If you were to sign up for a beginner carving course, chances are you would learn to carve a spoon. It’s the perfect project for a beginner because it involves many carving techniques, yet it is relatively easy and requires only a knife and a gouge. Everyone knows what a spoon should look like, so the shape is non-threatening. The shape of a spoon means that there are some parts that are fragile and require extra care to ensure that the direction of the grain in the wood will support those parts to the best advantage.
Carving the bowl of a spoon teaches students how to hold a gouge, especially when to carve with or across the grain. Carving the neck of the spoon will show how to give the illusion of a thin, delicate neck, while actually leaving it heavier and stronger than it looks. Carving the handle will teach you how to use a carving knife while dealing with grain direction, splitting, and how to shape a gentle, comfortable curve.
Finally, finishing the spoon also teaches some important points of carving. Sanding is tedious, and the better the carving technique, the less sanding is required. And the choice of what finish, if any, to use on the spoon is very important. If the spoon is purely decorative, any finish will do: varnish, wax, oil, or unfinished is fine. But if the spoon is to be used, the finish needs to be food-safe. This limits the choices down to a few, and most of these are oils or special waxes that do not contain mineral spirits or other toxins. Mineral oil, 100% natural tung oil, beeswax, or salad bowl wax are the most common choices. It’s possible to use walnut oil, but it’s a bit hard to find. Some people use olive oil or vegetable oil, but the problem with these is that they can go rancid.
Why don’t you pick up a gouge with a #5 sweep, 10 millimeters wide, and a pocket knife (or carving knife), and give it a go?
About the carving:
The wood is Black Walnut. It was carved in about an hour, and finished in a natural oil finish. As you can see from the last picture, it’s about 6 inches long by an inch and a half wide.