HOW TO CARVE A WOODEN
EVEN IF YOU'VE NEVER CARVED BEFORE!
Want to carve a wooden spoon? For all the folks that wrote and asked how
to do it, here's the eight step process and tools I use.
CAUTION: THIS IS AN ADULT ACTIVITY
AND GREAT CARE IS NEED TO AVOID GETTING HURT. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Step 1: Selecting the Wood
There are many, many wonderful woods in the world. Some are
soft (like pine) and other are hard as nails (like oak). You want to make
spoons from woods hard enough to stand up to the job they do, yet not so
hard you get frustrated on your first carving project. I recommend you
start with something like cherry wood. It's hard enough for any kitchen
spoon and fairly easy to carve. The color of cherry wood can vary from
a deep pink to almost stark white. That has to do with what kind of cherry
tree it was and whether it's heart or sap wood. Many of the cherry woods
darken some with age and use but I rather like that look. Whatever wood
you choose, it will need to be about 11 inches long, 3 inches wide and
about an inch thick. Next decide which side of your piece of wood is the
top of the spoon. Trees grow in rings. The top of your piece of would should
have the rings on the end sweeping up towards you. Important note: Do not
use aromatic woods (like cedar for instance) for eating or kitchen utensils.
However, my first carving was made from madrone log because
that's what happened to be in my wood pile out back and I didn't know enough
to pay attention to the ring pattern and it worked just fine. So grab a
piece of wood and let's go to the next step.
Step 2: Choosing a Pattern
There are so many different types of wooden spoons. Some
have long handles and deep bowls that are good for stirring big pots of
chili or stew; some have shorter handles and make excellent batter spoons;
and there are as many more as there are imaginations. Handles can be flat
or round or a combination of the two. I suggest for your first spoon you
make a standard, simple wooden spoon excellent for a number of kitchen
tasks. This would be about 10 inches long including the 2 1/2 inch long
bowl of the spoon and it would have a round handle. Rather than draw a
spoon pattern, load it into my scanner and put it up on this page, I suggest
you use one of your own kitchen spoons for a pattern (if you don't have
one check a local thrift store...they'll have an old one you can use for
a pattern). Lay the old spoon face down on your piece of wood and with
a pencil, outline it. I've gather up a number of patterns over the years,
each made of plastic. If you really get into this hobby, you can get more
creative in your patterns later.
Step 3: Cut out the Pattern
Now it's time to cut away all that excess wood from around
the pattern you drew on the slab of wood. You can do this quickly with
a power band or scroll saw, or you can use a hand held "people powered"
saw. If you do it by hand, put it in a vise and keep your hands away from
the cutting area (this is the voice of experience here). Make sure you
leave the pencil line of your pattern -- or in other words -- cut outside
the lines. If you don't have the tools or the space for cutting a chunk
of wood (talking to condo dwellers here mostly), I sell "spoon blanks"
a number of different woods and styles starting at $5 and up (SeeSpoonlady
Step 4: Gather Your Carving Tools
The tools I use for the rest of the project are: 1) a palm
carver or hand held #5 spoon scoop with about a 6mm sweep; 2) a small carving
knife; 3) handled rasp; 4: goose neck scraper; 5) a small file; 6) a piece
of thick leather to lay across your thigh; A chunk of leather glove with
a thumb hole; 7) lots and lots of sand paper (more on the type later).
My Spoon Making Tools
Here's a picture of the tools I use that are listed above
(I have lots of others to use with more complicated spoon making). The
two chunks of leather were free, my palm carver is made by Flexcut and
the knife is a Botz. The rasp I picked up at a flea market, that's a chunk
of 80 sand paper on the left. My favorite places to buy carving tools are
Woodcraft; Mountain Home Crafters; Wood N' Things, Inc. (see LINKS)
One other thing you need is a comfortable chair, I use
a an old beat up bar stool but I sure wish it had a back on it! Also, I
like some soft music playing in the background but the music isn't really
a tool I guess.
It'll cost about $30 or so to gather up these tools. But
you can make thousands of spoons with them (after much re-sharpening).
Step 5: Start Carving on the Front or the Back of the Spoon?
There are two schools of thought on where to start carving
first. Some spoon makers swear you must start with the back - others are
equally as adamant that it must start with the front. And the handle is
on both the front and the back, so when do you start working on it? It's
all a matter of personal preference. I like to do the back and handle first
and then carve out the bowl of the spoon. You will discover your preference
as you go along. But for the sake of this page, we are going to start with
the back and handle.
Sometimes it's easier to work the back in a vise (is for
me anyway) but you can do it in your hand -- but be careful and make sure
your tools are sharp, it's the dull tool that will hurt you most. With
the spoon handle in a vise so the full back of the spoon is facing you,
start working with a rasp to make the back rounded and a smooth sweep down
to the handle. Just where the handle meets the spoon, you will use the
Botz type knife to carve in a smooth sweep. Make sure you are working with
the grain in this process. Once the back is rounded to your satisfaction
(I lay it on a table and if it rocks smoothly it's ready), take some 80
grit sand paper and begin smoothing it down. Once the large gouges are
sanded out, you can use the gooseneck scraper (again with the grain) to
make it even smoother. This usually takes me a couple hours.
Now it's time to work on the handle. Remember we decided
on a round handle -- well it's another job for the rasp. With the bowl
of the spoon in a vise, begin taking the sharp edges off the handle which
is still square at this point. You keep turning it in the vise and rasping
down all four corners with a rounding motion until it begins to get more
and more round. This job is faster with a spokeshave -- but not everyone
has one of those tools and they are a little more expensive. The rasp is
inexpensive and will do the trick, it's just more work. Once it begins
to take a fairly round shape, take it out of the vise and smooth it out
more by drawing the neck of the gooseneck scraper down the shank of the
handle. We'll work in sanding it smooth in the finishing process.
Step 6: Carving the Bowl of Your Spoon
By now your spoon is really beginning to take shape -- but
it lacks having the bowl dug out. This is when I sit up on my stool, put
the leather over my thigh, turn the music on, and sharpen my spoon scoop.
Next I draw a pencil line around the outside edge of the bowl, then about
a 1/16th of an inch in toward the center of the bowl, I outline it again.
That is the bowl edge and you carve inside the second outline. OK! The
spoon is ready, the tools are ready, you have a piece of leather protecting
the palm of your hand (if you don't, you'll have blisters for sure!), so
now it's time to begin the fun part of making a wooden spoon: Carving the
Once again there are number of ways you can approach this
task and no one of them is the "right" way -- it's personal preference.
I like to go to the dead center of the bowl and start carving it out from
there. Others like to start working the edges and move into the center.
Try both and see which method fits you best. Give the tool a little "walking"
motion when taking out some wood and make sure you take a tiny piece at
first, until you get a good feel for how the spoon scoop works. And remember
to keep the carving motion away from you. If you are hanging on to the
spoon by the top of the handle, and digging out towards your hand you might
get into "flesh carving" and folks that hurts! Most of my students
want to know how to tell when to stop carving. Well there is no absolute
answer. You can carve a think bowl or a thick bowl -- your preference.
The thing you want to do is make sure the thickness of the bowl is the
same on the bottom as it is on the sides. A set of calipers can help you
figure this out to the millimeter, but I just close my eyes and feel it
with thumbs and forefingers. That's close enough. Once the bowl is carved
out, it's time to sand the spoon (well not always - folks that attend the
renaissance faires like those tool marks in the bottom of the bowl).
Step 7: Sanding Your Spoon (the messy part)
I like my wooden spoons smooth as glass. Lots of folks pick
them up and say: "Oh! They're so soft." That's a compliment and I know
they mean ultra smooth. Begin rough sanding with an 80 grit sand paper
all over the bowl, back and handle; then take an old terry cloth towels
and wipe your spoon down good. Feel for "bumps" and sand those out with
a new piece of 80 grit. Wipe the spoon down again and take up a 100 grit
sand paper and do the same thing; then drop to a 120 grit; followed by
150 grit; 220 grit; 400 grit and finally some fine 600 grit (guess you
figure out the higher the number the finer the sand paper). Be sure to
wipe the spoon down well between each sanding grit.
Sanding though tedious work does not take much concentration.
Your mind is free to tend to other things. So it is during the sanding
process that I turn all my wishes, hopes, dreams, and worries God-ward
(some call it praying and maybe it is, I call it spending the afternoon
Step 8: A Finish for Your Spoon?
Not everyone wants anything on their wooden spoon (they come
from the store just bare wood). But I like to put something on that draws
out the beauty of the grain and is safe for human. At first I was using
a fine grade of olive oil but was told this, like all vegetable oils, can
turn rancid if the spoon isn't used frequently. I search for the right
answer and found food safe mineral oil is the best bet. Hard to explain
the thrill of seeing that grain pop out on the ultra smooth spoon. You
will have to experience that one for yourself.
Hope you enjoy making a spoon. Please let me know if this helped.