Sylva Spoon

Tools

Where do I start?

Thomas Bartlett6 Comments

This is a question I get asked quite often, so I want to take the time to talk about the tools, materials and other resources you can use to get started with spoon carving.

I've already written about why you should carve a spoon and I won't spend much time talking about the actual techniques involved in spoon carving. This article is more of a primer on what resources to gather if you want to start making spoons. 

What tools should I get?

This is probably the most asked question. The fantastic thing about carving wooden spoons is that the tools you need are very basic. Most simply you need a saw and several sharp wedges (an axe, a knife and a hollowing tool). There are lots of very similar options out there so I will stick to the best option that most people are going to be able to source. If you have an alternative tool you prefer over my suggestions, please share in the comments section below. 

Saw

I would recommend a raker tooth saw. The raker tooth saw is for cutting rounds from larger green logs. The advantage of raker tooth saws is that they clear away wet saw dust better than peg tooth saws. Make sure that the saw is big enough to cut through what you've got. 

Axe

This tool will do the heavy duty shaping of your spoon, removing most of the material that isn't spoon shaped. With practice you can get quite close to your final shape with just the axe. Probably the best axe for starting spoon carving is the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. It's light enough that anyone can use it without getting too tired. The quality of Gransfors' tools is exemplary and the edge geometry of the axehead is well suited to carving.  

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Knife

The absolute best spoon carving knife for your money is the Mora 106. The long blade allows for powerful sweeping cuts. The thin tips lets you carve tight corners and the laminated steel holds its edge well. It's inexpensive and widely available. 'Nuff said.

Hollowing

This is the one tool where I'm going to give several options. I use the Hans Karlsson spoon knife. I really like the open sweep and the size is great for a wide variety of spoon bowls. I would advise staying away from the Mora spoon knives (162 and 164). The grind isn't great, the 164 has a useless and frankly dangerous point at the end and the two edges of the 162 stops you from using several very useful grips.
I've also used spoon knives from the following makers, and I highly recommend them: Nic Westermann, Dell Stubbs, Svante Djarv, Robin Wood and Ben Orford

*Update* Morakniv have changed the grind on the new 164S and 162S. I haven't had a chance to use either myself though. 

Materials 

Using hand tools to carve spoons is best done with freshly cut 'green' wood. Recently felled wood is easier to carve but sourcing it is a little trickier than getting your hands on dry wood. Contacting local tree surgeons, parks and nature conservation organisations is a good place to start.  While almost any hardwood is suitable for making spoons I would recommend starting with birch. Birch is a fast growing genus common to many parts of the world and easy to identify from its often white, peeling bark. The wood is easy to carve, but hard enough to give a good finish once it dries. It is a lovely pale golden colour, without much difference between the heartwood and sapwood. I would however encourage beginners to try as many different woods as they can as even within different parts of the same tree there can be variances in how well a piece carves.

Happy carving!

Hewing Out A Beech Bowl

Tom Bartlett1 Comment
I brought home a large beech log from Spoonfest, with the intention of making some bowls from it. So after a particularly hectic week, here's the first of hopefully several bowls this log will provide.

It's a lot of fun working on a bigger project like this. I do however want to make sure I have it ready for drying by the end of the weekend, as I already have about three bowls that have dried before I've got them to where I wanted to get them. They've all been sitting untouched for a while now. Should probably get round to finishing them soon!

Here's what I managed to get done today. Hopefully I can show you the (almost) finished product tomorrow.
Took a while to saw through



Looks great on the inside

I was surprised at how easily it split.
I used the left half, the right half has a large knot on the outside


Learnt this technique of drawing an oval from David Fisher's video.

Hewing out with my Hans Karlsson adze

The inside all roughed out. 

I used a Hans Karlsson gouge to remove the adze marks. 

Using a Svante Djarv little Viking axe to rough out the outside.

After about 4 hours work I decided to stop here. More tomorrow!

An adventure into Welsh dolphin spoons

Tom Bartlett4 Comments

On Friday I made this spoon from a purple plum branch and shared it in a Facebook spoon carving group. I've mentioned before that the group is a great source of help and inspiration and the following spoon making journey is proof of that. 




Jojo Wood, a fantastic spoon carver, whose work I admire, asked if the above spoon was inspired by the dolphin spoons made by a chap called Owen Thomas

I'm not particularly familiar with Owen's work and his dolphin spoons didn't feature as inspiration for the above spoon (turns out he was an apprentice of Barn the Spoon and does really nice bowls as well as making spoons). The above spoon was a bit of a mash up of aspoon I received from Jojo, a cherry spoon I bought from Jane Mickelborough and my own creative meanderings. 

However I had a look at the link to Owen's work that Jojo supplied:

Owen's dolphin spoons
In the description of these spoons, Owen says:
Initially influenced by the traditional Welsh dolphin spoons, these have developed into a shape of their own. 
For me, these spoons have moved quite a way from the traditional Welsh dolphin spoon design. I'd really like to have a chat with Owen at Spoonfest next weekend to find out more about the journey his spoon design went on.

Traditional dolphin spoons from Caernarvonshire, Wales

For me, the biggest difference between what Owen has developed and the original dolphin spoons is that the dorsal fin-like ridge has disappeared from Owen's design:
Side profile of Owen's dolphin spoons
I actually quite like the look of the traditional ridge, and the aquatic shape it gives to the spoons. I ended up doing quite a bit of desk-based research into the traditional dolphin spoonand they all seem to share that ridge and a wide, up-swept end to the handle.

So, the inspiration for this spoon comes directly from the traditional Welsh dolphin spoon, but via a comment by Jojo Wood, the work of Owen Thomas and a spoon I carved that had nothing to do with a certain aquatic mammal.



I used some purple plum branch wood for this spoon. Traditionally they seem to be mainly sycamore, but plum is what I've got, so plum is what I use. 


The design is based on the various images of traditional Welsh dolphin spoons I found. I drew it off-centre due to the asymmetrical shape of the branch wood. 


Here's the top view after rough shaping with the axe.


For me, the key feature of a dolphin spoon is in the profile view, the top of the thin stem is raised, akin to a dolphin's dorsal fin, and the wide, flat end of the handle mimics the dolphin's tail. 


The bottom of the spoon roughed out, following the pencil lines as closely as possible. 


Here's the spoon after I've finished with most of the axe work. I did some rough shaping of the underside of the bowl with the axe before moving onto the knife work. 


Here is my finished dolphin spoon, the bowl on this traditional Welsh design hollowed out with a traditional Welsh tool, the twca cam


The side profile shows the raised 'dorsal' stem. I feel that I could have done more to exaggerate the lift at the end of the handle, but the upward sweep is there. Not bad for my first attempt.


It actually felt nice to carve a traditional design native to the UK after focusing on Swedish style spoons for so long. I think I'll have a look into other traditional British designs. If you have any suggestions for traditional British spoon styles, please let me know.

Wonky Sweet Chestnut Spoon

Tom Bartlett2 Comments
This came from a naturally bent branch I came across in my local woodland. After splitting out the blank I decided that the handle should follow the flow of the grain.



I often finding myself working hard to maintain symmetry in the work I do. This was a fun diversion. Jogge Sundqvist, a brilliant woodworker from Sweden said that 'form follows fiber'. It wouldn't have been too difficult to cut across the grain and create a straight(er) handle, but as the curve of the bowl was already waiting in the wood to be revealed, I wanted the shape of the handle to emerge naturally too. I also wanted to keep the bark on. I'm not sure how long it will stay on, but I like the way it adds to the natural shape of the spoon, a utensil already in a branch, ready to be released with a few simple tools.



Plum handle for a Mora knife

Tom BartlettComment

(And a sheath from an old shoe)




I've got a lot of locally felled purple plum at the moment and thought it would be nice to nice a plum handled knife. I was so caught up in doing it that I forgot to take pictures of the handling process. 

I decided to sand the handle to help bring out the grain. I now remember why I prefer to tool finish wood pieces. I find sanding to be a little tedious and as a result I rushed to process and moved on to smoother grits before I should have. Once I've got some more sandpaper I'll try and do it properly.


Unfortunately the blade is also slightly off centre. I'm interested to see whether is drastically affects how it performs.

For the sheath I have a couple of old pairs of Softstar moccasins. They're great shoes, especially if you like thin soled, flexible footwear. Unfortunately there are a couple of things wrong with this pair. Firstly I let the soles wear too thin and they couldn't be repaired. 

Secondly, the dog ate one of them.

What an idiot.
I decided to use the heel section as it was likely to give me the longest relatively straight section of leather. 
I cut several strips from it, orginially with the intention to make a sheath similar to the birch bark ones I've made before.

After some trial and error I found that the leather was too flexible for that style of sheath. I didn't feel up to the task of sewing leather, so I made a simple wrap to protect the edge.