A Philosophy of Carving Spoons

Three of my personal favorites from my collection. (L-R) Lilac, cherry, birch with bark.

Three of my personal favorites from my collection. (L-R) Lilac, cherry, birch with bark. (Click for larger image)

From time to time I get interesting and/or encouraging correspondence through my website/blog.

Recently, I have had a few comments and queries on my spoon carving.

For example, I appreciated hearing from Mrs. B who wrote to tell me about her adventures in beginning spoon carving.  She is fortunate to have so many trees on her property to assist with her venture into green spoon carving.  Mrs. B wrote:

“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I found it because I am learning to play the Native American flute and was interested in how they were made, and when I saw you carved spoons I read that as well.You inspired me so much with your work that I am nearly done with my first spoon and just ordered a Gransfors axe on your recommendation so I can cut my own blanks (yay!).I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on five acres and so there is plenty of wood to choose from, and I think this summer is going to be spent on the porch with the dogs carving spoons. Thank you for introducing me to spoon carving!”

It can be an interesting adventure learning about the trees and branches and how one will best become a spoon.   I have had the joy of carving many special spoons from trees that have great meaning to me.  The embarking on a spoon carving journey leads down a more interesting path that you might think at first.

An email from Ms. A’s got me thinking about a philosophy of spoon carving.  In answering her question, I started thinking about all I had learned about spoon carving since starting on my journey.  Ms. A wrote:

“I am American, but living in the UK. I want to start carving spoons, and read with interest your post about the GB [Gransfors Bruk] hand carving axe. I guess my question is pretty basic, but I’m trying to weigh my options of cost vs. ease of use. As in: if the GB axe is so wonderful, I reckon it would keep me going with pleasure. But it’s a bit of an investment. Also, do you have any recommendations re: spoon carving tools? Thanks ever so much for any advice you might share!”

Two favorite spoons from Lilac with sleeping beauty turquoise attached.

Two favorite spoons from Lilac with sleeping beauty turquoise attached. (Click for larger image)

Thinking through a response to Ms. A led me to thinking about the various people I follow on Instagram who carve spoons from green wood.  By “green wood carvers” I mean people who use the wood when it is fresh from the tree (whether a limb that fell in a storm or one cut to make a spoon) — not those who use a bandsaw and cut the spoon shape from dried wood.

On carving from green wood, I have noted on Instagram that there were two individuals who indicated they had been carving a lot of spoons over a period of months and this frenzy of carving resulted in injuries that caused one of them to change his business entirely and the other to stop carving spoons.

I understand how this can happen.   In preparation for last fall’s art and craft shows, I carved many, many, many spoons.

At one point I ambitiously cut down a small tree in the backyard (looking for green wood) only to realize I had mis-identified the tree. It was neither an ash sapling nor a black walnut but rather a rain tree/monkey pod.  A water tree that made for some tough axe carving.

The first day, I cut the rain tree, prepped the wood for spoons (debark, cut to size) and noted it was a heavy, water infused wood.  The next day I carved three or four spoons only to realize the dense water-filled wood was not my ideal for carving spoons.  I had enjoyed the exercise, but it was not productive.   My shoulder hurt. I stopped carving spoons for that week.  It wasn’t the tools I was using but it was the wear and tear on my body in part because of the type of wood I was using.

So thinking about the cost of an axe vs. ease of use (as Ms. A put it)  is really only part of the equation.  There are other issues like assessing then developing your abilities, pacing your strength, knowing your trees.  The tools for carving spoons are only part of the story regardless of what they cost.

You can read about my preferred axes for carving spoons.  The real issues with carving spoons are like so many things we take on — there is a learning curve as to how to balance completing the task most effectively, efficiently and enjoyably.  Strength without strategy or vice versa can leave you frustrated.

In the beginning, it’s worth thinking about what you wish to achieve vs. what you are willing to give in terms of time, money, effort and health.   Let’s discuss the three most obvious variables: money, time and health.

Time vs. money:

You can buy a cheap axe and spend a lot of time sharpening it (save money and spend time).  Which is better to save in the long run?  Perhaps it depends on why you want to carve spoons or how many spoons you want to carve.  If you want to carve one spoon a week, then you can spend the non-carving time sharpening your axe.  If you want to carve 10 spoons a day, then you need to have tools that won’t require you to spend your time with unreasonable maintenance.

Tools vs. Health  money spent on tools vs. money spent on health:

Consider the damage you could do to your arm, wrist or shoulder if you use (for too long) a lesser tool for the task.  The thought of being in pain from using a cheaper axe — or the thought of medical, massage or therapy bills — from insistence on using tools that will make the job  more difficult is worth thinking about to help you decide what axe is worth the money.

Time vs. Health:

Is it better to carve 10 spoons in one day or to carve 5 spoons in 2 days?  Depends on your stamina, strength, the type of wood you are caring and the sharpness of your tools.

I carve spoons outside in the humid, hot weather of a Florida summer (NOT with the ocean breeze at my back).  Yes, I have built a spoon mule to help.  Yes, I have great tools: 2 morakniv knives, 2 spoon knives (for the bowls), a Gransfors Bruk, a Robin Wood axe,  a Fiskars F7 (for debarking), a range of scrapers. Yes, I keep them sharp.

No tool will keep me hydrated and help me pace my work. No tool will prevent wear and tear on my muscles if I am too zealous or misread grain direction of a piece of wood.

However, I did start with a cheap axe. A light Fiskars. And that taught me it would be worth spending the money on a more appropriate axe for the task.  Along with learning about axes, I continue to learn about what woods to use, how often to sharpen the tools and so much more.  Something I initially thought was simple — carving a spoon — does have many variables to think about for the person who wants to persist in carving spoons.

Do you have a philosophy of spoon carving?  Do share below.

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2 comments

  1. It surprised me to learn there is so much to know, so many questions to answer and so much labour that goes into spoon making. I am so glad there are people like you who make these wonderful spoons and I can get them from you and enjoy them. I treasure all the ones I have from you, whether I have chosen them to be ornaments in my kitchen, or ones I use to cook. They are so much kinder to pots than steel spoons. I have also learned that they are naturally more germ free than plastic or wood, due to something in the wood that kills bacteria.
    Keep on carving, Judy, and I will keep on enjoying your spoons.
    Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right about the bacteria not being as much of a problem with wood. Thanks for your endorsement and encouragement!

      Like

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