It’s Official: Spoon Making is “In.”

Earlier this year, the Popular Woodworking Magazine blog promoted several of the magazine’s spoon making resources.  There is now a Facebook group of spoon makers and greenwood craftspeople that boasts nearly 5,500 members (myself included).  And more recently, over at the Lost Art Press blog, Chris Schwarz has posted an old, one-page article from The Woodworker magazine, which is worth a look.  (Chris also shares his own early, traumatizing experience with spoon making.)  The article, which Chris says was probably written by Charles H. Hayward, is a brief look at the design of the hand-carved wooden spoon.

Hayward suggests that wooden spoons were developed in England in the 17th century, though we now know that they were used throughout Medieval England, and almost certainly earlier, though intact examples are difficult to come by.

FMitchell-2289or some reason, as soon as spoon making comes up, somebody will bring up Celtic “love spoons,” as Hayward does in this article.  I’m not terribly interested in these artifacts, and I don’t quite see why they should be lumped together with functional wooden spoons.  As far as I can see, they share only three similarities: they are made of the same material (wood); they are made using similar tools (carving knives); and they both have some sort of hollowed “bowl” attached to a oblong bit of wood.  You might as well lump together cauldrons and church bells.  As works of fine art, love spoons can be beautiful in their own right, but they are utterly useless and intentionally so.  Real wooden spoons, on the other hand, are judged primarily by their usefulness.  Their aesthetics are directly connected to their function.  A good spoon both looks good and feels good in use.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased that wooden spoons are finally getting some publicity in the USA.  I hope that will mean that we will soon see a wider range of spoon making tools becoming available, and that spoon making resources will continue to proliferate.

Yet, as G. K. Chesterton once said, “Fashions come and go, but mostly go.”  Me, I’m going to keep making functional kitchen spoons as often as I can.

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WIA 2014 Kids’ Corner: Special Thanks to North Carolina Woodworker

WIA 2014 - - 10The Woodworking in America conference naturally caters to the facial-hair-and-flannel crowd, but our experience this year was enriched by the “kids’ corner” set up by North Carolina Woodworker, a statewide association of woodworkers.  They had several quick, kid-friendly projects for children, and my kids tried them all out.

K, my oldest, made a laminated bracelet, which was then ripped in half.  She kept one half, and the other half went to a child in a local hospital.

I’ve never done a bent lamination before, so this was new territory for her as well as for me.

WIA 2014 - - 09 WIA 2014- - 07A lot of glue, a little blue tape, and a clamp was all it took, really.   Names and/or initials can be carved or woodburned into the bracelet to personalize it.  WIA 2014 - - 11It’s an easy project, and the results come quickly.

Next time somebody asks about a quick, kid-friendly project, I’m going to recommend this.

Another daughter, A, chose a simple scrollsaw project.  She was a little nervous around the machine, as it made a bit of noise.  The biggest difficulty for her little hands was holding the workpiece flat on the table while the saw cut.  Fortunately, she had some adult assistance with that part.

Drilling a hanging hole for it was a little easier for her.  She’s done plenty of work with an eggbeater drill before.

They glued on some googly eyes, and the project was done.  With a little more time, it would have been fun to paint it, too.   WIA 2014- - 10

A third project (of which I failed to take a process picture) was the light-saber.  They had a couple lathes set up, where kids could turn a simple handle.  They inserted a small LED flashlight on one end and a piece of PVC tubing on the other to make a glowing sword.  It’s a fast, boy-friendly project that I highly recommend to anybody with a little boy and a lathe.

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My son was especially fond of this project.

So once again, thanks to the North Carolina woodworkers who volunteered their time, tools, and materials to make this a family-friendly event!

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The Kids Do Woodworking in America 2014

Attending the Woodworking in America conference was a little different for us this year.  My wife and I were both running cameras for various sessions (which got us in free!).  On the first day, my wife ran cameras for Graham Blackburn, as well as for Brian Coe, a joiner who supervises all the costumed interpreters at Old Salem.  Meanwhile, I took my own kids down to Old Salem to see the sights.

Old Salem 9-2014(Note to self: if there is water, the kids will get wet.)

The next day, I ran camera for Phil Lowe as he showed how to make a full-scale drawing of a chair, and for Matt Cianci as he taught saw sharpening.  Thanks to Matt, I now know what I’ve been doing wrong.  My next sharpening attempts should be better.  I also took a quick spin with the kids around the Marketplace.  I could have spent all day there, but as it was, the kids seemed to hover between enjoyment and bemusement.

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My son, R, found a mallet just his size at the Lee Valley display.  He promptly tried to hammer in the pegs it had been hanging on.

My kids also got a good look at the high-tech, mechanized side of woodworking.  The Legacy CNC Woodworking booth featured a CNC machine that was cutting names and designs into pieces of cedar.

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All four of the kids took home a custom-made nameplate.

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Since this event was part of the kids’ schooling experience (life is learning, after all), we made up a pictorial scavenger hunt for the Marketplace.  To make the list, my wife and I looked at the list of exhibitors online, visited their websites, and picked out pictures of items we thought would be likely to show up at their booths.  I think the kids found everything on the list, except for Roy Underhill.

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One of the items on the list was the Knew Concepts fretsaw.  My daughter, A, got to try it out.  (My wife wants one now.)  My youngest daughter, M, learned to positively identify a backsaw, and she went around the room picking out every single backsaw she could find.

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K also got to try out the travishers made by Claire Minihan and offered by Peter Galbert.  Claire was on hand to give K some pointers, but she got the hang of it pretty quickly.  I hope to see this more often: young women working wood.

More pictures of the event coming soon!



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Getting the Kids Ready for WIA 2014

Since the Woodworking in America conference is going to be a family event for us this year, I thought it best to start getting the kids ready now.  This afternoon, I pulled representative tools out of my tool chest and quizzed everybody on their names.  My oldest (7 years old) knew almost all of them, and the younger kids caught on quick.  Even my youngest (2 years old) knows “hammer.”

Then we brought out the “little workbench” and the kid-sized tools and let them putter around with some scrap for a little while.  I’m so glad I bought that set of leather punches on closeout a couple years ago.  They’re great for making designs in wood, and the kids love using them.  Eggbeater drills are also great for kids, even if they do spin them backwards.


I just hope they’ll be ready for next weekend.

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Woodworking in America 2014

Early this summer I started to get e-mail notices about the Woodworking in America conference to be held in September 2014.  The location this year is Winston-Salem, NC.  My wife and I really wanted to go.  First we looked at our schedule.  Then we looked at our savings account.  Finally, we looked at each other.  We shook our heads and said, “not this year.”

Then just yesterday one of the conference organizers contacted me (by virtue of my being a moderator on WoodNet, I think), asking if I knew of anybody who could do A/V and wanted to go to the conference.  As it happens, my wife and I have done a lot of sound tech work and even a little camera work for various churches we have attended.  I eagerly volunteered our services.

So now we have a week to get ready for WIA 2014!  This time we’ll be taking our four children, which will be an adventure for them and for us.  Kids 12-and-under get into the Marketplace free, and there’s a “kids’ corner” this year, too.  I’m already drilling them on the names of tools so they won’t embarrass themselves at the exhibitors’ booths.  My wife and I trade off on childcare duties, and there are so many kid-friendly, educational things to do in Winston-Salem that we’re having a hard time deciding where to take them when they aren’t at WIA.

There will be lots of exciting things going on at conference, too.  I’ll be reconnecting with old acquaintances, and I hope to meet Drew Langsner, whose book Country Woodcraft persuaded me that I could make useful things with a few, simple hand tools.  Lee Valley has promised a big unveiling of new products at their booth, too.  But it’s always the unplanned things that end up being really memorable.

Whatever happens at WIA 2014 won’t stay there.  I’ll be taking pictures and blogging about it here next weekend.

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Building Two Saws: Part 4 (Done!)

There is a moment at the end of a long project that woodworkers live for: the last bit of hardware has been installed, the finish is wiped down for the last time, and the piece just sits there on the bench, surrounded by tools and debris.  It is finished.

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Take a deep breath: there is nothing more to do but put these away, where they await their first project.

Backtracking a little, one of my favorite parts of this project is that it forced me to get creative in order to solve little problems along the way.  For example, the saw nuts I have are extra-long and need to be sawn off and filed so that they sit flush with the handle or slightly below it.  Marking a screw to be cut short isn’t as easy as marking a piece of wood.

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First, with the nut screwed all the way on, I set the assembled bolt on the saw handle with the head flush.  I used a marker to color the screw where it needed to be cut.

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I then put the whole thing into a machinist’s vise (protected with some brown paper), and sawed/filed it until the inked section was gone.  Backing the nut off the sawn-off screw evens out any burrs left from the filing, ensuring that the nut will be able to thread back onto the bolt.

I opted to finish the handles with paste wax, and I’m happy with that decision.  I sanded the handles lightly so as to smooth out any burrs left from the drilling.  Sanding also packs the open pores of the pecan wood with sawdust, and when the finish is applied, the dust acts as a grain-filler.  (Note: this works well with oil and wax finishes, but I wouldn’t try it with a film finish.)  Then I rubbed a liberal amount of paste wax onto the handle, working it especially into the exposed end-grain.  Then I heated it up with a hairdryer, which melted the wax into the wood.  The wood absorbed more wax than I expected, so I applied two coats.

Then it was just a matter of straightening out the saw plates, sharpening the teeth, and testing them out.  The dovetail saw, being new, required only a very light touch-up with a file, as well as setting the teeth.  The panel saw, however, needed more work.  The teeth were dull, uneven, and over-set.  I jointed and filed the teeth, and then stoned them to remove some of the excess set.

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I did opt to leave some of the patina on the saw plate, more out of laziness than anything else.  The staining doesn’t affect how the saw cuts.  I kind of hope that some saw expert picks up this saw in 100 years and puzzles over it.  A skew-backed panel saw, split nuts, no medallion, and an extra-small tote made from figured hardwood.  It should keep him guessing for a while.

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The spalting is visible only on the show side of the handle, unfortunately.  Fortunately, my kids do not care.  I’ll get them to try it out soon.

The dovetail saw’s plate required a little straightening before it would track straight.  Thanks to Isaac’s Smith’s advice on the subject, this operation was simple and relatively stress-free.  Essentially, you find out where the plate is bent and use your hands to bend it in the opposite direction.  Check it carefully each time, and it will eventually be straight.  It worked so well that I immediately got out two older backsaws that didn’t track straight and straightened them out, too.

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Now my dovetail saw is done.  I could spend a lot of time pointing out the little aesthetic flaws.  Should I make another backsaw, there are a few things I will take more care over, but on balance I am happy with the results of my work.  It fits my hand perfectly, and it tracks true.

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Now to start a project that requires dovetails–lots of dovetails!


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Building Two Saws: Part 3

Although I usually feel like a competent woodworker, any time I am faced with metal work I feel like I’ve gone back to kindergarten.  This project has, however, forced me to get a little more comfortable with metal working.

But first, one important photo I forgot to share last time around:

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Work holding isn’t always easy when working with an irregularly-shaped piece.  That’s where a handscrew held upright in a bench vise gets really, really handy.  I place a spacer block behind one of the jaws so that the bench vise clamps only one jaw, leaving the other free to move.  That way, I can easily reposition the workpiece with a turn of the lower screw.

Once the saw handles were shaped and sanded, it was time for a little metal work.  Both saw plates needed trimming to fit the handles.  The panel saw also had at least two separate sets of handle holes drilled in it, so I opted to cut that whole section off the back, shortening the saw by maybe an inch and a half.  I marked my lines with a black marker, taped the saw plate to a backer board, and cut it off with a hacksaw.

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In retrospect, I should have just used the tape itself as the layout line, but oh well.

The dovetail saw plate also needed one corner clipped to fit into the handle slot.  I filed both cuts smooth.  Then I shaped the brass spine with a file and sandpaper.  (Not wanting to get metal filings all over my camera, I opted not to take any pictures of that process.)  The work went quickly, as brass is quite soft and easy to work.  The drawback is that the brass is also easy to mar with an errant stroke of the file.  After sanding the spine, I took it down to my buffing machine and put a nice shine on it.  I went back and forth between the sandpaper and the buffer several times before I was satisfied with the surface finish on the spine.

The next challenge was drilling the holes for the bolts and nuts in the saw handles.  This presents a challenge, as the holes must be lined up perfectly.  It’s easy to drill a hole through one side and then counter-sink it for the head of the bolt.  But how does one counter-sink the other side?  Normally, one would do this with a special drill bit called a piloted countersink.  But since I had only five holes (three of one size and two of another), I didn’t want to buy a special bit.  There is a way to do this with regular drill bits, and while it’s time-consuming, it works just fine.

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First, clamp down the workpiece on the drill press table and drill the narrow hole all the way through.  Then, without moving the workpiece, counter-sink the bigger hole to the necessary depth.  My drill press has a decent depth-stop, so getting a consistent depth was pretty easy.  The smaller hole should be perfectly centered in the larger hole.

Now turn the workpiece over, put your smaller bit back into the chuck, and (without turning the drill press on), insert the drill bit into the original hole.  Turn it backwards a few times to be sure the workpiece is in the right place.  Clamp down the workpiece; it is now perfectly centered on that hole.  Back out the small bit, put in the larger bit, and counter-bore it from this side.

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It’s a lot of changing bits in and out, but the results are precise enough for my purposes here.

I then drilled holes in the saw plates for the bolts.

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For the dovetail saw, I considered squeezing the slot in the spine so as to hold the saw plate by friction alone–which is the traditional way of constructing a backsaw.  In my imagination, it seemed like the right thing to do.  But when I started to try to close the slot, I found that the brass is pretty springy.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw that the likelihood of my ever wanting to remove this saw plate from the spine is about nil.  So, in a moment of weakness, I reached for the super glue.  A dab in each end of the slot, and the saw plate was solidly seated in the spine.  Sometimes chemistry wins out over mechanics.

So, at the end of the evening, I am almost finished.  I will need to trim the screws to final length, apply a finish to the handles, and sharpen the saws.

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