The most surprising thing about spoon carving is how much is done with a hatchet. It’s amazing how precise you can be in rough shaping a spoon. One master spoon carver said that one minute with a hatchet is worth ten minutes with a knife.
Of course, the hatchet has to be a good one and it has to be sharp. Many carvers use hatchets that look like Viking war implements with large curved blades. In fact, the majority seem to use hatchets that look like this one:
Notice the gap near the top of the handle. This is so you can choke up and grip right below the metal giving you much more control and precision.
My hatchet is a bit smaller:
It’s a Gransfors Small Carving hatchet and weighs less than a pound. When I first started carving I could only use it for five minutes at a time. Hatcheting used some new muscles and it took considerable time to build them up. Many carvers stand when they carve using a variety of stumps or work surfaces on which to hold the wood. My stump is on the floor and I sit on a stool so I can rest the elbow of my hatchet hand on my leg. This takes some of the pressure off the elbow joint which, frankly, is now sore a lot of the time. I’m pleased that I haven’t developed tendonitis over the last couple of years.
This much of the spoon was done with the hatchet and I wasn’t done yet. Using the hatchet like a chisel on a stick, I kept chipping away until I was down to the lines. A heavier hatchet might work even better now that the arm is in shape. There are many small forges popping up around the world making high quality hand tools. There are two forges in the San Juan Island making carving knives and adzes.
As always the key is to keep the axe sharp and to make certain the bevel makes contact in a way that the axe can actually slice wood.
Here’s how the spoon blank pictured above ended up.