Handcrafted Wooden Utensils

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This article is from Issue 38 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Turn shop scraps into kitchen tools.

Looking for fun-to-make gifts for the cooks in your life? Wooden utensils are easy to craft, attractive, comfortable, and guaranteed not to scratch expensive pots and pans. And for those in need of last-minute gifts, wooden utensils don’t require a lot of shop time. You can bandsaw and sand a simple fork or spatula in an hour or less. A spoon might take a couple of hours. Any cook would love handmade tools like these, and it’s a good bet they’ll think about you as they use them.

All you need to make a personalized chef’s set are a few thick chunks of wood, a bandsaw, half-round mill file, power sander, and a gouge. 

Feel free to play around with the size and style of your utensils, but make sure to keep the fork tines sufficiently thick and blunt enough to withstand use.

Cookin' with Good Wood

Wooden utensils are best made from close-grained, moderately dense hardwoods such as cherry and maple or fruitwoods like apple and pear. Avoid woods like oak and mahogany; the open pores invite food penetration.

Make the salad fork

1 Use Figure 1 to make full-sized top and side patterns. Affix the patterns to cardboard and cut them out. Cut your blank to size and square the edges to the faces. (Note: the blank sizes are designed to yield full-length offcuts.) Use the patterns to lay out the side and top profiles on the blank, butting the tine ends against one end of the block. For strength, follow any curves in the grain direction when possible (Photo A).

2 Starting with the side profile, cut along the lower cutline, entering and exiting from the ends of the block. Reattach the offcut using double-faced tape (Photo B), carefully aligning the edges and ends. (The offcut gives the piece better footing for the next cut.)

3 Make the second side profile cut along the upper cutline, again sawing from one end of the block to the other to yield a full-length offcut (Photo C). 

Saw away the waste at the end of the handle, and then reattach the full-length top offcut with double-faced tape.

Online Extra

For full-sized patterns of the fork and spoon, plus a bonus spatula, go to woodcraftmagazine.com/onlineextras

4 Starting with the tines, bandsaw the top profile. Cut away the waste between the tines by making intersecting cuts in from the end of the block. Shut the saw off after each cut to retract the workpiece or remove the waste. Make two stop cuts to shape the outside profile of the tined end, and then cut away the handle sides as shown in Photo D.

Finish with the handle tip. Save the offcuts for later use.

Setting up the Saw

For bandsawing tight curves you can use a 1⁄4" blade, but I find that a 3⁄16" blade yields more accurate curves and requires less shaping and sanding. To minimize post-saw cleanup, select a blade with at least six teeth per inch (6 TPI).

For good cutting control and to prevent blade twist, set the saw’s thrust guides a few thousandths of an inch behind the blade. Align the front edges of the side guides with the bottom of the tooth gullets, and locate the side guides as close as possible to the sides of the blade without rubbing it. Before making a cut, lower the saw’s guide post, so the upper guides sit about 1⁄4" above the workpiece surface.

5 Sand the profiles to remove saw marks. A spindle sander works best for concave surfaces, using the offcuts to support the utensil (Photo E). A belt sander will take care of convex surfaces.

6 In preparation for smoothing the tines, crosscut the top and bottom offcuts near the bottom of the handle area. Then clamp the fork in a vise between the pieces. Using a half-round mill file, smooth the edges of the tines as shown in Photo F.

Sweep the file “downhill” with the grain, supporting the tine tips with your fingers to prevent breakage.

7 Crosscut the offcut waste at their tined ends to create cauls for clamping the tined end of the fork in the vise. Use files or a spokeshave to round over and shape the sharp edges of the handle. Finish-sand the tines and handle to 220 grit.

Make the serving spoon

1 Lay out, saw, and sand the profiles as described for making the fork. Using your fingers as a marking gauge (Photo G), mark the bowl’s perimeter, insetting it about 3⁄16" from the outer profile.

2 Crosscut the two side offcuts slightly above the base of the handle to make clamping cauls to secure the bowl section in a vise. To carve out the bowl, work in a radial fashion, starting 1⁄2" or so out from the center. Make successively deeper and longer cuts as you work toward the rim (Photo H). 

As you near your final depth, take lighter cuts to create as smooth a surface as possible. (Note: Almost any gouge will work, but one that’s fairly broad with a moderate sweep, such as an 18mm #5 gouge, will do it cleaner and more quickly.)

3 With the spoon still clamped in the vise, smooth the inner bowl surface. To smooth the carved ridges, I use a gooseneck scraper (Photo I) and finish up with 150-grit sandpaper. Ease the sharp edges of the handle with a rasp and file. (Don’t overdo the shaping; you’ll still need to clamp the handle between its offcuts for the next step.)

4 Clamp the handle in the vise between the side offcuts, and shape the back of the bowl. You could do this with a rasp and a file, but I prefer to use a chisel for speed. Wrapping a thumb over the chisel (Photo J), offers more cutting control. For best symmetry, remove a certain amount from one side, and then the other (drawing a centerline will help). As you work, use your fingers to gauge the thickness of the bowl wall (aim for 3⁄16").

5 Smooth the outer bowl surface with 100 grit, finish shaping the handle with a rasp and file, then finish-sand the spoon through 220 grit. Following up with 400-grit paper will transform it into a must-hold kitchen tool. 

Fast, Food-Friendly Finish

Wooden utensils don’t really need a finish, but to enhance the wood’s color and impart a soft luster, I apply mineral oil (available at drug stores). Simply wipe it on, wait a few minutes, then wipe off the excess. Reapply when the wood looks dry, and never run them through the dishwasher.


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