Spun Spoons

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This article is from Issue 89 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Stir up some fun on the lathe! 

Sometimes it’s fun to get away from the rigors and complexity of multi-piece projects, and make something kind of off-the-cuff from a single bit of wood. I find that making a wooden spoon or two fills this need for instant gratification in the shop. Plus, the finished pieces make excellent gifts for the cooks in my life. While there are many ways to make a wooden spoon, I prefer to turn the handle and the basic shape of the bowl on the lathe, which creates a distinctive looking utensil. Once the handle is complete, I finish shaping the outside of the bowl with a stationary belt sander, and hollow the inside with a carving gouge. A little sanding on the drill press and a soak in mineral oil complete the job. It usually doesn’t take me more than an hour or so of fun to crank out a spoon.

Order of Work

  • Rough-cut the shape. 
  • Turn the handle and bowl profile.
  • Shape the outside of the bowl.
  • Hollow the inside of the bowl.
  • Refine the shape, and polish.

Rough out the shape

Start with a piece of 4/4 stock about 21⁄2" wide and 1" longer than your desired finished size. No need to surface it. Draw two lines along the length of the piece, leaving a 1" strip up the middle. Draw a third line across the blank 3/4" from one end and a fourth one about 31⁄2" from that same end. Sketch in the lines that define the bowl profile. Cut along the layout lines on the band saw. Also bandsaw shallow crosshairs on each end of the blank as shown.

Spoons of Every Size

One of the great things about wooden spoons is that you can make them nearly any size. I’ve made some really big ones that see regular use mixing bread dough and stirring kettles full of tomato sauce. But I’ve also turned out diminutive versions perfect for adding a pinch of salt or measuring out loose-leaf tea. My typical spoons are about 12" long and 2" to 21⁄2" wide—usually made from 4/4 stock. While almost any hardwood will work, I prefer finer-grained species such as cherry or maple. I’ve also had good results with some of the exotics such as goncalo alves and jatoba.

Sharpie layout. A fine-tipped felt marker makes a good layout tool for rough-sawn lumber. If you’re making more than one spoon, nest the blanks to save wood.
Crosshair kerfs. Two shallow intersecting band saw cuts create a centered target for the spurs on your lathe’s drive center.


Go to woodcraftmagazine.com for two full-sized spoon patterns.

Turn the handle

Mount the blank between lathe centers with the bowl end toward the headstock. Then turn the handle to a cylinder. If you started with 4/4 stock, you’ll end up with about a 3⁄4"-diameter handle at this point. Shift the tool rest toward the headstock, and turn the bowl to rough shape, which will bring its bandsawn edges into smooth symmetry. Also turn the little nub at the headstock end round. Once the bowl is roughed out, turn the handle to its final shape and sand it on the lathe. You’ll sand the bowl later, after shaping it. 

Rough handling. Start by turning the handle to a rough cylinder. I like to use a spindle gouge for this process. 
Bowl in a blur. Due to some mid-air cutting, it can be hard to discern the bowl-shaping, so stop the lathe frequently to monitor your progress (inset). Make sure you ultimately remove all the bandsaw marks from the edges. 

Handle with care. Finesse the handle into its final shape. For a typical spoon, I turn the smallest section down to about 7⁄16" in diameter, and the largest to about 5⁄8".

Shape the bowl

Dismount the spoon and then bandsaw the nub from the end of the bowl. Round the outside of the bowl on a stationary belt sander as shown. The trick is to contour it smoothly both across its width and along its length. Until you have a few spoons under your belt, you may find it helpful to keep a commercial serving spoon on hand for comparison. Stop frequently to inspect your progress from various angles. I usually employ an 80-grit belt for this aggressive shaping. 

To scoop out the inside of the bowl, hold the spoon in a vise and carve away the waste with a gouge. I typically use a bent #9 × 18mm gouge for the job. As you get deeper, you’ll find that cutting from the rim into the center of the bowl yields the smoothest cuts. When you are satisfied with the shape, chuck a sanding mop in the drill press and finish-sand the back of the spoon, fairing the facets while removing the belt sander scratches. Switch to a round or wave sander to remove the gouge marks on the inside of the bowl. After machine-sanding, wet the spoon to raise the grain, and then give it a final hand sanding when dry. Finally, soak it in mineral oil for a food-safe finish.

Sanding spin. Press the bowl against the sanding belt as you spin the handle with your fingers. Spinning the handle shapes the bowl from side to side, while varying the handle angle shapes it end to end. To shape the part of the bowl nearest the handle, rotate the spoon downward toward a more horizontal orientation (inset).
Secure adjustability. The pivoting, padded jaws on this patternmaker’s vise hold a spoon securely as you carve out the bowl. The vise elevates the work to a comfortable height and pivots to position the spoon for optimal cutting attack. 
Mop-up work. A 120-grit sanding mop does quick clean-up on the outside of the bowl, removing the belt-sander scratches and fairing the curves.
Concave sanding. I use an inflatable round sander to smooth the insides of my spoons, working my way up from 60 to 220 grit. A wave sanding pad will also do a good job.

Smooth operators. Useful accessories for sanding spoons include (left to right) a wave sanding pad, a sanding mop, and an inflatable round sander. 

Buyer’s Guide

See page 70 for a list of the tools used in this article.


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