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The Narex Spoon Carving Starter Kit consists of a Carving Gouge for rough shaping the spoon bowl, a Double-edge Hook Knife for refining the inside of the bowl, and a Detail Carving Knife for shaping the handle and outside of the bowl. A basswood (limewood) spoon blank is included, roughly shaped at the bandsaw and ready to carve. A brief overview of the set and steps to successfully carve a spoon are included, including safety and carving tips.
I unboxed the kit at the kitchen table (my go-to carving station) and clamped the blank to the tabletop. Ideally I would work with a sturdier bench top, but this happens to be my best choice at present. I used a 24" Highland Woodworking bar clamp and spreader (super handy and on sale), and also had a leather strop charged with Tormek Honing Compound at hand (this is personal preference). All three tools are sharp out of the box, so I gave them a few swipes on the strop and got started.
First I drew a centerline on the blank and a rough shape for my spoon, then started the bowl with the carving gouge. This was the first time using a gouge on a spoon for me, and it expedited the process once I figured out how to hold it. A combination of the instructions and having watched some of Mary May's instructional videos aided my understanding of technique. I cut in both directions with the grain of the wood, switching hands as necessary (a May instruction) to rough out the bowl. Taking very small bites worked best for me, and it didn't take long to have a bowl.
I switched to the double-edged hook knife when I was holding the gouge nearly perpendicular to the blank. At this point I removed the clamp, although I could have left it attached to the work surface. My chief difficulty with the hook knife was that I didn't initially trust the strength of my hands and kept trying to choke up on the blade, which is sharp on both edges. Holding the knife by the handle only and rotating my wrist provided enough force to clean the inside of the spoon bowl. After a little practice I favored the Narex double-edged hook knife and its smooth, buttery cuts to any other I've tried. I further tested the knife on a chunk of dogwood, destined itself to become a spoon, and found that it worked well on the harder stock.
Once the bowl was deep enough for my liking, I retraced the shape of the spoon profile and set to work with the detail knife to shape the outside of the bowl and handle. This knife was smaller than the one I was used to working with, though it required equal care in handling. The size of the blade made it ideal for refining inconsistencies in symmetry without removing too much material.
Day two of the project, I reviewed what the excellent Wille Sundqvist (Swedish Carving Techniques, The Taunton Press, 1990) had to say on the subject of both knife grips and overall shaping. I wanted my spoon to have a bit more liveliness than a simple straight paddle shape, so I drew a curve in the neck and handle as far as it was allowed by the shape of the blank. The straight grain and dry wood encourage a fairly flat profile, and I may have had more success if I'd stuck to their plan, but I wanted to test the limits of their recommendations and my own ability to shape the finished product as I desired.
It was hard to stop cutting the spoon, to decide enough was enough. Once the bowl and handle felt balanced, I sanded the handle and the inside of the bowl up to 220 grit. I did not sand the outside of the bowl, intentionally leaving the knife marks to show. The instructions recommend using Mineral Oil as a finish, which I have on hand, making that decision simple. Even for the beginner, this set provides everything necessary to carve a spoon in a weekend. For further inspiration and for more advanced carvers, I also recommend The Artful Wooden Spoon (Joshua Vogel, Chronicle Books, 2015), which is both a beautiful coffee table book and a source of detailed, useful information.
Purchase your own Spoon Carving Starter Kit
Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.