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