As many of you may know I love to work with wood. There is something that is simple and pure about wood that I cannot explain, and I seldom try to explain it, but I do get a great satisfaction working with wood. I feel a close connection with the wood and with the tree it came from as I make something out of it. Seems like I am frequently making pieces of wood smaller. . . Recently I have rekindled my desire to make spoons. This I cannot explain, but spoons call to me now - even in my sleep - so, the only thing I can do is grab a piece of wood and remove all of the wood that is not a spoon. I have made several spoons in the past couple of weeks and they seem to be going out of the house as fast as I can make them. I Thought I would share the process.
Most spoon start off from a scrap of wood I have lying around or something salvaged from the wood pile, you know, fireplace stuff. I am guessing that wood selection can be a critical decision but mostly any piece of wood will do if it’s condition is solid and had decent enough grain structure to hold up to normal kitchen abuse. On rare occasions I have purchased ‘exotic’ woods to make larger salad spoon sets but that is rare. Mostly there is enough small scraps hanging around in the shop or out in the back yard to satisfy my needs. Sometimes I find that the piece I have selected is hard as nails making the carving more challenging and on a few occasions I have gotten halfway through a spoon before discovering that it just isn’t going to work out. It is still fun just carving away, as with most carving projects it has a natural end, when you know it is either time to finish it or toss it into the rubbish bin.
I am going to tell you the story of a spoon - from the moment of inspiration to the finished spoon. Carol and I have our special chairs in the living room where we read, chat and look at our phones. This takes place in front of the fireplace and this time of year there is frequently a fire burning. So one night last week we were sitting there and Carol was tending to the fire when I saw her grab a small limb section to toss into the fire. Well the muse struck and I negotiated the log from her hand and told her that I thought it would make a fine spoon. “That’s a limb from the cherry tree I trimmed out over the shed” I told her “That should make a very pretty spoon” A few weeks ago I discovered, while cleaning gutters, that our neighbors’ cherry tree was making a full assault on our small shed in the back yard, I grabbed a bow saw, climbed onto the roof of the shed and cut away the offending sections. I chopped up the smaller bits to go out with the yard waste and threw the larger bits onto the wood pile. It wasn’t until I got out into the workshop the next morning that I realized my piece of Cherry was really a piece of Maple from a limb I removed from a tree in the front yard during our last hurricane scare. . .oh well, I like Maple too.
The first thing I needed to do is get rid of the ends… that is where all the weathering and cracking begins. The log is laying on my table saw but this was done on the bandsaw.
I cut a few inches off of each end and got into solid wood without any cracking or splitting. You can see in the picture above that there was a split off piece that happened a while back. I used that little flat spot as a reference point to saw it up on the table saw to make a board or billet.
You can see here that the blank I cut our is pretty close to being squarish. It was at this point that I began to realize, hey this looks a lot like Maple and not Cherry. I also realized that if I split the billet down the middle, I could make two spoons, all the better!
I was a bit surprised to find that the wood still had a lot of ‘green’ qualities like, it had a high moisture content and seemed soft and a bit gummy on the saw blade. It doesn’t matter if the pieces are square or not - most of that wood is getting carved away.
I traced a rough spoon shape on the blank from a pattern I made of styrene plastic. I made the pattern from a spoon I made for Carol a couple of years ago. It is a great little tiger striped curly Maple spoon that gets daily use. I am quite fond of that little spoon so I used it as the foundation of this pattern. If you use your wooden spoon a lot the finish disappears and the spoon get a little ‘fuzzy’. Use a scrubby sponge or Scotch-bright pad to smooth it out a bit when it is dry, and give it a coating of mineral oil to bring back the luster.
I used to do all the the rough cutting with either a coping saw or a turning saw I made but recently have been using the bandsaw. It does the same job only quicker..but it still feels like cheating. Notice I changed the handle shape a bit giving the back end a bit of a flare.
I realized that I didn’t take a close look at the blank when I traced the pattern onto it. I like the smaller growth rings at he bottom of the bowl of the spoon. So I just did a freehand bowl shape on the other side.
The outline is simply the first guide lines for gouging out the bowl, these disappear quickly.
Clamping the spoon firmly in a wooden jawed vise I use a gouge (35mm #7 my very favorite gouge) to begin to define the bowl of the spoon. I work around one side the turn the spoon around to do the other side. This was all done with just hand pressure on this spoon as the wood was still a bit in the green state, so carving was easy. Most often on the cutoffs I have lying around the shop I need to use a mallet to encourage the gouge through the wood. Once I have the rough shape though it is all hand pressure on either green or kiln dried wood.
Using a gouge makes quick work of the bowl to attain a decent shape and depth. This requires turning the spoon frequently to make both sides even as you can only get a smooth surface on a downhill stroke, taking very fine shavings with each stroke. This was about a 10 minute operation.
Next comes removing the marks left by the gouge. For this operation I use a hooked knife. These can take either a fine cut or an aggressive cut depending on how you use it. I use this knife primarily for just smoothing out the inside of the bowl.
Moving over to a metal vise that can hold the spoon at a more comfortable position for this operation, I start in with a cabinet scraper. This continues to remove very fine scrapings of wood and generally leaves a finished surface that is much better than sandpaper. In this case since the wood was still a bit soft and wet it didn’t work as well as it has in the past. But the cabinet scraper still moved the process along and progress was made. As a side note, I have a pretty good collection of these things in various shapes and sizes, but don’t go looking for them at the Home Depot or Lowes… the big box stores don’t even know what they are. When I asked if they had cabinet scrapers, they kept trying to sell me paint scrapers.
For shaping the outside of the bowl I returned to the bandsaw and removed a bit more wood and the started in with a spoke shave. I have two that I use most often. The one in the photo above is a Wood River (made in China) cheap spokeshave I got at Woodcraft and is perfectly suited to the task of shaping a spoon. It did take a lot of sharpening and shaping to get this to a useable state but I love the way it removes just the right amount of wood. My other everyday spoke shave is a Lie-Nielsen Boggs spokeshave that I paid almost triple what I paid for the Wood River, I just like the cheap one better for spoons. The spoke shave does most of the rest of the shaping, both bowl and handle.
The final shaping and detailing is done with a knife. I use a Morakniv Sloyd Knife (#106) All new edged tools, knives, spokeshaves, gouges and whatever come ‘sharp’ when you purchase them. But they are not really sharp. On the gouge mentioned above I removed quite a lot of steel to change the bevel completely and resharpened to a perfect edge. THe Sloyd knife has a flat low angle bevel and is perfectly suited for wood carving. I honed and stropped this one to surgical quality and beyond and once you get this edge, simple honing and stropping keeps the edge for a long long time.
The finished spoon above is now ready for final sanding. Some spoon makers like the finish right off the knife, I like to take the wood down to a nice polish. Sandpaper accommodates these needs…starting with 120 grit I progress to 220, 320, 400, 600 800 and 1000 grit. Somewhere around the 320 grit stage I wet the spoon under the tap in the kitchen and set it aside to dry. This raises the grain that was severed with the sandpaper. Those torn little fibers curl up as they dry and then you can just sand them off with finer sandpaper. After the 1000 grit paper I give each spoon a very dilute coat of shellac This hardens the surface and raises the grain once again, and the hardened state of the fibers makes the final 1000 grit sanding more of a polishing sanding. Another couple of coats of diluted shellac and a couple of good rubbings with wet dry 2000 grit paper and it is ready for waxing. I use a food grade walnut oil and beeswax solution for the final finish. The luster is always pleasing, at least to me and I know that both shellac and my walnut oil and beeswax is food safe.
I am guessing that I have exhausted the subject of spoon carving and exhausted the fine readers of this blog. However, if you are still with me go over the my store and buy a spoon - I know they are expensive but hey, these are handcrafted, Made in the USA, artisanal stinking spoons made by someone you know, slightly, maybe. . . and yes I know you can get wooden spoons at Walmart 5 for $5.00, but I have to pay my medical bills.