Wanting to get in touch with somebody very different to feature for Humans at Work, I posted on Instagram reaching out for people wanting to tell their story. Mason liked the photo and after I looked at his feed I decided it would be wise to talk with him about his spoon making. After messaging back and forth, he seemed liked a very mature and professional individual. Then, he let me know that he was actually 15 and still in school! A 15 year old that makes spoons?! I figured he went to CCA, SFAI or the Academy of Art when he said he was in school, so that was definitely surprising. Came over to his house one rainy morning in San Francisco, and documented his spoon-making.
How did you start making spoons?
It was probably about year ago, that I took a workshop at The Handcraft Studio in Emeryville. Windy Chien, teaches the spoon class there.
What all did you learn?
It was a pretty small class, maybe 15 people, we were each given a piece of roughed out piece of wood, all the necessary tools, a gouge, rasp, lots of sandpaper, and then she walked us through all the steps to make a spoon.
What made you want to take that class?
I think my parents and I heard about the studio through a friend, and that class really stood out as one that would be fun to take. I’ve always been pretty crafty, just working on little DIY projects, artistic ventures, but wood was something that I wanted to try out.
After the workshop, I felt a sort of “spoon high” where after having just created something, there was this amazing feeling of pure creative freedom and accomplishment. Being able to design and then actually execute it successfully was a great experience.
What motivates you to make the spoons?
I think creating something that is really utilitarian, sensitive and beautifully designed is something I take a lot of pleasure in. Also knowing that what I make will last for years and be appreciated.
Lead us through the process of making the spoon.
There’s not really much planning that goes into making spoons. You can have an idea of what you want to make, and then once you start reading the wood, sketching out the spoon on the wood, then it’s really an organic process. I start by getting my piece of wood, right now I’m hooked on walnut wood, it’s a really deep rich color, plus it’s a hardwood. From there I sketch out the spoon, just drawing the general shape in pencil, and then I go in with a gouge and carve out the inside of the bowl. This is probably the most nuanced, finessed part of the process. You have to work on shaping out the bowl perfectly, getting it how you like. You can get very circular shapes, some shapes closer to ovals, really it’s up to you. From there I use a jigsaw and cut out the spoon being very careful around the head of it, being sure all the time I spent gouging it out doesn’t go to waste. From there I have a rouged out spoon: a general outline. From there I use a combination of rasps, files, and low grit sandpaper, and continue to rough out the spoon. Then I go in with 80 grit sandpaper and then I wet the spoon, let it dry, which raises the grain. Raising the grain prevents it from it becoming rough in the future, so when people are using it, it doesn’t become rough again. I go over it again with 120 grit, wet it, let it dry, 150, then work my way up to 320 and then finally 600.
After you sand it is there anything else you do to finish the spoon?
I coat the freshly sanded spoon with a food-safe wax. I use a combination of beeswax and coconut oil, it has this great smell. I cover the entire spoon and then let it dry for at least 30 minutes before use.
What influences your spoon-making?
Like I said, there’s not a lot of planning that goes into it, I sketch out rough ideas but then it’s the wood, speaking and saying what it wants to be, by the curve of the grain or knots in the wood. But it’s funny, through Instagram, I’ve connected with a small spoon community of woodworkers. There are some amazing artists who make other spoons, and that’s inspiring. They might use the same wood, same tools, but they always come out with different designs and their own style, and I think that’s really beautiful. So really seeing other’s work and being able to put my own twist on it, and my own personal aesthetic into it influences my spoon-making.
How about the cat spoon?
It’s funny it was actually the first spoon that I made in the class was the cat spoon. Windy Chien was telling us we could design our spoons in anyway we liked. We could put notches into it, give it a zig-zag handle, any shape really. So I started to sketch and play around with what I could add to my spoon to make it more unique. She has spoons with little pointed corners, so it’ll be circular and then one edge will come to a point. With most spoons it can be difficult to get into the edges of a pot if your using it for stirring. Her pointed spoons allow you to get into all the edges of your pot. I wanted to design a spoon that was both playful and utilitarian.
What hobbies do you have outside of making spoons?
Well my parents have been great about encouraging any artistic ventures. I was really into watercoloring. I go through phases. I had a watercolor phase. When I was 6 or 7 I was really into knitting and crocheting, that was short-lived. Sewing has always stuck with me. This was how I came up with the name of my little company of sorts, Bobbin And Spool. I named it because the bobbin and the spool are two parts of a sewing machine, they come together at the needle and work in harmony to complete their task.
Have you seen your style change much as you’ve been making spoons?
I think my style has stayed fairly consistent, I like the really minimal straight forward look. I’m influenced by mid-century/modern design, the really simple less-is-more approach. I’ve found that my style has changed in that it’s become more detail-oriented. I can make a bunch of spoons, all with the same shape, but there’s little details that change from spoon to spoon. It’s like Darwinism but for spoons. Like if I make a spoon and it has a slightly larger head than it’s
stem, and I like that, I’ll continue to repeat that process in the next spoon – the natural evolution of the spoon.
Where do you see yourself 5-10 years down the line?
Oooh. Like I said, I kind of go from thing to thing when it comes to art or design, but I’ve really been stuck on spoons. I work at The Perish Trust on Saturdays, and they’re actually carrying some of my spoons right now. I’m still just developing my style, and my skills, so maybe once I become more proficient I’ll have a little side business. I don’t think it will become a main thing, but I’d always like to continue doing it.
Anything you’d like to share with people following your work?
If anyone is interested in woodworking, and hasn’t pursued it or taken a class, I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s a good skill to have, especially with things becoming so digital and based online. Finding a healthy balance between work both tangible and intangible is important. I think I also gained a higher appreciation for other’s work after starting to carve, and that has become really valuable to me.