Apr 282016

IMG_7951To carve a spoon you need a hatchet (or a band saw), a straight knife and some kind of bent knife. You can carve the bowl of a spoon with a chisel but a bent knife is often a more efficient tool. Bent knives come with an almost infinite number of variations. I have three double edged bent knives forged on Waldron Island at North Bay Forge.  These are terrific knives that hold an edge and move a lot of material.

They are designed for doing totems and masks and other types of Northwest carving. But they work for spoon bowls as well.

I also have a couple of what are known as “spoon” knives. My newest one comes from a forge in England. The craftsman is Nic Westerman.

His 65mm Twca Cam is a really popular blade with spoon carvers. Twca cam, pronounced “tooka cam” means “hook knife” in Welsh. You will note, if you clicked the link to Western’s site,  that the Twca cam doesn’t have a handle. Lots of blacksmiths just sell the blade. I guess it’s assumed that a wood carver ought to be able to carve a handle for his knife. I made one about a foot long for my Westerman Twca cam to give me lots of leverage. You drill a hole starting with a small drill bit and then larger ones so that the hole is tapered, then epoxy it in place.

Bent knives are surprisingly easy to sharpen. Most of the time you just need to strop them. Glue a piece of leather around a dowel and rub stropping compound on the leather. Once in awhile I hit it with some fine sandpaper also wrapped around a dowel.


Gooseneck scraper

Even with a razor sharp Twca cam and my selection of bent knives I find it difficult to get the bowl as smooth as I want it. Barry H. on the island, who makes very high end violas and violins, taught me about scrapers. He uses them as a finishing tool. Most importantly, he taught me that you can sharpen them. I’m talking about a scraper that looks like this.Very inexpensive when compared to the bent knives.

Kestrel Tools, the forge on Lopez Island calls them “crooked” knives. They rivet their blades to the handle and have quite a variety.

Kestrel makes really great tools. I’d like to watch a blacksmith forge a curved blade some day.Current+blades+2009_DSC7424+copy

Apr 202016
Mora 106

Mora 106

Spoon carving starts with a blank, a rectangular piece of wood hewn from a log or branch. Using a hatchet, band saw or bow saw you cut out the rough shape of the spoon including “crank” the bend which occurs in eating spoons and ladles. The finish work is done with a straight knife. The knife I grab most often is the Mora 106.

Almost every spoon carver seems to own a Mora 106 knife. One reason it is so ubiquitous is that it is very inexpensive. You can buy one for less than $25. The second reason, of course, is that it’s a very good knife. Better, I’ve found, than many more expensive blades. The Mora knives come from Sweden. The 106 is long (3.25”) and thin (less than a half inch). The thinness allows the carver to work in concave areas. The length allows for long slicing cuts. A shorter blade might seem safer but one can get used to the three inch blade especially after nicking yourself a couple times.

The blade is laminated. That is, made by layering soft steel over a center of harder steel. This knife is also machine made which is why it is cheaper than hand forged blades. This sandwich of hard in the middle and softer on the outside makes sharpening a bit easier.

They need to be sharpened enough to pass the paper test where the knife can slice clean strips off the edge of a piece of paper.

The grind on a carving knife is called a Scandi grind. There is no secondary bevel because we want the knife to be able to lay flat against the object being carved. The Scandi grind is like a very narrow “V”. These knives rate high on the Rockwell Scale. The Rockwell Scale is a metallurgical measurement of hardness. A good kitchen knife is rated 56-58. The Mora’s hardness on that scale is 61.

I started carving with a North Bay Forge straight knife. This is a hand forged blade made on Waldron Island. It’s a more expensive knife because it is hand made. It’s a very easy knife to use. And, hard to nick yourself with it as the blade is only 1 3/4”.

North Bay Forge straight knife

North Bay Forge straight knife

I also have a Mora 120 which is shorter than the 106. I got this first and used it a lot but rarely choose it over the 106.


Bark River bushcraft knife

Sometimes the long reach of a hunting knife is helpful when you need some leverage. I’m lucky to have a really nice one made by Bark River in Wisconsin. It’s very satisfying to sharpen it to paper slicing sharpness.


Apr 112016


Spoon carving may just be an excuse for me to listen to audio books. I’ve liked audio books for a long time but have become a chronic listener since I started spoon carving. Perhaps it was the convenient Blue Tooth unit by friend Ed Reed talked me into buying. This unit hangs around my neck and is so light and comfortable I could wear it all the time which I now do while gardening, carving or even walking the beach.

The library has lots of audio books to download for free. And, if I really want a specific book right this minute I can use Audible.com.

What I find is that I associate certain spoons with the book I was listening to at the time.

Stonewall ladle

Stonewall ladle

I look at this ladle and can’t get Rebel Yell, a biography of Stonewall Jackson out of my mind. Jackson was a true military genius but his failure to be on time at the Seven Days cost the South a real chance to deliver a knockout blow.

Any Charles Dickens audio book will take one through a bunch of spoons which means there are several that remind me of Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a wonder I haven’t named the spoons of those several hours Squeers, Smike, Noggs, or Madame Mantalini. No author comes up with better names than Dickens.

Squeers spatula

Squeers spatula

There are some amazingly talented book readers who can make the stories dance in front of you like holograms. My favorites are Simon Vance, Frederick Davidson and Katherine Kellgren.

Ms Kellgren reads a series of YA novels about Bloody Jack, a 19th century girl who is orphaned on the streets of London and talks her way onto a British Naval frigate disguised as a boy. I’m not sure if I would have thought it was as good if I had read it. But in Katherine Kellgren’s hands, it’s  a winner.

Katherine's spoon

Katherine’s spoon

My fall back is always Simon Vance reading the Patrick O’Brian’s series about Royal Navy Captain Jack Aubrey and his surgeon/friend Stephen Maturin. There are 21 books in this series. I’ve read them three times and am half way through the audio books.

John LeCarre: The Biography was interesting. I like his books but it turns out I didn’t like him very much. Won’t name any spoons after him.

Jack’s pudding spoon

Of course with Dearie:The Remarkable Life of Julia Childs I focused on serving spoons. I had never paid much attention to Julia but I loved author Bob Spitz’s book on the Beatles so I gave it a try. It’s a terrific bio of a very interesting and influential twentieth century personality. I was compelled to go to Youtube to watch some of her old shows.



Inferno: The World At War 1939-1945 by Max Hastings was good for a few spoons. Hastings kept me on the edge of my seat as he managed to personalize a macro history of WWII.










The book of the moment is 17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis and the Biggest Cover-up in History by Andrew Morton. If you are one who doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories and cover ups do yourself a favor and give this a read or a listen.

A Ducal ladle

A Ducal ladle

Apr 022016

Kintai-kyo Bridge

All of the wood I’ve carved so far has come from Lummi Island or the Pacific NW except for some pieces of hinoki cypress. It’s the Douglas fir of Japan, grown for lumber and used in construction. The chunks I have came from the Kintai-kyo Bridge in Iwakuni, Japan. Iwakuni and Everett, Washington have been sister cities for many years and a few years back Iwakuni sent craftsmen and lumber to build a small replica of the Kintai-kyo Bridge in the Japanese Garden at Everett Community College. The Kintai-kyo Bridge was rebuilt around fifteen years ago and my pieces of cypress were left over from that rebuild. So, I don’t know if the wood is from the old bridge or the rebuild. This wood could be 100 years old!

Suffice to say it is completely dry and very hard. The grain is straight and the wood has a wonderful lemony odor. An essential oil is made from the wood is said to have a calming and relaxing effect.

It splits like a dream, has no knots and has a buttery texture. It also sands beautifully. So, except for being very hard, requiring lots of stropping of blades, it is fun to carve. I got brave and decided to try and carve a large bowl. The risk was ruining a very nice piece of wood that could have produced four or more spoons.

The challenge is to carve the bowl with some kind of symmetry. Having the right tools help. One useful tool is a pencil that writes on wet or dry surfaces. I also use a compass to make circles and arcs.


Click on photos to enlarge

I start with a big gouge and whacking on the butt of the handle with a mallet start to rough out the bowl part. Using the gouge I outline the edge of the bowl.

IMG_7538Next I use an adze to clean out as much wood as I can.

IMG_7539 Finally, a large curved knife cleans out the rough spots and evens things up.

This is quite an amazing knife that has a foot long handle I carved which is big enough for two hands giving one lots of leverage and control.


IMG_7544The corners are shaped with a hatchet. Up to this point it’s like orthopedic surgery. Not very pretty.

Really good carvers tool finish their pieces. That is, they don’t sand. They like the look of the tool marks although many of them seem to be able to carve pieces that look like they were sanded. I’m not that good. I reach for the sand paper and use it like plastic surgery to finish up a piece.

The finished bowl still has that lovely hokoni odor. I’ll be sad when I use it all up.The bottom right photo shows the bowl oiled and kolrosed (more on kolrosing later) with the kanji for “Kintai-kyo”