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At Barn The Spoon’s Green Wood Guild

May 1, 2015
by the gentle author

Barn the Spoon makes a May Day whistle

Taking advantage of the spring sunshine, I wandered over to Stepney City Farm to visit Barn the Spoon’s Green Wood Guild, where ancient wood working techniques are taught. Clouds of smoke were emerging from the forge and inside, Nic Westermann, a Bladesmith was teaching his students how to make knives for spoon carving. They were hammering strips of metal to forge the blades, carving wooden handles and then burning the blades into the handles to fit them in place.

Barn the Spoon and I decided to leave the noisy workshop and seek a quiet corner of the farm, where he showed me how to make a sycamore whistle – a traditional instrument to celebrate May Day and the arrival of summer.

Working quickly with practiced skill and using a straight knife of the kind I had seen being forged, Barn cut a short section from a sycamore branch. First he carved out the mouthpiece at one end and then incised a line in the bark around the circumference of the branch.

“At this time of year, there’s a lot of activity in the tree with the sap moving,” Barn informed me, while tapping his branch with the handle of his knife playfully,“so you can pull the bark from the tree.” The new year’s growth takes place where the trunk meets the bark, known as the ‘cambium,’ which allows you to slide off a neat cylinder of bark – as Barn did, once he had loosened it by tapping. It was an impressive trick.

Barn’s final step was to carve out the sound chamber for his whistle before sliding the bark back into place. Then, in a moment of expectation, he raised the whistle to his lips and, to our shared amazement, it worked. Justly proud, Barn sat there beneath the tree with his pipe at the ready to welcome summer, just like a character of legend.

Nic Westermann, Bladesmith

Nick hammers a blade

One of the students burns the knife into the wooden handle

A straight knife and a spoon knife

Barn carves the mouthpiece of his sycamore whistle

Barn demonstrates how the loose bark can be slid off the branch

Barn carves the sound chamber of the whistle

Barn tests his whistle

A sycamore whistle


Barn the Spoon’s Green Wood Guild is running a MAY DAY WHISTLE WORKSHOP tomorrow Saturday 2nd May at Stepney City Farm. Anyone is welcome to come along and learn how to make a whistle during the day.

Barn the Spoon’s shop is at 260 Hackney Rd, E2 7SJ. (10am-5pm, Friday-Sunday)

You might also like to read

Barn the Spoon, Spoon Carver

Barn the Spoon at Bow Cemetery

Barn the Spoon at Leila’s Shop

Barn the Spoon’s London Spoons

The Many Spoons of Barn the Spoon

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    May 1, 2015

    So wonderful to see these ancient skills being kept alive! Very inspiring. Thank you!

  2. May 1, 2015

    Lovely idea to have fun with creating and learning to work with the hands and the materials provided by nature – so much more satisfying than electronic games and pastimes. Valerie

  3. sPauline Taylor permalink
    May 1, 2015

    When my friends and I were growing up in the country we learnt all sorts of skills like this as they were passed on from one generation to the next, and it is so good to read that Barn the Spoon is still keeping up the tradition. It would be so sad if all of these things were to be forgotten as it is fun to learn and to practise what you have learnt even if it is only how to make a fearsome screeching sound with a blade of grass!! Well done Barn the Spoon and thanks GA for making us aware of it.

  4. May 10, 2015

    Reading of Barn reminds me of my friend Glen Roberts bodger (and yurt maker) of Bolton, Lancashire. Although he combines modern materials techniques in yurt making, his bodging uses old techniques which he shares with schools and the community, through his work shops.
    It is great that these ‘men of the wood’ continue to revive and ensure the survival of these old crafts. (Also both gentlemen sport fine beards!)

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