A couple of months ago I bought a copy of Country Woodcraft: Then & Now by Drew Langsner. It’s a beautiful book that dives deep into everything from felling and hewing logs, to building and sharpening tools, to creating everyday items like rakes, stools, buckets and bowls. It even covers handmade farm implements like plows and harrows — super-fun to learn about, but probably not high on my personal list of essentials. The original book was published in the 70s and was updated last year. Highly recommended.
After reading the chapter on spoon carving earlier this month, I happened to be clearing out some winterfall maple branches from the back of our yard in Bellevue, so I cut a few chunks and tucked them away for a rainy day experiment. Yesterday turned out to be that day!
Here’s the thing though — turns out that spoon carving is kind of the macrame of woodworking. YouTube is downright brimming with videos on YouTube talking about finding the spoon in the wood and connecting with the spirit of our ancestors through cutlery. Look, there’s more than a little hippie in me too, but seriously people.
I guess that’s why I’ve enjoyed Country Woodcraft so much. It’s incredibly detailed and richly illustrated and isn’t shy about natural and constructed beauty — it’s just that they emerge primarily from function. Consolidating this particular endeavor down to the essentials:
- Get a spoon-sized piece of wood. Grain should be parallel to the length. Avoid the pith.
- Whittle it into a spoon shape. Don’t cut yourself.
- Sand and finish it.
- You now have a spoon.
Don’t get me wrong, there is clearly bigtime craft here that takes work and practice. You need sharp knives and hollowing out the bowl requires time, care and patience (I used a hook knife, but a lot of folks use gouge chisels). Deep ladles and such require steam or other bending techniques. My amateur attempt is painfully clumsy compared to real carvers, but it makes me happy nonetheless.
I doubt that fine carving is in my future — years of repetitive workplace stress on the fingers and wrists have taken a toll on my dexterity. Thankful for the big bottle of Advil in the medicine cabinet! But I always value the opportunity to appreciate the work that goes into creating even the simplest objects and tools. Fun stuff!
And next time there is pasta sauce to be stirred at the Nolans — we are golden.