Highland Woodworking
The Artful Wooden Spoon by Joshua Vogel
Review by J. Norman Reid

Spoon carving, an ancient practice that has roots not less than two or three thousand years ago, has recently become a topic of fascination among woodworkers. Informed by several books describing the practice and aided by specialized tool sets for hollowing spoon bowls, spoon carving is both accessible and, frankly, fun. Who doesn't need a few spoons and spatulas to aid their culinary pursuits? Or even, if carving turns out to touch a deeper passion, items for sale at craft shows?

When the author of The Artful Wooden Spoon, Joshua Vogel, took up spoon carving, he had it in mind to document his procedures so others could replicate them. His goal was a book to convey his observations. And so, he asked himself just how many spoons would he need to carve to justify sharing his experiences: a few dozen, perhaps, a hundred maybe? Vogel set out to carve as many as he could, using a variety of wood sources, tool sets, designs, and techniques. In the end, I suspect he carved well in excess of 100 spoons, with a range and variety well-evidenced throughout the book. His outcome: a well-informed guide to spoon carving that combines well-organized instruction with inspiring examples.

Vogel opens his discussion with a brief history of carved spoons, then offers some observations about the traditions of crafting, the meaning of creating things by hand, and the value and uses of wooden spoons. These initial remarks help set up a theme that runs throughout the book, that spoon carving is far more than a productive effort, reaching deeper into one's consciousness with the potential to offer a meditative opportunity.

But the real meat of the book begins with a chapter that provides an overview of the tools used and the major steps in carving spoons — carving outside curves, inside curves, edges and transitions, details and ornamentation, tempering and finishing. Then, with his subject outlined, Vogel turns to practical advice about the nitty gritty: wood species selection, closed vs. open grained woods, wet vs. dry lumber, carving with blades vs. abrasive devices, clamping the work, sharpening the tools, rotary carving, safety, finishing the spoons, and the importance of self-critique to personal growth and development as a carver.

Although these initial chapters offer enough instruction for beginning carvers to get organized and start shaping spoons, Vogel further illustrates his points by detailing three projects of increasing complexity that employ differing tools sets, techniques, and wood sources. For the first and simplest project, he selects a jointed branch whose shape will yield a small spoon with a curved handle. He completes this project entirely with hand tools that are standard in many spoon carving sets, such as the Narex Starter Kit. He describes — and shows in photographs — five techniques for knife work and details his process for tempering green wood before applying an oil finish.

The second project is created from a stick originally intended as firewood. The piece was split by axe into an appropriate size free of checks and cracks. Vogel's a strong advocate for drawing his intended shapes on both the tops and sides of his blanks to further guide their reduction with a bow saw. He finds a Pattern Maker's Vise valuable for holding the irregularly shaped blanks in various orientations so there's no need to continually re-clamp them. Once the blank is roughly shaped, he turns to a succession of rasps, working from rough to smooth teeth to refine the final shape. He gives careful attention to the transition points, which are keys to the eye-pleasing quality of the final spoons. Once the outside is shaped, he excavates the bowl with a spoon gouge. The surfaces are then finished with fine-grained curved rasps. The edges of the bowl get special attention to assure that they are finely crafted. Sanding follows, as does adding decorative knife cuts, before finishing the spoon with oil.

The final and most advanced project is a one-cup measuring spoon cut from a blank of holly lumber. For this project he uses a bandsaw to both cut out the initial outline of the blank and then, working carefully, giving it a rough shape, he subsequently smooths with an air-powered rotary burr. Sanding to a finger-satisfying smoothness precedes the oiling that yields a beautiful and useful kitchen implement.

Vogel's book is highly satisfying. First, it's beautifully written, almost lyrical in tone, and a great pleasure to read and, as I have, re-read. It's also a beautifully illustrated book, with professionally photographed images throughout that display the variety of Vogel's inspirations and document the procedures he employed in creating them. The book is letter-sized and hardbound with a full color cover that entices the reader to explore its contents.

This is a very good book for any woodworker who wants to try their hand at carving spoons. Not only is it an approachable guide to basic spoon carving but it's complete enough that it may well be the only guide you'd ever need as you explore this medium of creativity. Other woodworkers will find it a fun read, even if they don't yet imagine that spoon carving may be a part of their future.

As for me, I'm now inspired to find a thick green branch in my yard, a stick of likely firewood, and an 8/4 offcut as Vogel did to experiment with new shapes, functions, and appearances for the utensils with which I cook. Perhaps if you pick up The Artful Wooden Spoon, you'll be enticed as I was to add a new dimension to your woodworking practice.

I love this book and I highly recommend it.

Find out more and purchase The Artful Wooden Spoon
at Highland Woodworking

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, photographer and woodworking instructor living in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and two cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes: All You Need to Know to Get Started Planing by Hand, and co-owner of Shenandoah Tool Works. He can be reached by email at jnreid45@gmail.com.

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