Why wood carving is like chicken soup for the soul

Regenerating crafts like wood carving,and traditions that a few generations ago were part of daily life, is not only hip, it’s a more sustainable way to consume and it could even provide you with a new career.

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This feature about wood carving could quickly and easily veer off into hipster beard territory but give us the benefit of the doubt for a couple of minutes. While wood carving might sound like the next big thing (alongside matcha tea rituals or orange wine) there’s a quiet rumbling of truth amongst a new generation of crafters – that working with natural materials and creating something that can last and be handed down, is actually a bit of a tonic to modern life. 

Vic Phillips took a woodcarving class for beginners, one of a long succession of new skills he thought he’d try on for size alongside various freelance gigs. But one wonky spatula later he was hooked. Under his moniker SingleMaltTeapot he sells his handcrafted wooden spoons at festivals and teaches wood carving to people interested in learning about releasing their inner craftsman.

Why is wood carving suitable for anyone to try?

You don’t need a certain mindset or strength and it’s accessible to anyone that wants to give it a go. Designing a spoon is quite natural as it’s is something we use every day and for much of the process you’re guided by the wood.

The toughest part to learn is how to let yourself be guided by the wood after I’ve taught the carving basics. When you’re collaborating with a natural element it allows anyone to give it a go and create something and carve away – something they can be proud of and something they can use. It’s important that it’s usable so it continues as a story for them.

Why do some people tag wood carving as being mindful?

You have to focus so much, it might be that you have a sharp axe in your hand – so your mind becomes a one thought process, everything else drops away. When I first started this I was in a job I didn’t love – all the stress just fell away as I worked on this one thing and that pulled me into it. I could find this calm space, it helped me in ways over and above finding a new skill.

What’s so special about working with wood?

The reaction I get from someone when they pick up a spoon is so wonderful. The wood has grown on its own, then it’s been loved and shaped by me. People hold it and they feel the emotional weight to it. The older ways of doing something have more emotional weight to them and then people can build memories on top as they use it for the rest of their life.

Plastic or metal is just formed for a function, wood changes as it lives with you over time and you can see those changes in the shade.

How is crafting good for the environment?

We have had this patch of time when we just consumed things, threw them away and wanted shiny new things and I think people are starting to come round to the idea of having something crafted where they can connect to what’s happened to make it.

I love this form of wood-working because you use that bits that would be waste wood – furniture makers’ cast offs or I buy waste cuts from Ebay. I love the fact that it’s a bit random and these pieces have been growing beyond my lifetime and they would be cast away or burnt but I turn them into something that gets to continue and fills people’s hands. That story carries on and continues.

Why shouldn’t we be afraid of trying out different crafts?

We’re taught to pick something and stick with it and keep going for ever and ever but you don’t have to – as soon as you’ve lost interest then pick up something new. You might love it but if you don’t it’s not a bad thing, you should be commended for trying anyway. We’re all worried about failure but you’ll find the thing you love eventually and you can’t get that feeling without trying.

Describe your wood carving in three words.

Enriching the soul.

Vic Phillips teaches workshops in London and Cardiff.