PHOTO BY JACQUI HERSHBERGER
Spoon carver and Central Christian choir director Tim Shue shows some of his handiwork. He can be followed on Instagram @timmydshue and will have a gathering at his front yard May 1.
By JACQUI L. HERSHBERGER
Many jobs require you to sit in front of a screen. In your downtime, you check your phone. In the evening, you watch Netflix.
“I think the joy of carving is working with your hands,” said Tim Shue, who sells his homemade spoons at Local Roots in Wooster, and also independently when people see his posts online.
“Everyone thinks that spoon carvers are 70 years old at a minimum,” he said. “But the majority of the spoon gang is 30 to 40 years old. It’s a real young subculture of people that grew up and have lived 25 years in front of a screen. And I think they’re tired of it.”
Using only hand tools, the whole practice is actually called Sloyd, a Swedish concept based on sustainability function.
“It’s a back-to-basics type of an approach to life in a modern world where speed isn’t always the point. Part of the charm is the slow discovery and enjoyment of wood. You get to smell the wood and feel the texture,” Shue said.
Black cherry wood, for instance smells like cherry candy. Apple and fruit trees have sweet aromas.
“I like the smell of black walnut,” he said. “It takes me back to when I was a kid and used it to make banjo with my dad out of it. Other people say it stinks. But for me, it’s awesome!”
Shue didn’t start off making spoons. The choir director at Central Christian High School in Kidron, stumbled upon carving as an adult about a dozen years ago.
“I sat down on a huge piece of firewood that was too big to move and split,” he said. “I had a chisel in my hand and I just started whacking at it. I was like, ‘Wow, that was kind of fun!’ It ended up being a big bowl.”
For about five years, he made bowls.
“As a kid, my dad was a carpenter, so I was always around wood,” Shue said. “I’m not very good with precise things, like making furniture or a table. I don’t understand that. But I always enjoyed being in the shop and, and I kind of always had an artistic slant.”
Then, someone at church asked him if he’d ever made a spoon. He tried it and liked it and played with that for about four years.
“It’s the classic idea of needing boundaries, to experience freedom. I mean, (a spoon is) just a bowl with a handle, right? For me, the draw is the concept of freedom within those parameters. When I teach music theory, it’s important to know, ‘this is why we master a scale.’ If you don’t know what notes you can use, it’s too open ended.”
Carving is not done with dried wood that you buy at a lumber yard.
“The whole concept is using wet fresh cut green wood. It’s soft – you can use your knife through it quicker.”
Called “green woodworking,” the spoons don’t crack when they dry if you get them to a uniform depth so they can dry consistently.
Part of the skill and technique of spoon carving is learning how to master this balance.
For several years, Shue carved spoons on his own. Then, he looked it up online and found that there is a huge community of spoon carvers, and even people that do it professionally. He has attended carving festivals in Plymouth, Massachusetts and he has learned that there are right and wrong ways to carve spoons.
“For any craft, whether it’s quilting or cabinet making, it takes years to learn the trade and best practices in those things. And I never knew you could carve with a knife, or an axe. You do about 80 percent of the spoon with an axe,” Shue said.
Other tools used are an adze, mallet, chisels, various kinds of knives, and a mallet and gouge.
There is some danger in working with wood. “Everything, you do, you do with safety in mind,” he said. “If this knife or hatchet slips, where’s it gonna go?”
When trees get cut down or fall down, folks will contact Shue to see if he’d like the wood.
“I prefer the hard woods,” he said. “People are always surprised at that. But if it’s green, it’s manageable.
“So I like walnut, cherry and all the fruit woods. Apple is a very, very tight grain and carves like butter when it’s green.”
Local Roots in Wooster started selling Shue’s spoons after a board member saw his spoons on Instagram and Facebook. Mostly serving spoons, they sell for around $30-$40.
Shue has occasionally held front yard spoon carving parties. He made some portable chopping blocks that provide a work station for the carvers to work outside. The next gathering will be May 1.
Those interested in seeing more of Shue’s work, or if anyone would like to communicate with him regarding participation in a carving party or instruction, they can follow and contact Shue through Instagram @timmydshue.
“It’s the perfect hobby for me because I’m an introvert, living in extroverts life. You know, being a choir director, you have to be with people. That’s what you do. And I’m fine with that. But my happy spot is here.”