Spooning With Style

It’s not always about the big, complicated, detailed, historical carvings around here. Sometimes when I’m between projects, I pull out a scrap of wood and carve something that I can finish in an hour or so. Last night was a good example. All the projects that I’m either working on or about to start are quite large. One requires more research. One requires cutting and laminating together a bunch of yellow cedar. One requires a consultation with the client. At about 9 pm, I wasn’t about to start on any of these. But I didn’t want to waste an hour, either. So I grabbed a 6″ x 1 3/4″ x 3/4″ piece of walnut out of the off-cut bin and started carving a spoon.

First, I found the middle of the board, and drew a line down its length. I used a compass to scribe a circle with an inside and outside edge, which would form the bowl of the spoon. After that, I clamped the board in my vise, took out my #7 – 14 mm wide gouge and started carving the bowl. Once I had the bowl scooped out, I switched to a 5a – 7 mm spoon gouge to clean up the bottom of the bowl. Then I drew the handle and cut the outside shape on my bandsaw.

After the shape was cut out, I cut a strip of double-sided carpet tape, flipped the spoon bowl-side down and stuck it to the tape on a piece of scrap wood which I clamped in my vise. Double-sided carpet tape makes a wonderful “vise” for things that are difficult to clamp due to their shape. I took my #3 – 25mm gouge and shaped the outside of the spoon bowl. A quick switch to a #7 – 14 mm gouge, flipped over so I was primarily carving with the inside edge of the gouge, helped me shape the handle in a few strokes. Once all that was done, I worked it free from the double-sided tape, made a few passes with my round rasp and smoothed it with a large double-cut file before sanding it with several grits of sand paper. It requires a little more sanding as you can see from the photo, and them some foodsafe oil to finish it.

I really like the shape, and it fits very nicely into my hand. It will make a nice coffee scoop or something similar.

I’m trying to decide whether to put my maker’s mark on it or just leave it smooth. Got any recommendations for me on that? Leave a comment and I’ll consider it!

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Spooning

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.

Walnut Spoon

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.

Walnut Spoon 2

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.

Walnut Spoon 3

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.