Power Spoons

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This article is from Issue 9 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Tools: Bandsaw, hot glue gun, inflatable sanding drum, flexible-shaft power carver, various burrs and bits
TIME: A few hours
Materials: 3" x 3" x 14" hardwood blank, sandpaper in various grits up to 500, oil finish

By the time you perfect the art of carving wooden spoons, you might not want to use them for stirring soup. For use or display, our power-carved version is a fun project.

I’m willing to bet you have at least one wooden spoon in your kitchen already. It is probably well worn and utilitarian, with a straight, round handle; it probably looks like just about every other wooden spoon. 

But there’s more to the wooden spoon than meets the eye. A hand-carved spoon can be a beautiful gift that is a pleasure to give or receive. Whether for use or display – your design and finish will dictate that – a wooden spoon is an object full of possibility.

Creating a spoon is not difficult; we will be using only a few basic power carving tools. One thing that makes the wooden spoon a good project choice for beginners is that it requires no difficult corners or detailed areas. But experienced carvers also love to make spoons, and find themselves incorporating interesting and challenging designs. 

We will be using a rotary flexible-shaft carver — a Foredom in this case. You can use any other type of rotary carver, including a handheld Dremel, but you may wish to create a smaller spoon if going that route. I find that handheld rotary tools lack the torque to spin large bits and burrs. 

Bit and burr selection is pretty easy. I prefer round burrs for spoon carving. It is helpful to have both coarse and fine grit burrs. My flex-shaft carver will spin 1" ball bits with no duress, and I suggest that size for this project, if your tool can handle them. The 1" bit may be too big for hollowing out smaller spoons, so a ¾" or ½" ball-shaped bit makes a good choice as well. 

My typical spoon begins with a 3" x 3" x 14" blank and usually winds up about 13" long. Now is the time to decide how you want your spoon to look. Will it be artistic, useful, or both? I hope that seeing some of my spoons will give you some ideas. Give your spoon some flair and dimension by adding a graceful curve or an unexpected dip. 

Imagine looking at your spoon from the top down, and draw an outline of it on one side of the blank. Then transfer some of the major points on your design straight over to an adjacent side. The points I use are: both ends, the halfway mark, the point where the bowl of the spoon meets the handle, and the high point in the handle. 

Now picture the spoon from the side, and draw the side profile on as well.

This spoon was donated for a Hurricane Katrina relief auction. It was finished with Mylands Cellulose Sanding Sealer, waxed with light brown Briwax and sealed with Minwax wipe-on poly. It was then sanded and buffed on high-speed wheels. 

1. Draw the top view on your blank, transfer several points to an adjacent side, and draw the side view.

2. Bandsaw the profile from the top, cutting just outside the line. Try to end up with only three pieces: two offcuts and the spoon.

3. Using a hot glue gun or double-sided tape, reassemble the pieces.
4. Cut the side profile.
5. Voilà! Disassemble and find a nicely shaped spoon blank.
6. Shape the bottom of the spoon’s bowl with a coarse round burr. 

A ladLE with the handle drilled for a leather strap for hanging — made from silver maple, and left with a natural finish.

 Follow steps 2-5 on this page to create your spoon blank. The procedure is simple, and it’s always a thrill to pull apart the pieces after the second series of cuts. 

When you get more comfortable with this procedure, a slightly taller blank will yield two spoons with identical top-down profiles. You’ll have to draw both side profiles individually.

We will work the bowl of the spoon first as opposed to the handle, because the handle can become delicate as it is shaped and thinned. Be sure to wear a dust mask and safety glasses (an apron is nice, too — carving is dusty work). Make sure you are working carefully, in a distraction-free environment, while your power carver is running. 

To ensure the bottom of your spoon will have a nice round shape, draw a line down the vertical center and carve in the same direction, from the outer edge to the centerline. 

You will probably notice that cutting from some angles is easier than others, because of differences in grain direction. Sometimes the difference is quite dramatic. When you sense a change in cutting effort or quality, try turning the workpiece around. 

If you notice the wood burning, the speed of your tool might be too high, your strokes might be too slow, or perhaps both. Make adjustments until you are cutting comfortably, without burning the wood.

Carve one side of the bottom of the bowl, then try to duplicate that shape on the other side, carving up to but retaining that line you drew down the middle. You will be carving across, rather than with, the centerline you drew earlier. Move from the rim toward the pencil line, up, over, and back down to the other side. Don’t worry about making the profile perfect; you’ll have plenty of time to refine it. Frequently examine the spoon from the front as you carve, checking for symmetry. 

Now we'll start on the inside of the bowl, using the same coarse bit. I prefer to work by holding the spoon in my left palm rather than in a soft-grip vise — I am better able to judge wall thickness and shape. Work however you are most comfortable. 

Start by working the center of the spoon front to back, increasing the depth with each pass but staying in the same track, until you reach about half the depth of the bit. Then start to work on the sides of the hollow, widening it as you increase depth. As soon as I started hollowing the spoon pictured here, I decided the bowl was too big for the handle, so I reshaped it to a smaller size.

As the hollow gets deeper, you will create exposed areas of end grain at the front and back. These areas are likely to give you trouble. When you notice this, work on the side profile some more, leaving it just a bit thicker than final thickness. Then rotate the spoon and work the end-grain spots from side to side, versus head-on into the end grain. 

 After making your final light cuts from front to back, you’ll wind up with a pleasing shape with few ridges and depressions. Make sure to leave the bowl of your spoon thicker than you think it should be, as sanding will remove quite a bit more material.

Now we will begin by carving to final shape (but not thickness) the handle where it joins the spoon. Use the large ball-shaped burr again. First knock off the corners and then create whatever profile you find pleasing. I sometimes go with round, sometimes oval, and sometimes I retain a hard corner or two. This is another opportunity to be creative. Whatever you choose, leave the shape thicker than you think it should be because sanding will reduce its diameter. 

If your handle gets a little too thin and you are concerned about it breaking, coating it with thin CA glue will help quite a bit, but will affect your finishing options by preventing the absorption of anything oil-based.

Continue shaping toward the end of the handle, rounding the edges and creating a profile that flows gracefully. The end of the handle should be thick and substantial. 

If you wish for your spoon to stand on its own, carving a flat spot on the end of the handle end will usually be necessary, but you can disguise it by carefully rounding the corners. Sometimes I drill a hole in the end and thread a piece of leather through so it can be displayed by hanging. 

Now you have a couple of options. If you have an inflatable sanding drum, you can skip any remaining carving. If not, you will benefit from switching burrs to the fine-grit ball or a fine-grit flame and removing the scratches left by the coarse burr. 

It helps to set the rotation so that you must pull the spoon toward  you as you sand; this has the added benefit of moving the dust away from you. The drum can be used very successfully to give final shape to the spoon’s exterior. Still, no matter how you try to round them, the drum will leave ridges on the handle that will need removal by hand.

When you are through with the drum (or fine-grit burr), start with some rough sandpaper mounted on a flexible, cushioned support. There really is nothing like hand sanding to achieve and maintain nice smooth curved surfaces. I typically sand with the following grits: 80, 120, 180, 220, 280, 320, 400, 500. That might sound like overkill, but your work is only as good as you are willing to make it. 

After 320 grit, wipe down the surface with a wet cloth. This will cause the grain to raise now, rather than allowing the finish to raise it later. When it has dried, sand again with 320 and continue your regimen. 

Sanding the interior of the spoon can be difficult. I find it easiest to cut a strip of paper about ¾" wide and about 2" long and wrap it around the tip of my index finger. Works great!

Your finish options are nearly endless, but much will depend on your intended use. Will this be a decorative spoon or a utility spoon? For decorative purposes, you may wish to color the wood. If so, you have a variety of options, including colored wax, one of my favorites. Briwax is a great choice for this. However, when the wax has dried and hardened, it should be top-coated with something like shellac or wipe-on poly to keep the colored wax from rubbing off. This would be a poor choice of finish for a utility piece, as the built-up finish will wear off and then expose the colored wax, which will also rub off – on your food, hands, etc. You could of course choose to varnish, shellac, lacquer, or leave your piece natural. If for display purposes, make it shine! 

7.  Refine the bottom of the bowl by carving over and across the grain.

8. Turn the spoon over and start to hollow it out. 

9. Switch to a smaller burr if yours becomes difficult to control. Take light, continuous final passes on the bowl’s interior. 

10. Switch to a fine-grit burr and lightly sand the entire piece, taking care not to alter the shape.
11. Or, remove all traces of the rough burr’s cutting action with an inflatable sanding drum mounted in your lathe. Keep the air pressure low.

All you need to carve a beautiful spoon will fit on top of a small workbench.

For utility use I prefer one of these four finishes: 1. Nothing. Salad, human, and food oils will eventually penetrate the surface, giving the piece a marvelous aged quality. 2. A penetrating finish that will harden in the wood. Watco Danish Natural oil is a great choice for this, and is easy to maintain and repair. A few coats will more than suffice. 3. Walnut oil – the only oil that hardens as it dries. This is a great natural option but walnut oil is very yellow in color and may not please you when applied to your spoon. 4. Briwax clear or any other food-safe wax.  

The spoon we have created for this project is protected with nothing at all, but was buffed on high-speed wheels. 

Finally, there is no shortage of inspiration for designing your spoon. There are a few extremely talented folks out there making all sorts of interesting spoons. Barry Gordon (barrygordon.com) and Norm Sartorius (normsartorius.com) are true artists; I recommend you see their work for yourself. If you decide to make a spoon, I would love to see a photo of it. You may contact me at mschwing@hotmail.com

Mike Schwing

Mike is a 40-year-old Baltimore native who lists woodworking and Ironman triathlons as his main hobbies. Mike spends most of his shop time turning wood, but devotes plenty of time to carving fancy spoons, knives and forks in his basement woodshop. 


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