) using simple hand tools, axes, and knives.

How did you get into your craft?

When I was young, my dad made some kitchen spoons for my mum from old rimu boards, and one day I decided to make some for my wife. While researching how to carve the bowl, I discovered the idea of greenwood working, spoon carving, and the amazing community surrounding it. And I have been addicted ever since.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?

None, other than watching some YouTube videos and reading some books.

What are your favourite materials, tools, and processes?

My favourite part of the process is probably at the very start, axing out the spoon blank from a chunk of wood; it’s where the spoon reveals itself and is the most creative part of the process. You also get to play with a super sharp axe, which is always fun too!

My favourite tree species to carve so far are rhododendron and cherry, as they are easy to work green, but when dry, they take a super nice smooth finish off the knives. But it’s always fun to find a branch from a tree I’ve never carved before and find out what treasure is hidden inside.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces

It all starts with a log, which gets split into spoon-sized pieces. Then, with an axe, I clean up the surfaces so I can draw on the spoon design. Then I create the rough shape using an axe and adze. Next, I start to use a Sloyd knife to refine the shape and a hooked knife to hollow the bowl. When I’m happy with the shape, it gets placed in a bag of wood chips to dry for a couple of days before I finish it with super-sharp knives, which leave a smooth tool finish that doesn’t need to be sanded. Lastly, I burnish and then oil it with linseed oil.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in all sorts of places: the shapes of things in nature like leaves and feathers; historical spoons; Instagram posts from other carvers; and the wood itself, which will often be full of patterns and knots that will change the spoon I might have planned to make.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?

I am not a particularly deep thinker or philosopher, but I love the thought of taking something that would have otherwise been put through a chipper or turned into firewood and turning it into something that is both beautiful and functional.

What has been a highlight of your maker journey so far?

I’m a preschool teacher and often sit at the art table and sketch out potential future spoons. One day, as I was drawing a spoon, one of the boys said, “I’m going to draw a spoon too, and a fork!” He gifted me his spoon drawing, and as he was turning 5 and off to school the next week, I decided to carve his spoon design and give it to him on his last day. The response from him and his family was indeed very heartwarming!

Also, just before COVID struck, I discovered a community of fellow spoon carvers from all around the world who meet up in a Zoom meeting room that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, called RiseUpAndCarve. The ability to meet and carve with other spoon carvers from places like Israel, the USA, the UK, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland was a fantastic distraction during lockdown and after. It was amazing, and I now have spoon-carving friends from all over the world.

Describe your creative process

I do a lot of sketching of spoon ideas at work, but most never make it past pen and paper. But every now and then, I’ll like one enough that I make it, sometimes consciously, sometimes without even realising it until later. I also don’t often replicate spoons, preferring to explore new shapes as inspiration, and the wood leads me.

Describe your workspace

My shed is a mess! It is where all the axing takes place, so the floor is covered with wood chips. All the knife work gets done at the kitchen table, so I need to keep that space clean, or else I’ll be banished outside!

Five words that describe your mind

Creative, problem solver, arty, quiet, and amicable.

Your favourite feedback from a customer

A repeat customer ordered a spoon for her fiftieth birthday; “Wand-like in aura!” was her request. Her response was to post multiple Instagram stories telling all her followers to go and buy spoons for like a week!

What are you currently listening to?

One artist I always return to is Entertainment For The Braindead, which sounds like a heavy metal band name but is actually a German musician who makes beautiful ambient folk music.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?

The Story of Ferdinand. As a quiet child who never enjoyed group sports, I related to the quiet, flower-loving Ferdinand.

What are you reading now?

I just started reading Children of Dune.

A favourite quote

“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin. I like this quote because I’m much more of a doer than a talker. I hate meetings!

Tell us about your pets

We currently have just one cat, Doug, who likes to act tough but is actually a big scaredy cat.

If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?

The Spoonman. Able to cut a piece of wood in half just by looking at it. I know it’s hard to believe, but I saw it with my own two eyes. Sorry for the bad dad joke!

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?

These days, it seems like everything we get in the shops is imported and made by machines; there is very little love or creativity in them. Buying handmade goods may cost more, but the end result is a better product full of the creativity of the maker and a connection to the maker that can’t be found in mass-produced goods.

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?

As my spoon carving is just a hobby and not a business, it’s always an absolute pleasure that someone has seen something worth buying in my creations and is willing to pay their hard earned money for it.

What was the last handmade item you bought, and what attracted you to it?

A nice new knife blade from a UK blacksmith; it was nice and shiny and 20mm longer than my former longest carving knife. Good tools make the work so much easier!

What’s your favourite item in your shop right now?

Probably the Banksia Cooking/Serving Spoon. I love the side profile of it, and Banksia has a fantastic looking grain pattern and coloration.

What’s in store for the rest of 2024?

More spoons! I would also like to make more time for raranga with harakeke, which I used to do lots more of before I discovered the joy of spoon carving.

A special offer for Felt readers in June 2024

Jeff has a wonderful offer for Meet the Maker readers who purchase from his Felt shop in June: each large serving spoon purchased will come with a free small eating spoon or teaspoon, hand carved by Jeff. Head over to his Felt shop to choose from his stunning greenwood creations now!

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