Green woodworker Ty Thornock

As an interview series, I want to introduce some green woodworkers. We’ll get a picture of how people get into the craft, and look at their own perspectives. For starters, I have the privilege to introduce you to Ty Thornock, an excellent spoon carver and all-round nice chap.

Hi, can you tell me who you are and what you do?

A spoon with kolrosingMy Name is Ty Thornock and my day job is working with Deaf children. When I’m not at the school or taking care of my family, you can probably find me perched on a stump carving a spoon. I grew up in rural Washington state in the United States. Not the side that is filled with lush forest, but the other side. The desert side. I grew up drawing, whittling sticks, making mud pies and chasing grasshoppers. I loved the outdoors and went camping every summer. My dad had a large shop filled with power woodworking tools. I would go there on occasion and make things, but my heart was never in it. I carved a couple spoons with a bandsaw and dull gouges, but all those embarrassing behemoths are long gone.

So, what makes woodworking green woodworking?

Green woodworking is about more than just the state of the wood, to me. It is equally about the state of your mind. Where the woodworking I grew up with was about buying dimensional lumber – often exotics – and forcing it to shape, green woodworking is about finding the beauty in the trees around you. A green woodworker will look at a tree and see chairs in the trunk, bowls in the limbs, spoons in the crooks and bitty birds, coat hooks and whistles in the twigs. Nothing wasted. Even the shavings are beautiful and often find their way in as packaging. Green woodworkers always need to be mindful of the grain. They know the wood is moving from water loss, and will design a piece so that as the wood warps and changes it adds beauty and functionality to the piece. Some chairs can be made just by assembling pieces in different states of dryness. No glue needed.

Why did you get into green woodworking?

When I was working for my principal certificate, life was very busy. I had a full-time job, a wife and 5 kids, and 2 acres to manage. The water color painting I loved so much was coming out less and less. I needed something fast. Something I could pick up and put down at the drop of a hat. I also had a work-space that had no power at that time. I started looking at woodworking without power tools, and in so doing stumbled upon Peter Follansbee carving spoons. It was like a light went on in my mind. Spoons did not have to be awkward and clumsy like my first attempts. They could be graceful ad beautiful. I learned that a skilled carver could carve a very nice spoon in under an hour. I ordered a Mora 106 and a Mora 164 knife and began carving. My first spoons were awful. Terrible beyond description. Fortunately I could not see it and my family was too nice to tell me, so I kept carving. I have been going nearly 3 years now.

Within the craft, have you got any specific interests that you can tell me about?

A spoon with kolrosingSpoons. Too short? Okay, here goes. I love a finely made spoon. There is more thought that goes into the design of one than most people imagine. One of the fascinating things about spoons carving, is that it is incredibly easy to carve a bad spoon and incredibly hard to carve a good one. I always look at a spoon’s functionality first. Recently though, I have been getting interested in traditional decoration of spoons. I am writing a book on kolrosing (that is, making fine cuts with a knife and back-filling them with powder). I have also begun exploring relief carving on spoons. There is so much to learn. Its quite the adventure.
I also like fanbirds. Fanbirds are delicate, carved birds with extended wings all made from one piece of wood. Even after carving dozens of birds, every time I unfold the wings it feels a little magical.

What makes you like your favourite tools?

My favorite (American spelling 🙂 ) tools are ones that fit my hand well. None of my tools are particularly fancy. They all feel like an extension of my arm. Some have handles that are worn smooth and grimy from honing oil and sweat. They all tell me something about the wood I am working: the hardness the grain, the flexibility, etc… My favorite tools of others are theirs that are equally grimy and used. It is fun to imagine the things they have made and sent on to a new life.

What are your favourite woods to work with? Why?

Greenwood! Okay, it had to be said. Woods are like brothers and sisters. Some are harder to work with and some are easier, but its still hard to pick a favorite. For kolrosing, I love boxelder. It takes detail beautifully. If you burnish it first it will hardly discolor at all. I also love cherry, plum and apple. They can have great color, and are hard, durable woods. Pine and white cedar for fanbirds. Ash for tool handles. Ash also makes a great cooking spoon. Boxelder, soft maple and birch for chip carving. They are all lovely. Sorry. That wasn’t much help at all, was it?

If I were a complete novice, is there one thing you could tell me to help me get started?

Buy good tools, including sharpening stones and Willie Sundqvist’s book Swedish Carving Techniques and a box of bandaids. Learn safe ways to carve. Find a course, if possible, and learn in person. Buy a spoon from a carver that you admire and try to carve one as nice. Eat with wooden spoons and bowls. Sit on handmade wooden chairs. These will give you tacit, daily-use understanding that will help you be a better woodworker. Have patience and do lots. It will take time.

Have you got anything you’d like to say to green woodworkers?

See you at the Spoon Gathering in Milan Minnesota in June! My book should be done by then, and I would be happy to walk you through some kolrosing and spoon carving.

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