Essential Tools (for Me), Part 3: Spoon-Making Tools

Because spoon making has been such a big part of my woodworking, I think it’s appropriate that I write my 350th blog post about the tools I use to make spoons, spatulas, and other wooden utensils.

These are by far the most-used tools at my workbench.

These eight tools touch every single wooden utensil that leaves my workbench–and by this time I have made hundreds of spoons and spatuals.

My spoon-making kit is not very traditional, actually. Most wooden spoon making is done with a hatchet and a couple knives, with the work held first on a chopping block and then in your hands. But I make my utensils in a different way.

Here’s the back-story:

The year was about 2007. I was finishing my graduate work in Texas, and I had been working wood with hand tools for the past couple years. I remember going to a Thanksgiving festival at Homestead Heritage and seeing Paul Sellers (who was then teaching at the Heritage School of Woodworking) demonstrate how to make a simple wooden spatula using just three common hand tools–a saw, a chisel, and a spokeshave.

It was around the same time that my wife broke two store-bought wooden spoons in the same week, and she asked what it would take to make our own wooden mixing spoons. We scraped together enough money to buy a couple carving gouges and a spokeshave, and we went to work on whatever scraps of wood I could find.

The initial results were… a work in progress.

I had never actually seen a spoon being made before–just that one spatula. I experimented for several years with a number of different tools and techniques until I finally established a set of tools and techniques that gave me consistent results. It took me even longer to establish a set of standard shapes that had proved most useful in the kitchen.

Now these are the tools I lay out on my bench each time I set out to make spoons:

This 10″ curved drawknife is usually the first hand tool that touches the rough-sawn wood of a spoon blank. I’m not much familiar with the manufacturer, Crossman, which is long gone. But they made a fine drawknife once upon a time. It can quickly reduce stock to necessary thickness and do the general shaping of curves and contours. I’ve used a number of different drawknives in the past, but this one is excellent. I made the wooden cover myself. It protects both the sharp edge and my hands when it’s not in use.

This 25mm, #7 carving gouge, is a workhorse. Made by Pfeil in Switzerland, it takes and holds an extremely keen edge. I use it to hollow out the bowl of every single spoon I make.

I use two spokeshaves for spoon making. Both are manufactured by Veritas (Lee Valley) in Canada, and each one is an excellent tool. Some time ago, I upgraded the standard cutters to Lee Valley’s proprietary PM-V11 tool steel, which holds an edge longer than any other tool steel I’ve ever used. When making whole batches of utensils one after the other, it’s a great advantage not to have to stop to resharpen all the time.

I use the black, low-angle spokeshave for cutting end-grain and for the tighter curves where the handle meets the business-end of the utensil, and I use the other shave with wooden handles for everything else. I am constantly switching back and forth between these two shaves as I refine the shape of each utensil.

A coping saw is a pretty pedestrian tool, but for me it’s crucial for giving the curved shape to both ends of a spoon. I use it not only to cut the curve for the lip of a spoon, but also to round over the end of every utensil’s handle. This is an inexpensive but effective Olsen coping saw.

This little Spofford-pattern brace isn’t exactly a spoon-making tool, but I do use it to bore all the holes in my slotted spoons. With a #5 (5/16″) auger bit, it will quickly bore a very clean hole. This brace is a relatively new addition to my spoon-making toolkit, but it’s a pleasure to use every time. An extremely lightweight brace, it is perfectly suited for boring smaller-diameter holes.

Card scrapers are my secret weapon. My drawknife, gouge, and spokeshaves will leave facets, ridges, and even tear-out on the surface of the wood. These card scrapers will remove ridges, ease sharp corners, and smooth rough surfaces with ease. I use two different shapes: a rectangular scraper for flat and convex surfaces, and a rounded profile for the inside bowls of spoons. I cut and filed the rounded scraper to my own specifications. These card scrapers get each utensil ready for a final sanding and oiling.

After years of use and hundreds of utensils, each of these tools has come to feel like an extension of my limbs. If tomorrow I lost every single woodworking tool I own, these are the ones I would replace first.

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