It all starts with a log. Usually the log comes from somebody who has taken down a tree and just wants the trunk out of the way. Other times, I go looking for something special.
Logs are heavy, unwieldy things. So the first step is to get it down into manageable pieces. If it’s a long log, I cut it into 3′-4′ lengths with a chainsaw. Then using steel wedges and a sledge hammer, I split the log into halves, then into quarters, and (if it’s a really big log) into eighths. Splitting out the log means that the wood’s grain will run straight from one end of the piece to the other, so when I eventually make spoons out of the pieces, the grain will run true from one end of the spoon to the other.
Then I run each piece of wood through the bandsaw, sawing them into blanks that measure between 1/2″ and 1″ thick and as wide as I can manage. It’s a slow, cumbersome process, and probably my least favorite part of making spoons.
I get excited, however, when the stock comes out this pretty. This is spalted pecan; the spalting occurs naturally in some logs after they are felled, though there are ways to encourage it happening. I find that woodenware made from spalted pecan sells very well.
Although I bill my utensils as hand-made with traditional hand tools, I do use a bandsaw to saw out the blanks to rough shape. This process allows me to select the best grain for each piece while also allowing me to get the most out of each piece of figured wood. I like to let the machines do the precision donkey-work that they’re so good at, leaving me time to do the fun stuff–the shaping and carving. If you do a lot of hand-work, it’s important to economize on time and energy where you can.
An hour at the bandsaw yields a big pile of blanks. That should last me a month or so.
I use a single carving gouge to shape the inside of the bowl. Pecan is hard stuff to carve, but with a very sharp edge and a little care, the surface ends up very smooth.
A drawknife and two spokeshaves take care of the rest of the spoon. It’s almost a pity the work goes so fast, because the spokeshave work is my favorite part. I finish up with a couple of card scrapers, which remove any tool marks and leave smooth curves everywhere. It takes me about twenty minutes to go from a rough blank to what you see above. Yes, that’s twenty (20) minutes. I’ve timed it. You get pretty fast after you’ve made a couple hundred of these things.
After rinsing in clear water to raise the grain, I sand each spoon briefly. I don’t enjoy sanding, so I do as little as I can. But the sanding does relieve all the sharp edges, and it smooths the grain down so it feels good in the hand and food doesn’t stick.
The last step is to apply an oil finish.
The finish warms the wood’s natural coloring and brings out subtle color contrasts, especially in the spalted wood. Plus, it puts a subtle shine on the utensil, which customers love.
Then, it’s market time. Here, my oldest daughter and I attend the table at the craft market. When people approach the table, I encourage them to pick things up. Lots of people are surprised at how smooth the wood feels. Many of them like hearing about where each piece of wood came from. After all, they’re not just buying a utensil; they’re buying a little piece of a story.