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My journey into spoon-making

 
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I started trying to carve spoons a while back but discovered I wasn't getting very far for lack of a good work-holding solution. I remedied that by recently finishing my shave-horse (highly recommended for anyone interested in green woodworking).

I have a few fruit trees that need perennial pruning. This past year produced a lot of branches that were big enough to be carved into spoons and other utensils.

I am an amateur and I'm learning as I go and from watching on-line videos, reading articles, etc. I want to share some of what I learn in the process in this thread, to maybe save others some time by learning from my mistakes, though some mistakes you just have to make yourself to really understand.

Before I had a shaving horse I learned:
  • Small dry wood is almost impossible to carve safely without some kind of work-holding apparatus.
  • Sharp tools make a big difference.
  • Wood grain direction is hard to read until you cut into it.
  • Wood grain direction changes unexpectedly around the different layers of wood and on different sides of a branch


  • After I started using a shaving horse
  • You need to leave some extra wood on the front and back of the spoon to hold onto it easily in the horse/vice - there's a name for this, but I don't remember it.
  • You don't need a hook knife to make most spoons, but you do need a gouge.
  • Curves make work holding awkward, if the part you want to carve is floating it's really hard to cut into. If it has something behind it it's safer and easier to cut too.
  • Curved blades are a bit difficult to sharpen - specifically you need to make a jig to sharpen them, though apparently you only need to sharpen the flat (non-beveled) side.
  • Most spoons are a lot shallower than I thought.
  • It's a lot easier to remove a lot of material with an axe than a knife - get it done with the right tool to save time.
  • Using a knife like what I have pictured can be really versatile - the narrow part of the blade can cut the outside curves of the spoon very well.
  • Taking very thin slices with a knife makes it easy to avoid tear-out, even when going against the grain.


  • I will post pictures of some of my spoons as I finish them.




    kogatana.jpg
    [Thumbnail for kogatana.jpg]
     
    L. Johnson
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    Updating with some progress pics.

    When I picked the chunk of wood I was hoping I'd be able to carve a ladle out of the crook, but I found the wood full of ants and had to cut off so much that I only had enough left to make a spoon...
    IMG_20210106_114237649_HDR.jpg
    A crook from a fallen peach tree
    A crook from a fallen peach tree
    IMG_20210106_114336008_HDR.jpg
    Digging in
    Digging in
    IMG_20210106_124314643.jpg
    Oh no! wormies
    Oh no! wormies
    IMG_20210106_134149461.jpg
    All that for a little spoon...
    All that for a little spoon...
    IMG_20210111_092648807.jpg
    Left to right, clockwise: Nata, gouge spoon, kogatana
    Left to right, clockwise: Nata, gouge spoon, kogatana
     
    pollinator
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    Even with the ant setback your spoon looks beautiful! And thank you for posting all those tips - I just learned about the sharp tools one today. My pocket knife isn't so sharp and it's making carving the dip in the spoon quite challenging. Gonna sharpen it tomorrow and have another go. Again great work!
     
    L. Johnson
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    Cam Haslehurst wrote:Even with the ant setback your spoon looks beautiful! And thank you for posting all those tips - I just learned about the sharp tools one today. My pocket knife isn't so sharp and it's making carving the dip in the spoon quite challenging. Gonna sharpen it tomorrow and have another go. Again great work!



    Thanks for the kind words. The pattern is a result of leaving both white sapwood and brown heartwood in the final product. I'm a little worried they will crack apart as it dries more, but if I get it done and saturated with oil that might not happen... I really don't know.

    I've been pondering a way to smooth the bowls of the spoons without ruining my thumb from sanding for two hours... I'm considering making a rounded sanding block, but it seems like many spoon carvers use curved scrapers. I should probably learn to sharpen a scraper one day anyway...
     
    Cam Haslehurst
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    Lew Johnson wrote:

    Cam Haslehurst wrote:Even with the ant setback your spoon looks beautiful! And thank you for posting all those tips - I just learned about the sharp tools one today. My pocket knife isn't so sharp and it's making carving the dip in the spoon quite challenging. Gonna sharpen it tomorrow and have another go. Again great work!



    Thanks for the kind words. The pattern is a result of leaving both white sapwood and brown heartwood in the final product. I'm a little worried they will crack apart as it dries more, but if I get it done and saturated with oil that might not happen... I really don't know.

    I've been pondering a way to smooth the bowls of the spoons without ruining my thumb from sanding for two hours... I'm considering making a rounded sanding block, but it seems like many spoon carvers use curved scrapers. I should probably learn to sharpen a scraper one day anyway...



    Yeah oil should help out with the drying process. I've got no idea how to sharpen curved blades yet either but it shouldn't be too bad to learn how to do it.
     
    L. Johnson
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    I finished sanding the two spoons yesterday. I've also been trying to find evidence one way or another on how dangerous the toxins in peach wood are, to no clear conclusion. I did however find that they are highly present in the bark, leaves, roots, and fruit pits... so I've decided to not use these spoons for actually eating, which is a bit of a pity. But they were really good practice.

    The wood is good for carving, so maybe I'll use it to make small figurines or other art objects.
     
    L. Johnson
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    I don't like giving up for lack of information, so I asked my chemist friend about how to test for and remove amygdalin in my spoons. Amygdalin is the substance that breaks down into cyanide and sugar in the human digestive system.

    He gave me some information on both testing (more complicated) and removal (mostly just boiling in 190 proof alcohol). There are some safety issues involved, so I'm not ready to post the process he detailed here. It does produce some dangerous gasses which means it probably needs to be done under a proper ventilation hood, which I don't have. Might be alright to do outside, but I'm not sure it's worth the cost for two spoons.
     
    L. Johnson
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    I was looking through the wood I've pruned this past season for something unarguably food safe and discovered some hefty pieces of Japanese maple. I had just dropped them where I pruned them because the tree was infested with ants, as many of my trees are. But I decided to split the biggest cuttings and see if there was enough wood for spoons. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? Fairly beautiful spoons waiting to be released from the wood!

    I expect it will be a more challenging job to carve than the peach wood, but at least I won't have to worry about cyanide poisoning!
     
    L. Johnson
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    This maple is still green and surprisingly wonderful to carve!

    IMG_20210116_085620940.jpg
    Japanese Maple
    Japanese Maple
    IMG_20210116_091900829_HDR.jpg
    Smooths easily
    Smooths easily
    IMG_20210116_110116266_HDR.jpg
    Carve the bowl first
    Carve the bowl first
    IMG_20210116_120619217_HDR.jpg
    Lay out with pencil
    Lay out with pencil
    IMG_20210116_134109278.jpg
    Compared to plastic model
    Compared to plastic model
     
    L. Johnson
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    I've been thinking about spoon angles.

    Most of the wooden spoons I see pictures of on the internet are mostly just straight or flat with no angle between the bowl and handle. This seems like bad ergonomics to me, but I haven't tried eating with one like this.

    The stainless steel spoons I use have a fairly steep angle. The plastic spoon my wife likes using (modeled after a traditional Japanese spoon) has a big curve in it. This is the spoon I'm copying for the maple spoon in the previous post.

    I feel like I need to try eating with spoons that have a dozen different angles to see what I really need to be making.

    I was wondering if there are any guides to spoon design... and I found this short article by a woodworker: https://pinewoodforge.com/spoon-designing/

    In it there is a very useful bit I will quote here:

    What is the purpose for the bend in the bowl of your spoon blanks?

    What a great question, and in 20 some years I have never been asked it!
    Common metal eating spoons range from as little as 5 degrees to as much as 25 degrees – handle to bowl angle. In our eating spoon blanks I chose about 15 degrees, however they are considerably thicker than is needed for a finished spoon – giving much latitude to the carver. There has to be some angle and drop to the spoon bowl – relative to the handle – in order to dip down into a bowl or plate and still lift something up. Take a good luck at the metal spoons you are perhaps used to eating with to observe both the drop and angle. Also, most metal spoons can be bent, so try bending one to different angles to gain an opinion of what angle to use for which type of spoon. Serving spoons can have as much as 70 degrees, cooking spoon as little as 5 degrees. Of course, as soon as one gets much past 15 degrees its especially preferable to use a bent branch so the grain follows the curve.



    I was vaguely aware there were strength issues... but I don't usually dig into anything that will break a wooden spoon... so as long as the walls of the bowl aren't too tall or thin I have a hard time imagining much breaking happening.

     
    Posts: 1592
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    Lots of thoughts. For one, get on YouTube and look up Spoon Club and "Barn the Spoon". Both will show you wonders ;)

    I find holding the piece in my hand much easier than trying to work on a piece held by a clamp, when I'm spoon carving. You need to shift around and account for different grain constantly, making holding it in my hand infinitely more practical. The slojd style knife with a flat scandinavian grind, like the Mora 106, is made for carving the outsides of spoons - everything but the interior of the bowl. The hook knife does that part and better than any other tool. With a gouge, you Must clamp the work, not hand hold it. With the hook knife it's easy to hand hold the work and so adjust angles and get around the bowl in a smooth fashion. With really sharp knives, you get a finish from the tools that does not need sanding.

    Here's the first in a series of videos that explain and demonstrate the knife techniques used for carving wooden spoons using knives, the carver is Jogge Sundquist and he knows his craft, he's been at it all his life ;) https://youtu.be/3J6OMWUfzD4?list=PLoaPpRkFfg5WkjHrJZ02ooSH16nV2-TBU

    A shaving horse is a fantastic tool to have for all sorts of green woodworking (or just woodworking, period) purposes, but for spoon carving, if you need something to hold the piece other than your hand, the spoon mule is the right tool for the job ;)

    Absolutely true that the bowl of a spoon is nowhere near so deep as we think it is ;)

    Many wooden spoons have incredible amounts of "crank" - that's the angle between the handle and the bowl. Cooking spoons tend to have little or none, while "eaters" can get very extreme.

    There's an interesting tradeoff that happens at the "neck" of a spoon, where the handle flows into the bowl. For comfort in your hand, the neck wants to be narrow, but with wooden spoons, a narrow neck will often mean a broken spoon if there isn't something to compensate for getting so narrow.  This is why at that point many wooden spoons become deeper - the handle has been broad and flat, the neck becomes narrow, but deep and the keel formed there will often flow into the bottom of the bowl of the spoon. The result is a spoon that is both comfortable and sturdy.

     
    L. Johnson
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    For now I finally finished the maple spoon copying the shape of the plastic spoon we have. The next one I make will probably be a completely different design.

    IMG_20210505_184128432.jpg
    Mostly finished maple spoon
    Mostly finished maple spoon
     
    L. Johnson
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    I now have a need for a turner a.k.a. pancake or burger flipper.

    Somehow our old plastic one just snapped (Finally!)

    This is the excuse I needed to buy the new drawknife and build a spoon mule that I've been dreaming about for the past several years.

    I also just pruned a sasanqua that has a perfect crook in it. It's still wet, so I think I can get it shaped into the right form and keep its strength.
     
    master pollinator
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    Thank you for your wonderful post - very inspiring. I wish I had seen this before making spoons. I've made three so far. The first is very rough, the second better but the handle snapped and the third I'm happy with and was good enough for the harder spoon BB here. I discovered many of the same things as you and a few I didn't, especially about leaving extra wood.

    I love that shave horse. I plan on building one, I just need to find a source of green wood. I'd never worked with green wood before I found permies. This week I've been working on dimensional lumber projects and want to get back to green wood. It's so much more tactile. I'm looking forward to seeing the flipper.
     
    L. Johnson
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    I got this idea from lumberjocks user mafe: https://www.lumberjocks.com/mafe/blog/129883

    I had a little time today, so I whipped together a very quick spoon board with some scrap cedar I had lying around. I can already see how this could be very helpful. I'm sure I'll customize it a lot more as I start using it, but it opens up the door to a lot more versatility in holding the spoon while I'm working on it.
    IMG_20211126_161244478.jpg
    spoon carving board with string holding spoon
    spoon carving board with string holding spoon
     
    master pollinator
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    I LOVE THIS THREAD! So fantastic to watch your process over an extended period of time, L. Johnson.
    You have motivated me to return to carving after many years and I thank you for this gift.
    Regarding the spatula that you are thinking of making, there are beautiful traditional Swedish designs carved by Jogge Sundquist as noted above in the post by Peter Ellis.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFv-We9NMMg
    And, for the less traditional, I'm trying my hand at American style spurtles to double as a flipper: https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/what-is-spurtle-how-to-cook-with-it-article

    Please keep encouraging us us your progress.
     
    L. Johnson
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    Thanks for the words of encouragement Amy! I'm excited about spoons and wooden utensils of all kinds! I was devastated when my wife bought a wooden spatula last year... I haven't let her live it down... but she now knows how much I want to make our utensils.

    Amy Gardener wrote:Jogge Sundquist as noted above in the post by Peter Ellis.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFv-We9NMMg



    Very cool. That big spatula is almost exactly what I want to make. I also love his giant mallet.
     
    Edward Norton
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    L. Johnson wrote: . . . some scrap cedar I had lying around.

    I nearly wept when I read that!

    Definitely going to make a spurtle, would be rude not to. Thanks Amy and L.
     
    L. Johnson
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    You don't have a pile of scrap wood lying around? Keep going on the BBs and you're bound to accumulate one. I've been doing my best to use up my masses of accumulated scrap wood in various projects.
     
    Edward Norton
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    L. Johnson wrote:You don't have a pile of scrap wood lying around? Keep going on the BBs and you're bound to accumulate one. I've been doing my best to use up my masses of accumulated scrap wood in various projects.



    I do have some small scraps, mostly ends of pine boards. I used one for making a sign. I’m finding it really hard to find cedar locally. I don’t know why, but I feel a deep connection to cedar. Probably something to do with my happy memories of visiting BC.
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