Lieuwe Jongsma, a Dutchman living way up north in the city of Groningen, practices a type of woodworking I hadn’t ever even heard of until we sat down together for a coffee at Bakkerij Blanche near the city center on September 11th.
I can’t remember now how I came across Lieuwe on Instagram, but I did, and after commenting on one of his posts, we exchanged messages, had a lovely conversation, and here we are.
Born to parents who are generally pretty creative, Lieuwe was brought up knowing that you can do things with your hands, and he has always enjoyed making things. His mother is a skilled knitter and frequently took him to second-hand shops and flea markets, and his father is an overall handy man who tinkers with and can fix pretty much anything. The content and form of Lieuwe’s work is, and has been, shaped by his own exploration and experiences, but the foundation his parents laid out for him gave him the eye for aesthetics and established can-do attitudes and a creative growth mindset.
As a teenager and young man, Lieuwe had an interest in music and played in a band with some friends. The group fizzled out after one of his bandmates moved away, and he decided to try something new: to make his own guitar. He didn’t have the space for power tools at home, so he started his project with hand tools. He picked up used tools he found here and there and decided to restore them. One day, he found a hook knife and wanted to know what it was for.
He discovered green woodworking, which is entirely different from traditional woodworking. Green woodworking is a form of traditional craft that is done with fresh, unseasoned wet “green” wood. Green wood is softer than treated wood, making it ideal for working with hand tools. As the wood dries, there is a certain amount of shrinkage to be expected, and this is factored into the process and design of the object. In green woodworking, you use knives, axes, hatchets, jaw knives and shaving horses. “I really like that,” he explained, “I like it because it’s much more direct; you have a really intimate and personal relationship with your pieces, with your work.”
After he made his guitar, a friend who learned he’d become interested in green woodworking gave him a giant oak log. He made a bench out of it, and a bunch of small pieces, like spatulas and cooking spoons, with the leftover wood. I asked him about a particular piece I saw in his bag, and he proceeded to explain to me how the markings in the wood had been created by competing fungi. Quel surprise! I was blown away by his knowledge on the subject and the eloquence with which he spoke about it. Except for the aid of some online sources, Lieuwe is mainly self-taught and, as it is obvious he is a life-long learner, his knowledge, experience, skill and style will continue to grow and evolve.
Sanding is discouraged with green woodworking. First of all, there is a health issue, breathing in dust from the sanding, and, as Lieuwe says, “when you start sanding, you stop learning.” It’s quite easy to achieve a smooth, finished surface with sanding paper, but it’s much more of a challenge with a knife. A knife-carved object will stay smooth if it gets wet, whereas a sanded object will get fluffy. Of all the arguments against sanding, the most significant seems to be that sanding an object removes the marks of the maker.
The marks of the maker contribute largely to the charm and beauty of an object, as I witnessed, looking through the very large bag (which Lieuwe made himself) of carved wooden spoons and bowls he brought to the café. Lately he works on the inside of a piece with a knife and the outside just with a hatchet. He showed me a bowl he made using this process. It would certainly not be as beautiful if it lacked these marks.
I asked Lieuwe how he designed his spoons, and my question led our conversation in a different but equally interesting direction. The design is informed in part by the wood, the woodgrain, and ergonomics, but the piece of wood never dictates the shape of a spoon. Some craftspeople talk about “freeing the spoon” from the wood or “listening to the wood,” but he does not share that opinion. “You impose your will on the wood; the wood needs to listen. You are the maker and the wood is just your material.” His spoons are absolutely made to be used, not displayed, and become more beautiful with use and age. He makes things to last, to be strong, to be heirlooms. He makes things that are to be used, but that are also beautiful.
There’s a term Lieuwe referred to in spoon carving: spoonfulness. It refers to the pleasant, calm, and peaceful state that one experiences while working with a piece of wood. “When your carving is meditative, it stops you from worrying. You see something you’ve made, and you see that it’s good.” Lieuwe speaks passionately and with conviction on his philosophy of craft. This philosophy, of his craft but also of craft in general, is really in line with my philosophy and the whole angle of the Handcraeft project. Craft must be a living and evolving thing. It shouldn’t be stuck in the past; a museum of what it used to be. It should be rooted in our lives, relevant especially to young people, since they are the ones who will carry it forward. Find a way to make it relevant to modern day life while still observing and being influenced by the history of it.
Our conversation, and my reflections on it while writing this post, stirred up profound feelings about humanity, the goodness of people and things, the joys in life, the things that matter. In a take-your-breath-away, teary-eyed, choke-me-up kinda way. It’s the good stuff. It’s the reason I’m here – to tell stories about craft practitioners, to interest you in a wide variety of traditional crafts, and most importantly, to understand more about how craft is so deeply tied to our humanity.
I hope that in some small way, I’ve stirred up something good in you, too. 🖤
Many thanks to my new friend Lieuwe for spending time with me and for providing me with photos to share with you.
Check out Lieuwe’s website: https://www.livius.eu/
and follow him on social media @liviuscrafts
all photos courtesy of Lieuwe Jongsma @liviuscrafts
P.S. I should also mention that I feel quite fancy now that I know and can throw around words like slöjd (or sloyd/sløyd) and kolrossing. Just look them up. You’ll learn something cool! 🖤