Florida born and Dublin reared Alberto Hogan is better known as Tito, or Tito The Spoon maker to give him his full title. Based in Galway for the last few years he’s spent his time there honing his craft. It was obviously time well spent, we've fallen in love with his beautifully crafted spoons and kitchen utensils and thought it time to share our love. We caught up with him to gain some insights into the life of a kitchen utensil maker.
What first sparked your interest in spoon making?
Around 2009 my wife introduced me to Permaculture design. It was from here that I started my journey into learning and understanding more about ecological design and traditional crafts. We both did a bushcraft course down in Kerry which involved a lot of knife skills, fashioning traps, shelters, tools etc. and it was there that I literally fell in love with the ability to make everything I need to live well in a forest with just a knife or a few simple hand tools using the wilderness around me as raw materials.
After this course, I continued carving. The shape of the spoon really allowed me to practice essential carving skills and also helped me understand the wood I was working with. As I was making my spoons I was posting them online, I saw that they got a lot of interest and one day I had a request to make 5 of them and it was this that sparked the idea of starting a small business.
Can you take us through your process?
First I go to the mills and lumber yards to look for wood, usually beech, cherry and walnut boards. I fill up my little jeep and then head home to plan out the next step.
I use cardboard templates to draw out the spoon shapes on the boards. Once I am satisfied with that I then go to Tuam where I use a friends shed space to cut the spoon shapes out. Ideally, a bandsaw is what would be used for this but since I have to be mobile I use a jigsaw to cut them out. Cutting takes about a day and I end up going home with a crate full of spoon blanks.
At home I can then scoop out the bowls and smooth then out using a sanding disc attached to a drill. Next I rough out the shape using my trusty axe.
Once the general shaping of the spoon is done I can then move on to the knife, carving and slicing the piece down to its final shape. Then I smooth out the rim of the bowl, evening out any rough surfaces and giving it that nice sharp transition from rim to inner bowl and then a more btle transition from rim to outer bowl where the knife marks are.A gentle pass of a polishing sponge really gives that silky smooth finish to the touch.
Using a pyrography pen I burn in the decorative lines. Burning into the cherry wood makes the smoke smell like cherry.
And finally a gentle pass of raw linseed oil makes the wood grain really highlight its beauty and creates a protective layer that slowly penetrates the wood, making it ready to use in the kitchen.
What do you find inspiring about your work?
One main thing that inspires me to do my work is that even if I have to make 10 or 20 of the same spoon, each one is going to be different.
Some can be a delight to make others can be very tricky but this makes the work exciting and refreshing every time. I love the idea that I am making something that is functional and long lasting, using a beautiful natural material that is regenerative and biodegradable and in my opinion, better looking with age.
What are the main challenges you face?
Right now, the major obstacle is not having a dedicated workspace where I can make my spoons and utensils in peace.
Being in an apartment I am quite limited with the axe since it makes quite a loud and continuous pounding sound. Generally during the day everyone is out working leaving me alone to chop away merrily but if it's an urgent job and I need to finish a lot of work then I head back out to my friends shed in Tuam and spend the day completing all of the axe work. For now, making my spoons in these conditions is fine but it does have its limits.
What does the future hold? do you plan to expand into other kitchen ware or stay true to being a spoon-maker?
I applied for this space in the Spiddal Craft Village so if that works out I can then be producing at 100%. Having a dedicated space means I can explore and develop so much more and yes, I definitely want to expand into different areas producing bowls, cups, boards and more unique one-off pieces but I also want to produce tools as well. I have been throwing some ideas around with some local blacksmiths about collaborating in making handmade tools for carpentry and forestry, things like chisels, knives, axes, drawknives, froes and adzes.
Like wooden spoons, these tools never get outdated and in reality many of the hand tools produced back when it was just wood, steel and leather are as quick and effective as any of their power-tool counterparts that are overly complex and require electricity.
Spoons, I think I will always make, and this title of spoon-maker will be a reminder to me of where it all began.
Tito's spoons are a great addition to any kitchen and look great paired with Dunbeacon pottery.