I’ve been thinking a lot lately about supply and demand. Not of the spoons and stock (though that is definitely something that merits a lot of thought), but of the raw material – the greenwood.
I live in a town. I don’t have a garden. The backyard where I work is also used to store wood for our stove; it’s meant to be a pleasant outdoor sitting space too. This means that I don’t have a private source of greenwood, and nor do I have very much space for storage. My attitude to this has varied over the time I’ve been carving spoons; it’s still in flux
When I first started carving spoons, I had no wood. I took any wood that was on offer, and I went for walks with a saw in my pocket. Thin branches, knotty lengths, prunings in skips – it was all fair game. I followed the sound of chainsaws (still do), and I’d try anything. I carved the wood as soon as I got it, so mostly very green, and then I’d run out and have to go searching again.
As I progressed, I still took anything. I remember my first piece of large diameter wood, and the joy of the straight grain. I also remember following the sound of a chainsaw and ending up walking back from the local town lugging a massive chunk of plum. When I got halfway back I put the wood down, sat on it and called for my husband to come with the car.
I started to make spoons to sell, and so I feared running out of wood. Where I could, I stockpiled. This was when I realised how easy it is to forget wood types once the logs have sat in a pile for a bit. I learnt to match the products I could make with the supply of wood that I had. But this led to frustration – a customer might want a cooking spoon, but I didn’t have suitable wood to use.
Now – Goldilock wood
One of my first questions in greenwood work was about how long greenwood stays green. I can’t remember what the answer was, but I can remember that I wasn’t terribly satisfied with it. Now I’m starting to understand a bit better. Just within the limited store of wood in my backyard I have three types of wood:
- Too green: Very recently carved wood (last week / last month). This is definitely greenwood, and it’s definitely carvable, but given a choice, I’d prefer to leave it a little bit. If I carve this now, then the chances are it won’t take a good finish off the knife; the grain might be a bit stringy. I’ll probably have to carve this wood in two sittings – one to rough it out, and then another to finish it. If the lengths are long enough, I’d prefer to leave this wood for a month or two before splitting into billets.
- Too dry: Stockpiled wood that has been sitting for too long. Perhaps it had been cut into lengths that were too short. Or perhaps it was knotty and I passed over it for something more attractive. This wood is carveable, and if I had nothing else, I’d certainly use it. But now it’ll probably get split up to dry even more for burning.
- Just right: Goldilock wood! Need I say more? This wood is green enough to be easy on the hands, but dry enough to lose the rest of its moisture during the carving process. This wood can be carved in one sitting – no need to wait for finishing cuts.
During my learning curve with supply and demand so far, my main motivation has been fear: the fear of running out of wood. But it hasn’t happened, and in fact I’ve had enough wood to give it away. I think this is because I do markets and I’m building a local network of people who know what I do. For the future, my plan is to trust that this will continue to happen.
At markets I celebrate the wood in the spoon. I tell stories about where the wood came from. I connect with people to tell them my story. Through doing this I’m investing in my future supply of wood. Just this week I harvested most of a plum tree. I got to choose how long to leave the lengths of wood. I’m going to be able to pick just the right time to carve that wood. And it might be that I can’t carve it all while it’s just right, so then I’ll share it with other carvers.
What I’ve learnt. Trust: Sell spoons, tell stories, connect with people – the wood will come!