Q&A: Inspiring Your Inner Whittler With Melanie Abrantes’ New Book, Carve

by Rebekah Carey

If you’re not yet familiar with Melanie Abrantes, she is the namesake behind the beautiful cork and wood home goods she designs. They’re stylish, sustainable, and if you’ve been following her on Instagram you may have been getting glimpses of her book debuting today — and her dog, Rover, with whom we’re more than a little obsessed! Her first book, Carve: A Simple Guide To Whittling, takes striking wood projects and teaches you how to make them at home with your own hands.

It’s always exciting when one of your favorite makers announces they have a book coming out, and it’s even better when you realize that you could actually (hopefully) glean some of their enviable skills in the process. As someone who would admit that my hand-eye coordination leaves something to be desired, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about Carve! The step-by-step photos make the end result feel attainable, and the gorgeous imagery makes you feel like it wouldn’t even matter if it isn’t.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Melanie before she embarks on her book tour for a little Q&A about how she got her start in product design, why she wanted to share woodworking with the world, and what benefits whittling can have on us. Read along, and snag a copy of Carve as it hits stands today! –Rebekah 

Photography by Melanie Riccardi 

Images above: A beautiful ombre collection of wood shavings and Melanie in her happy studio.

Design*Sponge: You create beautifully handcrafted eco-friendly items carved from sustainable wood and cork - how did you begin woodworking?

Melanie: I fell in love with woodworking when I attended college at Otis College of Art and Design. When I studied product design we learned how to work with our hands to create the products for our projects. We were able to really dive into how each product was made and the different processes. It was an excellent way to be introduced to woodworking, with the final design [in] mind.

Melanie's book hits stands today!

Carve- A Simple Guide To Whittling.

Images above: A peek into Melanie’s first book.

How did the decision come about to write a book about whittling?

There is a resurgence when it comes to woodworking. I wanted to modernize what was available on woodworking projects and to also do it from a female perspective. It is the most amazing feeling to enable people to create something from scratch. With today’s technology-driven world, we have lost the connection of working with our hands and taking our eyes off the screen. Whittling is an excellent way to remove yourself from the busy day-to-day and take a slow and thoughtful approach towards creating beautiful objects that will take you back to a tranquil place whenever you see them.

Whittling tools.

Whittling one of the projects from Carve.

Images above: Tools of the trade, and Melanie at work whittling one of the projects from the book.

You have taught whittling/carving classes for a while, but what did you learn in the process of writing Carve that differed from your in-person teaching?

Teaching spoon carving is such a fun and rewarding way to connect with people. In my classes, you’re able to see me carve and learn through my demos. I wanted readers to have the same understanding and mastery that they would get when they work with me one-on-one. After reading Carve, readers will have a true understanding of how their hands should hold the tools and they will have a great grasp of different whittling techniques. I actually collaborated with an amazing videographer team, The Understory, to create four tutorial videos you can purchase with the book or the carving kits to do deep dives in particular whittling areas. This way you can have a detailed visual aid to my already comprehensive book.

Melanie in the process of creating some new pieces.

Spoon carving notes.

Images above: Melanie puts the finishing touches on a pair of handmade cutlery — another project you can make from her book. Melanie’s sketches for her different spoon carvings lay beside the spoon she is carving.

What would make you happiest to hear from readers who read and learn from your book?

They would learn how to whittle and share their new skill with someone else! Either gifting someone else a book to spread the love of woodworking, or even teaching their friends as well.

Finished whittling projects.

Image above: All of the fun projects and beautiful creations you can make from the book.

What advice do you have for other makers who wish to turn their products or skill knowledge into a book someday?

I would advise them to be unique and original on how they show this skill to the world. My publishers, Clarkson & Potter, wanted to work with me because I have a cohesive aesthetic for my products and they wanted to bring my world to their readers. If you have an original viewpoint, people will want to see something that has your flair!

The beginning of new spoons being carved.

Melanie at work in her studio.

Images above: Melanie whittling a spoon by hand, and turning one of her cork pieces on a lathe.

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  • Wow, so many beautiful things! I love her aesthetic and her enthusiasm. Years ago, I learned a bit about old timey wood working from the Foxfire series of books, and used a pile of slab wood to make a draw-horse, and bought a shave-thingy (I’ve forgotten the terms) and made some items like bird houses and cooking spoons. Much more rustic than these beautiful things. I would love to work with wood again. I’m inspired!

  • I’ve been telling my husband that I’ll carve him a duck for probably close to a decade now – this has inspired me to actually do it!