Take the Pecan Challenge!

pecan tree

I have accidentally become a huge fan of Pecan wood.  The majority of the spoons and kitchen utensils I make are from found Pecan limbs and branches.  Pecan is a hardwood species belonging to the hickory family of trees.  It does not seem to be overly popular for use in woodworking and I can not figure out if this is due to its geographical distribution or if it just has a bad rap in the woodworking community.

Despite its perceived lack of popularity amongst woodworkers, I have really come to rely heavily on the beautiful wood of the Pecan tree in my projects.  It is everywhere here in South Louisiana and finding large fallen limbs and branches takes little more effort than keeping your eyes open when driving down tree-lined highways.  It always amazes me how different Pecan wood can vary in appearance not only from tree to tree, but at times even from different sections of the same tree.  Milling Pecan limbs into lumber is always fun due to the fact the end product can rarely be predicted.

Below are some pictures of spoons and utensils that I have made from Pecan and a few other species of wood.  My challenge to you is to see if you can tell which pieces have been made from Pecan and which pieces are made of a different species.  If you are anything like me you will be surprised to discover how different this wood can appear.  Please let me know if you think you have all of the Pecan pieces identified and I will let you know if you are right.  Good Luck!

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If you are a wood identification master and think you have it all figured out please email me or message me on my Facebook page tool-school.com.  If you would like to learn how to make your own wooden spoons check out my article on how to make wooden spoons with hand tools here.

Below are a few tools that make milling lumber from small logs for a variety of projects a breeze.

Jointer

WEN Bandsaw

Carpenter’s Axe

Draw Knife

Kindling Cracker

Resaw Blade

Thanks for reading!  Please be sure to like, comment, follow, and share tool-school.com posts on social media.

Jake with tool-school.com

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Transform Your Grinder Into An Orbital Contour Sander

Just about any woodworking project will require sanding to some degree and there are so many routes to take in achieving a nice and smooth sanded finish.  Sanding blocks, belt sanders, sheet sanders, orbital sanders, disc sanders,  and just plain old sand paper and elbow grease can all work well to achieve the desired result for a given project.  Unfortunately many projects have curves and contours that render many of our convenient modern sanding tools useless in providing attractive finishes.  In these cases it is often necessary to spend a lot of time performing labor-intensive hand sanding to get the desired finish as with the bowls of the spoons pictured below.

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These very spoon bowls are what lead me to constantly keep an eye and ear out for any sanding tools that can make my spoon carving life easier.  After spending a few years trying just about any and every sanding tool that will fit in the bowls of my spoons, I had come to the conclusion that the only acceptable option was hand sanding.  It was a time-consuming and harsh reality to accept.  Depending on the spoon it can sometimes take several hours to sand the tool marks from the bowls and get a nice, smooth finish.  To get a glimpse at the process of making one of these spoons check out this article how to make a wooden spoon with hand tools.

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Just as I was about out of hope I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Arbortech Contour Random Sander.

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This tool attaches to just about any 4 1/2 inch angle grinder and transforms it into a random orbital contour sander.  The soft pad on the attachment allows the sanding pad to contour to curved and uneven surfaces without cutting into the wood or burning it.  The Arbortech Contour Sander has greatly reduced the effort required to sand spoon bowls smooth and has probably reduced the time that I spend sanding the bowls by 80 percent or more.  I have already discussed the many uses of angle grinders in this article, but  considering that bowl sanding is where 60 percent or so of my spoon making time is spent, this attachment is making me fall in love with my angle grinder all over again.

As handy as the Arbortech Contour Sander is, it is not perfect.  The only two issues that I have found with it thus far is that it will get hot after a few minutes of moderate use, and the adhesive-backed sanding disk (pictured above) the attachment uses do not adhere to the attachment’s pad very long due to the heat generated from use.  I am not sure if these two issues can be negated, but they can be lessened by sanding slower and applying less pressure to the surface being sanded.

Overall I really like this angle grinder attachment from Arbortech.  Any tool that gives better results with less effort is welcome in my shop.  If you are a wood carver, worker, or serial DIY’er I would definitely recommend giving it a try and saving yourself time and effort on your projects.  Below are a few links to articles containing information on angle grinder use and safety, spoon carving, and Arbortech Contour Random Sander pricing and reviews, as well as an instructional video.

Angle Grinder Uses/Safety

Spoon Carving for Beginners

Arbortech Contour Random Sander

Arbortech Replacement Sanding Discs

Arbortech Replacement Sander Pad

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to like, comment, follow, and share tool-school.com on social media.

Jake with tool-school.com

Just A Spoonful Of Maintenance

I have written several articles such as this one on how and why to make your own wooden spoons and utensils.  It is a great hobby and introduction to woodworking.  Like any woodworking project, a successful spoon creation does not end with the final passes of sandpaper over wood.  To ensure that your hand crafted wooden utensils live the longest life possible, there is some very quick and easy maintenance involved.  Below is a short list of tips that will extend the life of your wooden spoons, spatulas, rolling pins, and cutting boards many years as well as keep them beautiful and more sanitary.

  • NEVER PUT A WOODEN UTENSIL IN THE DISHWASHER!!!!!
  • Wash utensil in warm, soapy water.
  • Never let it sit or soak in water.
  • Pat dry with a towel after washing.
  • Let it air dry completely after toweling.
  • Apply a light coat of cooking oil or food safe mineral oil at least once a month.

The spoons that I sell are sealed with either food safe mineral oil or vegetable oil that can be purchased at any grocery store, but walnut oil is great for sealing wooden kitchenware as well.  I avoid the walnut oil on spoons that I sell due to potential nut allergies of buyers.  If nut allergies are an issue I would recommend using the food safe mineral oil or vegetable oil.

Though most wooden kitchen utensils are undoubtedly store bought and mass produced, these maintenance tips apply just the same.  In fact, every store bought wooden utensil that I have purchased in the past few years has come unsealed from the store, leaving it completely unprotected from water damage and bacteria.  Coating a wooden spoon with oil not only seals it off from water intrusion, it also acts as a barrier to food bacteria penetrating and thriving inside of the wood of the utensil.

Aside from water and bacteria protection, sealing wood with oil often improves the aesthetic appeal of wood.  The video in this article demonstrates how oiling an unsealed spoon can really change the look of the spoon for the better.  In the video a liberal amount of oil is used because it is the first time the wood has been sealed, but for a monthly resealing of utensils generally a tablespoon or so of oil is all that is required.

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Unsealed
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Sealed

No trick photography or sucking in of the gut was used in the before and after pictures above, I promise.

Whether you buy a spoon from me, from your local kitchen shop, or make your own, these tips are certain to add years of useful life to any and all of your wooden kitchen utensils.  It can even extend the life of your wooden tool handles as well.  Below are links to a few products that I recommend to get the job done, the walnut oil is great when allergies are not a factor, and the mineral oil would definitely be my go-to product if they are.  There is also a link to an article that will take you step by step through making your own wooden kitchenware works of art.

Walnut Oil

Food Grade Safe Mineral Oil

How to make a wooden spoon with basic hand tools.

Thanks for reading!  Please be sure to like, comment, follow tool-school.com and share this article on social media.

Jake

DIY Two-Ingredient Wood Stain

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As I was sitting down to write this post my wife made it home from work just in time to burst my bubble, the explanation follows.  I have written several articles like this one discussing spoon carving and make quite a few wooden kitchen utensils.  Though I enjoy the natural look of the wood when finished I have seen spoons that have color added to them that look great and wanted to figure out a food-safe method of adding color to some of mine.  After researching and experimenting with homemade vinegar-coffee stains, I decided to get creative and make my own type of stain by subtracting the coffee and using a vinegar-food coloring mix to stain wood.  After testing my creation I felt brilliant.

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Piece of Pecan with all four colors applied to it.

Being the humble creative genius that I am I allowed my wife to dwell inside of our home upon returning from work about two and a half seconds before bragging about my ingenious concoction and you know what she politely said?  “Oh cool, that is how you make Easter egg dye.”  Womp-Womp.  Even though I am not that bright, or aware of how the most popular food coloring agent in the history of the world is made, I spent too much time and made too much of a mess to not share this process with you regardless.

Below are some pictures of pine that I stained.  The left is unstained, the right is stained.  Each stained piece is just a mixture of a liberal amount of food coloring and white vinegar.

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Green
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Yellow
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Red

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I tried the homemade stain on different types of wood just to make sure that it would show up well on more than just pine, and it did. Pictured from top to bottom is Elm, Oak, and Pecan.
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Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is probably my only semi-original stain idea. This is a mixture of paprika and water that turned the wood a pretty orange color.

Whether you use food coloring and vinegar or paprika and vinegar to stain wood it can definitely add a nice colorful flare to your woodworking projects, especially those projects designed for child or kitchen use.  From spoons and cutting boards to kids blocks and wooden toys, it is nice to be able to add color to projects without sacrificing safety.

If you do not want to reinvent the wheel as I did, you can just opt for some Easter egg dye and call it a day.  I honestly did not know that vinegar and food coloring, when combined, enhanced woodworking projects as well as the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  I learn something knew everyday.

Below are a few more nontoxic options for staining and finishing wood.

Food Safe Wood Stain

Butcher Block Oil & Finish

Easter Egg Dye

White vinegar

Food Coloring Variety Kit – 12 Pack

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to like, comment, follow, and share on social media.  To learn how to make your own wooden spoons check out my tutorial How to Carve Spoons With Basic Hand Tools.

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.

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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.

THE TOOLS

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

 Spoon Gouge

  Wood Rasp

  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.

THE PROCESS

1st – Choose your wood

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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

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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.
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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.
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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

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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.
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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

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Using a spoon gouge you will finish defining the shape and contour of your bowl to the final depth.
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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.
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All that is left for the bowl is sanding.

5th – Cut out the spoon

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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.
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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.
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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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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You can see how much nicer the shape is after the “flossing” sanding method when you compare this picture to the previous one.
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Repeat the same sanding method used on the back of the bowl on the handle to get your final desired shape.

7th – Final sanding

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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.
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Front view after final sanding.
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Rear view after sanding.

8th/Final – Sealing the wood

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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.
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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.
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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.

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Sealed
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Unsealed

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 jakestoolschool@yahoo.com.  Thanks so much for reading!

Jake

SPOONING…..

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I can probably count on one hand the things that scare me.  My daughters, forgetting to dvr the Saints game on Sundays, and my mom somehow knowing the language I use in my head when coaching my  football team on game days make up three of the four fears that I can think of at the moment.  Though the three fears listed are concerning, combined they do not scare me nearly as much as number four, the fear of discarding something that could have potential use to me in the future.  Fear number four is often viewed as a curse by many, including myself, but sometimes it pays off big time which gives it all the legitimacy I need to avoid any attempt to overcome it.

A few years ago when we moved into our house one of the first orders of business was to trim the seven oak trees that surround our house due to the limbs that were banging on windows and rubbing the roof.  One weekend my father-in-law loaned me his pole saw and warned to “not get carried away, you have to remember whatever you cut, down you have to pick up.”  That was great advice, I wish I would have used it.  So after I finished getting “carried away” I looked around my yard and saw nothing but huge piles of leaves, limbs, and logs everywhere.  The task of trimming the trees was done, but the work had not even started.  During my first of many trailer loads of debris I began to think that the wood I had cut down could easily be so much more than just firewood.  What exactly that so much more was I did not know at the time, but I knew there was potential for something.

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Disgusted with the amount of extra work I had created for myself for not heeding my father-in-law’s advice and trying to imagine the potential other than making smoke signals this oak possessed, I did the only thing that I could think of, prolonged the end to my trimming job by creating more work for myself.  Still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I began to cut the bigger branches into approximately two-foot sections and stored them in my shop for a later use that I had no clue at the time would be.  Fortunately I not only found “a” use for the firewood I had cut, but many, mainly making wooden spoons.

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Above is one of the first utensils and just one of many different types of spoons and utensils that I have made with the oak that should have been burned.  I still have a decent bit left from that job, but I have branched out (pun intended) to using other types of woods to make spoons, forks, and spatulas as well.  It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to take an unimpressive log that should probably be heating someone’s home or setting a spooky scene for camper’s ghost stories and make something lasting and useful with it.  By no means are any of the utensils that I make perfect, but to me that is what makes them great.  Each one is unique.  With that being said, I have gotten a lot better and more efficient at making them thanks to all the practice I got from the wood off of my tree trimming extravaganza.  Maybe people are lying to me, but many have shown a great appreciation for them as well.

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My fourth fear usually results in clutter and frustration for my wife, but it is not all bad.  Had my fears stopped at three I would have missed out on learning about working with wood, species of wood, and a pretty fun hobby.   I enjoy turning a simple firewood log into some type of useful spoon or utensil and have even made cups, coasters, a pig, boat paddles, and knife handles from them.  The possibilities are seemingly endless and I plan to continue to discover them until that is disproven.  Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this article I would appreciate it if you could like, comment, and follow my blog.

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Baptism by Fire: Professional Advice From an Amateur

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As a middle school coach and teacher I like to evaluate the knowledge and ability of students before, during, and after a lesson in order to fully understand where they were, how they progress, and how far they come in the learning process.  I will use volleyball to explain what I mean.  If we are beginning a volleyball unit in class I will give students just enough information to play the game in a fashion that resembles the actual game being taught and let them go at it.  We will do this for a few days before we slow down drastically to discuss proper mechanics, form, technique, terms, and strategy.  We will play the game very slowly for a week or more as I teach fundamentals and make corrections where needed.  When I feel that the kids are ready to resume full on competitive volleyball we will do so.  I find that allowing the kids to play before getting too technical helps them to be more receptive and understanding of my critiques.  This strategy has worked so well with my students that I almost always employ it in any new skill or task that I attempt to learn or further my knowledge in.

When I decided that I wanted to try my hand at spoon carving I watched a few videos on the internet and saw people making awesome utensils using tools that I was thoroughly unfamiliar with.  I was a little discouraged afterwards because I not only lacked what the experts deemed “necessary”, but was totally inexperienced in the craft as well.  As I priced the “must have” tools that I saw being used online and realized that I was probably just smart enough to make a spoon my way and I would attempt to do so before I spent any money on the hobby.  I often get hung up spending too much time and effort on researching what I need and want and lose opportunities to just do and learn through experience.  I regret it every time.

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Above is one of the first spoons that I created.  I used only a chisel, hammer, pocket knife, and sander to make it.  I did not use a stencil, nor did I draw on the wood that I used in order to get a basic shape.  It is made from a piece of pecan that I found floating in the bayou behind my shop.  I know that it is fairly rough, but it is one of my favorite spoons that I have made because it is so oddly shaped, unique, and made from such a pretty piece of wood.  Below is the chisel that I used to make the spoon pictured above.

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There are people in the woodworking community that act as if using “incorrect” or even power tools to complete a project are the project equivalent to committing a felony but I often find that making what you have work can sometimes be even more rewarding.  I now use many of the “necessary” tools when making spoons these days and the correct tools for the job do streamline the process quite a bit.  Some of them such as the draw knife, hook knives, gouges, and hatchet can be seen in the first picture in this post.  I will elaborate on and demonstrate these tools in depth in a later article.

The goal of this post is definitely to encourage people to try their hand at a very fun, simple, and rewarding hobby like spoon carving, but the moral is that no matter what hobby or project you would like to try, do not allow yourself to get caught up in researching tools, techniques, and what to and not to do.  Sometimes it may be more beneficial and even enjoyable to just get creative and accomplish a project with the knowledge and equipment you already have instead of dwelling on what you don’t.  Worst case scenario you only learn what will not work, lose a little time, and end up with a piece of crap result.  I have been there in the past and will surely be there again someday.  I have fortunately found a sector of the population that loves my spoons whether they come out flawless or like nothing more than sanded fire wood, so every one I finish feels like success to me.

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Thanks for checking out my site, below are links to a few carving tools that I have and are a lot more affordable than many of the big brands with similar quality.  If you found this article informative or entertaining please like, comment, and subscribe.  Thank you!

Husqvarna Axe

Wood Gouge Set

Spoon Carving Knife