Can You Carve Spoons from Dry Wood?

Spoons and other “treen” are traditionally carved from green wood, cut fresh from the tree. The obvious advantages are that (1) fresh-cut wood is softer and generally easier to cut than dried wood, and (2) you don’t have to spend time waiting for the wood to dry before you work it.

Some would-be carvers, however, have a difficult time finding suitable green wood. Especially if you live in an urban area, in a desert region, or in some other tree-poor area, it can be hard to get a fresh-cut hardwood crook out of which to carve a wooden spoon.

But dry wood can be easy to find. There are lumberyards everywhere, and even the big-box stores sell one or two species of hardwood. So can you carve spoons from dry wood?

Yes and no. Technically yes, but not always. Sometimes. It’s complicated. Let me explain.

Yes, you can carve spoons from dry wood–within limitations. I make most of my spoons from relatively dry wood, and some species I prefer to carve dry. Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. It depends on the species. Some species, such as poplar and black walnut, are fairly easy to carve even when dry. Others, such as soft maple, are an absolute pain to carve dry, and I avoid it. A little experimentation will tell you a lot about whether a particular species is a suitable choice for dry carving.
  2. It depends on the tools. When I carve dry woods, I typically use a carving gouge, a drawknife, and a couple spokeshaves while holding the work in a bench vise. Although I do use a traditional sloyd knife and hook knife to carve some smaller spoons from dry wood, I find that lap-carving methods are often less than ideal when working dry wood.
  3. It depends on the sharpness of the tools. When carving freshly-cut, soaking wet wood, you can get away with a slightly dull edge. But when you put that edge to drier wood, you will realize that you were doing just that–getting away with it. When working dry wood with hand tools, your edges must be extremely keen. Be prepared to hone and strop often to keep your edges sharp.
  4. It depends on the drying method. I harvest most of my spoon wood straight from the log, and I air-dry it at a fairly slow rate (because it’s really humid here). In many species, there is a noticeable difference in workability between air-dried wood and kiln-dried wood. If you need to use dry wood for carving and you can’t harvest it yourself, try to find a small-scale sawmill that deals in air-dried wood. Also, even if you harvest some green wood and don’t get around to carving it right away, it may still be workable even once it has air-dried–so long as it has not cracked in the wrong way.
When cutting my own wood for spoons, I normally split out the logs into manageable widths first, and then lay them up to dry a bit before going further. In this case, I am allowing these pecan logs to spalt before cutting them up. The spalting process stops once the wood dries out.

So if you find yourself without access to green wood, don’t give up on the idea of spoon carving. You may need to choose different tools or get creative about sourcing your stock, but it IS possible to carve nice spoons from dried wood.

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3 Responses to Can You Carve Spoons from Dry Wood?

  1. Jeremy says:

    I’ve done almost all of my spoons from dry or nearly so wood and my experience mirrors yours. I tend to find that at least for bulk removal a saw, gouge and shave take the place of axe, hook, & drawknife and my hands thank me for saving much of the (Sharp) knife work for light finishing cuts

  2. bgjfurniture says:

    I’ve had excellent results using birch firewood sold at the local Publix supermarket.

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