Some of you have asked me for more information on making a ladle, so here goes.
Hubris has not taken over my soul, and I do not believe that there is a perfect this or that. I believe we can get close, but the thing is, we are all individuals with our own likes, ways of moving, doing things etc. What is perfect for you may not be perfect for me.
However, I embarked on a project a few years ago: to make the perfect eating spoon – and for me, I have made it. How long this will last I do not know, I may make another spoon I fall in love with, that is perfect for me at that time. I realise that spoons are often specialized implements, suited for serving, cooking, eating, and racing. There are many perfect spoons and crap ones as well.What is important in a spoon is not only how it performs, but design and aesthetics, and the story that goes with it.
I have taught green wood work for many years now. In the past I got very caught up in the notion that people had to make a good spoon, turning, etc. I realised slowly that it is the process of making, the process of learning a new skill that is important, not the final outcome. We all have to practice and it is only through making and doing that we improve.
I was in Cornwall with my family on holiday, camping in our bell tent, when I made this spoon.
We visited a few Holy wells and when visiting Madron Well there was a lot of small trees and shrubs cut down to improve access to the site. I of course had to take a small log, no more that 2 inches diameter back to the camp site. The wood was blackthorn, the shape of the wood dictated the shape of the spoon and you can see the pith on top of the handle.
The spoon is asymmetrical, the handle round in cross section, with it arcing in a compound curve. I love this spoon and have used it for over 4 years now.
In using the spoon I found that it was in fact a very good eating spoon. The flat end of the bowl which fits up to and into the mouth at that perfect angle, for me.
The curve in the handle fitted me and the act of getting food from plate to mouth was comfortable and natural. I got thinking about ergonomics and design and thought I could make the perfect eating spoon.
I have made a few of these spoons, trying to reproduce the same ideas and shapes. Above is a beech spoon that is the “one”. These 2 spoons I use every day. My breakfast is eaten with them and when appropriate my dinner. They are used for porridge, soups and casseroles, in fact any food that can be eaten with a spoon. The bowl may be shallow, but it does work well with thin liquids. In fact I think that all eating spoons should have shallow bowls.
I do not treat my spoons, they are just wood. They may not last forever, but that is the nature of wood and humans.
As I write this article, I realise that the first proper spoon I made was when I was living under a large but adolescent oak tree, in a teepee. The spoon was going to be a large cooking/ serving spoon. I had a major accident with it, I can not remember the exact details but either a split developed in the bowl or I cut a large portion off it. Out of this disaster I made it into an eating spoon, which in design was similar to this one. I used it or most meals for many years, but spoons can have accidents and this one went the way of most spoons ever made. It was broken beyond repair and went into the fire. I only have a memory of this spoon, no images.
Above is a spoon I made for a collector of spoons. What sort of spoon do you make for a collector? I could have made a £400 love spoon, a £200 contemporary spoon, an £8 spoon made as fast as I could.
I made a spoon that had a personal story to it, but I did make it from a beautifully figured wood. London Plane or Lacewood – and it had a lovely tight burr to it as well. It is also sanded, which I do only with some spoons. It is also oiled to bring out the grain and colour.
I have been meaning to write this post for some time. I was prompted to do so because a friend, talented green woodworker, and tireless campaigner Robin Wood posted a blog on the perfect cooking spoon. I too have my own take on the cooking spoon, but that is for another post. What I love about this spoon making is that we all come up with our own design and ideas and stories about spoons. We may start off by copying other designs but we soon develop our own unique style, after the first hundred, or so, spoons. Trying to make the perfect spoon is a great way of learning and I urge you all to attempt the perfect spoon.
Stop motion animation of making a spoon
133 photos later and 30 minutes on the computer, I made this short film.
10 minute spoon
After chatting to Robin Wood about green woodwork, production work, and about Ion Constantin, spoon maker, from Slatina, that Stewart King and Robin filmed in
The link to the video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7yipq2xd7o
I find this process very interesting and how it can inform and change all my other knife work. I love a well made spoon, the time spent on achieving perfect form and a beautiful hand worked finish, but as we all know there is not a very big market for a £25 or more spoon, so we need to reduce the price and the only way of doing this is by compromising. It has got to function, we can not compromise to much here, but the look and design can change, the finish can be rougher the knife marks and cuts bigger, in other words bigger `flats`. We can not compromise on wood, we can use willow and alder which are some of our softest woods, or cherry and sycamore, but we must use them green, just felled. Do not try doing this using slightly dry wood it will slow you down and will be harder on the hands.
One thing that would have shaved a few minutes off my time is a suitable hook knife. Frosts hook knife? No, because it has a too tight a curve and also it has an angled bevel which should be rounded. My little Ben Orford knife is too small, so I am going to have to make my own hook knife with the right shape and edge geometry etc, a carving adze would help as well, just to take the bulk of the bowl out.
I have decide to use a shaving horse and a drawknife to save my knife holding hand, I find that the intense knife work even for 10 mins can be very hard on my hand and to be honest I rather look after my body.
These are not the most beautiful spoons but there is honesty in seeing tool marks, and we have become conditioned by the plastic society that needs a smooth sanded surface with a gloss finish. I want to sell spoons, and the only way of doing that is by finding the price people will pay and making a spoon to that price. So lots more practise for me.
The woods that I have used are cherry, willow and alder buckthorn. I will also be practising and refining the design and process and maybe one day I will be able to make a spoon in 10 minutes.
If you would like to buy any spoons do have a look at my website for details of how to buy
I have been making spoons since I was a child in Wales. My first one was for a spoon carving class in the local fair in Tregarron and I have no idea of what happened to it. After college I spent time living under canvas in a woodland and wanted to learn how to create everyday artefacts for daily living. Learning through trial and error, I made some beautiful spoons, which have gone the way of most wooden spoons back into the earth and atmosphere. Not all my spoons are good, I have made a fair few that may be functional but are not well made or designed, after all it is possible to eat with stick or chip of wood.
Spoons can be made with just a knife and hook knife or a carving gouge, a saw is also helpfull but not nessessary.
Some of the knives I use and would recommend both on quality and price are the Mora Frosts knives from Sweden.
164 single edge hook knife
120 short bladed carving knife and maybe a 160 which has a long narrow blade, not recommended for beginners
840, 860,740,760,780 which are good beginners bushcraft knives and very good for general woodcraft
S-1 and S-2 wooden handled carving knives.
The hook knives are OK but do not buy the double edged one. I have never got on with it. For quality hook knives you will have to buy them from craftsmen that make themselves and the price is usually £30 upwards but they are well worth it.
Good tools are fantastic, we can all put on our anoraks and talk for hours about the pros and cons of this or that tool. I started off with a Stanley knife and I have seen the most amazing work from some of the oddest looking tools ever. What is most important is the sharpness of the blade and the skill of the maker.
Spoon made from sycamore, carved at WOMAD festival during the mud fest of 2007
Some tools of the trade; hook knives 164 and a hook knife made by Ben Orford, knives; bushcraft and 120 frosts, and spoon.
Apple wood love spoon with one ball in the cage and a chain, this has been carved from one piece of wood.
Rattle with captive ball with 2 heads carved into it.
Love spoons designed and made by Sean Hellman.
- Why so many people are now whittling spoon? I can only really talk from my own experience, and I have a number of theories.
- The eco aspect, to make something yourself with the minimum of tools from natural materials.
- You have bought your expensive Gransfor burk axe and spent even more on a bush craft knife and you want to use them.
- A need to be self reliant, a need to create something in a society that hugely undervalues craftspeople, well manual workers.
- To get in touch with, or to connect with our ancestors, by using similar tools, the same techniques, and materials. A link with the past.
- To create a sacred tool, one that nurtures, well enables nurturing, ok putting food into your gob. The spoon can be also seen as a symbol, the bowl archetypally represents the womb or feminine principle and the handle represents the male principle, they are combined into one (unity) and used as a tool to feed ourselves with.
- As a meditation.
- To get rich and famous as a world renowned spoon maker, get real no one makes money from making things by hand.
- To get a wife, this one worked for me. I met my wife after exhibiting at a friends Christmas show, she saw my spoons and wanted one carved in a certain design as a cake stirring spoon to be made from apple wood. She got in touch and we met in my workshop, I am sure my eyes were popping out and my tongue was on the floor. We met again a week later at a party and things just got better. Love blossomed and the spoon took a couple of years to be made, but she got it ibefore we married.
- To learn the craft or art of using the most important tool ever, the knife. Give me a knife and I can live in comfort. Try living in the wilderness without a knife and see how long you survive!