Barnaby Carder, better known as Barn the Spoon, has forged a living hand-carving and selling unique wooden spoons from his workshop in Stepney. This is his story…
‘I made my first wooden spoon when I was about 16. I grew up in Berkshire with a woodworker living next door, and I had a lathe in my parents” garage. But I only got really into spoons in my late twenties when I discovered green woodwork. It’s an ultra-traditional art that utilises axes, knives and fresh wood straight from trees, rather than pre-prepared planks.
At 27, I started travelling around. I had my heart broken by a woman who worked with me on a farm, and I had to leave. I didn’t have any money and I didn’t want to move back in with my parents; I remember very clearly thinking I just had to keep carving spoons until I felt better. So I spent three years with a backpack, sleeping in the woods, cutting down people’s trees and selling spoons.
I moved to London about five years ago to work in a special needs school. I had been living in the woods just outside Oxford, living the life of Riley, but I felt like I should be doing more to give back to the community. Also I had finally got over this woman and I wanted to meet someone – which doesn’t happen in the woods.
For the first six months after I moved to London, I slept on the floor wearing a hat –just out of habit. I loved the forest: I’d string a tarp up between two trees, lay out my bed roll and have a tiny fire. But I also enjoy the contrasts of the city, and you can experience a little of the countryside in London. There are 17 city farms for a start. I’ve got a workshop at Stepney City Farm, where I’ve set up a woodwork school. There are also seven Victorian cemeteries that were left to overgrow, so they’re basically like woodlands. Tower Hamlets is my local one, but they have them all over. In the Nunhead one there’s an amazing woodworker called Tim Stevenson who makes bowls.
Making a living from spoons has been relatively easy. Everyone loves spoons, and people can see me making the spoons, so they buy them. Aside from that I run a six-day event called Spoonfest, which is a bit like a niche music festival with lots of spoon love. I also teach spoon carving. And I’ve got this book coming out called “Spōn’, which is Norse for “chip of wood” and is where the word “spoon” is derived from.
I have a pedlar’s certificate, which is a police-issued licence to sell things on the street. You’re not allowed to sleep where you want in this country and there are hardly any public toilets or drinking water stations, so pedlar certificates are very precious. They say it’s okay just to be a human: you don’t have to be fully brought into the system to simply exist.
I wouldn’t say I’m driven, but I like getting stuff done and that seems to have worked for me. It’s not like I want to hark back to the olden days with spoon carving; I embrace the internet and I love Instagram. I think it’s exciting that the internet has allowed us to learn new skills. People believe this weird propaganda that we’re lucky we get to do shit jobs in offices, but it’s a lie! The internet opens up markets to those brave people who are getting out there, saying: “Fuck you lot, I’m not going to do this shit office job any more – I’m going to do exactly what I want!” Even if that’s spending six hours a day making spoons.’
‘Spōn’ by Barn the Spoon is available now from Virgin Books.
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