Wood-master Brett Manson is a rarity. Warm and engaging by nature, he’s approachable and genuinely accommodating. Originally from South Africa, nowadays Brett calls Queensland, Australia home and it’s clear to see how his creations reflect this storied background. Predominantly producing spoons and homeware, each piece is crafted by his own hands using ethically sourced reclaimed wood. Initially, I was going to feature his brand By Hand & Heart (how beautiful is this name by the way!) as a standalone, but after my interaction with the designer and maker I absolutely had to share his story in his own words.
What has been your journey so far?
I was born in South Africa, and grew up in Johannesburg. My father was a “weekend woodworker” and I believe I learnt a great deal, unknowingly at the time, from him. I studied Architectural Design after leaving school, this was the beginning of my love affair with timber and functional items for the home. After finishing my studies I found myself by pure chance, working in Film and Television, predominantly in art departments. Designing and building sets, props and art department graphics were some of the jobs I undertook. This led to an interest in film post production, mainly animation, visual effects and colour grading. I taught myself visual effects software and after some time becoming proficient in visual effects, landed a job doing visual effects and colour grading for feature films. This has been my career for twenty years. It’s also what brought my wife and I to Australia, I was offered a job here.
In 2008, my wife Annelise, and I left South Africa and moved to Melbourne where we lived until the end of 2016. The company I was working for at that stage, closed it’s doors in September 2016 and I found myself re-evaluating what it was I really wanted from life. I yearned to work with my hands again, after all I’d spent the last two decades sitting in front of computer screens in dark rooms. After much consideration, my family and I (I have two young boys, Liam is 6 and Cameron is 4) made the decision to turn our lives around, go after our dreams and to give our boys the childhood they deserve. So we packed up our lives in Melbourne and moved to the Sunshine Coast hinterland area in Queensland. It’s an idyllic setting for us. Beautiful countryside, stunning beaches and warm weather most of the year. The kids have a wonderful childhood surrounded by nature and animals. They are thriving here. I’m very fortunate to work from a studio at home, so I get to see my boys grow up.
Why did you start working with wood?
I started working with wood again while I was still in Melbourne, I attended a fine furniture making course on weekends. This re-ignited my desire to work with timber. I had originally planned to start a furniture studio after moving to the Sunshine Coast, but was never able to raise the capital to set up a workshop. So I focused on the possibility of creating smaller pieces for the home. I tried carving a couple of spoons and I loved it. I knew this was something that would fulfill the need in me to work with my hands. And so By Hand and Heart was born, out of desire, but partly out of necessity and my situation too.
How do you get your creative juices flowing?
My inspiration definitely comes from an appreciation for design, geometry and form. I find myself finding details in the mundane that inspire and influence me. It could be something as simple as a broken rock or perhaps more complex forms in nature. Sometimes I find inspiration in music and the emotions songs might evoke. A mood, a tone or hue.
Describe your process – how do you create a wooden piece?
Making a spoon takes far longer than most people might imagine. It starts with the design, refining it until what I have in my head is what I’m able to produce. The prototyping can take some time, many instances of the spoon are carved until it feels and looks just right to me. The feeling of it in the hand is just as important as it’s aesthetic appeal. It needs to be joy to hold.
Once I am happy with the prototyped piece, only then do I decide to offer it as a product. The spoon making process for me is as follows: I select an appropriate piece of timber for the product(s). I draw the design onto the timber ensuring the grain direction is optimal for strength and appearance. The shape is then rough cut from the piece of timber. At this stage I hollow out the bowl of the spoon using a carving gouge, spoon knives and finishing with custom cut cabinet scrapers. Once I’m happy with the bowl, I carve the outside of the bowl using a craving knife, draw knife and spokeshaves. After this I move onto the neck and handle which I carve with spokeshaves, draw knife and carving knife.
When I’m happy with the spoon, I scrape as much of the spoon with card scrapers as I can to avoid using sand paper. The card scrapers leave a smooth finish. Unfortunately not all areas can always be done with scrapers, so at times I do need to sand the timber. If I sand, I always raise the grain between grits of sanding. This involves wetting the surface of the timber and letting it dry, this process raises the grain (makes it fuzzy) before sanding with a finer grit. The reason I do this it so that when customers use and wash my pieces, they don’t get “fuzzy” after a couple of washes. They stay smooth for longer by raising the grain.
So, as you can see, what looks like a simple spoon takes hours (around 2-4 hours in total depending on size and complexity) to make. I’m getting quicker all the time, and I do work on multiple pieces simultaneously which is a more efficient way of working.
What a beautiful story. Thirsty for more? Stay tuned, I’m sharing a visual journal of his stunning pieces in the coming week. But meantime you can enjoy Brett’s eye-watering creations at: