If you can make kindling, you can carve a spoon. And mastering spoon carving will not only help you make bowls, ladles, and shovels (and musical instruments -- big ladles covered with skins and strings), it will also develop all the cutting and shaping skills you'll need to make that timber frame you've been dreaming about. And, it's a great joy to take a bit of branch and with little more than a knife, turn it into a beautiful tool to fill your empty belly and please your eyes and hands.
Long before industrial factories started cranking out millions of metal and plastic utensils, spoons were common (and disposable) as seashells on the beach, or chips of wood at the chopping block. Consider that in the Romance languages the word "spoon" comes from a root meaning "shell," while in English it comes from an Indo-European root meaning "chip of wood."
So for all you shell-less dry-landers, almost any fresh bit of branch wood can make you a rough and ready (or polished and elegant) spoon.
First, sharpen your hatchet and knife (good books have been written about sharpening, so I won't go into it here except to say that the sharper your tools, the easier the work and the better the results).
Just about any wood will do. It all depends on what grows in your neighborhood. Alder is common, fine-grained, easy to carve, and holds up well to repeated wetting and drying. Apple is nice, but seems more prone to cracking over the long haul. Softwoods like cedar and fir are carveable, but tend to be stringy and tough to work, unless they have very tight growth rings. The only wood I've ever tried that I absolutely couldn't carve was Asian pear -- I could barely get the knife into it!
Below I'll describe the individual steps, but this is where videos and many photos provide the best tuition. I have an illustrated tutorial on my website, as well as photos and drawings of my absolute all-time favorite spoon, which was, I suspect, carved by a traditional eastern European carver; and searches on Youtube will surely bring up as many more spoon and green-woodworking videos as you have time to watch.
1. Cut a branch about 9 inches long, and as wide as you want the bowl of your spoon (the bark will all come off!).
2. Split the branch in half w/your hatchet. Hold it on your chopping block with one hand. With the hatchet in the other hand, gently place the blade across the very center of the branch; keeping the blade firmly pressed on the wood, and holding the branch in the middle, pick it up about 6 inches and bring it down sharply to drive the hatchet into the wood - not too hard or you'll cut yourself! Just tap tap tap until the blade sticks. Then let go the bottom hand, and finish the split with a single downward blow of the hatchet.
3. If the wood splits evenly, each half branch should make a spoon.
4. The rest of the roughing process is a matter of making a series of cuts which will either be parallel to each other, or at 90 degrees. When you've got the proportions of bowl and handle fixed, then you can start on rounding and shaping.
It doesn't even need much of a hollow to get most foods into your mouth - and if what you're eating won't stay on your spoon, you should probably be drinking it from a cup!
Image caption: Left to right, 1) a spoon I made, probably from big leaf maple; 2) my favorite spoon ever (I traded for it), carved, I suspect, by a traditional eastern European spoon carver, perhaps boxwood?; and 3) a treasured birch spoon, carved by Bill Coperthwaite, who introduced me to the tool that changed my life. (More on that soon!)
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