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best wood for a wooden spoon

 
paul wheaton
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A friend of mine and I watched "alone in the wilderness" last night and got jazzed about the idea of converting some of our local wood into useful stuff. So we thought the first thing to do would be to make wooden spoons from green wood and then dry it.

So which sort of wood to use?

Googling comes back to say cherry is the best. What? A week ago we learned that every part of a cherry tree is toxic except for the actual fruit. It seems that cherry would be a really bad choice.

More googling ... cherry, cherry and cherry.

So confused ....

I would guess apple or alder or maple would be the best.

Anybody know about wood varieties for use with food?


 
Susan Monroe
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I would say any non-toxic hardwood with a fairly tight grain.

And I think you might be better off carving seasoned wood rather than green stuff.  It would make ME feel silly if I carved a fork from green wood, and then it twisted as it dried, curving away from me!  I'm sloppy enough when I eat, as it is!  (Although the dogs think I'm wonderful...)

This looks like a nice couple of lists of toxic and non-toxic woods:  http://www.mdvaden.com/bird_page.shtml ;
It's really a list of suitable woods for bird perches and toys, but it looks pretty good for human food use, too.

As the author says about the possible toxicity of cherry woods:  "When there are an abundance of sure safe woods, why use one that has bark with toxins, when you can use a tree free of toxins in both wood and bark?"

It makes sense to me!

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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That is an interesting link. 

So far, my explorations seem to push me to use maple or apple

I have read reports of some cherry being toxic and one report of using the non toxic cherry, but it's pores would harbor icky stuff (imagine your spoon smelling like a sour dish rag). 

And I've read about a similar pore problem with oak.  Oak will also make your food taste funny.

Alder is apparently bad for spoons because the wet-dry-wet-dry thing makes it crack.

Osage orange will put toxins in your food.

Birch is a good choice because it won't splinter.

.... the research continues!

 
Susan Monroe
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I wonder if it is the tannin in the woods that negatively flavor the food?  Apart from having pores that would allow bacteria to thrive...

Sue
 
                                      
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Maple has natural bacteria killing properties, that's why cutting boards are made from it.

Don't use green wood or you will be quite displeased with the cracking once it dries.

Cherry is suggested due to it's grain and looks, but I certainly wouldn't use it.

Trees used to be a hobby of mine, but I am quite rusty at this point.
 
Steve Nicolini
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Is that common for wood to crack when it dries?  Is there any way of preventing cracks in your dry wood?
 
paul wheaton
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Dry it slower.

Or ... I seem to remember reading about drying it with a humidity that is not too low.

 
                          
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red gum and mahogony for furniture making or slabbing are often pushed into a dam and left till dam drys out, this is meant to slow the process and stop splitting, but dont know if slow wet drying? will work in your cold. this is usually done for large logs for tables, benches and out door furniture, for a spoon you could try in some small container maybe?
 
                                
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Hi Paul,
Well I've got a wooden spatula that I've had for the last 25-20 years, can't remember when I didn't have it. I's scraped stuck potatos of the frying pan, stirred a million different dishes, there isn't a day that goes by when it isn't used. And it ain't waring down, dissolving, or any other trecherous activity that might release toxins in cuantities to indanger my health. My thinking is that you may be exagerating the dangers a bit. Cherry is a beautiful wood.
Happy hollidays 
Richard
 
paul wheaton
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Cherry is, indeed, a beautiful wood.  And I suspect that it released most of its toxic stuff the first few times it was used.  Since then it has been less and less as the years have passed. 

The amount of toxin released was obviously not enough to kill anybody.  Some people may have felt a bit sickly or a bit off - but that was a long time ago.

 
                                
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I use wooden spoons in the kitchen. I have to replace them about once a year. They seem to be made of a white wood that's fairly light. Probably it grows in some foreign country, so I wouldn't recognise the tree anyway. Native to USA: what about Beech or basswood? Tulip poplar? I would want to use good dry wood.
 
Emil Spoerri
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people used to use paw paw trees for carving spoons
 
Jesse Coker
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I think using the product 'anchor seal' is an excellent way to dry wood slowly without it checking (cracking). Immediately after it's cut, coat the end grain with this just as though it was stain.

I agree with the sentiment that apple wood is a great choice for carving table ware. I think pear wood would be an excellent choice as well, they're both very tight grain, beautiful, non toxic woods. I also would recommend black birch, as it is quite a bit harder than other birches in my experience and non toxic, as I've heard about folks chewing on the twigs for the wintergreen flavor. By the by, would it be improper to note that I have all of these woods available? I harvest everything responsibly and am PDC certified! -Jesse
 
paul wheaton
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gorillajets wrote:
By the by, would it be improper to note that I have all of these woods available? I harvest everything responsibly and am PDC certified! -Jesse


I think you should update your sig and start a new thread telling us about what you do. 

Take a look at this thread:

http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/1892_0/tinkering-with-this-site/how-to-promote-your-site-on-permiescom


 
Scott Reil
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Seconding the birch and basswoods ideas, and perhaps ash might be a good choice? Tight grain, hard but not too hard, plenty of them...

Thought of hickory in the same light; a bear to carve, but it wears like iron, nice straight grain...

Our native Carpinus, called ironwood, falls in this same category; be ready to sharpen the chisels quite a bit, but you now have an heirloom rather than a disposable spoon...

Hope this helps...

HG
 
                                            
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Paul-

Generally, in spoons you're not so much worried about the strength of the wood so much as it's propensity to splinter -- nobody wants splinters in their soup, and splintery, fiberous woods (like pine, poplar, or birch) sometimes get a hairy texture that is difficult to clean. Because of that, some of the more popular woods are actually those that aren't good for much else: Beech, Sycamore, and Apple all come to mind. Beech in particular has worked well for me -- I even made a spatula about 1/8 inch thin from it in college, and it's lasted me for almost 9 years with no rest.

Cherry, plum, apricot and other stone fruit woods do have cyanogenic glycosides in them, though not nearly as high of quantities as the pits. Since wood utensils rarely come into contact with liquids for long enough to transfer significant amounts of soluble materials (remember, wine has to sit in oak barrels for months before it picks up enough tannin to taste) you're probably fine using these woods, especially for serving spoons (as opposed to cooking spoons which contact hotter liquids for longer), and definitely for serving bowls.

Some more info on woods that are safe for birds (and by proxy perhaps, humans) can be found here:
http://www.birdsafe.com/woods.htm
 
paul wheaton
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Excellent info!

And you don't mention maple.  Would you put maple on the same list as beech, sycamore and apple?

 
                        
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I ran across a guy in N. Alabama who makes salad bowls and "dough bowls"  (for raising bread) from Osage orange wood.  The utensils were beautiful but osage orange tends to split so he uses filler of epoxy and osage orange sawdust.  Im not sure how safe that is.

I didn't see any spoons made from osage orange.  It is a beautiful red wood.  It is sometimes inlaid with magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which is a white wood.  Ive been seen a magnolia/osage chess board -- the squares were inlaid in walnut.
 
paul wheaton
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I have no experience with osage orange, but I have read that osage orange should not be used for food woods.
 
                        
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http://www.wikihow.com/Discussion:Clean-and-Disinfect-Wooden-Cooking-Utensils

This guy says he prefers osage orange also.  Ive done quite a lot of research on it since there is a lot of it here (Alabama) used for living fences/hedgerows.  Ive never read that it is toxic.
The people I know who work with this wood coat the cut surfaces with a thick layer of parafin and keep their stock under damp burlap until they are ready to use it.

It does crack if it dries too fast.  They use sawdust in the cracks with glue (one guy uses epoxy).

Quoted:

There is only a few woods that I recommend for making wooden utensils. My number 1 choice is Osage Orange. Here is the only site on the internet that uses Osage Orange to make their wooden utensils. www.theosagetree.com There are soooooo many reasons why Osage is the best. It would take a book to explain all the reasons. You can contact the website above and they can give you the reasons why, but a couple of the reasons are; 1.) Very hard. 2.) Non-porous. 3.) High heat resistant. 4.) Will never fuzz up, no matter how long it is soaked in water. 5.) will not soak up any food odor into the wood. 6.) almost impossible to wear out.



I first learned about the versatility of osage orange wood (and its limitations) by visiting the studio of local woodworking  artist Craig Nutt:

http://www.craignutt.com/works/furn.html

At that time he was experimenting with osage orange inlays.  Now he makes this "vegetable furniture".
 
                                
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I am sure almost all the wooden spoons in my kitchen are made of beech.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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wombat wrote:
I ran across a guy in N. Alabama who makes salad bowls and "dough bowls"  (for raising bread) from Osage orange wood.  The utensils were beautiful but osage orange tends to split so he uses filler of epoxy and osage orange sawdust.  Im not sure how safe that is.

I didn't see any spoons made from osage orange.  It is a beautiful red wood.  It is sometimes inlaid with magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which is a white wood.  Ive been seen a magnolia/osage chess board -- the squares were inlaid in walnut.


What a great idea.

I'd be tempted to try to grow uhurushi (lacquer tree), to use its sap in place of epoxy. Failing that, I might experiment with the sap from whatever close relative grows best in my climate, and if that didn't work then perhaps species that are intermediate. Here in California, that would be poison oak. A good waterproof adhesive is really useful to have, and I'd hate to be without it just due to some disruption in the petrochemical/consumer product supply chain.

That said, if you have uhurushi, the wood underneath the lacquer is more of an armature than an important factor in durability...even palm wood will have the properties Wombat lists if it has absorbed enough of that sap. Some wooden articles have survived 8,000 years of Japanese weather after such a treatment.
 
paul wheaton
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Emerson White
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dvmcmrhp52 wrote:
Maple has natural bacteria killing properties, that's why cutting boards are made from it.


Most woods have natural antibacterial properties, Maple is the wood of choice for cutting boards because it is hard and not oily.
 
Ken Peavey
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My vote is for Hickory/pecan.  Tight grain, hard wood, takes a finish, low splintering, non toxic, readily available, easy to look at.  It is resistant to checking/cracking with repeated wetting/drying, but the wood must be brought down to 5% moisture content before it is worked.

For cutting boards, rock maple is the preferred stock...its rock hard.  End grain on the cutting surface is desired, not edge grain.  As a knife is drawn across the surface the tightness of the grain serves to keep the knife edge free of burrs. 

Treating the wood is best done with mineral oil and/or beeswax.  Mineral oil is edible, non-toxic and does not putrify.  Beeswax is suited for cool use-cutting boards rather than spoons going into hot foods.

 
Dennis Mitchell
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Locust sure makes a pretty spoon. The best wood for a spoon is the wood that has some meaning to you. Make one out of the first Christmas of your marriage. A small pine tree will have a tighter grain than a board you get at a lumber yard. The locust spoon I made from a tree on the family farm. I've used cherry, hickory, maple, ash, white oak, even walnut in cutting boards for years. Red oak is just about the only hard wood I would not use.
 
            
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ive had some amazing spoons i crafted out of driftwood, the older the drier the better. shear resilience in the kitchen is a must. the oldest spoon round here is made of waxwood. it has survived 40/50/ or more years passed along. 30 odd years ago it was upgraded (resculpted on me ass) and now functions as a halfspoon stir stick to this day. end of story.
 
Rosalind Riley
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Agree that beech and cherry make good spoons, as do apple, pear and maple. Carving green is easiest and best! These woods are very unlikely to crack or distort while drying, though obviously avoid putting them on a stove or heater.

I have a cherrywood spoon, teaspoon-sized, which I turned first, then carved the bowl. I use it in the sugar bowl, which is great as nobody will stir their tea with a wooden spoon, so the sugar stays dry!

I have made spatulas from ash but the very pronounced grain is not ideal.

Most commercial wooden spoons are indeed beech.

Have fun!

Rosalind
 
andrew curr
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i have several types the best is huon pine
Bamboo is good, oak ok,
tasmanian blackwood (acacia melenoxin) good and fast growing Timber density i suspect is important,for hygene reasons
I wanna try Robinia psaudoacacia (on CSI or one of those forensic crime shows they said it shows up under a black light) Is this true
 
andrew curr
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paul wheaton wrote:A friend of mine and I watched "Alone in the wilderness" last night and got jazzed about the idea of converting some of our local wood into useful stuff. So we thought the first thing to do would be to make wooden spoons from green wood and then dry it.

So which sort of wood to use?

Googling comes back to say cherry is the best. What? A week ago we learned that every part of a cherry tree is toxic except for the actual fruit. It seems that cherry would be a really bad choice.

More googling ... cherry, cherry and cherry.

So confused ....

I would guess apple or alder or maple would be the best.

Anybody know about wood varieties for use with food?


waddya mean bout cherry wood >/.>? (sorry must have been looking out the window)
 
Judith Browning
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I've lived with a hand carved spoon maker for forty years...apple is the best he says, wild cherry is near the top of the list...also apple, plum, persimmon, black walnut, peach, domestic cherry, chinkapin, red maple, osage orange...generally fruit woods and maples and wood from nut trees. We have a kitchen full of them...some in use everyday. Carve green for the most part....otherwise the work is much harder.
 
Robert Ray
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Somebody gave me the bottom half of a very thick maple door and I've been slicing sections of that for carving spoons very dense and fine details show.
 
Max Kennedy
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I've done apple, cherry and maple treen. A trick I picked up from a wood turning website. http://www.thewows.com , is using a microwave to dry green wood. Carve to near final shape and hit with short bursts of microwave. Don't go too long, you will burn it, and don't use your food prep microwave else SWMBO will use the flat of a cast iron frying pan on you. If you want more details join the site and search for it in the "File Cabinet" section. My experience with this drying technique is that there is relatively minimal warpage.
 
Ken Peavey
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Allowing the wood to dry before working it will save you the heartache of seeing your spoon crack after you've made it.
The grain and structure of the wood is the thing. A round log or branch has heartwood, the center where the new growth begins, and the sapwood, the outer rings of older wood that transport water and nutrients.
Cutting off a log will expose the entire cross section. Because of the way the tree grows, the heartwood and sapwood will dry unevenly. This results in cracks, aka 'checking'. If you paint the ends of the log, the moisture will escape through the sides of the log rather than the ends. Drying will be more even, but also considerably slower. This leads to less checking of the wood. Once the log has dried (seasoned) for a year or longer, the moisture level will be down around 8-12% and there would be little further shrinking. Now you've got something to work with.

Larger logs can develop larger cracks. On the same token, you will have larger pieces of wood without cracks. You can get a bigger spoon.
Longer logs offer the advantage of being able to cut away the ends. The ends will have more cracks even if you painted them. Again, you will have more material from which to cut your spoon.

You've done your prep work, cut yourself some large logs, painted the ends, and let them dry for a year in a dark, breezy, sheltered area. There are spoons in that wood. You have to find some goods spots. Narrow cracks won't be as deep, pay them no heed. Split the wood at the widest cracks. You'll be left with solid chunks.

Let me try to put up a picture,,,
wood.JPG
[Thumbnail for wood.JPG]
 
Ken Peavey
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That's a cross section of the log.
The green rectangle is Quartersawn. The grain is almost all straight vertically though the board
The red rectangle is Ripsawn. The grain is curved through the board.

In the lower part of the picture, arrows have been added to show how that board will try to cup as it continues to dry. Drying wood tends to curl around the center.
The quatersawn board has even forces (the little arrows) trying to pull it up and down around the center. These forces are more balanced and much smaller. This board will hold its shape well.
The ripsawn board is not balanced, one end will curl in, and so will the other. You end up with a bent board.

If you cut the wood, then dry it, that ripsawn board can crack, bend, twist, and become unusable. It still makes good fuel
Having the wood dry before you cut will let you use the ripsawn cut.
In both cases, the quartersawn board will probably be useful.

For more usefull wood, avoid knots. Knots dry up, fall out, turn color, are harder to cut and shape, and can ruin your piece. The best wood has straight, even grain from undamaged parts of the tree, is free of knots, and of uniform color. For something like a spoon, it would be better to use only the sapwood or only the heartwood. This would be the sloppy wide blue H. Mixing them on a small piece is asking for trouble.

I got a wood ladle I made 12 years ago. It's holding up pretty good but one side broke off. It was a small piece of heartwood. Now I can only use it to scoop coffee.

 
Judith Browning
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This is becoming an in depth topic! To add to the information...My husband and his friend wrote an article for the July 2006 issue of Woodcraft magazine volume 2 /number 11. Theirs is project number 49 titled "Treenware" carve spoons and bowls from trees using only hand tools by Owen Rein and Steve Folkers on page thirty of the magazine. "Discover the secrets of making treenware...handcrafted bowls and spoons...using a few hand tools, your carving skills and the wood that grows nearby". It is a magazine full of "projects" so theirs stands out because it begins with chosing a tree instead of buying a board.
 
Joe Skeletor
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I think this show was mentioned before on the message board, but here's an episode about carving spoons. Free to watch -

The Woodwrights shop - Carving Swedish Spoons with Peter Follansnbee

http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/video/3100/3108.html

They make some spoons and talk about different types of wood. Good info for beginners!
 
Judith Browning
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Joe Skeletor wrote:I think this show was mentioned before on the message board, but here's an episode about carving spoons. Free to watch -

The Woodwrights shop - Carving Swedish Spoons with Peter Follansnbee

http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/video/3100/3108.html

They make some spoons and talk about different types of wood. Good info for beginners!


Yes, excellent program...the one on spoons and so many others. We are so glad PBS is showing them again...Roy Underhill is a wonderfully enthusiastic teacher.
 
Max Kennedy
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Ken Peavey wrote:Allowing the wood to dry before working it will save you the heartache of seeing your spoon crack after you've made it.


Ken, Though correct in this I MUCH prefer carving green. a) it is a LOT easier b) I can probably carve 3 or 4 in the time it takes to carve 1 dry and only loose 1 of them if that c) the wood movement as it dries gives a natural feel not achievable by carving alone. Point b can be overcome using power carving tools but for hand work green is better. Once the wood is thin it is relatively unlikely to check. Just my experience.
 
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