How to Make Your Own Wooden Spoons
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Learning how to make wooden spoons is much simpler than it may seem. Jenny Underwood explains the basics.
By Jenny Underwood I’ve always been intrigued by making things from scratch or handmade items. Over the years, I’ve delved into many things including basket weaving, sourdough breads, and even broom making. But one thing eluded me, and that was woodworking. I guess I had the mistaken belief it was beyond my abilities. Thankfully that isn’t true, and the good news is if you’ve been putting off learning to carve wood, a simple, fun, rather addicting intro can be spoon carving! Let’s get started.
First off, spoon carving requires minimal tools and supplies. To get started, you need a good, sharp knife, a hook knife or gouge, and a green piece of wood big enough to carve into a spoon. A few extras that are handy but not necessary are a draw knife, saw (hand or band saw), bench vise, and sandpaper. I was able to purchase a spoon maker’s kit from Flexcut for under $60! This included two knives and two gouges.
To begin, cut some green wood or ask a neighbor or arborist for green wood cuttings. The reason you want green wood versus dry wood is it carves SO much easier. Trust me on this, you want that! We cut some sections out of small trees we were cutting down to thin our woods. These were ash trees but you can carve spoons out of tons of different trees. My husband then split the pieces open and we drew a pattern on the pieces. Pattern pieces are available online, or just copy a favorite spoon of your own.
Now you can cut multiple pieces at once, wrap in a plastic bag, and toss them into your freezer for later use. I’ve also read you can submerge your wood in a water source but haven’t tried this.
When you draw your pattern on the wood piece, remember you will be removing more than one dimension. First, remove the basic spoon pattern from above. Then draw the side pattern of the spoon. You may cut out this pattern with a bandsaw, handsaw, or hatchet. Remove as much excess wood as you can with these larger tools to help make your spoon carving much more enjoyable. We used a bandsaw and it worked wonderfully.
After cutting out your spoon blank, you may begin carving it down. A few safety precautions are in order here. I recommend using a cutting glove on your holding hand (not your cutting hand), holding close to the knife blade, but always be aware of where your fingers are, never use a gouge with your leg as the backstop, and use short, careful strokes when cutting towards yourself. Yes, that’s right, you’ll be cutting towards yourself. This usually involves bracing the spoon against your chest, locking your cutting elbow against your side, and cutting short cuts on the wood towards yourself. This is very safe because of the range of motion but make sure you lock that elbow against your ribcage!
To thin the handle, you may either carve completely with the knife or place it into a bench vise and utilize a draw knife to thin it down. I highly recommend the draw knife method as it cuts cleanly and quickly. However, if you don’t have one, you may hold the spoon blank over your leg (with both legs out of reach) and using a long shaving motion, move your knife down the handle on the blank. You will put quite a bit of force into this, but it’s important to NOT bite off too much wood at once. Only catch a small amount of wood each time you shave down. Not only is this much safer, but it’s much easier to carve. Thin it down to your desired thickness, remembering that you can always take more wood off but can’t put it back.
To work the spoon part, you will want to work the outside of the bowl first. This can be done with a rasp, knife, or saw. Finish with the knife in short, careful strokes. Take your time. Always look at the wood grain and allow it to lead your cutting. In some spots, it may be necessary to cut in one direction and then switch and cut in the other direction for a smooth cut. I found this to be especially true where the handle joins the bowl and the inside of the bowl.
To carve out the bowl, use your gouge or hook knife. Take small cuts and keep a very close eye on your thickness. You don’t want to go through your spoon bowl! The more careful your cuts are, the less sanding you’ll need to do, also. It’s really up to you how thick or thin you want your spoon to be, so use your own discretion. A thinner walled spoon is lighter and dries quicker.
After your spoon is basically finished, you may temper it. This is simply boiling it in a pot of water to help meld your fibers together and produce a stronger spoon. I boiled mine for about 10 minutes and turned it halfway if it was taller than my water depth.
Remove and wrap in a newspaper and allow to dry naturally. Then do any finish sanding and you’re ready to seal it. I used food-grade natural walnut oil. But you can use any food-grade finish that you wish. With the walnut oil, you apply a thin coat, then let it dry for at least 24 hours. Wipe off excess with a soft cloth then apply another coat. Allow to dry again for 24 hours and wipe clean. Now you’re ready to use it.
Handwash your wooden spoons and reapply any finish as needed to prolong their life. If well-cared for, they could very well become an heirloom, handed down to the next generation.
So, remember, if you’ve been itching to take up a new hobby, or perhaps you’re finally ready to take that leap into the world of woodworking, there’s no better place to start than with a spoon!
JENNY UNDERWOOD is a homeschooling mama to four lively blessings. She makes her home in the rural foothills of with her husband of 20 years. You can find her reading a good book, drinking coffee, and gardening on their little fifth-generation homestead. She blogs at www.inconvenientfamily.com
Originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.