Carving Wooden Utensils by Will Priestly
by Will Priestley Woodcraft
I am predominantly a spoon carver, though I often go by ‘green woodworker’ as that also covers the other things I make. Green woodwork is the practice of working with fresh wood, rather than dried or seasoned. It’s very much about using the natural properties of the wood (like natural bends, grain structure, flexibility etc.) to dictate the final product. As such, no two end results are exactly the same.
I am based in Glastonbury, Somerset, at the moment, but started my spoon carving journey 6 years ago in Bristol. I was working for a conservation charity, leading volunteer groups on practical tasks like coppicing, hedge-laying and scrub clearance. Among the tools we used were some lovely little axes and I desperately wanted one for myself but couldn’t really justify the expense for the few times a month I’d be using it. So, initially, I only took up spoon carving as an excuse to buy one! There was no shortage of wood from work projects so I’d take it home and whittle away in the garden with my new axe and knives.
Fast forward to today and the hobby has replaced the work! I still get all of my wood from local conservation projects, foraging my own wood and knowing exactly where it came from and the reason the trees were felled is very important to me. I only carve hardwoods that are native to Britain, my favourites being cherry, sycamore, alder and birch but I’ll give anything go, really!
Aside from the chainsaw that felled the tree, there are no power tools in my process. I saw the wood to size by hand, split and rough shape it with an axe and finish with knives. By keeping my tools extremely sharp, I can leave a beautifully smooth finish on the wood. I like to think of the faceted tools marks as a lasting link between the spoon and its maker so, for this reason, I never use sand paper.
Spoon carving can be an incredibly relaxing and meditative practice (although when things don’t go right, it can be anything but!). It’s a wonderful way to take your mind off the stresses of every day life, to connect with nature and see a project through every step of the way, from tree to spoon, in a way that most other crafts can not. In the same way the food tastes better when you have grown the food yourself, eating or cooking with your own handmade spoons makes any meal that bit more enjoyable!
How I carve a cooking spoon
- I start by splitting the wood using an axe and a big whacker (technical term).
- Still with the axe, I roughly shape the spoon. The closer I can get to the final shape, the less knife work I’ll have to do.
- I use a carving knife to refine the shape. It’s very easy to be complacent and cut yourself so by learning safe techniques and making them habit, accidents become very few and far between.
- I hollow the bowl of the spoon using a knife with a curved blade
- Lastly is to soften some of the edges with the carving knife. These cuts are important as they make the spoon more comfortable to use and more durable.
I let the spoon dry for a few days before I paint the handle, or leave it au natural. I use milk paint to decorate my work; it’s a mix of milk protein, lime powder and natural pigment that just needs water. Once the paint is dry, I treat the spoon with pure linseed oil. This helps to waterproof the spoon and bring the colour of the wood out really nicely. After a few more days to let the oil dry (sunlight really helps speed this up), the spoon is ready to be sent out in to the world!