Spoon carving lesson

Laura has been working with wood all summer building her studio, but yesterday Laura and I both had the opportunity to work with wood on a smaller and very satisfying scale. I've been very interested in learning how to make wooden spoons and have been researching spoon-carving online and reading about it in books. Last week I emailed Berea artist Gin Petty because I remembered that she used to carve spoons professionally. I thought she might have some resources or leads for me to further my research. Instead she generously offered to show Laura and I how to carve spoons! Soon we were on Gin's porch, watching her deftly make a spoon from a chunk of wood. She works with the practiced confidence of someone who is intimately familiar with her tools and the knowledge of how the grain of the wood impacts the finished piece. To read about how she's been carving since she was 6(!) go here

She first cuts the wood to a rough shape using a bandsaw. Gin has templates that she uses and she traces the outline onto the wood block and then cuts out the shape. 

Then, bracing the wood against a block of wood, Gin used a gouge and mallet to begin carving out the bowl of the spoon.

I was impressed by how much wood she removed at a time when she began. As the carving progressed, she made smaller, more controlled cuts. Soon she abandoned the mallet and used her hands to continue shaping the spoon bowl. The key is making sure the wood grain on both sides of the bowl meet, rather than having a small "step" where the bowl sides meet. You have to carefully remove wood until the sides are on the same layer  of wood grain.

Then she moved to shaping the back of the spoon bowl. She used a flatter gouge for this. She uses her thumb to push the tool. The angle of the gouge controls the depth of the cut.

Still using the flatter gouge, she removed extra wood from the handle.

A spokeshave removed more wood and made the handle smooth.

Then it was our turn. It was, of course, much more difficult than Gin made it look! Laura went first. 

Then I got started. We both got blisters on our thumbs and fingers- new hobby, new calluses!

It was tricky for both of use to learn to control and push the gouge with our thumbs. Also new was learning to determine the direction of the grain and to carve with it.

I liked the scale of the work, we sat most of the time and used our bodies to hold the spoon- knees for vices, ribs for braces. We didn't finish the spoons at Gin's, but when we got home we refined them with pocket knives and sandpaper. And just like that we each made a spoon! Laura's is on the top, mine is on the bottom.

The spoons backs:

One profile:

They are made from cedar which is not good to use with food, so we just rubbed them with beeswax to finish them.

We are grateful for the opportunity to begin to learn a new skill like this. Gin showed us what tools we would need to buy to continue our spoon-making. There is a woodworking store close by and I am pleased that I can go into this unfamiliar territory knowing what I need to purchase instead of wandering around in a daze!

I am so pleased to have started this learning process under Gin's direction and it was fun to learn something new with Laura. I look forward to starting work my next spoon soon!