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Making wooden kitchen spoons and similar utensils

There are only two little secrets to making spoons, ladles, and forks out of wood. The first is that you don’t carve the spoon from a block of wood; rather, you find a branch with a spoon in it.

Nothing mysterious about that advice. A proper spoon or ladle must have a curve in the handle to be designed for easy use — those straight-handled wooden spoons you can buy cheap are almost unusable except to stir with. You might be able to steam bend a straight piece of wood to the proper curve, but that would be hard work. What you dare not do is cut the curve into a piece of wood across the grain. Such a spoon easily breaks. Therefore, when he is cutting firewood or when he is in the woods, a spoon maker keeps a sharp eye out for branches that have a natural curve in them to make the curved handle. It becomes, in fact, great sport to find the spoons in the wood.

Then there’s the second secret. Having once found a proper branch or crotch, never carve your spoon from the very center of it. Again, that would make a very weak spoon. Instead, cut the branch in two along the centerline and carve a spoon in each half where the grain is thick enough, widthwise, to make a strong handle.

Rough out the spoon with a handsaw or, if available, a band saw or table saw. In fact, I do most of the rougher carving on the band saw, cutting away little by little, with my eye on the grain of the wood, which determines the curve of the handle, until the spoon begins to appear. I even roughly shape the bowl on the band saw.

Carve out the rest with a sharp knife and perhaps hollow out the spoon bowl with a chisel or gouge. Because I have a drill press at my disposal, I do most of the finish carving with a rasp bit, especially nice for hollowing out the bowl and rounding the bottom. I level, balance, and thin the spoon down to proper proportion, trusting my eye rather than measuring. I rasp and look, rasp and look, making sure that the drill press is so set that it cannot rasp down through the spoon bowl and out the bottom. I finish up with pocketknife and sandpaper.

Walnut is the best of the good hardwoods for carving because it carves easily despite its hardness. White oak is harder to carve but I like it — especially if it is a branch that is beginning to deteriorate just a little. Unusual markings, and often unusual colors, will show up in the finished piece. But almost any wood will do. A spoon is an easy evening’s work. The ones pictured here took only an hour each to make — once I found a proper piece of wood.

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