Carving a Spoon Made Easy


There is something about sitting around a campfire whittling and one of the first things that people want to make when they are out in the woods is a simple spoon.  Indeed spoons make the ideal first carving project.

The first step in the process is to choose the right wood. For those new to carving, we would recommend green wood from a species that is not too hard. You will no doubt end up with aching hands regardless but there is no point making things more difficult than they need to be particularly for your first spoon.  With practice you can progress onto harder timber and seasoned wood.

Always obtain the land owners permission before removing branches from any tree and always cut off branches in a sustainable and non-damaging way. A species which is a good one to start with is sycamore. It is very common, normally regarded as a weed species, easy to carve and has odourless and tasteless wood. Certainly make sure you avoid any species known to be toxic such as yew.

Before you start always make sure you have a first aid kit to hand whenever you are using knives and saws.

If possible select a branch which is relatively free of side branches and therefore knots and also has some bends which will add character to your spoon.  Remove the branch using a pruning cut, which will allow the tree to heal itself (diagram 1).

Diagram 1. Pruning Cut

Then remove a knot free section slightly longer than the desired length and about three times the thickness of the spoon you wish to carve.  The central growth ring on most woods tends to be pithy and if it forms part of your spoon it can fall out leaving a hole, so to avoid this the spoon needs to be made out of one half of the section. So the next step is to split the section straight down the middle.  With thinner pieces use a fixed blade knife and a baton, with thicker pieces it may be necessary to use an axe or froe. You should find that the wood will split nicely exactly down the central growth ring which should be clearly visible as a darker line down the middle of each of the split halves.  Make sure you split the wood the right way to maintain any desirable curves that may be present (diagram 2).

Diagram 2. Splitting the section

Making the revealed inner surface of the section the top surface of your spoon, mark out your spoon with a pencil or charcoal from the fire, making sure to leave a little bit of extra wood at the bowl end. Although many people rough out the shape of the spoon with an axe we recommend removing surplus wood by creating stop cuts and then splitting or carving down to these. This method is just as quick, but less tiring and less potentially dangerous. Simply with a saw cut oblique cuts across the grain following the angle of the bowl of the spoon then with your knife and a baton split away surplus wood either side of the handle down to the stop cuts. Always leave a small margin of error as these splits do not always run true (diagram 3).

Diagram 3. Sawing stop cuts

Repeat the process to remove thickness from your spoon. Again, making a stop cut with a saw at the underside of the back of the bowl of the spoon and splitting down removing wood from underneath of the handle (diagram 4).

Diagram 4. Stop cut on back of spoon

Now with your knife continue to carefully and steadily shape the handle and back of the bowl of the spoon.  The reason for leaving additional length at the end of the spoon, is to give you something to hold when trying to shape where the handle joins the bowl so that you are always cutting away from yourself. When you are happy with the handle and back of the bowl (diagram 5) you can now remove the surplus wood from the tip of the bowl. Use a saw, and again make angle cuts following the shape of the bowl to reduce the amount of carving required (diagram 6).

Diagram 5. Handle and back of bowl finished

Diagram 6. Removing excess with a saw

Finish the rest of the bowl and then ensure that from the top surface of the spoon you have removed all traces of the innermost growth ring.  Now you are ready to hollow out the bowl.

This is best achieved using a small, curved bladed knife called a crook or spoon knife.  Begin by using a scooping, twisting action right in the centre of the bowl, a bit like a melon baller (diagram 7).  Once you have made a small depression begin working from both sides from the middle outwards, cutting across the grain (diagram 8).  Continue until you have hollowed out the bowl to an even thickness.

Diagram 7. Starting to hollow our bowl

Diagram 8. Direction of carving with crook knife

All that’s left to do is to sand your spoon.  Start with a coarse grit and work through medium and eventually fine grits.  To finish off give your spoon a oiling with olive oil or any other edible vegetable oil to really bring out the grain.

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