The Simple Things
OUT OF THE WOOD
GET TO GRIPS WITH THE BASICS OF WHITTLING AND CREATE YOUR OWN BEAUTIFUL SPOON
It’s a pleasing thing to create an object that then becomes part of your daily life, whether a cosy scarf or a home-sewn cushion. So, how about a spoon? Although a slightly more ambitious undertaking, it can be a gentle introduction to the art of wood carving and a way into creating beautiful objects that’ll last. To help, we’ve got a ‘how to’ guide from Max Bainbridge of London-based Forest + Found, a skilled hand carver and turner.
To give it a go, you’ll need some basic equipment. Max uses two main tools – a crook knife and a straight knife by Swedish brand Mora (available from woodlandcraftsupplies.co.uk). A crook knife has a distinctive curved blade for hollowing or scooping out concave forms, while a straight knife serves many different tasks, from removing bulk material to the fine details of finishing cuts. You’ll find some beginner carving techniques in ‘ First Cuts’, over the page. You will, of course, also need wood, specifically hardwoods (softwoods aren’t really suitable for carving). Being close-grained and very strong, they’re ideal for making objects that are used daily. For this project, Max normally uses silver birch – it’s a fantastically versatile species of wood and a great starting point for carving – sourced from his local Forestry Commission, tree surgeons, other makers or perhaps a timber merchant.
If you find it tricky at first, don’t lose heart. Part of the pleasure of working with wood is the process, being in touch with the outdoors. Don’t be focussed on perfection. The aim of this project to create a spoon that resonates with you and becomes something that you look forward to using every day.
1 Place the birch log on a stable cutting block (a large round log serves as a brilliant chopping block). Now place the axe in line with the middle of the end of the piece of timber. Using the mallet, strike down, taking care to hit the back of the axe head and not the handle.
2 Once you have two halves of log, choose the one with the flattest face. Mark out a spoon template on thick paper or card and cut out. Draw around your template, marking out your design in the centre of the piece of wood. Start to cut away with the axe to rough out the spoon blank, removing the stock material. Always work cutting from the middle of the log down to your cutting block, making sure your axe never comes near your hands. You can keep moving and turning the blank as you shape.
3 Once you have your spoon roughed out, the next step is to carve the bowl. Using the crook knife and scoop cut (see over for techniques), work across the grain from the far side of the bowl towards yourself. You won’t need to apply a lot of pressure with the knife: because the wood is green it gives very
little resistance to the blade, which makes it very easy to work.
4 Now that you have hollowed out the bowl of the spoon, you can start to shape and refine the back of the spoon with the straight knife, using the push cut (see opposite). Make sure to work in one direction from the middle of the back of the spoon up, and then change direction working from the middle down to the shoulders. This should stop you cutting against the grain and experiencing unnecessary resistance.
5 After you have shaped the back of the spoon, you can work on refining the handle and the transition of the shoulders with the straight knife by using a combination of the pull cut and push cut. Once your general shape emerges, you can start using the detail cut to refine areas of your design.
6 Now that you have refined the shape and are happy with the balance and form of the spoon, you can start to sand. The one rule to remember here is always to sand with the grain, this will ensure that you achieve a silky smooth finish and avoid creating scratches by sanding across the grain, which are then difficult to get out. Work your way up through the grits (grades of roughness), starting at 120 grit moving through to 320 grit, until you are happy with the surface finish.
7 Apply a generous coat of the beeswax salve with a clean cloth and allow it to soak in overnight. The following morning you can give the spoon a good rub all over to work in any remaining salve and to polish the surface.