Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buying Locally (Random thought #1)

Yeah, I numbered it, prepare for more of these.  I have this problem.  Random things pop into my brain, I can't help it, it just happens, and then, I have to go learn more about these random things.  They become an obsession and things like tracking wood chips into the house from carving spoons begin to happen.  Be happy that I am sparing you the whole series on bent wood rings that I had going for a while.  Shew.  Talk about dodging a bullet, count yourself fortunate for sure.  Anyway, these random thoughts just pop in.  Trust me, I don't sit around the house all day trying to think of various interesting topics.  I think, though, that folks might find them interesting even if they come here looking for spoon carving related topics.

Today's random topic is something that I just sort of started thinking about, not just today, or yesterday even, but something that has been fighting for brain cycles for a week or so now.

How can I buy locally?

Now, don't snicker meanly and point to the previous post about my new spoon knives from Mr. Orford.  I realize that I bought them from a man that lives across the ocean from me.  Not really local I reckon.  Fair enough, but he is still a local businessman, running a local business, and I was honored to support him in that.  But that isn't the point here.

There are studies upon studies that show that supporting local businesses is good for the community.  A larger percentage of the money you spend stays in the community as opposed to when you buy from the big box stores.  One study in 2002 reported that 44% of the money spent with a local business stays in the community, versus 14% when spent at a big box store.  That's pretty significant.  I love my community.  If I need to spend money anyway, why wouldn't I spend it in a way that benefits the area that I live in?  Well, that sounds great doesn't it?  I mean we would all want to do that I think.  But we don't, or we don't do it enough.

Why?  Convenience is one of the reasons.  Why would I go to a local butcher to buy meat, when I can go to a big box store and buy meat, and everything else on my list in one trip?  I don't know, why would you?  None of us have any time anymore, right?  We are running here and there and time just slips away.  I have to go and buy groceries to feed my family, and since I am there I can just grab some ground beef and be out the door.  Yep, you sure can.  Unless.  Unless you really decide that buying locally is something that you feel passionate about.  I really believe that I am at that point.  I have passion about buying locally, and I for one, am going to look for ways to do that more and more.

Case in point, Longhorn and Lager Meat and Beverage Company.  They are a local butcher shop and when I went to visit them the other day, they had cuts of meat that I had never even heard of.  All cut to order, large orders, small orders, specialty meats and seafood, and a wide range of local wines and beer.

Look, this isn't a commercial for that company, but I was surprised at what I found there.  I bought some breakfast sausage, 2 pounds, for $3.99 a pound.  It was fresh ground, made that morning.  I made a mean batch of sausage gravy and biscuits with it.  When I went to the Big Box store a few days later, I looked at the sausage, and it was $2.99 for a pound.  You know the kind, the tubes of sausage that are filled with preservatives and salts and sugar and things other than sausage.  I won't be buying that sausage anymore, ever.  If I want sausage I will go to my local butcher and get it from him.  Sure, it might cost me a little more, and be a little out of the way, but one thing is for certain, I am buying sausage, and not something that tastes how sausage is supposed to taste.

I am looking for more places that I can buy local items from, the Farmer's Market opens here on May 1st, and you can bet that I will be there.  Buying locally grown fruits and vegetables to feed my family.

Sorry for derailing the blog and posting about something other than my normal topics, I am sure it will happen again, you never know what is going to pop into my head.

Happy Carving everyone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spoon Knives! Spoon Knives!

After waiting what has seemed like an eternity, I opened the mail box on Friday and it was finally here.  Sitting under the never ending stacks of bills and home mortgage refinance offers was a gray package.  It was about the size of an express envelope, and was sealed on one end with a few strips of brown packing tape.  There, gleaming in the afternoon sun, was a flash of gold that drew my eye.  An abused postage label.

A quick look in the opposite corner confirmed what I already knew.

Nethergreen Farm!  The name Orford!  The hand written word England!  Oh Happy Day!  It was the knives!  The spoon knives had come!  I could hardly believe they were here!  With a herculean effort I composed myself in case the neighbors were watching, and calmly walked into the house.  There, in the safety of the kitchen, I quickly opened my treasure, being careful not to damage anything that may be inside.  Enclosed were several business cards from Ben, a hand written note from Lois thanking me for my order, and a receipt for my payment.  Oh yeah, and a matched pair of spoon knives!

A matched pair?  Yep.  It is not every day that you order spoon knives from across the sea, so when you do, you get a set.  Right and Left.  They were securely packaged, with the pre-sharpened blades securely wrapped in a length of leather for protection.  I slowly unwound the leather from the first and held it up to the light to inspect it.  As expected, the quality was impeccable.  I rolled the knife over in my hands and saw the maker's mark.

I quickly unwrapped the second, and saw that they were truly a matched pair.  The bevel is even and true on both knives, the curve is smooth and even, and both knives are identical in shape.  Both knives have been buffed to a mirror polish, and arrive pre-honed and sharp enough to work with straight from the package.

I went straight to the shop and used them immediately.  They cut extremely well.  They have a thinner blade than I am used too, but they are a joy to use, they cut easily and I am really pleased with my purchase.

I have been using a Mora crook knife to carve the bowls on all my spoons.  I thought it has performed nicely and the only problem that I have had with it, has been the width of the knife blade.  It doesn't handle steep curves very well, because the blade is too thick.  I also have some issues with smaller spoons because of the size of the Mora blade.  Looking at Ben's knives, I know that I will not have the same issue.  His blades are much thinner and will handle some of the cuts much better than what I have been using.

One thing that I would like to mention was that my experience with Ben and Lois was a true joy.  The transaction was handled quickly and efficiently.  Email responses were very quick, even after accounting for time differences.  I got the impression that Ben and Lois were looking to make sure that I was a happy customer, something that I find lacking more often than not in today's marketplace.  My purchase was securely packaged, and made it from the UK to the US in 14 days.  Would I buy from the again?  Most assuredly, even more so if I was local.  The smiling and friendly faces that appear on the top of their website has proven to be a genuine reflection of how the Orford's do business.  Click the link below to check out their site.

Wow, this has been a really long post.  I have so much more that I want to talk about, but it is late and morning comes early.  Happy Carving!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Axe me no questions

First off, the axe review is still on its way.  I am enjoying using it.  I have trouble keeping from grinning like the Cheshire cat every time I see it.  More on that topic later.  I did have a moment to take a picture, though.  Yep, still makes me smile just looking at it.

I got side tracked this week by work and by the hundreds of other small things that pull precious minutes out of your day. It is Tuesday afternoon, the weekend is behind me, and I am smack dab in the middle of another work week.  Actually, as I type this, I am sitting on a conference call for my real job.  I didn't get much done on the wood working front this weekend.  I cleaned the garage and swept up the wood chips at least.  This small act makes my wife very happy, it keeps me from tracking them into the house.  For some reason, she frowns on having wood chips in the kitchen. 

I work in Information Technology for a living.  I am one of those computer guys.  I never know how to explain what I do very clearly, though.  It deals with call centers and phone calls and directing callers to the places they want to go, or in some cases, don't want to go.  I work with lines and boxes, flow charts that are created to direct the flow of incoming calls to people who can answer your questions or sell you a new product.

stock image

At the end of the day though, there is nothing tangible that I can point to and say "I made that!"  That is why I enjoy spoon carving, I think.  When you have finished, you are left with something you can touch and feel and use.  It's a magic beyond what I get from working in Information Technology.

One of the most amazing things that I have found is that there are people everywhere that love to carve spoons as much as I do.  People who live close to me, and others that live on the other side of the world.  For the most part, spoon carvers are an unassuming group of genuinely nice people who are more than willing to share their knowledge.  I count myself lucky to be part of this community.

Two last things and then I will close this out, it is feeling a bit jumpy even to me as I am typing it.

First, a neat toy for those that are interested.  I saw Wordle on Sean Hellman's blog and thought it was pretty cool, so I made one for myself.  I like how it pulls out the words you use the most and emphasizes them.  Go check it out, make your own and see what you think.

And finally.  It is coming.  Can you feel it in the air?  The subtle change in temperature, the sounds of birds that you haven't heard in almost a year?  The first blooms are starting to make their appearance here in Woodlake.  At least in this part of the country, spring is here, not in all her glory just yet, but she is here.  I, for one, have missed her and am glad to see her back.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What is Perfect?

A quick run to the dictionary tells me that the word perfect is defined as being complete of its kind and without defect or blemish.  Whoa.  I am in trouble.  My quest for the perfect spoon is perhaps unattainable.  Can there be a perfect handle or bowl or sweep or depth or size or length or shape in a spoon?  I know that I  am getting better with every single spoon I carve.  My eyes are getting better, my sense of balance and shape and my ability to see how the grain wants to cut is improving.  Every spoon, is better than the one before it.  But am I approaching perfection?  Am I on the verge of greatness and the perfect spoon is right around the corner?  Not so fast there crazy guy.  I don't think the perfect spoon exist.  Or does it?

My internal perfectionist has started yelling at me.  But what about the masters of spoon carving?  What about the people who carve spoons and then, get ready for this, SELL them to people?  I mean who would be able to sell their spoons unless they were perfect?  Right?  Right.  Does that mean they are without defect or blemish?  No, not at all, but they are perfect anyway.

I think what I have just stumbled upon is the fact that perfection is absolutely attainable.  The perfect spoon does indeed exist.  Much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfection follows those same rules.  I made a spoon for a friend of mine, months ago, back when I was just starting to carve spoons.  Compared to what I can make now, that spoon was one small step up from a stick with a flattened end.  Guess what?  She LOVES it.  She uses it all the time, to eat with, to cook with, to stir soups and serve green beans.  To her, this thing that I made is,...ok hold is circle back time..PERFECT.

I know for a fact that I often forget about the spoons that I have made and given as gifts.  Those that receive them are always so appreciative and they rave about them. I am so critical of what I make.  I think being critical is what holds me back from inching closer to perfection.

I'll be back in a few days with a review of a new axe and to talk about butter knives.  Yep, you read that right, butter knives.  In the mean time, what does perfection mean to you?