Carrying on the ancient artforms of wood carving and turning

Wood carving instructor Alma Arriaga and Pop's Shed manager James Bennett have seen an influx people interested in the craft of wood carving and turning. Pictures: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla van Loon

Woodturning and carving may be an unknown artform to some but it’s a surviving craft that is most often passed on for generations.

The craft of carving wood dates back to prehistoric times, while woodturning was initially discovered by the Egyptians in the year 1300 B.C.

As one of the only woodturning and wood carving training facilities locally, Chirnside Park’s Pop’s Shed is keeping these ancient techniques alive in a modern way.

Wooden spoon carving instructor Alma Arriaga said although the artform is common in Australia, Europe tends to be the base for the traditional design and creation.

“It started with the Vikings and most people in the UK and Scandinavia will be very obsessed with spoons,” she said.

“They do it without even using power tools just with their hands and the traditional shape of the spoon, like the traditional design is from thousands of years ago and they are practicing all over the world.”

Originally from Mexico, Alma first taught herself wood carving by watching videos in 2012 and taking the offcuts of timber to practice with from a carpenter workshop she was involved in.

Now teaching workshops at Pop’s Shed every four to six weeks, Alma can have up to 20 people in a class.

For many of the people who attend her workshops, they are interested in learning about different timbers as well as the skills needed to design and create wooden spoons.

“I try to explain a little bit about timber and they become interested in knowing, ‘I have a bunch of trees in my yard, what can I do with them?’,” Alma said.

Some of Alma’s favourite timbers for carving include bass wood and the rarer silky oak.

A big part of Alma’s wooden spoon creations and Pop’s Shed woodturning classes revolve around the recycling of timber.

Pop’s Shed manager James Bennett said while some of the timber cuts can be close to a thousand years old, every piece is sourced sustainably.

“All of the timber we keep here, we make sure it’s sustainable and it comes from sources which are all legalised under the government to say ‘yes, it’s either been dropped in a storm or something like that’,” he said.

As a family owned and run business, James said he, his father and his uncle have always encouraged families to take part in the workshops and private classes, something that has picked up since the pandemic, particularly with a younger generation.

James said the uptake of a tangible pastime has been quite popular post-Covid lockdowns, finding that many people are enjoying learning the craft for their mental health.

“People have been trying to find a hobby to help themselves and their headspace and carving and turning is quite relaxing,” he said.

“They find it to be a hobby or outlet from computer screens. With zoom and all the stuff we have had to do, the last thing they want to be doing is sitting down watching TV or playing computer games after three years sitting in front of a computer screen.”

Seeing the impact both wood carving and turning can have in a therapeutic sense, James said another avenue Pop’s is trying to expand into is an NDIS program.

Having purpose built the workshop space during the pandemic to cater for wheelchair access, Pop’s is looking to build on its already existing client base of people with a disability.

“They just want to feel like anyone else does and they want to feel a sense of achievement,” James said.

“The biggest thing we see is their eyes light up and their sense of achievement when they finish a product.

“When they’ve made something, they say ‘look mum, look what I can do by myself, look how well I’ve done’. They feel proud of themself, which proves to themself they can do it and makes them feel happy.”

That sense of pride and achievement is something Alma also witnesses in her wooden spoon carving workshops and said “it’s not the spoon or the object but the process.”

“The cool thing about Alma’s course is that she lets people design spoons, they’re not all exactly the same. You don’t get a stock standard spoon,” James added.

Alma is running her next wooden spoon carving workshop on Saturday 2 July but will be sure to host another in just a few weeks time.