How to Successfully Carve a Wooden Wedding Spoon
Wooden spoons have been around for a few thousand years. Along with a knife, the spoon usually was the only other utensil used for many years. It was common for the handle of these spoons to be large so that they could be stored by sticking them between the logs in the wall of the home until they were ready to be used.
Many people carved something on each spoon to show which family member the utensil belonged to. As time passed, this became more and more elaborate until it started to turn into an art form. Over the centuries the wooden spoon was recognized as a symbol of hospitality with very decorative carvings on the handle to show the carvers abilities. Today the ideas and designs are endless.
This spoon design is one that I sketched out and, so far, I have never seen another one like it. It's finished size is about nine inches long. This particular spoon was made for a friend's wedding. I have also made them for anniversaries or just given them to friends. One thing is for sure; they always bring a smile to someone's face.
If you choose to try this just remember, take your time. Enjoy the process as much as the completed project!
Finding the best piece of wood
In the photo below, you can see the check in the wood from the drying process. Make sure that checks like this won't interfere with your carving before you start!
When selecting wood for a carving like this, I like to find wood that looks like someone else would discard it, and then bring it to life. My woodshop is full of small pieces that will eventually turn into something.
In the photo above you will see the first piece of wood that I picked up. This piece has a large check or split in it from the drying process. Look your wood over carefully. You don't want to invest several hours into a piece, only to have something break off of it before you get done. This will be very frustrating!
For this spoon I used a 3/4 inch thick chunk of wood that was left over from a barn that was built by a friend. I feel good that I rescued this from someone's bonfire and made something more useful out of it. This piece of wood was not done giving just yet.
The only tools that I used for this carving were a carving knife and a small gouge chisel. Carving knives will usually have a handle with a nice grip and a small blade. This is to give you control over your cuts that you make. When selecting one, the best recommendation that I can give you is use one that feels comfortable in your hand. There are some different designs out there and what works well for me, may not for you.
The gouge chisel has a curved shape to it and is used here to remove the wood from the inside portion of the spoon. The blade of my gouge is only 3/4 inch wide. You don't need anything big here, just sharp.
I also wear a Kevlar carving glove on the hand that doesn't have a knife or chisel in it. These are worth the money and will save you from possible trips to the Emergency Room if you have a slip with a chisel. I carved for a few years without one and have the scars on my left hand to prove their value!
A rotary tool could be used for this project as well. They will do a fine job and there are several options out there. Rotary tools are great for sanding in spots that are hard to get to as well.
Transferring Your Pattern
Once you find a suitable piece, begin by drawing a pattern on a piece of paper, cut out the pattern, and then trace it on your piece of wood. You will want to use a pencil or pen to create a nice dark line that is easily seen, (see photo). My spoon had an over all length of 9 inches, but you can make your pattern larger or smaller if you wish.
While you still have a nice flat piece of wood that you can clamp to a table top, its best to start by removing the wood from inside the spoon, (photo at right). This enables you to control your gouge very carefully, using both hands if necessary.
Now you are ready to cut your spoon out of the rest of the board. I like using my scroll saw, but a hand coping saw or a band saw will work as well. When you cut you will want to leave the pencil line on the piece. Any excess wood will be carved off anyway.
When working on the twisted part of the handle, keep your pencil handy. It helps to redraw lines that get cut off during the carving process. Soon, you start to see your beautiful spoon emerge out of your piece of wood. This gets exciting! Next thing you know, you are holding the nearly completed spoon in your hand.
Starting the Carving
At this point you will be tempted to start on the decorative handle. Resist the temptation! With this spoon, as with most spoons, you will want to shape the working part of the spoon first. You will want to keep the excess wood on the handle there for support until this process is done. Once the working part of the spoon is shaped, then it is time to move on to the handle.
The one time that I started on the handle I had disastrous results. When I moved on to the main part of the spoon, it broke off. Just a friendly warning.
In the above photo, I have rounded off the working part of the spoon before moving on to the handle.
Smoothing it Out
When you are satisfied with the carving, it is time to smooth out the tool marks. In the photo above I am ready to take this carving to the next step. I use 80 grit sandpaper to initially go over my carving. This will really shape up the piece and remove all of the tool marks left by the carving tools. I fold a piece in half and run it over areas that are hard to reach in the spoon handle. A rotary tool could be used here as well.
I will follow up this sanding with 100 grit sandpaper. Take your time here. The real rewards come with a good sanding job. For an even nicer finish you can sand again with 120 grit sandpaper. In the photo below I am ready to apply some stain.
After your piece has been smoothed to your liking, it is time to put on a finish to protect it. I like to use a medium to dark brown stain like English Chestnut, to accentuate the lines in the twisted handle. I completed the finish on this spoon with a spray lacquer.
After the first coat of lacquer dries, you will have to lightly sand the "whiskers" that will show up. These are the rough places where the wood expands as it absorbs the first coat. These are easily removed with a very light sanding motion. I followed up with two more additional coats, making a total of three coats.
Other finishes work well too. I have used many. Tung oil will give you a natural finish and will gradually build up to a semi-gloss finish with about three coats. Danish oil followed by paste wax will also render a more natural finish.
The only thing left to do at this point is to find that friend who is having a wedding, anniversary, or that special person in your life, and give them a gift that they won't find anywhere else. You can always keep it for yourself too!
When you make this spoon I would encourage you to make another in the near future. You can usually see immediate improvements in your talents. This alone is very encouraging! Sign your work too. You need to take credit for a job well done. You can carve your name in, use a wood burning pencil, or buy a paint pen and write it on as I do.