On Tuesday afternoon I went to Pitt Stop to check it out.  Not too easy to find but a couple of guys smoking outside Men’s Shed were able to point out the door.  Up a long flight of stairs (there’s a stair lift) and left at the top, through a door and into a large square room, painted white with a pitched ceiling.  An old industrial unit, maybe.  A pair of men were sitting at a table playing chess, two others were playing darts and another two were setting up a game of Jenga.  There were board games lying around too.

Andy, who runs the Pitt Stop, offered me tea or coffee at 20p and 25p respectively.  I like a cup of tea in the afternoon.  As Andy was pouring the water I saw a man come in carrying a large bucket, with pieces of sawn wood in it, and a bag of tools.  I went to sit with him and watch him unpack.  This was Graeme who leads the whittling workshop and this session was my main reason for coming.

As well as a chopping block and some short lengths of newly cut wood, still with the bark on it, Graeme had brought a splitting axe, a side axe, a special Japanese saw, and a whole array of whittling knives in different shapes and sizes.  People started to gather round and someone brought out a spoon he’d been working on.

Graeme showed us how to split the wood using the splitting axe.  It was good to watch others having a go so I could learn from their mistakes and have a better idea of how to do it.  Even so, it was very different trying it myself.  Harder than I’d imagined in fact.  Once we’d done that, we could saw into the sides of the half-round piece to determine the length of the handle and the size of the bowl (we were all making spoons).  Most saws cut as you push but this Japanese saw cuts as you pull.  It’s a curious thing with teeth on both edges of the blade.

Having cut into the sides we used the side-axe to chop away the excess wood from the handle, leaving us with a rough spoon shape.  Now the hard work began, shaping the handle and the sides of the bowl and gouging out the bowl itself with a specially curved hook knife.

The session was strangely calming, with the very patient Graeme offering tips and advice from time to time.  At the end of it I had the makings of a very rough spoon.  I don’t have any knives like that at home, so I can’t finish it off before the next session, but I do have a new skill and something to look forward to when Pitt Stop starts again in the New Year.

E. V. Mann