Mar 242016

Well, maybe this represents a couple of weeks as I got sidetracked with a bowl that wasn’t going too well. I can probably knock out four to five spoons in the time it takes to carve a bowl.


These spoons represent several different kinds of wood and carving challenges. The two on the left are “eaters.” They are made from rhododendron. We had a big one die during the drought last summer. It morphed into a couple of spoons. Rhododendron is hard but has really interesting grain. The eaters are a challenge because they have to feel good to the mouth and the hand. The bowl has to be deep enough to some food but not so deep that you can’t get the food out. There’s a lot to learn about eaters.

The one on the far right might also qualify as an eater. It’s big leaf maple and I was experimenting with color using a wash made with a bit of paint mixed with linseed oil to water it down. I’m not convinced it was a successful experiment.

The third and fourth spoons from the left are vine maple and they were dry when I started carving them. But, they have wonderful two toned grain compared to the all blond big leaf maple which when green and healthy is a pretty bland looking wood, though fun to carve. Which brings us to the fifth spoon—spalted big leaf maple. Our neighbor’s tree was dying and they cut it down. Spalting is caused by a fungus which marks and discolors the wood making it very interesting. Those dark lines are called “zone lines” and look like someone scribbled on the wood. I scrounged quite a bit of the spalted maple and each spoon that comes out of it should be different.

The sixth spoon is big leaf maple. I managed to keep some of the inner bark layer, the periderm, which is darker than the wood and creates a bit of interest.

The seventh spoon is lilac which has lovely multicolored wood but which is very hard and difficult to carve.

Next up—some red alder.

Mar 192016

Originally, I was blogging about sustainability and self-reliance as a general subject and, specifically, how it might be important on Lummi Island in the future.

Green woodworking actually falls into the broad category of self-reliance because with some basic skills and a few specialized hand tools, one can make a variety of objects useful around the home, e.g. spoons, forks, plates, bowls, vases, cutting boards, pipes, ladles, cups, storage containers all from trees or shrubs found within walking distance from home. A skilled woodworker can even make musical instruments. We have more than one person on the island who can make violins (although not specifically green woodworking, an awful lot of carving is involved).

After a friend showed me this video I decided to try and carve a set of bones.

The bones are a folk percussion instrument that has deep roots in history. Most of us are probably more familiar with “playing the spoons.” There is something satisfying about playing rhythms on something you made yourself.

I had a pair of carved wood bones to use as a model. I thought it would be easy but it wasn’t. It was difficult to get the curve the same and to make a matching pair.

I used maple and they came out okay and sound really good.

Mar 102016

Crank: Archaic. a bend; turn.

CZ0MKNcUYAAsqJVSpoons can be straight but they are a lot more interesting from a design standpoint if they have “crank.” You can create a crank with an axe as in this photo from Silva Spoon.

Or, you can find a branch with a natural curve and take advantage of this turning of the grain which will make a very strong spoon (or in the case of the following photos—a ladle).  I mistakenly thought a branch angling off was the curve I was looking for. What I discovered was that all the grain on the short side was going in a completely different direction and made a weak connection to the larger piece. As I whacked on it with a hatchet the short side busted off a chunk at a time. IMG_7592

But the bend to the crotch was enough, given some crank, that I was able to make it work. (Note to self: this crotch angle is too severe to be useful).

First, here’s a drawing by master carver David Fisher  that explains this principle more vividly.finding-the-spoon-in-the-crook_new






IMG_7618Now take a look at a soup spoon from our silverware drawer. I’d never noticed the “crank” before. But it’s definitely there. This makes an eating spoon ergonomic. Stirring spoons or serving spoons don’t really need crank although it can make them more interesting.

You can get that angle into the piece a couple different ways. You can freehand it with the hatchet (which all the big boy/big girl carvers seem to always call an axe). You can also take a saw and make a stop cut to reduce the possibility of making a mistake.



In this photo you can see a slight bend in the wood. Using the axe I created more crank.



You can see the kerf line which was my stop cut so I didn’t go too far.






The finished ladle has a nice bend in it. Enough to make it useful.

According to the experienced spoon guys using the natural grain will make the piece last longer.

Mar 042016

IMG_7591Expert carvers don’t need to sand. They are skilled enough to tool finish their work. I’m not that good and find I do need to sand most of the stuff I’ve carved to make it look decent.

Recently, I saw a photo on the spoon carving FB site where the carver used the Japanese technique of Shou-sugi-ban to finish his piece. I knew something about this method as our nephew charred the siding on the house he is currently building. The idea behind scorching the wood is to create a long lasting and low maintenance finish. It can also be quite beautiful.

This video demonstrates the technique used on siding.

I recently carved a bowl from birch. It had some hidden knots and imperfections that made finishing the concave part of bowl difficult. Then, I dried it too quickly and it developed a big check (split). I decided this was a candidate for Shou-sugi-ban. Subsequently, I carved a spoon out of a left over piece of cypress and wasn’t happy with some of the detail. The cypress spoon became a second candidate for “The Art of Charred Cedar”. A running mate, if you will.

I made an executive decision that it didn’t have to be cedar for me to put it to the torch. Holding a hissing propane burner to wood takes a bit of bravery when you don’t know what you are doing. It went pretty well, however. Only a few flames which I was able to stamp out with my foot without doing more damage to the piece. I didn’t char the inside of the bowl, just the outer edge and the bottom.









I am happy with the result. There is also linseed oil on the bowl and spoon but I would like to give both more of a glossy aspect so will keep working on finishes. The trick, I discovered, is keeping the torch moving so the piece doesn’t burst into flames. I got a bit carried away and did some serious charring of a couple of edges.

I expect I will experiment with this on other pieces. Here’s a business that specializes on shou-sugi-ban.