Meet the Maker: Sean Singh

How a woodcarver finds his flow while crafting handsome – and durable – utensils and charcuterie boards.

June 24, 2022 | | Made in the Hills

When is a spoon more than a spoon? When it represents the memory of the magical summer Sean Singh spent carving it by hand.

Of all his work, Sean’s favourite piece is that first wooden spoon he ever made. He recalls taking newly procured tools and a chunk of black walnut with him everywhere his family went that golden summer more than a decade ago, as he painstakingly carved, sanded and finished the spoon. Now, when he holds it, pleasingly symmetrical and perfectly balanced, it brings back the essence of those wonderful times.

Sean still taps into that feeling while scooping out the bowl of a spoon or even sharpening his tools. “It’s all about the flow for me,” he says, sitting in the basement workshop of his home in Caledon Village. “I don’t want to rush the process. It’s mindfulness, appreciating the present moment.”

At the same time, Sean values the utility resulting from that state of flow. “We have scoops for everything in the house,” he laughs. “Turmeric, sugar, coffee – I love to find a use for my work.”
He often carves from maple, birch or black walnut, deadfall found in his backyard. Sean works by the backyard fire or in the living room while his wife, high school sweetheart Maria Tringale, knits and the pair watches TV or listens to music. “I let the wood speak to me. Its shape really determines what it ends up being.” Sean also draws inspiration from the natural world encountered when he and Maria hike the Bruce Trail.

Sean uses a hook knife with a curved blade by Swedish manufacturer Morakniv to carve the bowls of the scoops and spoons, and a straight knife for the handles. Pete Paterson.

Before oiling, he sands by hand and burnishes with deer antler. The first cuts for designs carved into the piece are made with the basic blade of a Swiss Army knife beloved from childhood. The knife is so well used that the red plastic on its case has disintegrated, leaving only the steel.

“I grew up in the West Indies with this penknife in my pocket,” says Sean. “I had a lot of freedom. I’d ride my bike to the beach for the day and collect small pieces of driftwood. I loved the smoothness of the wood, just like the texture of sea glass. I’d fashion toys, spears. That was when my love of carving began.”

The Singh family immigrated to Malton when Sean was nine. Sean and Maria – Sean carved Maria’s engagement ring from ebony – moved to Caledon in 2009 with their two daughters, Tashiana, now 26, and Hannah, now 23. When the children were young, Sean designed wooden toys and furniture for the family – and their large extended family.

After the summer of the spoon, Sean’s focus shifted to more heirloom-quality utensils, with Instagram and YouTube a rich source of education along the way. Four years ago he added charcuterie boards and serving trays, starting with durable, kiln-dried, finished black walnut or maple from Legacy Lumber in Erin. Kiln drying is important because it renders the wood free of bugs and most of the moisture.

A selection of Sean Singh’s hand-carved wooden pieces. Pete Paterson.

In his garage Sean uses power tools to cut and debark this wood. Next he might use epoxy to fill knots or holes, creating a pattern – often in bright colours, such as cobalt blue. “I consult with clients to choose the epoxy tint so that they can match it to their colour scheme, if they wish,” he says.

To mix and pour the epoxy, he moves the boards to his basement because a stable temperature and dust-free conditions are key at this stage. Then it’s back to the garage for sanding – ideally with the doors open.

He finishes his creations with all-natural, food-safe Odie’s Oil. When cared for properly – washed in warm, soapy water, dried immediately – the pieces will last, but Sean also offers refinishing services. His work is available at Noodle Gallery in the Alton Mill or via custom order on his Songtree Design Instagram page. The name is a play on the homophone of his surname, Singh. “Sing” led to “song,” which was paired with the source of his raw materials.

Sean often adds a personal touch to items with carved or burned embellishments. A spoon he made for Maria features a heart that appears knitted. Personalized boards for wedding presents are also popular. He recalls cutting a single slab of wood in half to make charcuterie boards for two sisters living apart, so they could feel bonded by the keepsakes.

From his foundational first wooden spoon to the boards for the sisters, Sean’s craft amplifies connections, whether to nature or loved ones, or something else entirely. These connections are what matter most to him – and to his clients.

About the Author More by Janice Quirt

Janice Quirt is a freelance writer who lives in Orangeville.

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