Carve a curvy spoon
Great for measuring ground coffee or mixing up a few ingredients, this spoon has enough curves to also catch everyone’s eye.
My thoughts on designing this spoon mainly included two words: simple and curvy. Spoons aren’t too hard to make, and they don’t take a lot of time. A very straightforward spoon could have been completed in half the time, but an extra hour or two is all that was needed to transform a basic spoon into something much sleeker.
I searched the internet for some basic spoon shapes I liked, then adjusted them to suit my tastes. In the end, I brought a few features from three different spoons together, then tweaked the design further while I worked. Wood shaped in three dimensions always looks different in real life, as opposed to in my mind, and I didn’t shy away from making aesthetic changes on the fly. Worst thing that can happen is I waste a few hours, and a tiny piece of cherry, before starting again.
Quick Stock Removal
Though you have to ensure the surface you’re routing on is supportive enough, and you don’t remove too much material at once, using a router and round-bottomed bit can speed the process of removing much of the material to create the bowl.
Shaping the Bowl
Brown used a few different carving gouges to shape and smooth the inner surface of the bowl. If it’s important for the spoon you’re working on, now is the time to consider the volume the spoon will hold. Testing with a proper measuring spoon and white sugar will give you precise answers.
Resaw the Blank
Now that the bowl has been shaped, Brown cuts the spoon blank away from the rest of the piece of lumber.
Trim One End
Rather than bandsawing the entire spoon from the blank, leave the simpler end full-width. This will allow you to clamp the blank in your vise or down to your workbench while you work on it.
Rough it Out
A disc sander is a great machine to rough out parts of the spoon freehand. Just be careful, as it can remove wood faster than you’d think.
Fair the Curves
The flat surface of a belt sander will help with outside edges of curves, while using its rounded end will assist with inside curves. While a belt sander won’t remove a limb, it’s more than happy to instantly remove skin from your fingers.
Use What You Have
Brown pressed the flat upper surface of his partially completed spoon against the front edge of his workbench so he could shape the handle’s curved tip. Because of the small size of a spoon, you may need to get creative when shaping it.
Although spoons don’t need to look great to work well, it’s the finer points of shaping them that create a pleasing final product. Transitions are always important, as this area between the neck and underside of the bowl shows.
The Finer Points
A gently curved reveal at this transition creates a nice sense of flow from one part of the spoon to the next. Brown scored a line, then used a chisel to remove some material on one side of the scored line.
Apply a Finish
For enhancing the colour and grain, and adding some long-term protection, a finish can be applied. A wiping varnish was what Brown applied, followed by a few very light coats of shellac.
Material selection and orientation
Since this spoon wasn’t going to be doing any heavy lifting, I opted for black cherry, a softer hardwood. Everyone loves the rich, red colour of cherry, especially as it ages. The piece I chose was very straight grained, and I also made sure to use a quarter-cut piece of stock so the grain along the upper face of the spoon, as well as throughout the bowl of the spoon, was straight.
Sizing it up
Spoons come in just about any size, but this spoon is on the small side. Its overall length is 7-1/2″. The height at the end of the handle is 9/16″. The heights at the neck and bowl are 3/8″ and 1/2”, respectively. The width of the bowl is 1-7/16″. The widths at the neck and tip of the handle are 5/16″ and 1/2″. Using these measurements will give you a spoon similar in size to mine, but feel free to make any adjustments.
A different approach
Once a spoon is rough shaped it’s hard to hold in a vise. The concave bowl area of the spoon was where I started, and by working on this area first I could ensure it was evenly shaped and properly smoothed, while still held firmly in my vise. This isn’t the most common method for carving a spoon, but it worked well for me. Many spoon carvers will use a carving gouge to systematically work around the bowl area, removing wood chips and creating the cavity.
Rather than hog out the bowl with hand tools, I opted for a more aggressive approach: my router, equipped with a reasonably large, round-tipped bit. I’m sure some would say that’s overkill, but it took me only about 15 seconds to remove the vast majority of material to form the bowl. Probably a wash when you factor in setup time, but if I were making two or more spoons I’m sure my approach would have been faster, though speed isn’t everything.
With the outline of the bowl drawn clearly, I guided the router free-hand around the area, being careful the router didn’t tip and the bit didn’t grab. If I were making dozens of the same style of spoon, a plywood template, along with a template guide secured to the base of my router, would make for a great production line.
Reaching for a properly sized carving gouge, I used it to take the burn marks out of the bowl, as well as the last bit of material. I worked right up to the pencil line. If you’re aiming for the spoon to hold a certain measurement, like a teaspoon for example, this is the time to check. Sugar or salt, and a proper measuring spoon, will allow you to easily see how much volume your spoon can hold. If it’s too small, you can fine-tune it with a gouge or go back to the router if you’re not even close to your goal.
Once you’re sure of the volume, you have two options, and both are personal preference. Either smooth the bowl with 80 grit sandpaper, followed by finer grits up to 150 or so, or use your carving gouge to ensure a smooth, slightly faceted surface, and skip the sandpaper altogether. I opted for the carved surface with this spoon. If you sand, try not to ease the transition between the bowl and the upper face of the rim too much in the process.
Remove the spoon blank
Until now, I have been working on the piece of cherry as a whole, but now it’s time to remove the spoon blank from the larger piece of wood. I drew a line on the edge of the piece of wood, slightly wider than the final depth of the spoon.
I like to keep the handle portion of the spoon blank at full width at this point, as it’s easier to clamp in my vise while I shape the business end of the spoon, from the neck to the tip. Although it’s sometimes the opposite, I find the bowl end of the spoon is the hardest to shape, so this is why I take this approach. I cut the waste from the bowl end of the spoon on my bandsaw, though a scroll saw would work nicely if you have tight turns of inside corners to deal with.
Time to focus on removing some of the wood around the bowl of the spoon. Using mainly my disc sander, I started to remove some material freehand, being careful to keep my hands away from the abrasive paper and respect the rotation of the disc. A belt sander on edge would also do a good job with this. Removing this material helped me visualize how it was going to look when it was done. I removed about 3/4 of the material and left the rest for later. It’s easy to remove more wood later, but it’s impossible to glue wood back on in a shaped project like this.
At this point I erased most of the handle pencil lines and used a French curve to sort out a more accurate handle shape. The tip of the handle was the most finicky. I still left the handle tip material on for clamping purposes.
Next was the side profile of the spoon. The handle is about 9/16″ at the end, and tapers to about 3/8″ at the neck. I used a chisel to remove much of the waste, followed by a spokeshave to trim to a pencil line I added to the side of the handle and neck. Using an assortment of hand tools, I worked on the neck area of the spoon, and started to smooth the handle a bit more. I wanted to do as much rough shaping as possible with the spoon blank still clamped in my vise.
A final trim
Back at the bandsaw, I trimmed all of the waste off the handle, then got to work smoothing and fairing the curves of the handle. I used a belt sander, chisel, spokeshave, file and hand sanding block to further refine the handle. I found it hard just keeping the spoon stationary so I could work on it. Putting the spoon up against the edge of my workbench, or somewhat loosely securing it in my vise, worked okay.
One of the tricky parts of shaping this blank into a visually appealing spoon was the transition from neck to the back of the bowl. Most spoons are symmetrical, though this spoon isn’t. The user rarely sees the underside of the spoon, but I didn’t think that was an excuse to slack off on refining that area. I used a file to get a somewhat crisp and undercut transition on the one side of the neck, and also allow the neck to extend into the bowl area of the spoon before it becomes one with the bowl.
I found the transition between the neck and the bowl a bit heavy and blunt. I didn’t plan for this in the initial design, but I opted to create a slightly curved reveal to add a lighter touch to this area. Working on the fly can be great, though I risked making a mess of an otherwise pretty decent spoon. Whoever says spoon making isn’t living on the edge just doesn’t realize the truth.
I drew a very gentle “S” curve onto the upper face of the neck, scored it to create a clear line to end at, and used a sharp chisel to pare away the waste on one side of the score line. I also removed a bit of material off the upper face of one side of the bowl rim to even the transition.
I then added a few notches across the grain of the handle. This was strictly a visual I liked, and doesn’t serve any purpose. If you wanted to use your imagination a bit, these grooves could assist with grip as the user manipulates the spoon, but I think the curved end is more than enough to assist with grip.
Finishing the spoon
I applied two coats of “Tried & True Traditional Varnish Oil”, allowing ample dry time after each coat. This brought out the grain and colour nicely, and added protection. I could have left it as-is at this stage, but decided not to. The finish penetrated into the wood, and I wanted a slight film finish on this spoon. It was going to be used to scoop ground coffee beans into an espresso maker, and I thought the grounds might be more likely to seep into, and discolour, the spoon over time. I applied a few very light coats of shellac to the spoon, quickly wiping a coat on, allowing it to dry for a few minutes, then applying a second thin coat. I used a cloth to apply both the varnish oil and the shellac, then disposed of those cloths properly.
A quick buff with some #0000 steel wool was all that was needed to prep this spoon for its all-important task of filling an espresso maker with fresh ground coffee for the rest of its life. Come to think of it, this might be the most important wooden object I’ve ever made.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.