Capri Cafaro Published

W.Va. Couple Follows Passion For Woodwork By Building A Life And A Business Together

Two older people, a man and a woman, work on handmade wooden spoons in a workshop. Both people are wearing flannel shirts.
Stan (L) and Sue (R) Jennings shape spoons on sanding machines in their Allegheny Treenware workshop in Preston County, West Virginia. Sue is pre-shaping while Stan is fine shaping on 40 grit sandpaper. These two stations are only used by the Jennings to shape each spoon by hand.
Zack Gray/Allegheny Treenware

This story originally aired in the April 21, 2024 episode of Inside Appalachia.

For Sue and Stan Jennings, woodworking isn’t just a way to make a living, it’s a way of life. What started out as a passion for the craft was born out of necessity. Over the last 30 years, the Jennings have developed a thriving business making wood objects called treenware — small wooden kitchen utensils. 

The Jennings learned to make spoons through a lot of trial and error. But both of them can trace their passion for woodworking back to their childhoods. 

Sue grew up helping out her father who was a contractor. Stan’s father had a sawmill and his grandfather was a carpenter. “I had a little bit of woodworking in my DNA,” Stan says. 

Their mutual love of woodworking ended up being the foundation for their own relationship as a couple. 

“When I met my husband, we were both working in the coal mines underground. And when we first started getting to know each other, the question we would ask is, ‘If you had anything in the world you wanted to do, what would be first on your list?’” Sue says. “And I said I wanted to be a woodworker. And he had the same dream. So right off the bat we knew there was something pretty special there.” 

The chance to chase their dreams came sooner than expected. Not long after the couple met, Sue and Stan were laid off from the mines.

“We all walked in and got our pink slips and that was the end of our coal mining business,” Sue says. “And that’s how this evolved, because we needed a way to make a living.” 

To make ends meet, the couple started selling odds and ends at craft shows. During that time, both experimented with making spoons. 

Stan says the first set of spoons he made were less than impressive, but were created from the heart. And because he needed a cheap present for Sue. 

“I suppose I was too tight to buy a Christmas gift,” Stan says. “I made her a set of dogwood spoons. And that was actually the first set of spoons we made. I’m ashamed to even show people, it turned out so bad, but Sue hung on to them.” 

Sue also caught the spoon-making bug and tried to make a set herself. “The first spoon I made was a set of measuring spoons, and I made it out of rhododendron [wood],” Sue says. “And that’s because we had gone to a show and we met a spoon maker, and we talked and talked about him. I was fascinated from the very beginning.” 

The Jennings discovered there was a whole culture around wooden utensils when they stumbled upon the book Treen and other wooden bygones. This book ended up changing the direction of their business. But they almost didn’t buy it. 

“At the time it was like a $50 book and we stood there and agonized over spending $50 on this book because we couldn’t afford a book for $50,” Sue says. “So there was our first exposure to the word ‘treen.’”

A book is being held up by a hand. The book's cover is yellow and features a black and white photograph of a mug. The title reads, "Treen and other wooden bygones" by Edward H. Pinto.
Sue Jennings holding her copy of Treen and other wooden bygones, a book by Edward H. Pinto.

Photo Credit: Capri Cafaro/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Treen is a Saxon word that refers to wooden items made from the tree for use in the kitchen or dairy. After buying the book, Allegheny Treenware was born. Much of the inspiration for their product design — and the name of their business — has come from the book.

Over 30 years later, the book is still on their shelves. It’s thick and well-worn, filled with photos of wooden kitchen items. There is a clear design connection between what is in the book and what the Jennings make today. The items are both functional and beautiful. 

Over the years, the couple has grown as craftspeople thanks to a combination of grit and learning from other woodworkers. Now, times are not as tight and their process is much more sophisticated. They have several employees and a workshop full of high-end equipment. Their treenware is sold online all around the world, and the spoons are coveted collector’s items. 

There’s a lot of action on the shop floor to fulfill these orders. Staff shift between workstations dedicated to a specific purpose. Each spoon starts with a pattern that is traced onto a board of wood and cut, just like a clothing pattern for fabric. 

“When we make the spoon or whatever, there’s no duplicating machines, there’s no computerized equipment. Everything is truly made by hand here at this shop,” Sue says. 

While there is now a team behind Allegheny Treenware, the Jennings reserve the most difficult part of the process for themselves: the shaping finish of the spoon. This requires very coarse sandpaper on a spinning disc which can cut your hands if you’re not careful. 

Sue says her approach to shaping is different from Stan’s. She pre-shapes the spoon first, while Stan starts by planning things out before he sits down at a machine. “We’re different sides of the brain and we go about things differently,” Sue says. “[Stan’s] very methodical and I’m not, but we end up in the same place.” 

A wall chock full of handing wooden spoons - in all shapes and sizes.
Patterns used to make wooden utensils at Allegheny Treenware.

Photo Credit: Capri Cafaro/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Jennings also have complimentary skills as business partners, especially when they were selling at craft shows. 

Sue reflects on how she and Stan would interact with customers. “I’m always at the booth selling and his job was to entertain,” she says. “He’d be hand-carving a spoon and he’d be telling stories, entertaining the men while the women went shopping. It worked perfectly.” 

Before a spoon is complete, there are some finishing touches put on it. They burn their initials “SJ” into the spoon and then soak it in food grade oil to bring out the color of the wood. 

The back of a wooden spoon. On the handle, it reads, "cherry SJ."
Back of a classic wooden “granny spoon” made by Allegheny Treenware.

Photo Credit: Capri Cafaro/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
A close up shot of the handle of a handmade wooden spoon. There are letters written on the handle that read, "cherry SJ."
Detail of engraving on the back of a wooden spoon made by Allegheny Treenware to indicate it is made of cherry wood. Initials “SJ” indicate the product was made by Sue and Stan Jennings.

Photo Credit: Capri Cafaro/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

These spoons are much more than wooden utensils. They represent the sweat equity of one couple who has stayed true to their dreams, and each other, for over three decades.


This story is part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Project, a partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia.

The Folkways Reporting Project is made possible in part with support from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies to the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation. Subscribe to the podcast to hear more stories of Appalachian folklife, arts and culture.