'The Last Shovel Maker' ... until now

'The Last Shovel Maker' ... until now.

I appologize ahead of time but this will be a bit long winded. It's a project that means a lot to me and it's been a long time in the making.

Some notes from the vault:

I originally wrote and published this post in September when it was still 90 degrees during the day. It was posted on my old website but wanted it to be available here as well. I've finally got back into finishing this project and will have updates soon.

Onto the original post:

I have an enourmous and endless list of projects that I add to on a daily basis. The inside of my brain probably looks like a lightning storm on Jupiter, constantly thinging of new ideas or directions. So you could imagine how long it takes me to cycle thru an idea before I move onto the next one. Sometimes it takes me a year or two to get around to crossing some of these things off my list.

Well for a couple years now I've watched this short film documentary on a man named Harvey Ward 'The Last Shovel Maker' about seven billion times.He was an 87 year old man who axed wooden shovels for $8.00 a piece up until the 1980s. Just a week ago I watched the film again, and did some research and realized he lived in Upstate New York as well.

So that was that, I finished my lunch and hit the shop to give it a shot. If you're wondering.. why a wooden shovel?? Well in most cases these were used in ammunition factories because metal shovels could spark and blow the place up. But there was other uses where wood was a choice over metal. I recommend watching the full length film (10 minutes in length) before moving onto my photographs. The way this guy works with his double bit amazes me. This guy schools me.  In the film he was using Tulip Poplar or as he called it "Popple" So I went to the tree pile to select something suitable for a shovel. I needed about a 4'-6' tree trunk about 20" diameter. Unfortunately... as my luck goes, I didn't have any easy wood to work like poplar. I had Black Cherry which is some pretty tough stuff. It makes chopping Poplar feel like chopping a plate of buttermilk pancakes.

Unfortunately I seem to have caused a bit of trouble posting about this film. The film maker posted to the wall here and I seem to have offended Mr. Ofield and,so I have removed the movie trailer as to avoid any troubles with Jack Ofield, New Pacific Productions.    I contacted folkstreams about the project and they seemed enthusiastic about this project, but that was only one half the party.  I thought I made it obvious of my respect for what he has done for the hand crafts community 39 years ago, but I guess he felt I was "lifting" his footage and trying to take credit for it. Which kind of bugged me really, as a photographer/filmmaker I take copyright very seriously.Seems a little bogus since I wasn't born back then, and I infact did give credit.. Still love the film, I'd watch it over any modern movie any day.

If you'd like to see it, click the link below.

You can watch the full legth film here.

[Some of my notes before we embark on my visual journey]

-One can chop towards one's feet safely. I know there are some non-believers of this but you can. Just google 'japanese hewing' for a  video of Japanese woodworkers hewing timber barefoot while standing on the timber!... Scary, but safe if done right.

-I loved the sequence when they show the modern shovels being made. This was filmed in the 70's and I bet they're not made as well even though... I do not believe in production line having 'handmade' quality. You get what you pay for. That clip just really made you see what we've lost as a nation since the mechanized era forced us all into relying on cheap & easy manufactured goods. Folks like Harvey were a dying breed in the 1970s... now they're more elusive than yeti. Skills, pride, conservation, humbleness, and utilizing your surroundings, most don't practice this anymore because 'there is an app for that.' Anyways not to be negative. The contrast in ambience is really a great example of why one would dislike working with powered machines. Folks ask why I dislike band saws, chainsaws, etc for my carving style. Well listen to the ambience when they shoot back to Harvey's woodshop after the factory. He gets to listen to the wind, trees, and birds. The other guys will lose their hearing by age 35.

So you are wondering... "What does this have to do with kuksas and spoons?" Well.. in some ways this is just a giant spoon. I wanted something for my shop to help clean up the mountains of woodchips I make weekly. What better suited than another hand made tool to get it done??? I really tried my hardest to follow Harvey's methods as close as possible. So this is a tribute to 'the last shovel maker.' I'm not going to lie.. this was exhausting work.  I chopped from noon til about 7 o'clock. I took some breaks in between but.. darn did Harvey kick my arse.

Also you can imagine how heavy half a tree trunk is.

This was a monster piece of Black Cherry. I'd say almost 20" diameter.

Split like a pro

I decided to give this a shot using his methods. So my very old double bit was employed.

I knew this handle was going to fail eventually, it just didn't feel 'right' The confusion on my face is hilarious. I shot these in time intervals with my camera on tripod. So I just ignored that it was there running.

Trust me you'll want to see more, click the link below!

Don't just start swinging axes around the yard. I'm keeping my legs really far back here. Also this is the most abuse I've put on this birch axe helve (with pith) It worked like a champ.

Using my giant broad axe to hew wood down.

Break time. I was listening to old 1940's blues, eating cold watermelon on a hot day. Can't be any better than this!

Watermelon is 90% water and the rest is sugary goodness.

Grae Dog had to have a break from digging holes in the yard.

Rock n' Roll! [Please note how many damn gnats were buzzing my head.

My shop floor and why I need a shovel is evident.

Hey look Bob Ross.. a happy rainbow! Maybe it was a sign from Harvey.. pleased to see he wasn't the last shovel maker.

Scooping out the scoop.

It's almost a shame.. look at this grain!

This thing still weighs over 100lbs

This is pretty much were I stopped for the night.

Rock n' Roll! Light enough to mess around with now. I really hope I did Harvey justice. I'll post more pictures when I dedicate another full day to working the shovel down. Guys and Gals I'd love to hear some feedback. There isn't a lot of information about this out there, so a lot of it was improvising from my own knowledge. So feel free to comment and discuss. This is after all why I post these here. 
Alex YerksComment