Jarrod Dahl is dedicated to creating woodware for daily use and to share its beauty as widely as possible. The woodworker, writer, and teacher from Ashland, Wisconsin says that at the heart of his philosophy is the idea that “good design is tied to utilitarian function.”
Jarrod’s woodenware and utensils are beautifully designed and honest to use. It is clear from his work that he has admired and researched many forms of woodenware from all over the world. As Yanagi Muneyoshi, the Japanese founder of the Mingei movement also pointed out, “we do not admire work because of the past but because of its enduring present,” Jarrod thinks that good design is timeless.
Unlike the contemporary Japanese woodenware that I’m familiar with, which is usually sanded smooth and is pristine, Jarrod’s work has marks and textures left on the surface of the wood from his hook and knife. I found these aspects to be very attractive because I felt that they provided a sense of connectedness to the natural world around us and to the hand of the maker, which is becoming more and more difficult to feel in our increasingly technologically driven lives.
I discovered Jarrod through a YouTube video of him turning a bowl on a pole lathe. A pole lathe is a primitive, foot-powered wood turning machine that uses the spring of a wooden pole to pull a cord that spins the wood being turned. Curious to find out more, I searched his name on the Internet, and found that he also teaches woodworking and spoon carving at Gifu Forest Academy in Japan. I was impressed about his earnestness in learning about woodworking in Japan, which I later found also applied to many other cultures.
Besides creating work, Jarrod spends a significant amount of time teaching woodworking. In 2019, Jarrod will return to Japan to teach, and he is currently fundraising for his trip. In the US, he regularly teaches at the North House Folk School and Port Townsend School of Woodworking. He is especially well known for his popular spoon carving workshops in which students can learn to make a spoon from a greenwood log by using only an axe, a saw, a hook knife, and a straight knife.
When I asked the reason for the popularity of the spoon carving workshops, Jarrod observed that it was because “people in our modern world don’t get to use their hands as much as they would like.” Spoon carving can be done even in a small apartment with a few tools, and he said that it “can provide a very rounded experience of creation within the bound of creating something utilitarian.” After teaching abroad many times, Jarrod thinks that people’s desire to make things is universal, and that spoon carving is uniquely rewarding and healing.
In terms of selling woodenware in the US, Jarrod finds it to be quite challenging. As a Japanese growing up regularly using wooden bowls and chopsticks, I was also surprised at how little wood vessels or utensils are used on dining tables in the US, so I asked Jarrod why he thinks this is the case. His view is that because the US was born in the Industrial Revolution era, American people viewed woodenware as from the past that only poor people used. He added that people also came to America to escape that “idea of poverty from their old countries.”
But Jarrod also thinks that nowadays this traditional image of woodenware is slowly changing. He thinks that people are starting to remember the beautiful experience of eating with wood, and the American woodenware world has great potential to become more appreciated. Jarrod calls this “The New Wood Culture,” and he is playing an active role in promoting this wood culture renaissance.
This takes me back to the connectedness that I feel from Jarrod’s work and its significance. I think an important part of “The New Wood Culture” is the idea of reconnecting to many aspects of our lives and circumstances through wood: to our past, future, people, hands, and our natural surroundings. Because when we feel connected, it makes us feel a little more whole, and it’s a wondrous feeling.