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Master A New Skill 2: Bladesmithing, Spoon Carving & Basket Making

In the second and final instalment of our creative courses series, we road test workshops in bladesmithing, spoon carving and basket weaving. Whether you’ve an afternoon to spare or a whole weekend, find your new-you creative fix here.


BLADESMITHING

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Hidden in the idyllic lakeside-landscape of Russborough in County Wicklow, on a crisp Saturday morning, the therapeutic process of bladesmithing is in progress.

Slowly hammering the heated metal on our anvils, sculpting it to the shape of a knife, a group of six of us, ranging in age and skill, are mastering the art under the watchful eye of Danish-born blacksmith, Gunvor Anhøj.

I’ve opted for a knife with a curved handle, which involves manipulating my metal to a circular shape before using the hammer to bend and mould it into the shape desired – a task that involves concentration and patience. As the morning continues, excitement takes over as the final piece begins to form. Others, keener woodworkers than I, choose a simple handle, which allows them to add to it at home.

By the time lunch arrives, our faces have taken on the sooty sheen of a true blacksmith. We eat in the nearby café, before spending the afternoon learning a series of heat treatments (namely, normalising and hardening) that allows us to sharpen the blade, and sand our pieces to their shining glory. The final stage, tempering, is for us to do at home. To decrease brittleness, my oven is being used to brown my knife to a straw colour, before taking pride of place in my knife collection.  Melanie Mullan

A bladesmithing taster course costs €130. Visit the website for dates. The Forge, Russborough House, Blessington, County Wicklow. 


SPOON CARVING 

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There’s nothing quite like the feel of a razor-sharp knife cutting through greenwood, never mind an axe that could split hairs, splicing a log in two in one fell swoop. Doing either with a measure of control, sufficient to preserve life and limb, while also shaping form is skilled work… and doing so with grace is a different proposition altogether. Éamonn O’Sullivan, founder of Hewn, makes it look like a doddle, and is an excellent teacher when it comes to explaining how to make gravity and tools work for you. (He also has plenty of odd shaped plasters on hand, should your concentration lapse, and a carver get the better of you.)

Over the course of a day, you begin to get a real feel for the vagaries of wood grain and negative space. Most beginners have to grapple for a while with the concept that they can go hard at the planes, constituting the back of the spoon, without compromising its bowl. It can also be hard to wrap your head around the fact that the top end of the bowl has to be sharply angled, not flat. Working the piece is alternatively meditative and physically gruelling. My elbow was on ice for 24 hours after the class ended, but as soon as I could type again, I was online ordering tools. Laura George

Upcoming Hewn workshops take place on March 5 and April 8. Hewn Workshop, Westport, County Mayo.


BASKET MAKING

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[photograph: Peter Rowen]

A colourful array of cottages greet us as we drive into the craft village of An Ceardlann in Spiddal; it’s a cheerful sight, coupled with the impressive view of Galway Bay and the Aran Islands beyond. I’m looking for basket-maker Ciaran Hogan’s workshop, and find it, filled with homegrown willow, out the back of his shop.

The first step on day one of our basket making course, is selecting the willow. We’re each going to make a bread basket before the day is out, Ciaran says, and as someone who’s never woven willow in my life, I find this a curious and exhilarating thought.   

Ciaran, son of master basketmaker Joe Hogan, marks out the specific size of willow needed, and we go about matching the required number for each part of the basket. Once we get going, I find weaving remarkably relaxing and therapeutic.

While we work, Ciaran has the fire blazing in the grate and music playing softly in the background, creating a tranquil atmosphere, punctuated only by the kettle boiling for another round of tea and biscuits. Visitors come and go, while we weave, and the atmosphere  is open and friendly.

On day two, I can’t believe I’m already completing a bigger basket and focusing on perfecting the technique. As the curative course comes to an end, I leave with two handmade baskets, and a serious creative confidence boost.  Shannon Rose Burke

Ciaran Hogan runs one and two-day courses in An Ceardlann, and a four-day course at Lough na Fooey. One-on-one tuition is available and group workshops are capped at seven people. Weekend workshops book up fast, there’s two spots remaining for April 22-23, while May 6-7, and May 27-28 are open for booking. 

 

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