Instructables
Everyone can, and should carve a wooden spoon.  This Instructable will show you how to get started carving your very own spoon and hopefully answer some of the basic questions regarding wood carving, whittling, and how to create your own wooden spoons that you can cook and eat with.  

I've been collecting spoons of the world for a while (see second photo) and have always had an interest in odd spoons.  Big ones, tiny ones, it doesn't mater really, there's just something about the spoon that from a design and function standpoint catches my interest.  At some point I eventually started making my own spoons, and carving them with other people as well as a social event - it's a great thing to share in as a group activity.

Carving a wooden spoon is a great activity because the process is directed, but still has a place for creativity.  It's easy enough for anyone to learn and delivers success at virtually any level of completion because there's always a use for an odd spoon and even when they don't go exactly to plan, they still come out as a beautiful handmade work of functional art.
 
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Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
I'm going to share my process for spoon carving in this Instructable.  It's by no means the official way to do it, or even, a carving purists way to do it since it involves the use of several power tools that all remove wood more quickly than hand carving.  Please just use this Instructable as an inspirational guide to start carving wooden spoons and utensils, and not as the end all word on the very complex and highly skilled process of wood carving, of which, I am by no means an expert or qualified teacher.

Tools and Materials:
  • sharp carving knives including at least a medium straight knife and a rounded or sweep gouge. (I bought my knives from Flexcut)
  • chunk of soft wood a little larger than the size of spoon you'd like to carve (more on wood choices in the following step)
  • 80, 120, 220 & 400 grit sandpaper
  • small diameter (1"-2") sanding drum or flap wheel
  • pen or marker
  • food safe wood finish (like a butcher block oil or beeswax finish) or mineral oil
Optional Power Tools:
  • belt sander
  • dremmel tool
  • scroll saw
  • table saw
(The entire process can be completed by hand, I simply used power tools to create the blank in order to speed up the process and get to the most fun part of carving - the detail shipping faster.)

Step 2: The Wood

Picture of The Wood
The most important thing to first consider when carving a spoon is the type of wood that you're going to use.  While it's possible to carve virtually any type of wood given the right tools and techniques, some are easier than others to learn.  Since this is spoon carving for beginners, let's try to keep things easy.  

The easiest kinds of wood to carve are soft types wood.  Think about using something that feels fairly light in your hand, like:
  • Basswood
  • Pine
  • Cedar
  • Redwood
  • Fir
That being said, I really enjoyed working with the softer side of the hardwood range, specifically cherry.  

Hardwoods that would be more difficult to carve include:
  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Walnut
  • Rosewood
  • Exotics
  • Teak
Follow these general points when choosing a wood:
  • Test it out and see how it feels to try and actually carve a piece off.
  • Look for short grain, not long grain patterns - long grain seems to chip away in big pieces, you want small pieces to chip off so you can carve with more precision and control.  I tried carving a piece of amapola for example and huge uncontrollable chunks came off without warning.  This made it hard to carve.
  • Look for soft varieties when possible, maple for example is very hard and will be hard to carve by hand.
As a beginner the absolute easiest wood to try carving is Basswood, so it might be best to start there.  As I said before, I found Cherry to be a great balance between hard and soft wood.

A note about wood allergies for the beginning woodworker

Finally, it should be noted that wood, like many of the substances that we live with can be a potential allergen to certain individuals.  Some types of wood, like cocobolo have known respiratory and skin effects.  Other varieties, such as cherry, are known to be generally safe and inert.  Wood dust from virtually any species of tree can have adverse respiratory effects over a long enough time period.  It's important that we all mitigate these possible risks and make informed decisions about the things we expose ourselves to on a day to day basis.  While most woods are generally safe to work with, if you are just getting involved in woodworking this simple database of known allergies is worth taking a look at.

Step 3: Draw a Spoon

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Once you've selected your block of wood (I'm using Cherry in the example below) draw a very rough outline of the spoon that you'd like to carve.  It need not be detailed, as this outline will only be used to create the spoon blank.  Drawing a profile of the spoon you'd like to carve from the side view on the block of wood is also useful, but not necessary. 

There are literally endless different designs for spoons.  Check out some galleries and get inspired.  Things can get pretty crazy in the wooden spoon world!

Hand Crafted Wooden Spoons
Spoonlady
J
ames Loyd Hand Carved Wooden Spoons
Kitchen Carvers

Some things I have begun to consider in designing my spoons are:
  • spoon size
  • type of spoon head
  • should it fit in my mouth?
  • depth of spoon depression
  • thickness and heft
  • intended purpose - salad, soup, serving, nibbling, scooping etc

Step 4: Cut Blank

Picture of Cut Blank
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If the spoon you want to carve is smaller than the piece of wood you've selected, use the table saw to cut the chunk into a thinner piece so you have to remove less material by hand when carving.  

Then, use the miter saw to cut the chunk of wood to length at the ends of your spoon outline.

This is called creating a blank.  

Something that's fun to do is to create many blanks at once and then pass them out to your friends so you can all carve together.  Bring some knives and it's a carving party!

Step 5: Detail Cutting

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spoon30.jpg
Next, use a scroll saw to cut along your outline.  I tried to cut as close to my spoon sketch as possible since that's less material to remove later.  That being said, if you want to have more material to be creative with as you carve, give yourself a little more room when you cut.

You can't go wrong by making your blank a bit larger and thicker then the intended finished spoon, you can always remove more material later.

If you want to spend more time carving - simply skip this step and remove more material by hand using the carving tools.

Step 6: Rough Sanding

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This step is completely optional, but since it was sitting right next to me, I used the belt sander to quickly round over the edges on the spoon and sand down to my spoon outline.  Again, anything done with a power tool just saves you the work of having to do it by hand in the forthcoming carving step.

Step 7: Begin Carving

Picture of Begin Carving
Finally, let's make some wood shavings!

Now at the very beginning it's useful just to get a feel for the knife and how it removes material from your spoon blank.  Carving along the shaft or handle of the spoon is the easiest place to practice.  Start by taking small strokes, removing small amounts of material, and carving away from yourself.  While there are situations where you can safely carve towards yourself, at the beginning it's easier to just carve away. 

Think about removing small chunks of material strategically from the tops of curves.  Carving down, into notches is more difficult and so I usually like to orient the wood to my knife so that I'm carving over the crest of a curve or along a straight line.

Diving the knife down usually results in a larger-than-intended piece of material cleaving off.  Better to stay in control of the cut and carve along the top of the material.

Turning a square block-like blank into a smooth spoon takes time - as in, several hours.  So, don't expect the spoon to take form instantly, instead, just stay with it and work slowly towards the goal.

Step 8: Add More Detail

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As the spoon begins to take shape and you begin to round over some of the straight lines in the blank, it's time to start adding in more detail and making some basic decisions regarding:
  • handle thickness 
  • how the handle tapers and fits your hand
  • how long the handle should be
  • how wide the spoon should be
  • does the spoon have a curved or flat leading edge
  • spoon head thickness
The spoon pictured below has a blunt straight head, more like a spatula that's good for scraping the bottoms of sauce pans and removing brown tasty bits...of course, this would not make a very good soup spoon.

Step 9: Back of Spoon Head

Picture of Back of Spoon Head
Once you've roughed out the handle of the spoon it's time to start working on the head.  I found it easier to start with the convex back of the spoon rather than the dished out concave side.  

Begin removing material along the edges of the blank and round out the spoon head to make a smooth transition from the back of the spoon to the rim/wall.

Keep rounding out the back of the spoon and creating a smooth continuous slope.

Step 10: Front of Spoon Head

Picture of Front of Spoon Head
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On to the concave side of the spoon - use a rounded sweep gouge or hook knife to start removing material from the face of the spoon.

Remove small bits of material until you begin to form a small divit.  Keep removing material digging out wood closer and closer to the outer wall of your spoon.  

I alternated between gouging from the center of the spoon towards the wall and working the tool down the wall of the spoon towards the center.  Different strokes for different folks...and tired hands.

The hook knife was useful for shallow divots, but not very good at digging deep.  That's where the sweep gouge comes in handy.

Step 11: Sand Away Carving Marks

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After extensive hand carving it was time to smooth out the carving marks with some sanding.  

I used a small drum hand sanding attachment for a rotary tool, a 1" diameter 80 grit flap wheel and the small Dremel sanding heads to sand the inside concave dish of the spoon.  

Hand sanding and a belt sander do just fine for the easier to reach back and handle of the spoon.

Step 12: Detail Sanding

Picture of Detail Sanding
After the mechanical sanding came a bunch of detail hand sanding.  

Starting with 120 grit paper and working my way up to 220 incrementally, I sanded every knook and cranny of the spoon smoothing out any remaining carving tool marks and making all the surfaces pleasurable to hold and splinter-free.

Step 13: Protective Finish

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As a final step, apply a food-safe protective finish to the smoothly sanded spoon.  

I used a product called "Emmet's Good Stuff" which is a food safe Gel Varnish that I've used in the past and had good results from.  

UPDATE:  Emmets Good Stuff although claims to be food safe, is definitely not!  Thanks so much The Green Gentleman for posting a link below in the comments to the MSDS sheet.  Don't use this stuff!  I will re-finish the projects that I've made that use it with some thing that's actually food safe.

Mineral oil is also an completely acceptable finish, as well as any other "butcher block oil" or beeswax based finish that you may like to use.

Once the finish is dry you've got a spoon that's ready to use and enjoy!
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SIRJAMES097 months ago

I have yet to begin carving wood, but this morning(15/MARCH/2014)

I found a part of a tree branch that is long enough(about 30") and has a diameter big enough(about 2"), that I can try & carve SOMETHING half way decent....small but decent. I have always been told that with anything new, start small & work your way up to bigger & more challenging things. so that's what I intend to do...

I figure that there's enough wood in this 1 piece, that I can afford a few mistakes...and I know I'll make at least a few....hundred. LOL

TY for sharing this project with all of us, it gives me inspiration to bigger & better things. 8)

nancyjohns11 months ago
Can you boil a spoon in salt water to food safe it?
dropkick1 year ago
I'm a school trained cook and I've cooked in and managed kitchens for over 20 years. So I thought I'd just add my 2-bits on the wood finish.

You can't bring new wooden surfaced tables or cutting boards into a commercial kitchen any more (due to idiots who didn't care for the wood so it developed cracks and/or wasn't sanitized correctly). However I still delt with many butcher block tables that were grandfathered in and was trained in their care at school.

In a commercial kitchen you clean the wooden surface by wiping it down with a light bleach/water mix (occasionally, if needed, it gets scrubbed down, but this is seldom if ever needed as long as it's wiped down regularly) and then once a week it gets oiled with vegetable oil (I've heard that you should only use linseed oil as vegetable oil will go rancid and smell. However I've been using vegetable oil at work and home for many years and have never experienced the oil going 'rancid').

I basically do the same thing with my wooden cooking implements at home (though I don't bleach or oil as often).

So to sum my recommendation up, I'd just use oil for a finish and occasionally renew it. I would never use varnish on an item that was going to be in direct contact with my food.

P.S. The oil reapplied over the years will make the wood harder and more durable also.
The oil will make it more beautiful too, BUT linseed, however, has chemicals added to it to "boil" it without using heat--since it's extremely flammable--and that makes it dangerous to use around food. But citrus does an amazing job at disinfecting and is good for wood and harmless, as opposed to bleach. Not to mention it's environmentally friendly. I've cleaned a ton of wooden items as a maid who made her own cleaners and also never had a problem with veggie oil, even on floors. Vinegar works amazing at sterilizing too! But extended use will pull up varnishes, including any oiled seasoning. So it might be a good option or not, and it can be watered down as well.
I would recommend to use a dremel tool such as the Dremel 4000-6/50. This tool helps you complete a range of crafting, hobby, and artisan projects. For more info check out: http://ibookmarkedit.com/dremel-4000-650-120-volt-variable-speed-rotary-kit-2/
Nice! have found some extra pictures to follow the process of spoon making at http://pictures.mjvanderwielen.com/

Thanks for the info!
Excellent looking stuff!

I normally carve the "cup" part at this stage, so if I accidentally jumble with the carving I can easily change the design to fit my mistake :D
Nice instructable!

On her workshop page, Spoonlady.com points to a link listing wood toxicities: http://www.cs.rochester.edu/u/roche/rec.wood.misc/wood.toxic

It's important to protect yourself, esp from inhaling sawdust, if using toxic woods.
@kewpiedoll99
I can't find where she gets her info. She lists beech as toxic and carcinogenic, but I can't anything that corroborates that.

Side note:

@noahw
Good Stuff not so nice. Maybe use something less potentially carcinogenic.
http://www.mapleblock.com/uploads/Good_Stuff_MSDS_2005.pdf

However, the spoons look really cool! Nice work!
noahw (author)  The Green Gentleman2 years ago
That's a savage MSDS!  I was completely misinformed on that stuff - thanks so much for letting me know.  I certainly won't use it anymore on anything that could come into contact with food.

Here's the copy from their website - I guess a food safe gel varnish is really too good to be true.

Good Stuff - 1 Quart

When your butcher block island or counter top starts to show wear or needs refinishing, give it a little Good Stuff. This easy-to-use gel urethane gives unfinished wood surfaces a protective moisture resistant finish. Perfect for butcher block islands, counter tops — even wood utensils and salad bowls. See Emmet’s Elixir for cutting boards and chopping blocks.

• Urethane Wood Finish
• 1 Quart
• Non-toxic, food-safe, urethane-based.
• For finishing or refinishing tops with Durakryl 102 finish
• Easy cloth application
• Clear satin finish


http://www.buybutcherblock.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=goodstuff-finish4&Category_Code=maintenanceProd
urethane is non toxic ????…
I would never bet on that.

To me a butcher's block should be left bare : if you use it every day or so it will wear but that's how things must be. That's the authentic touch that could be ruined by varnishing it with urethane.
If you really care to see the wood grain oil it with a cloth and any dressing oil (olive, peanut, whatever …) result will be as good …
My feeling (but that is purely personal) is that we shouldn't overdo things.
It may be totally safe after it cures. I dunno. Silicone gel is (evidently) inert after cure, but is best cured in well-ventilated areas, so it could be like that. But yes, that MSDS gave me pause. That's a whole lot of volatile.

Thank you for the great instructable, though. I'm just getting back into carving, and I am definitely going to try this one!
I asked this question of a gentleman giving a talk about wood finishes. He informed me that pretty much all clear wood finishes are "food safe" after curing. Yes, you don't want to consume the liquid or paste finish, but nearly all the toxicity comes from the solvents which evaporate as the finish cures. The finishes that advertise themselves as "food-safe" are really just using a buzzword for marketing purposes.

That said, I usually use walnut oil and beeswax on the items that I make that may be in contact with food. They are natural and effective. Shellac is also a good choice for things that don't see too much water or wear. Shellac is so safe that it's actually used in food--it provides the shine to some candies like M&Ms and jelly beans.

Nice instructible, by the way! I have made a few spoons and stock-pot stirrers for my wife. Hard to find a 16" spoon to stir a deep pot of strawberries cooking into jam.
gare84212 years ago
Great instructable! I have been wanting to make a spoon for a while, and this may inspire me to finally do it..

Are there woods that are generally not food safe that you can comment on? I had an allergic reaction when working with pau ferro. The interwebs say walnut is toxic to horses, but no sign it is bad for humans.
noahw (author)  gare84212 years ago
On just about every food related woodworking project I have done I've gotten a bunch of comments about "toxic woods".

Rather than try to preach about the relative safety of wood compared to virtually everything else in our environments, I will simply say that working with walnut, cherry and maple is completely safe, and those are great places to start without any fear of a possible reaction.
gare8421 noahw2 years ago
No one is asking for a sermon the relative safety of wood versus other toxic substances. Why is that even mentioned? My question was not about "relative safety", but rather an issue of WOOD and allergies.

A simple statement in your instructable for first time wood workers could be useful.
noahw (author)  gare84212 years ago
Hi gare8421,

Please accept my apologies - my comment was intended to be directed towards pjotrkuh (see their comment below) and I must have accidentally hit the incorrect reply button. pjotrkuh's comment has a tone of alarm about "toxic wood" to it that I just wanted to turn down a bit since wood is generally a very safe and stable material to work with.

Regarding your comment - I have also heard that walnut is bad for horses, but I do know that it is fine for humans. I have also read that people who suffer nut allergies should be fine working with wood from nut bearing trees - the proteins concentrate in the nuts, not the rest of the plant structure.

It's a good idea to say a word about wood allergies for the beginning wood worker and I thank you for the suggestion. Quite frankly I though wouldn't know what to say as we all mitigate risks in our lives differently and react in our own way to allergens. For example, many woodworkers get itchy skin when working with certain types of wood like cedar and cocobolo. This is a widely known occurrence, and woodworkers suggest wearing long sleeves, or, quite simply, to not let the itch bother them. That being said, the dust from these woods could certainly be described as an allergy. Should cedar and cocobolo be labeled as allergens? Does it merit a warning? I'm not looking for an answer, simply trying to explain why I think these are tricky questions.


If you'd like to point me towards a good reference on wood allergies I'd be happy to read it, and include it in the Instructable. I'm really not trying to deliver a sermon, just simply wanted to answer your question with the thought and explanation that I think it deserved. Thanks again for your suggestion and support.
noahw (author)  noahw2 years ago
Scratch that last part - I did some additional reading just now and have updated "The Wood" step of the Instructable with a note about allergies and a reference that could help the beginning woodworker out a bit.
Yes some woods are veery, very toxic :
on your list I would definitely scrap down all the "pine" category such as pine, cedar, fir and redwood : after all you wouldn't mind to use turpentine as a salad dressing !
Same for teak : who would care for a taste of teak oil ???


PS. : Turpentine (at least the traditional stuff that has been manufactured for centuries before synthetic chemistry took over) is made from pine resin : great smell when you enter Picasso's studio,  but it's compatibility with human health stops here !!!!…
flamesami noahw2 years ago
just a heads-up : walnut can be dangerous for people with nut allergies.

(I'm pretty sure that's what I read on another forum, which has lots of woodworkers)
there are almost certainly online resources which will tell you what woods are dangerous/easy to work/nice finish/etc.

if in doubt about some wood, Google it
Thats what I wanted to comment... there are certain types of wood that can be toxic ..... so KNOW what type of wood your work with ppl!!!
vincent75202 years ago
Niiiice !...
I'll have to try it.

I did not read all the comments before the one I'm posting, so please forgive me if mine is redundant. It's about the finish : instead of mineral oil, wouldn't olive oil (or any other salad oil for that matter) be an acceptable substitute ?... After all olive oil is edible !

However there is an alternative, although I'm not sure it will be accepted by other members : no finishing at all !
Keep the wood bare and the spoon will slowly oil and "finish" itself over time.
Most of the wooden "cutlery" (spoon and forks) sold in local markets here (France) are free of any finish. They keep very well overtime : I spoil mine when I happen to leave them near a flame /) !... Otherwise I wouldn't have to get new ones. En they get a very nice tanned color overtime ...
I'm 60 + and I still see in my mother's kitchen spoons she used when I was a child.
wiremu662 years ago
I suggest that using mineral oil on woodware that is in contact with food is not a good practice. Personally I would stay with vegetable oils.
noahw (author)  wiremu662 years ago
What is your concern with mineral oil? I've had reservations about vegetable oil on wood that comes into contact with food because of the flavor as well as a risk of it becoming rancid over time.
NateHoy noahw2 years ago
I'm an avid woodcarver and use mineral oil extensively.

I do ensure that I get a "safe" formulation of mineral oil by purchasing it at the drugstore, where it is sold as a laxative. I've received several odd looks from cashiers when I purchase 2-3 large bottles at the same time, and the occasional warning that "you do know you are supposed to only use a couple tablespoons of that a day, right?"
I know It works for general wood carvings but mineral oil doesen't make any kind af tipical paint polimerization, in other word it remains liquid as you bought and when you use your spoon in hot water you'll see vaseline oil floating on sorface of your soup. That's not so nice if you are asked about.
it depends on which oil , I advice against soy oil , really unpleasent flavor when rancid. I use that for outdoor light duty wood protection as flax oil more or less. Actually I use any kind of unpleasent food grade residual vegetal oil for wood protection .
wiremu66 noahw2 years ago
I was thinking of motoroil as mineral oil. I was unaware of mineral oil that was safe for human consumption. Like the indestructible anyway!
I've rubbed olive oil into wood and never had a problem with it going rancid, probably because I use the chopping board most days. The oil is not strong enough to flavour the food. Great instructable!
Sure is, olive oil may be the best choice to me because it does not get an unpleasent fishy stink . Just scrub spoons in hot water , that will be enough. I avoid dish detergents on any kind on wood kitchen hardware and do not led food remains dry and just scrub away erything as soon as possible..
Pfarmkid2 years ago
How did I do? it's not very big but do you think it's good? I think it's OK for using just a Dremel and a Swiss Army Knife. Please Critique.


Thanks,
Pfarmkid
noahw (author)  Pfarmkid2 years ago
That's a great start! What a neat little spoon! What do you think you'll use it for? I could imagine keeping that small spoon in my pocket so that it's ready at a moments notice :)
I can tell on my personal practice that wood spoons and alike kitchen stuff are best in teflon pans and pots use and differently from nylon made spoons they do not melt and do smell better when accidentally burnt
I know Right, I love burning my hickory spoons. Just kidding but I do agree
Pfarmkid noahw2 years ago
Yeah maybe. I wish I could have kept the red cedar color but the price of cedar I used was more light wood than red. I agree you never know when free ice cream or soup might make an appearance
Just realized how bad this pdf is here is a jpeg to replace it it's a little better..
spoon001.jpg
awoodcarver2 years ago
Very nice work nice easy to follow instructable ......on woods walnut and cherry are very good choices for grain and finishing or if you go to a fancier spoon ...for softer wood I use Spanish ceder if you can find it or glue some cigar boxes together....... jelutong is a nice light wood and easier then bass to carve but as hard to find as Spanish ceder ..........http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyera_costulata...
flamesami2 years ago
nice instructable, and as you said, there are other ways to do it. I personally prefer to carve "wet"/green wood, straight of the tree, because its usually much easier to carve then dry, seasoned wood, and once it's done it isn't as likely to split while drying

the finish(es) I use are really simple: oil, then wax with a mix of oil and beeswax (I use locally-sourced olive oil and beeswax, because I can) neither will stand up to a dishwasher, so don't put it in there! They don't need to be dishwasher-ed, just cleaned with water and detergent
catfan632 years ago
Also, keep the grain in mind as it will determine how nice your project turns out. Go against the grain and you will be very frustrated... go with it and your project will have (almost) no tearout and will have a sense of professionalism about it. Thanks for the 'ible!
Awesome. And i can't resist the simpsons quote: " they say he carved it himself...from a bigger spoon". :)
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