Watch: A spoon carver's guide to wood types
Seasoned maker Deborah Schneebli-Morrell takes us through the different types of wood for spoon carving, and shares top tips on how and when to use them.
One of the things that I really like and perhaps I do more than some spoon covers is I like to investigate different wood. I find the discovery of opening up a log or a branch and finding what the grain is like what the colour is like what the texture is like. I find really interesting and it's kind of part of the journey.
Wood is a fantastic material because it's so diverse, and every piece you make with it has its own story to tell. Spoon carving celebrates every aspect of the tree; how it's grown, where it's grown and how old it is. These all make a difference to the wood, which makes them really important to understand the different types.
Best Woods to Get Started With Spoon Carving
When starting your spoon carving journey, it's best to start with less hard wood. I recommend:
- Willow - easy to carve, common wood
- Cherry - a little bit harder but a lovely grain, you can also get two tones
- Birch - Himalayan birch is one of my favourites, close grained and easy to carve
- Lime - traditional for carving figures in churches, lots of it in cities, easy to carve
- Alder - lovely to carve, soft, highly recommended if new to spoon carving
But there are so many more kinds of wood you should know and discover, as you progress on your spoon carving journey!
Unusual or rare woods
Some herbaceous shrubby bushes have wonderful woods that are not commonly used. Continus coggygria is a shrub also known as smoke bush, and it's a beautiful colour and has a lovely grain pattern.
Mulberry is a beautiful wood, with a pale outer sap wood, and darker yellow heartwood in the centre. It is quite rare and difficult to get hold of mulberry trees. They are garden grown trees, meaning they don't grow in the wild, and they can be hundreds of years old in the UK. And if you hear of anyone pruning a mulberry tree you need to get in there if you're a spoon carver!
Known for the Middle Eastern spice made from the flower buds of a closely related tree. There is a wonderful grain in the wood, which is a subtle greenish colour with beautiful rings. It's also a very nice wood to carve.
Spalted Woods & Two Tone Effects
Beech wood is a lovely word to carve as it's very hard, and with spalted beech you get markings in the grain. These are caused by a fungus being present in the wood. This can be something that spoon carvers because you get these lovely patterns in your spoon.
A favourite wood of spoon carvers is cherry. This lovely wood often has beautiful grain colours and with spalted cherry you can get lovely markings. You can achieve a two tone effect because of the difference between the heart wood and the sap wood, so that makes it a lovely wood to use.
You can use roasting to unwanted marks in the wood, or to deepen the colour of pale wood or uninteresting grain.
Selection of spoons in Deborah's workshop, including a straining spoon by John Mullaney.
Holly is a creamy white wood with a lovely close grain which roasts beautifully. Once your spoon is carved, wipe evenly with a tiny amount of oil and bake in the oven at 180 to 200 degrees celsius for up to an hour, checking regularly for the desired colour. When it comes out hot, put on a bit more oil and you can get a fantastic dark tone.
Although a brilliant wood for when you're beginning to carve because it's very soft and easy to cut, willow isn't as aesthetically nice as other woods. Roasting improves this and makes it more durable, as long as you don't over-cook it!
Similar to willow, lime is good for when you're learning to be a spoon carver but it isn't a very remarkable wood. Roasting it gives it this dark, almost aged patina quality.
Top Tips You Need To Know About Spoon Carving
The trick to making a great spoon
Whenever you make a spoon for eating, you'll likely be checking that it fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. But it's easy to forget that it also has to fit in the mouth! So as you carve you need to be testing (by placing the spoon in your mouth) that you've made it thin enough.
Sourcing felled wood
An easy way to source wood is by mentioning to your neighbours (or anyone you know with a garden). For example, Lawson Cypress, a parent of cypress Leylandii is an excellent wood for spoon carving, and it's easy to source because people frequently chop it down to avoid having wars with their neighbours about it.
Start with a large spoon
Small spoons may be sweet but they are more difficult to make, and you are more at risk of cutting yourself with the knife. When starting out it's best to start with a large spoon, such as a serving or cooking spoon.
Help reduce your waste
Once you're practised enough, you can make yourself a little pocket spoon. Similar to bringing your own takeaway cup to a coffee shop, you can keep a wooden spoon on you at all times to help reduce the use of throwaway cutlery.
Online Resources To Get Started With Wood Carving
- Deborah's online spoon carving course on Yodomo
- Spoon Club and Greenwood Guild, the UK's community of spoon carvers
- Wood Tools, the supplier of Deborah's recommend tool starter kit
- 'Yodomo Makes' Facebook Group - a global community of artists, makers, spoon carvers, weavers, botanists and more!
Curious to learn more? Discover Deborah's beginner spoon carving course on Yodomo, which makes it fun and easy to learn how to spoon carve at home!