Carving a Simple Spoon
Spoons are a necessity. We use them every day and often have our favourites, maybe because of the way the spoon feels in our hand, the way it looks or it’s simply perfect for the task at hand.
A medium-sized selection of tools, most of which woodworkers already have, is all that’s needed for this spoon design.
Sketch it Out
With your spoon blank cut roughly to size, draw the top view of the spoon onto it. The side view can also be drawn on, even though it will get cut off shortly. It’s sometimes easier to align the top and front view while the blank is in one piece, and the offcut with the side view on it can be used to help lay out those cuts down the road.
Shape with a Band Saw
A band saw will make quick work of most of the waste, quickly roughing out the spoon.
You can either use the offcut as a guide to mark the side view or freehand sketch the side view onto the spoon blank.
A vise that holds the roughed-out spoon blank is going to be great to have, though with a little bit of experimentation, a standard vise will also be helpful.
A series of hand saw cuts to the proper depth will allow you to use a knife or chisel to remove a lot of the waste. Using a band saw to cut blanks that don’t have a flat bottom face can be dangerous.
Though there are exceptions, cutting away from yourself is generally the safest approach. You can position yourself at either ends of the spoon while you make the cuts to further shape your spoon.
Back of the Bowl
Rather than taking a few larger cuts, make a lot of small cuts when you’re using a knife to shape a spoon.
Shape the Neck
The neck of a spoon is the transition between the handle and the bowl. There are lots of options for what design approach you take, ranging from tapering to meeting at a right angle. The choice is largely about aesthetics, but a tapering neck is stronger, as it has more material around that area of the spoon.
Sand it Smooth
Though there’s nothing wrong with leaving small, flat facets made by the hand tools you used to carve a surface, there’s also nothing wrong with removing all of those facets with sandpaper.
A Flat Rim
Laying a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface and sanding the rim of the bowl will leave you with an even, flat rim.
While protecting your spoon from liquids and foods it comes in contact with, a finish also adds colour and enhances the grain of your spoon. Many food-safe options are available.
Start with a few basics, such as a straight knife and a shallow gouge for the bulk removal of material. A mallet or a small hand saw is a fast way to remove a lot of unwanted material, too. Using a band saw will get the job done even faster. I use vises to hold the wood whenever possible, as it’s less tiring and much safer. I wear cut-resistant gloves to keep my hands safe in case of an accidental slip of my tools. You’ll also need sandpaper for cleaning up towards the end. Flex tape, files, scrapers and rasps are handy additions, but not essential.
Start with the shape
I tend to use dried wood for my spoons, and that’s the process I’m going to take you through here. Once you’ve selected the wood, draw out the silhouette of your spoon on the lumber itself. Cut out the shape of your spoon using hand tools, such as a saw or a mallet and chisel. I prefer to use a band saw to remove much of the waste and get to the carving part faster.
You can draw the side view on the outside of the blank to determine the bowl depth. You’ll end up cutting it off, but we can address that when we get to the handle step. If your wood is too thick for the spoon you plan, cut the depth uniformly along the length of the wood, slightly exceeding the depth of the bowl. This method frees up the exact handle placement decision until later in the process, and also allows for better clamping or holding in a vise.
Carving out the bowl
I try to use a vise for this step because it is the most difficult and, in my opinion, the most likely place for a gouge to slip into whatever is holding it. If you don’t have a vise, hold the blank down using a clamp as it should still be uniform and roughly square in shape. This allows you to keep your hands far from the blade’s trajectory as you dig out the bowl to the depth you want.
Getting a handle
I work on the handle next, using a straight knife. This spoon will have a gentle curve, but it can be anywhere from straight to something more dramatic. Some people will even incorporate spirals or twists as they become more comfortable with their tools. Again, you can use a saw or knife to remove most of the unwanted material. Be careful not to remove too much material if you’re using a saw as you will still need to round the handle. The handle of spoon can emerge from the bottom, middle or even the top of the bowl, and that’s part of what you will be deciding now.
Time for the back side
Next, remove the back side of the bowl. The shape of the bowl on the inside will now be reflected on the outside. For safety and convenience, you can use a vise or clamp to gently hold the handle of the spoon to carve the back of the bowl. If you do not have access to one of these, always hold the handle with one hand and keep it behind the blade of the knife. Use your other hand to carve the unwanted wood away.
To determine the direction of the grain, make short shallow cuts as you begin. One direction will be much easier to cut than the other. By cutting in this easier direction, which is with the grain, you’ll avoid tear-out. The wood direction generally changes at about the halfway point of the bowl. If you try to rush or remove too much in one cut, you may find that your spoon has a hole all the way through it. Avoid accidentally tearing out oversized chunks of wood. Remove material starting at the tip and work back towards where the bowl meets the handle, changing the direction of your cuts as needed. Keep removing material until you’re satisfied with the overall shape and depth.
One of the last steps is to carefully and gently remove the rest of the wood where the handle meets the bowl, called the neck. This is where I decide if I want a gentle sloping connection or a defined crisp look with a strong lip on the spoon. This is an aesthetic choice for me.
Applying a finish
Once I have the spoon completed to this point, I wipe it with a damp, clean cloth to raise the grain one last time. I hit this with 220x sandpaper to smooth it once more.
Wipe your spoon down thoroughly with a clean, dry, soft lint-free rag, and then it’s time to apply a finish. Use a food-safe finish only. I use polymerized linseed oil designed as a food-safe finish, as it creates a liquid-resistant barrier and gives a warm luster to the spoon itself. I apply four coats, following the manufacturer’s directions, and give it 24 to 48 hours to cure between coats. Follow the instructions and warnings for the finish you choose. Never use cooking oil as a finish; it’s not meant for this use and has an expiry date, unlike the wooden spoon you just worked so hard to create.