Rustic Cyberpunk

Coffee & Cabins

Cabin Life: Utensils

9 min read

The idea of making simple household utensils has always appealed to me. Even moreso since I saw Richard Proenneke's films a while ago. I've been meaning to try my hand at making my own, but I have only a few carving knives. And they were cheap solutions bought from Amazon and the like to solve immediate problems; Not necessarily what I would need in an actual cabin living situation.

Best of all, when the utensil reaches the end of its useful life, they can be turned to kindling or discarded to be reclaimed by nature.

Last year, around this time, I was visiting Ossining and stepped into the Public Library. It was the first time I've been there since the renovations years ago and wanted to see what the changes were like. It's a nice place to spend the day and I've been suggesting to anyone I know in the area to drop by.

One of the books that caught my eye was Woodcraft by Barn the Spoon.

woodcraft cover
Woodcraft by Barn the Spoon: Master the art of green woodworking with key techniques and inspiring projects

I appreciated the gentle introduction and the from-the-basics approach taken in the book.

areas of a tree best suited for certain types of utensils
Even going as far as to dictate which areas of the tree would be best suited for which utensils.

I have some experience with woodworking, but my stock was almost always directly from the lumber yard.

Whichever pieces I have remaining are leftovers from my scrap-collecting, since an apartment isn't really the best place to have a full wood shop. I haven't actually worked with a raw log before and it might be an interesting challenge to try one day.

The Woodworking book begins with the most rudimentary utensils.

butter spreader
Everyone needs a butter spreader. Even if this is meant for that use, I can see why this is the foundation for most other "single hand" utensils. I also like the skills are listed here, referenced in later pages, in addition to the tools and materials.

Solar power isn't terribly practical for high demand electric appliances without a very large, and very expensive, battery reserve. An electric dryer would be just such an appliance. I haven't figured out laundry in the cabin yet, but I'd like to use a line to dry out my clothes as much as possible. To that end, instead of factory made plastic clothes pins, or the cheap wood ones, I'd rather make smaller versions of this.

coffee bag clip
There are many uses for the split stick, in keeping two pieces of something together. The coffee bag is just one role for a very useful design. And it's very simple to make with hand tools.

Godliness applies to personal cleanliness and personal living space. It's remarkable how quickly dust and other detritus builds up in any dwelling with actual habitation. The photos of pristine living spaces you may see on social media aren't actually lived in. Or at the very least, there was an army of cleaning people to make the place look spotless and photo-ready before the selfie.

Since I'll have no such army at my disposal, I'll be handling cleaning matters myself. I don't know if this is something I'll be using for every floor surface, but it will be very handy for the front entrance and the location near the wood stove.

fiber brush
A lot of the success of this design depends on the type of softwood being used. It will also make a dandy fire starter for the wood stove by the time its cleaning life is over.

Every cabin dweller would enjoy a home-cooked meal. I'm a fairly decent cook, but almost all my utensils so far have been either silicone or metal. The metal ones are basically bulletproof, but will ruin the bottom of my stainless cookware and scratch the seasoning off my cast iron. That leaves silicone, which I'm still not 100% sure is terribly healthy over the coming decades. Enter the wooden solution.

wood spoon
The orientation of the wood fibers is important for such a simple, yet useful utensil. I like the little detail of a point to get to the edges of the cooking pan.
wood spoon steps
The carving steps went on a bit longer than I expected, but they're in a useful direction, in keeping with the "from the basics" approach of the book.
wood spoon variations
There are other examples of spoons given, which start with the same steps and only change during the shaping and refining stages. I can probably make use of every variety in daily cooking.

I don't know if I'm too keen about storing liquids in wooden bowls, since cleaning thoroughly will be more of a chore. Most of my bowls and plates are ceramic and glass. I'll likely be keeping the same ones in the cabin kitchen. But for dry foods, I can see how this would come in handy.

wood bowl
Here too, the gain of the wood is important. And note, it's made from a single piece of wood. I've seen composite bowls made from multiple pieces of wood glued togther in the supermarket and they are, without exception, completely useless for liquids.
wooden bowl variations
I like the multiple variations that can be made with the bowl techniques. The cup bowl in particular would be very useful.

The secret to maintaining a wooden cutting board is to never let it dry out completely (of oil), but do let it dry out completely (of water). These two things are often overlooked, which leads people to go the HDPE cutting board route that doesn't require oil nor drying.

wooden cutting board
I typically don't hang my cutting boards, preferring to keep them flat on drying racks, but I can see how the handle will be useful while gathering smaller cut items into a cooking pan. Supermarket cutting boards are almost always made from multiple pieces of wood glued together and they almost always warp and split with the slightest abuse.

I have an inexplicable affinity for small containers. Something about the size and shape that draws me in whenever I've gone to any kind of woodwork shop or market. I don't know if I would make full use of a container like this when I do prefer glass for storing most long-term ingredients, but I'll definitely be making this. If only to satisfy my own itch.

wooden shrink pot
I appreciate the fact it doesn't use any type of glue to hold the bottom in. Just natural shrinkage of the wood, although, there is a possibility of warping and gaps if the it doesn't dry evenly. Avoiding exposure to direct sunlight is a good idea.

Wood turning has been around for almost as long as woodworking proper, and I'm sure I'll be making use of quite a few turned pieces. I don't know if I'll have the space for a manual lathe, but it's an interesting tool.

wooden lathe in use steps in turning wood

wooden workbench and pole lathe
This is a very involved piece of machinery that all need to fit together well to function as intended. It's doable with hand tools, but I would still prefer powered machines for the process.
wooden workbench parts
The principle is actually very simple and follows almost the same as the "bow-type" fire starter tool I've used while camping, except oriented sideways. The stool/table is still a useful component I'd like to make independently from the lathe.

All-in-all, I'd like to keep this book in my library for whenever an idea pops into my head. It's a nice companion for someone who hasn't made anything like this before and wants to have a starting point. The material of choice is very important for each of these and raw logs are the best option as it's possible to precisely select the grain and have thick blocks with ample freedom to carve.

There really is no substitute for practical experience in woodworking since a book can only get you so far, although, there was another book in the Ossining library that I think is a good close second. The Complete Practical Woodworker by Stephen Corbett, with photos by John Freeman, is a very handy book for all sorts of projects and as a reference when selecting materials.

The Complete Practical Woodworker
This book starts with the bare grain of the timbers, literally, and is far more detailed than the Woodcraft book. It's more of a library reference, in addition to being a how-to book.
types of lumber cuts
The sheer variety of grain types possible when choosing the whole log is evident here. This kind of flexibility isn't always possible in a lumber yard, unless there's an ample selection. Even then, it's more of a gamble until you actually start working with the wood.

Drying out wood after selection and cutting is a little-known skill. Even finished pieces continue to dry and adapt to the surrounding environment. Lumber comes from a living thing after all.

selecting and storing wood
Choosing lumber is just the first step in the woodworking process. While it's being worked with, it has to stay somewhere. After a piece is made, it has to last sometime. These are important things to consider before even starting the process.

In keeping with the reference style, the book is a wealth of information about specific kinds of woods, their origin, and properties which will lend well to certain kinds of projects. softwoods temperate hardwoods tropical hardwoods

The book goes into several projects which can be made at home.

I haven't quite decided yet if the cabin will be Thoreauesque, but a nice table and a chair would come in handy for certain tasks. Any flat surface in my presence has a tendency to accumulate detritus and I will need to control that before moving in.

These are fairly typical dimensions for this set of furniture, but being even an inch or two off will be noticeable since so many commercial pieces follow the same convention.

I don't know if I'll do much carving in the cabin, but a nice entry here is a good starting point. As far as craft work is concerned, most of my pieces would be for functional use for myself and small, personal, aesthetic choices.

I like the additional first-choice wood preferences for carving. From the little carving I have done, a lot depends on the sharpness of the tool available, in addition to the type of wood.

While specific types of furniture is still a choice to be made, this piece is so small and requires so few completion steps, it makes sense to try making it, even if it will get barely any use. The sitting surface lends well to being upholstered at a later date, if left flat.

three-legged chair
There are a total of four(4) "large" pieces here while the rest are essentially scrap. In fact, it's possible for the entirety of the chair to be made of scrap.

Storage in the cabin will be a delicate issue. I dislike having too many "things" though the few I do have will need to live somewhere. The walls are likely going to be occupied by at least some shelving, but the corners are also a great place to keep anything that doesn't need to be on the floor.

corner cabinet
I have made smaller versions of this, but without the glass. The interior can be deceptively large depending on how far out of the corner the shelving jots out. It can also extend from the ceiling to the floor, especially behind doors, where there isn't much foot traffic.

A lot of great ideas in both Woodcraft and The Complete Practical Woodworker. Both will be fine additions to my library as well.