My first introduction to smithing was from James Wilkes www.handmadetools.co.uk I lived in the same wood as him for a while, he is a great person, we used to eat the biggest cooked breakfasts imaginable, it was him that first introduced to me the idea that one person could eat a whole large tin of beans as part of a cooked breakfast. He trained at Holme Lacy widely regarded for it's forge. James trained there because amongst other things he wanted to learn how to make hook tools for bowl turning, he had a forge down on the farm - the same forge I ended up renting a few years ago. From James I learnt about forging, drawing, fire welding, normalising, hardening and tempering, hammering techniques using a swage block and methods for bending, as well as sourcing metal from car springs etc etc. These were very exciting times for me and opened up whole new avenues to my woodwork.
Tool making is a highly skilled craft, it takes much practice and experimentation, it takes time to perfect designs and manufacturing techniques. Each type of tool still has many species within it, spoon knives are very much like spoons themselves, the different materials they are made from and how they are shaped means that they can be very different things though to a novice they may all seem the same.
When I started making a lot of spoons I realised short handled knives weren't helping. I could see all the photos of people from the "olden days" they were using long handled knives, they knew what they were doing. For a long while I was using the large svante djarv spoonknife on a long handle, it was Peter Montanez of http://www.woodandrush.net whose linisher I used to make the bevel longer, Pete and Linda were of great help to me in the early days of my spoon carving, I understand back in the day Dave Budd set up his first forge in Pete's workshop.
There are many types of spoonknife and many ways of holding a spoonknife, all of which have pros and cons. Tom Hawken (who was Tim Gatfields apprentice a few years ago at the Cherry Wood Project a lovely place) told me of a technique using a bit of rope around your shoulder and the neck of the spoonknife so as to act as a pivot I like this idea, though I still haven't tried it, Tom is like a talking encyclopedia on traditional woodwork and squirrel catching.
As I have mentioned before I have settled on the Twca Cam with it's symmetrical blade made up of a continuous radius. This is by no means the only way to make a spoon, but is what I use for the vast majority of my spoons from small shallow eating spoons to large serving ladles. The continuous radius of the blade allows you to create wide shavings this gives you the most efficient removal of wood, and also leaves a nice smooth finish, removing the need for sand paper/scrapers/hundreds of tiny finishing cuts. It also gives you a constant that you can work to, and using this I have gained a much deeper undersatnding of the 3 dimensional space created when two the surfaces meet, this has enhanced my carving regardless of the tool I use.
Even back then I knew I wanted a symmetrical blade but it wasn't until I went up to Robin Woods that a lot of my growing knowledge started making sense. Robin has a very wide knowledge base, he has the largest collection of different spoonknives of anyone I know and also had an exact copy of Ion Constantins spoonknife. So much of my spoon knowledge has been built upon what he taught me, endless discussions about spoons well beyond everyone else getting bored, not least his spoon collection. It was with Robin that I first forged a working Twca cam, I am so glad he agreed to co-host Spoonfest with me - who else has done more to spread the good spoon word in this country? his courses come highly recommended from me.
So apart from a dull autobiography what was all that about? well I'm bringing out my range of Spoon knives, and I think it is important for people to give credit where it is due, I would hate for people to think it was me that invented the Spoon!
People are often wanting to get hold of a twca cam like mine, but there is nobody making anything that I would recommend. I had told everyone I would do workshops and sell twca cams at Spoonfest, but hadn't actually made a plan to mass produce them! Most bent/crooked/spoon knives are made from flat section steel ground then bent and stuck in a handle, these definitely work, but are difficult to sharpen (most people I meet have blunt spoon knives) and the higher end knives definitely work better. The knives I will be offering will be unique and I am really proud of my design which has come about from much knowledge seeking, experimentation and a lot of spoons.
The blades for these knives will be made by Ben Orford, he is a very experienced toolmaker, Ben and Lois are good friends and were founding members of Spoon Club, much of my carving and tool making knowledge has come from Ben. I have been using Ben's knives on courses for the last few years and we have been working together experimenting with different manufacturing techniques to come up with the "perfect" twca cam at a good price (I hope to sell these for ~ £50).
Ben has been keen to put the time in to get the design down exactly how I want it, which has been the frustration for me with other toolmakers. I had spoken to a smith who called me once asking for advice, I suggested things to try such as forging a hollow on the inside of a spoonknife, this would make the inside easier to sharpen (most people don't get it flat enough any rounding on the inside is bad), it would create the convex bevel/blade that the outside needs (the reason why his blades were chattering before) and also create a strong shape, but he wasn't keen for me to be involved in following through with my idea and his blade will be much the worse for that. These blades from Ben that I am selling will be the same as the ones I want to use.