The last few weeks we have been getting prepped to start green spoon carving. In previous posts we went over safety and sharpening your axe and sharpening your hook knife. In this post, we’re going to get out our axe and put together the perfect piece of wood from which you can carve out a beautiful green wood spoon!
How to carve spoons from green wood
Step 1: Selecting your branch
You will need a branch at least 3-4 inches in diameter and at least 12” long. Choose a nice, straight piece that has no knots or branches protruding from it. As you get more advanced, you can learn to use crooks, wonky grain and branch starts to make for more creative designs, but when first starting out, you want to remove as many variables from the process as possible so it will be easier to troubleshoot when things get tricky.
Keep in mind that the log you choose should be at least 2.5x as thick as the thickest dimensions of your spoon, and, ideally, a few inches longer than its longest dimensions.
A word on grain direction:
Part of the reason why spoon carving is such a valuable teaching exercise on grain direction is that you aren’t working on a flat surface, like you would be with other hand tools. As you carve in and around the bowl, refine the back, and tackle the transition from bowl to handle, you will have to change your cutting direction to avoid tear-out. The diagram above should help visualize this phenomenon a bit better.
Step 2: Split the log
Hold your axe handle with your non-dominant hand and place your axe head in the exact center of the log, the tip splitting the middle of the dark round spot in the middle. Using another branch or a mallet (wood or plastic, not metal) with your dominant hand, strike the back of the axe until the log splits in two. Choose the better half and give yourself a high-five.
Step 3: Remove the pith and square up the face
Holding your axe in your dominant hand and supporting your workpiece with your non-dominant hand, use short chopping motions starting at the bottom and across the whole open face. Work your way up until you are about 2/3 of the way to the top.
In this step, you are trying to square up the face of your workpiece and remove the dark line, the pith, in it’s entirety, from your workpiece. It is tempting to leave the pith in as a contrasting design feature, but if you do, you’re opening yourself up for a world of despair when your beautifully carved spoon checks, cracks and splits as it dries around the pith.
When you’re near the top, where your fingers are, flip the piece over and repeat, meeting in the middle. Be very mindful about the placement of your fingers and the swing of your axe during this process – your axe is very sharp and you want to avoid potential accidents. Slow, small, even chops 2/3 of the way up the piece, then flip it over and repeat until the front is square.
Spoon carving greats usually flip the piece and square off the back at this point, preferring to carve the bowl of the spoon opposite from the curve of the log for the sake of visual appeal. I have recently converted to this method as well, but for purposes of this article and for your first few spoon projects, it’s a lot easier to use the natural round shape of the back of the log to help guide you as you form the bowl of your spoon.
Step 4: Design your spoon
On your flattened face, sketch out the design of your spoon. It can be as big or small and as wide or spindly as you like. Experimenting with different shapes and sizes will teach you a lot about what wood can and cannot handle. For your first spoon, a bulkier design will be easier to achieve and provide less opportunity for a failed first attempt.
Some notes here:
- Look closely at the grain of the wood and how it split. If possible, design your spoon so your handle runs along those lines as much as possible. The more long grain you have between the handle and the bowl of your spoon, the stronger your final product will be.
- I recommend over-designing your spoon. If it’s a little too bulky, it’s a lot easier to take material away at the end than to add it back on.
- Do a quick Google search of “green carved spoons” and take note of a few features that seem to be consistent between all the spoons you see.
- And finally, don’t be discouraged. I’ve thrown away a lot more spoons than I’ve kept along the way, but each new spoon is a new opportunity to learn about how wood works and to increase my speed and accuracy.
Your first few spoons will likely take you several hours to carve. Since very few of us can dedicate an entire day to the process, I’ve broken this series up into several posts so you can work at your own pace. If you pause carving for a day or more, you can stick your workpiece in a paper bag to slow the drying process and give you more time to finish it up.
Stay tuned for the last few steps!
**A very special thanks to my friend @cascadecole for being my spoon carving model for this series**
You might also enjoy our post on sharpening a carving knife.