Carving a Simple Spoon | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

Using this straightforward approach and a few basic hand and power tools will leave you with a great-looking wooden spoon.

Carving a Simple Spoon

Carving a Simple Spoon



Photos by Steve Der-Garabedian

INFO:DIFFICULTY – 2/5, LENGTH/TIME – 1/5, COST – 1/5
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. 
 
I’m going to show you how to make your own spoon using a mini­mal amount of equipment. I’ll also recommend some additional tools you’ll find helpful if you want to take your spoon-crafting hobby to the next level. Carving is a very portable skill, but using any sort of vise can make it easier.
 
Tools
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. 
 
I can’t stress enough the importance of sharp, well-maintained tools. Invest in some form of sharpening equipment, such as water stones, power grinder or belt sander. You can even use honing compound on the fly for the best results. Not only are dull tools frustrating to use, but they also have a greater tendency to slip off the work and into the user. 

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Basic Tools – A medium-sized selection of tools, most of which woodworkers already have, is all that’s needed for this spoon design.
 
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. 

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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.
 
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.  
 
I usually draw the side view of the spoon onto the side of the blank now, as the side view sometimes affects how deep I want to carve the bowl. Every spoon is a bit different, though. 

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Shape with a Band Saw – A band saw will make quick work of most of the waste, quickly roughing out the spoon.

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Side View – You can either use the offcut as a guide to mark the side view or freehand sketch the side view onto the spoon blank.
 
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. 
 
I start at the inside edges of the outline I drew earlier, using a shallow gouge and mallet to define the outline. I then work away from the top and the bottom using shallow cuts and rotating often until I feel it’s deep enough and has a pleasing basic bowl shape. Don’t worry if it still looks a little messy or slightly uneven at this stage; we will return to clean it up further. 

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Helping Hand – 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.
 
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Elbow Grease – 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.
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. 
 
Remember, you can’t add material back on, so take your time as you work the handle. Stop and hold the spoon as if you’re about to use it. Look at it to ensure the scale is pleasing as you remove material. I leave extra wood where the handle meets the bowl for added strength, especially on bigger spoons. We will also further clean where the handle joins the bowl once the back of the bowl has been addressed.  

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Safety First – 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. 
 
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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.
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.
 
Keep in mind you will be removing more material with final sanding to smooth out the surfaces at the end, so keep it slightly thicker than you want. I stop regularly during this step to feel the thickness by pinching all around the bowl portion between my fingers. You can also use a caliper if you’d like more precise mea­surements. Stop when it feels uniform in thickness and is almost where you want it to end up.

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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.
 
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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.
Final touches
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. 
 
The spoon now has its basic shape but is likely still very textured. The next step can be accomplished using just sandpaper or you can use fine rasps, files or scrapers to get the look and feel you desire. You can use a rasp or file on both the handle and the back and use a scraper to clean up the bowl. I use sandpaper for the final touch­ups, starting with 120x, then 180x, and finally 220x on the parts I want smooth. The inside of the bowl is usually the biggest chal­lenge to clean up.

 
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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.
 
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.

 
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Protect It – 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.
 
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. 
 
Now there’s nothing left to do but enjoy your new spoon.
 

Kim Dagorne
Kim has been woodworking for years, with constant creat­ing the priority. Spoon carving allows her to scatter wood chips through the workshop, back deck, campgrounds and even in her car every single day.

KIM DAGORNE
 
 

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