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Playing With The Grain or "May The Fourth Be With You"

Making treen or treenware (wooden implements traditionally associated with the kitchen, eating, food preparation and cooking) whilst out in the woods is always a pleasure and an exceptionally cathartic and relaxing process. Recently I have been playing with the grain of various woods and even breaking a few golden rules in my experiments.

When carving treenware, which obviously includes the wooden spoon which is so often associated with bushcraft, selecting sound materials with suitable properties and working with the inherent strengths and using these strengths to ones’ advantage is so very often the key to carving both beautiful and practical items that will stand up to wear and tear and the rigours of time.

Normally one would carve into and through the annual rings of the timber which provides a tremendous amount of strength and keeps the wood fibres “tied together”.  I have been making spoons and treenware like this for years and have only had one item carved in this fashion split or break. The pictures below illustrate how a round of timber would be cleaved to select the grain in this fashion and the spoon designed to take advantage of the grain of the wood.

Cleaving a hazel billet for a spoon blank

Sketching out a spoon design to take advantage of the grain

All this said, however, doesn’t mean one should stop experimenting; this can lead to the creation of barriers to our own experiential learning. Heavens forbid that I use the “F” word as FAIL seems to be out of a lot of vocabulary in this modern age. However failure, on some levels and to some degree, can lead to deeper understanding and a longer and far more fulfilling satisfaction when hurdles are overcome and one succeeds. There are, of course, some areas of bushcraft and outdoor living skills where there is no room for “altering the rules”; these obviously include anything that my pose a risk to ones’ self, others or the environment, but I think it is fair to say that carving a spoon, provided it is carved safely with the correct materials and tools, is not necessarily one of these.

I have recently carved and oil finished both a small spoon and butter spreader that are carved through the annual rings, the form of both the spoon and spreader means the work runs parallel to the annual rings as shown in the pictures below. Spoon and butter spreader carved parallel to the annual rings -will they split?

How these items last only time will tell. I am certainly not worried if they crack or break, toying with the grain in an unusual way can be quite extraordinary on a host of levels and certainly leads to a deeper and more fulfilling interaction with the timber itself; perhaps even recreating a prehistoric connection that our ancestors and ancient forebears would have appreciated.

Whatever you are doing over this May Bank Holiday why try to do something differently than you would normally, I’m not talking about anything that could obviously be construed and risky or dangerous, just something simple. Be that carving a pot hanger in a different way, lighting your fire in your not so common method, walking a not so familiar path, etc.

Whatever it may be I am sure you will reap the rewards in the experience or learn something, not necessarily a skill but possibly something about yourself!

Enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend and “May The Fourth Be With You”.

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