Sunday, February 3, 2013

Spoons: An Introductory Project

  The goal of Get Woodworking Week is to encourage any admirers of the craft who may think they'd like to try it, to Get Going!  Beginners are often overwhelmed by the variety of woodworking subjects available to tackle, and have no idea where to begin, or how to prepare.  Be sure to check on the sponsor's blog, Tom Iovino at Tom's Workbench for many more articles to do with getting started in this rewarding craft.

  This year I'm offering a suggestion on a beginning project that does not require a lot of investment in tools, or a shop full of power equipment.  Making a spoon will introduce a new woodworker to dealing with grain direction in the wood, to sanding and finishing techniques and a little bit of sharpening knowledge.  There are many YouTube videos and helpful websites available, so don't be intimidated!  You can carve a spoon with a pocket knife and a towel across your lap to catch the shaving, if you want to.

  The history of wooden spoon making is as old as soup and stew.  And as for variety, you can make anything from a coffee stirrer to a ladle, to an Artistic Sculptured spoon only meant to be displayed and dusted.  You can make it however you want it, and for whatever purpose you wish to use it.

Handcarved Spoons of various woods gifted to me by Albert Avila, from California.

  It's best to have a scroll saw or a hand held coping saw to cut out the basic shape from a board, but it can be whittled out, too, though it's more work. Start with a hardwood such as cherry, or beech, or maple, a close-grained wood that won't open up with holes for food residue to hide in. If you don't know where to get wood, you can check nearby lumber merchants on

  Draw pencil lines on the top surface to shape the spoon you wish to cut, and on the side edges to show its depth and the arc of the handle, if there is one. Cut away the waste wood until you have the basic shape, remembering the one cardinal rule of carving: Never Cut Toward A Body Part. Always hold the workpiece so that your stroke of cutting is away from your hands and fingers.  It also helps to set your thumb against wood while holding a knife, and Leverage a cut away from you with two hands, slowly and in small bites so it is controlled and sure. A sharp tool is actually safer than a dull tool, because it takes less effort and force to do its job, so re-hone on a leather strop or resharpen the tool frequently.  Cut away in shallow strokes; don't try to hog off deep shavings of wood.

  Start with a small spoon, and don't be afraid of messing up!  If the first one looks awkward, begin anew. You will get the feel for carving a spoon more quickly than you ever thought you would. You could always set a teaspoon or a serving spoon beside your work, to eyeball the arcs and dimensions of your creation. When you're through carving, sand your finished product up through several grits of sandpaper (80, 150, 220) and apply a light coat of walnut oil (safe for food use when cured, and will not go rancid) or leave it unfinished. When done, you'll see there is nothing quite like the feeling of saying, "I Made This!"  and showing it off to others.  

  Here are some suggestions for carving tools. These exact tools may not be available, but there are enough look-alikes on tool vendors' websites that you can easily find what you need.  The first is a basic Sloyd Knife, sharpened on both sides of one edge. It comes in a range of sizes and is very sharp Swedish steel.   The second photo is of Bent Knives, and are my favorite tools for hollowing out the bowls of spoons. The third photo is of a small Scorp. It is difficult to sharpen, but can work well on convex spaces. You wouldn't need all of these.  One bent knife and one straight knife can help you make a fine spoon.

  Many of these tools are available from The Traditional Woodworker, and a bent-knife selection you can put handles on yourself is available at Lee Valley Tools .   All of these tools could find other uses than spoons, as your journey into the woodworking field strengthens and your curiosity develops about other projects.
  Another necessity is a sharpening stone for the steel you use, whether it is a pocket knife or a dedicated carving tool. There seem to be as many sharpening systems as there are woodworkers, and a simple pocket whet-stone will work, but it is better to have a selection of grits to sharpen steel with, where each higher grit eliminates the scratches from the previous grit, leaving you with a razor-sharp mirror finish that slices wood rather than tearing it.
  Here is an inexpensive multi-stone system that can be purchased from The Traditional Woodworker where you turn the stones upward to use any of four densities of Arkansas stones, with oil provided. It's small, at only 4" long, but is sufficient for the carving tools shown.
  Dell Stubbs has a wonderful website, Pinewood Forge with handmade tools and a page dedicated to sharpening advice: Sharpening 

I hope this information encourages beginners to take on the project. Woodworking forums are literally full of experienced artisans eager to answer questions and bring new people into their craft, so don't be shy about seeking them out.  Here are some further references for you to browse at will:

from 'Top20Sites':   Top Wooden Spoon Sites

Artist 'Spoontaneous':  Spoontaneous on

And, a Gallery Art Work by  Norm Sartorius

 Also, don't forget Tom's contest this year. He has major vendors offering prizes for your submission of how you got interested in woodworking, if you're new to the craft within the past year.  Send an e-mail to and tell your story to be eligible!  Here's his post on the subject.

Play Safe, and Enjoy Your Woodworking Experience!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

February sneaks up on us

  It is now February, 2013, and I thought I had lots of time for a writing deadline.  Not so. I'll soon have a post up for Tom Iovino of Tom's Workbench fame, a noted blogger and woodworking enthusiast.  He has sponsored and instigated a push for wanna-be woodworkers, encouraging them to Get Started and not be intimidated with, "But, where do I begin?"  

  What is different this year is the assistance of several very big magazine names and vendors who want to offer prizes for the best story of a new woodworker, within the last year's time.  Here is a link to what Get Woodworking Week is all about, and Tom's words on qualifying for his contest:

Tom's Get Woodworking Week

Get Woodworking Week Prizes

and in Tom's own words:
"How will we figure out how someone can win these?
OK, here’s how this will work. If you are a woodworker who has been in the craft for one year or less, send me an e-mail at and explain  how you got into the craft. On Saturday, February 9 (the last day of Get Woodworking Week), I will take the entries that I get and pick the new woodworker with the best story to feature."

Stay tuned. There are lots of good articles coming up this week for your interest and delight!