How to Make a Wooden Spoon with Hand Tools
Possibly the best thing about making wooden spoons is that it allows right-brained people to experience success and satisfaction in the often left-brained world of woodworking. In fact, it is not uncommon for some of the more off-script creations to be some of the more interesting and beautiful spoons that are carved. Not only does spoon making present artistic liberties not able to be had in many other forms of woodworking, but the hobby also allows for success participation with minimal investment in terms of tools. I actually made my first twenty or so spoons with nothing more than a hacksaw, a wood chisel, and some sandpaper, one of which is the center spoon pictured below.
The spoon in the middle was one of my first creations using only a wood chisel, handsaw, and sandpaper. It is a beautiful piece of Pecan wood that I pulled from the bayou behind my shop. I like this spoon but kind of wish that I had the piece of wood back since it was so pretty and my skills were so limited when I made it.
Before we get into the build, here are the exact tools used for this particular project. Altogether these tools can be purchased for about $80 on Amazon. Click the link provided for individual pricing and reviews.
Wood Gouge Set
Hacksaw with blade storage handle
Half Round Wood File
40 Grit Sanding Belts
Though probably not ideal, I typically use the 4″ bench vise similar to this one seen in most of the pictures with a block of wood on each side of the work piece to avoid damage, but a woodworker’s vise would most likely be better due to the fact it is designed for the use. You can even use less costly work clamps or toggle clamps to hold your work piece, though they are not quite as stable as a vise.
1st – Choose your wood
For a cooking spoon that will be used you will want to choose a hardwood so that the utensil will hold up to potential daily use. Woods like hickory, maple, ash, oak, walnut, and cherry make very good cooking spoons. I typically use Pecan wood (a species of hickory) because it is readily available to me here in South Louisiana and I think that it is beautiful wood. All of my spoons come from fallen trees and limbs that I pick up myself and make spoon blanks and other things from. You do not have to make your own blanks, you can simply buy untreated hardwood lumber from your local lumber yard and cut many blanks from it.
2nd – Choose your design
I use this cheap wooden spoon that I got some time back from a local dollar store to get the basic shape for many of my spoons.
I really like the shape/design of the spoon that I use as my template because it is simple, but offers many options for choosing what type of spoon to make in terms of depth and intended purpose.
This particular spoon will be a basic cooking spoon, so I added a curved line to outline the perimeter of the shallow bowl to be carved.
3rd – Rough out the bowl
Using the largest gouge from the set previously pictured, begin to gouge out the bowl of the spoon. Work from bottom to top and top to bottom of the bowl (the direction in the picture and its opposite), not side to side, as this will prevent splitting and tearing of the wood.
Depending on the depth you are trying to achieve, it will not take long before you have your bowl roughed out. P.S. I suggest waiting to cut the spoon’s shape out after carving the bowl to allow for compensation for potential errors. It is not uncommon to get a little too ambitious with the gouges and cut past your bowl outline or get some tear out. With extra wood on the side of your outline you can almost always compensate for your miscues.
4th – Clean up the bowl
Using a spoon gouge you will finish defining the shape and contour of your bowl to the final depth.
Unlike the wood gouge, the spoon gouge should be carefully used in all directions to clean up any previously made tool marks as best as possible.
All that is left for the bowl is sanding.
5th – Cut out the spoon
I typically use a bandsaw to cut out the spoon but for the sake of this post I used a hacksaw. It comes out just as good, it just takes a little longer. A jigsaw or handsaw could be used just as well.
To cut out the spoon without cutting into the curves and contours of the piece simply make a series of cuts horizontal to the spoon up to the spoon’s outline.
After you make your horizontal cuts, cut along them to remove each block of wood from your previous cuts. Be careful not to cut into your spoon. Do not worry if your outline looks super rough and uneven, we will address that in the next step.
6th – Clean up the shape
Use your wood rasp to rough out the shape of the back of the bowl and the handle. The rasp will remove a good bit of wood so be sure that you begin with a blank that is thick enough to lose some wood in the later shaping process.
A half-round file (pictured closest to the bowl) is a good substitute for the rasps when shaping the curves and contours of the handle and the area where the handle meets the bowl.
After shaping with the rasp and file, use the coarse sanding belt to finish shaping the spoon to its final form. For the back of bowl and handle you will want to use a two-handed “flossing” method to get a nice rounded contour. By “flossing” I mean take one end of the belt in your left hand, the other end in your right, and pull down with your right hand, then pull down with your left, and repeat. Your sanding belt will glide back and forth across the work piece while being oriented like the belt in the picture.
You can see how much nicer the shape is after the “flossing” sanding method when you compare this picture to the previous one.
Repeat the same sanding method used on the back of the bowl on the handle to get your final desired shape.
7th – Final sanding
After the last step you should basically have your final shape, all there is left to do is some progressive finish sanding. Starting with a coarse grit paper (60 grit), sand away all previously made tool and sanding marks from the handle and back of bowl. Once all previous marks are sanded away progress to a slightly finer grit paper (100 grit). Continue progressing to finer grit papers, sanding out all marks left previously, until you get to a 300 or 400 grit paper. Since it is a cooking spoon that will be used often, there is really no need to progress to a sand paper any finer than 300 or 400 grit for the handle and back of bowl unless you just want to for some reason. I personally do not progress to a paper finer than 220 on the inside of the bowl for the same reason just mentioned.
Front view after final sanding.
Rear view after sanding.
8th/Final – Sealing the wood
There are many different food grade oils that can be used to seal the wood. I personally whatever I have on hand in the kitchen which is vegetable, canola, or olive oil.
I used vegetable oil to seal this spoon. I typically apply a liberal amount upon completion of the spoon, let it dry for a day, then apply another coat of oil and let it dry for a day or two before use.
I have used coconut oil in the past and it looks great, but coconut oil is solid at room temperature and leaves a heavy residue feel to the spoon once the oil re-solidifies after being applied.
It always fascinates me how sealing Pecan with oil completely transforms the color of the wood. It takes on a much darker, rich look compared to the lighter color of the unsealed pecan.
Though there are power tools that expedite the spoon making process, they are not necessary for the completion of a great spoon. Truth be told I typically forgo many of my power tools for the process described in this post because it allows for better control and accuracy in making the spoon, which leads to a better finished product. Not to mention all of the tools used in this project can be purchased for about the same price of my Wen belt sander pictured below, and although I love it, it is just one tool opposed to six.
I hope that you have enjoyed this article and found it to be informative. If you did I would greatly appreciate if you would like, comment, follow tool-school.com, and share this post on social media. Should you have any questions or like more information on how to make your own wooden spoons please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for reading!