To get hold of my Spoons please visit my Shop at 260 Hackney Rd London.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

New Spoon Knife

The first spoons i made were made from Lime turned on a Pole lathe and hollowed out using Pfeil gouges (beautiful gouges). I am obviously completely sold on axes and knives. But i do admire a lot of traditional carving that has been done with chisels. That said after having a bit of tuition from a world class carver i was very disappointed to see the vast number of different chisels he used, his work was beautiful and he was a skilled man but the number of chisels were too prescriptive (and too expensive) for me.

I started using Svante Djarv spoon knives about 10 years ago i think these were either introduced to me by Mike Abbotts books or Ray Mears, i got several bad cuts from them because i didn't know the safe way of using them, cuts from spoon knives can be quite nasty because they cut chunks out rather than nice neat gashes which can close and weld themselves shut like straight knives do.

When i was serving Mike Abbotts apprenticeship i met Ben Orford after trying his spoon knives i was amazed at how sharp they were, he also had a slightly flatter design knife that gave a nice smooth finish.  Since then i started using Ben's knives and use them on my courses, i find the smaller knives are better for beginners as they do not need to take big cuts.

It didn't take long to realise that the big knives were the way forward for making lots of spoons and for giving the very best finish. As i think is often best i tried out what they did in the olden days, let's face it they knew what they were doing in those days and to be honest when it comes to Artisan spoons very few people know what they are talking about these days. I had seen old photos of twca cam's etc and got masses of information from watching Ion Constantin on YouTube.

Anyway when i was travelling around i had this large Svante Djarv spoon knife blade that i'd put in a large handle, but i find his bevel angle too fat and i didn't have anything to grind the bevel down with, so then i think i bought a large Ben Orford hook which is similar size and shape to Svante Djarv but has a more acute bevel angle. I am very embarassed to admit i snapped this blade when attempting to fit it into a poorly drilled out mortice (about ten years previous to that i had snapped a Svante Djarv when i put it in a vice and tried to open up the curve a bit (luckily i know more about metal these days!) woops.

So then i was at friends in devon who had a belt sander (machines like belt sanders or wetstone grinders are great for sharpening not just because they are quicker but because you do not need to move the blade backwards and forwards this gives much greater control for sharpening particularly reshaping a spoon knife).  I ground the angle down considerably and sharpened it, wow what an improvement! the bevel on bent blades can be more acute because the bend puts tension in the blade and prevents edge roll (or something like that).

believe me there are as many ways to use and hold a spoon knife as there are with straight knives so don't let anyone tell you their way is the only one. I have been using this long handled spoon knife ever since and have several of my own ways of using it which i will go into more depth on another post.

I learnt much after chatting to Rob about how Ion used his spoon knife and a combination of studying YouTube videos and Rob's description of how he used it and using the replica of Ion's knife that Rob made. I made much progress in how i felt the future of my spoon carving needed to be. Since then i have made a lot of spoons and i have been getting more and more frustrated with my spoon knife. The main problem for me arises because the blade is asymmetric, this makes it difficult to create a symmetric shape bowl. Like i said there is not just one way of doing things but my future spoon carving lies in symmetrical blades and i have known this for a while.

Anyway i finally got around to forging a new blade to my exact designs with Rob, this is the first one i have put a handle on and the photo is the first spoon i made with it. I know i have been waffling on a bit but i am very excited about this, it really is the dawning of a new age of work for me.

The ongoing debate between the spooners i respect goes sonmething like this, it appears they all use asymetric blades, Rob has experimented using scrapers inside his bowl which he reckons medieval artisans did and having looked at medieval spoons they do look like they may have been, Jogge sands the inside of his bowls to a very smooth finish. And Fritiof who also was concerned about the asymmetric shape the knives made the bowls does somthing completely different, he leaves grooves in the bowls by doing a series of cuts across the bowl all going with the grain, he comes from two directions and meets in the middle, this leaves a good finish and allows control of the shape of the spoon. I have seen spoons made by Ben where the cuts leaves grooves working into the centre radially.. All of us do some hollowing with adzes/axes before hand.

Anyway, i know i waffled on there, there is just so much to say about these things, but i need to get going with work now. This spoon is a special one and therefore the price is more than normal. Yesterday was a brilliant day, not least because it looks like Spoon fest is getting some legs.

Cherry Spoon (Sold)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Craft Wood?..Craft Metal!

It strikes me that as with industry most craft hobbies have taken the same route - more machines = less skill. Now i am not naive enough to think that this is always the case but i am certain all woodworkers of any kind would gain much from learning how to sharpen a knife and carve a spoon. The beauty of spoon carving is the simplicity of the tools and the availability of the wood, it truly is a folk craft.

Spoon carving is a real challenge, although i do teach spoon carving on day courses there is much scope with spoons. It takes a day to learn the very basics, but a lifetime to perfect, a hobby for the woods or for the living room, projects that can be completed in 20 minutes, aesthetics and function that takes a lifetime to perfect.

Without the use of machines, work benches and jigs there is no room for excuses, just the wood you and a sharp edge, this is where true understanding of the properties of wood comes from. It is no surprise that the once beautiful and functional lovespoons became increasingly made on machines, and the skill used to make the simple and elegant functional spoons was replaced by complexity.

I started this post in response to seeing Robin Wood's Post on Knife sharpening, i think this kind of course is massively useful to the spooner enthusiast especially after a bit of experience using and sharpening knives, all the crafts people i respect use razor sharp tools. Mike Abbott might suggest you don't need a sharp axe for cleaving and i'd agree, and he might even suggest using a blunt drawknife for "sheaving", this too makes sense, but whenever he did a babies rattle demo when i was working for him, he would go to the six or so pole lathes and see where the sharpest skew chisel was, incidentally he would sharpen his turning tools on a tormek and then use japanese waterstones to hone them, he still does not strop his tools (though i have tried to persuade him) but does use a very light touch and fast action with the fine waterstone. Fritiof also used a tormek on his knives and then japanese slip stones, i would hollow grind my knives too if i had a nice wetstone, but i no longer have a tormek ideally i'd have a grinding workshop with a great big electric waterstone like Robin.

So like the post title says if you want to craft wood, you need to know how to craft metal. Then you can craft a razor sharp edge, not only does this make the carving easier but it also leaves a beautiful finish.

When i used machines i would order exotic timbers from catalogue, cut them on a fretsaw (noisy/dusty), abrade them using grits from 80-400 with belt sanders and dremel like machines (noisy/dusty), then by hand 1500, 2400, 3200, 4000, 6000, 8000,  i would use the finest grade i could find 12000 micromesh this did leave a beautiful mirror image finish, with practice you could get the desired shape without losing the crispness of edges like beginners do, but any sign of human touch, of deftness was gone.

But now i source my own materials locally, i use hand tools that are beautiful in their own right, there are no whirring engines of machines or dust extractors, and i can get a hand carved finish in an instant with my knife and if that knife has been honed to 16000 then the finish is even smoother.

How Many Handmade 3D Objects do you own?

It strikes me that although often i am a massive fan of modern life, for example the wonders of YouTube (being able to watch a video of a Romanian Spooner), and the availability of beautiful high quality music at the click of a button. So few of us seem to own beautiful handmade objects, things that actually exist in 3 dimensions not just as pixels on your computer. I am trying to make a concerted effort to spend less of my money on cheap consumables, and more on quality crafted 3D, things i can pick up and use without plugging them in or using WiFi.

It is a very sad fact that i have spent more money this last month on coffee than craft items, this is not because i don't crave them, there are loads of things i would love to own and use, but i never have the money to buy them because i waste it on crap i don't need.

But i am not alone, there is a city phenomenom where people put stuff outside their house they no longer want, i have furnished my room this way and have not paid a penny for a bed, chest of drawers, corner cabinet and shelving unit, i have also recently got a new hat, pencils and all sorts of stuff that is just left outside the front of peoples houses. Yesterday it only took 20 minutes for our old microwave to be taken and we'd only put it outside because we got another second hand one that was in better nick. It is nice that we do this, but it would be naive to suggest this is just through altruism, in the most part it is done because the objects though useful have no real value at all, if they had value they could be sold, and if sold they would be valued at less than £10-20 which is negated if you are employed by the cost of selling them.

Watch this space! if i don't post about something beautiful i have bought this next month then consider me a failure and pull me up on it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Spoons for Sale

Sorry this post went up when i thought i'd just saved it i've put the photos to normal size now.

here's an example of the spoons i'm selling online, check out the others here.

Friday, 21 October 2011


The vast majority of times i've hitched it has been a highly pleasant experience, some of the best encounters of my life have been hitching.When someone picks you up it is an absolute joy, it's exciting to travel so fast and to meet someone new, to chat and share an hour or so in someone elses company especially if you've spent the last few days alone. It also feels good that they wanted to pick you up, that they have added to that pot of positivity we all rely upon to make life good. But you don't need to feel the burden of debt to them because it is no bother for them, it's one of those perfect win win situations.

That said I was pretty gutted not to have been picked up the other day when i was trying to get up North. especially as, though now i am settled i have access to a car, i didn't have any money to put petrol in it, but it was an important trip so i borrowed money and drove, if i had planned i would have been able to book a cheap coach or something but i hadn't.

 I had decided i wasn't going to hitch anymore, basically i was pissed off that for 4 1/2 hrs nobody had bothered to pick me up. But luckily whilst i was driving up the M5 there was a hitcher obviously i always pick up hitchers (all hitchers do). This man was absolutely fascinating, he had been on the road for 20 odd years and knew the country and it's roads inside out, he also knew a huge amount about what he called Freeman Laws, during the hour or so he was in my car he gave me a whole wealth of information about living on the road that is of great use to me. But my lasting impression was that these old laws most of which still stand made a lot of sense and were designed to protect the individual.

A lot of my moral beliefs are based upon individualism and i passionately believe Laws should protect the individual who can be overwhelmed by the greater powers that exist. So it is good to know Laws still exist to protect a person (man or woman) and that it is legal and right for a person to exist and make his or her way in life.

Whenever i am asked to join a community or travelling band i decline, part of the joy of being on the road for me is being alone, but that does not mean i do not support their cause, making a persons way of life illegal is a very dangerous thing, and if we make it impossible to exist as the lowest common denominator, we lose part of being human.

Anyway i will be back hitching again, and i'll stand there with my little cardboard sign out and if someone wants to pick me up they will and if they want to shout Pikey! swear at me, spit at me, or throw food at me (all of which has happened), i will stand proud knowing i have done nothing wrong that my lifestyle is just as moral as theirs and i will do my best not to hate them because hate gets us nowhere.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


As far as i'm concerned the only thing that is important when it comes to using a knife is that it's sharp. Don't know whether any of you have had a go with a flint knife but my view on knives completely changed after using one. It was flint that a friend had knapped and to me it looked for all intense and purposes like a little splinter of flint. But carving with it was an amazing feeling someday i'm going to save some cash and go flint knapping with John Lord and may never use metal tools again! Ion Constantin looks like he is using a hacksaw blade stuck in a bit of wood and i've been told by Robin Wood that he sharpened it with a file!

At the moment i use a Frosts 106 for most of my carving. Previous to that i had been using a 120 which i had to make a handle for - after cleaving a tough bit of wood with it i twisted the handle right off! That said I find these swedish knives have the perfect handle for me, and i only carved myself a new one because the old one broke.

When holding the knife with a standard forehand grip it is more comfortable and gives you more power and control if the handle fits snug in the palm of your hand, i was teaching a four year old girl some knife cuts not so long ago and although she was quite competent she would have found it much easier if the handle had been shaved down a fraction so that she could close her grip. i don't really get all the so called ergonomic grips you see on different knives because i change the position of my hand quite frequently up and down the handle and in reverse i find a symmetric one very useful.

One thing that Ben Orford a tool maker pointed out to me is that with laminated blades people tend to make the bevel more and more shallow because the harder metal abrades away more slowly, i have found this to be the case with my knives though i do like the angle to be pretty shallow for softer woods. I usually tell people that the laminated blades are better because they are quicker to sharpen but i think i'm just repeating what i've heard elsewhere and is not neccessarily true. Fritiof had some 120's rehandled and a home made knife in hard steel (sorry i don't have more information than that) His short knives had large bellys this is something most people reduce by accident when sharpening. The belly of the knife is extremely useful for reaching the middle of large flat areas and for slicing cuts with a thumb push, and for getting into nooks and crannys. All people are differenmt and have varying techniques, i at present am still sold on longer knives, but Fritiof made the point that most of the wear on the knife is towards the hilt and when sharpening a long knife you have to sharpen the whole length which is harder to do the longer it is. When doing big powerful long slicing cuts i find i don't use the length of the knife at all, but i do use it on levering cuts and you get much further travel that way. Often when doing a reinfrorced pullstroke i have my hand all the way up the blade with my thumb in contact with the last inch or so, on a 106 this part of the blade is small to get around tight corners but also remains sharp for doing long finishing cuts. Fritiof had a knife with a fatter bevel for cutting knotty bits etc, this is a very good idea and i intend to do so now i can have a few more knives at my disposal. Especially as i usually find i'm sharpening because of hitting a knot and rolling the edge, i think having knives like del stubbs with the back of the blades rounded and polished is very nice for your hands but also good for pushing back knackered edges (always use lubrication!)

getting bored now, i will probably write more on this and try edit it so it reads better.

hopefully more photos on tumblr by end of day

Monday, 17 October 2011


I now have some photos of spoons on Tumblr some of these photos you may have seen on my blog and many are from my facebook account which i have now closed. i intend to keep the tumblr account just photos of spoons. Tumblr is much better for photos than blogger so i hope to be updating them quite frequently but there will not be much if any information with them just photos. I'll post tomorrow morning about knives.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Green Wood?

One of the first questions people ask me on courses is how green the wood needs to be, this seems such a strange question to me now. But as a child turning wood on an electric lathe i used to turn green wood in the round (wood that has not been split in half or quarters but has been left whole with the pith running down the centre)  beautifully long (40/50 foot long) and dripping wet shavings would stream out the end of my roughing gouge and make a heap on the floor, i would take whatever object i had made inside with the knowledge that over the next few days it would dry and split. But that was ok because for real projects i would order wood from craft supplies (the Home of Woodturning), they would send various shapes and sizes of different woods from European Cherry to African Pink Ivory. Their wood was magically square sided and have wax on the ends, unfortunately it took several years before i understood that shipping endangered species across the planet wasn't what i wanted, and that virtually all the wood growing in this country has a use in woodwork and is very simple to convert to useful wood.

When wood is living it is full of water, probably something like 50% of it's weight, as it is worked into some form of product such as a spoon or a plank water evapourates from it's surfaces and depending on the dryness of it's new environment the product will continue to lose water until it reaches some kind of equilibrium.

As the wood dries it skrinks, gets harder and is less readily split along the grain. Because wood is made up of tubes the water evaporates from the ends of the tubes more readily than the sides this is why the wood from Craft Supplies came with wax on the ends. The wax prevents moisture leaving the ends of the tubes and therefore the moisture has to leave through the sides this is a slower and more even process. If the moisture is allowed to escape from the ends of the tubes that wood will skrink faster and may cause splits to occur this is notable on the ends of logs and can be prevented by painting them with wax/pva.

Wood skrinks more tangentally than radially (radially is from the pith outwards) and virtually no skrinkage occurs longitudinally. Tangental skrinkage is often twice as much as radial and in some species as much as five times. This differential skrinkage causes wood left in the round to split. If the wood is cleft into quarters and then turned round when the wood skrinks it should not split but will skrink to an oval cross section.

Green Wood Pros
It is readily available (grows on trees)

It is easily cleft along the grain into usable blanks
It is softer so is faster to shape and is kinder to razor sharp tools

Green Wood Cons
The wood skrinks so that whatever is made green will be a slightly different shape when dry (this varies considerably between species)
Depending on the species the surface of the wood can oxidise (not sure whether it is actually oxidising) this changes the colour of the wood, if the product is then reworked when dry it will have a different colour making it patchy.

Seasoned Wood Pros
In theory no skrinkage though there will usually be some change this is much less than Green Wood.
Dry wood is hard and therefore a razor sharp tool can leave a smoother surface than on Green Wood.
No colour change.

Seasoned Wood Cons
Not easily cleft
Harder to work
Blunts tools quicker

Fritiof made a big point that when doing fine knife work like signing a spoon it is much easier when the wood is bone dry. In fact all fine work is better done when dry this is because the wood has much less "give"/flex when you try to cut it. If the wood flexs half a millimetre when you are trying to cut a quarter of a millimetre wide incison it is not very good. Fritiof was not a fan of half dry wood, he liked the wood wet and to either rough shape with an axe and then finish when it it is bone dry or to start and finish all in one go.

When i sign my work i tend to just make 2 incisions but there are times when i  make 3. I'm not certain what Fritiof did but i'm fairly sure he was using 2 cuts. The incisions he was making seemed almost vertical, at some point i'll do a long post on my engraving techniques, but a top tip is to not angle the cuts too shallow as that makes the grain tear more easily when turning corners. He was using very sharp tools which were hollow ground on a Tormek then honed. The problem with using the tip of your normal knife for engraving or detailed work is that most people aren't very good at sharpening and getting the very tip (by this i mean the last quarter mm) of your tool razor sharp is not easy, i think it is better to have a couple of different knives unless you have reason to only have one knife. Incidentally Fritiof was using short knives for virtually all of his work, these knives are easier to maintain an edge on. I use a frosts 106 but this is mostly because i want to have as few knives as possible, i keep that razor sharp then i have an old frosts "bushcrafty" knife i use for rough work and non spoon work. next post will be a bit about knives. More on knives next.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Fritiof seemed pretty sold on Birch, i brought with me a load of spoon blanks because in theory i was going to sit in the corner and carve spoons whilst the course was going on, in the end i only made 16 spoons during the whole course, several times Fritiof mentioned that the wood i was using was too hard and my tired hands agreed with him! Some of the wood i was using was London Plane and not only is it hard as nails but the grain switches direction laterally very frequently this is beautiful when finished but hard work/good practice. I too am sold on Birch it is a beautiful wood, it was re-introduced to me a couple of years ago after one previous bad experience with it i had discarded Birch as no good (woops!)

The other blanks i had were cherry and alder, the cherry was unusually hard but had fantastic colourings as did the Alder. I think Alder is a fine spoon wood like Birch it is extremely forgiving whilst carving with a nice close even grain though not as hard as birch i consider it to be harder wearing than willow. I was pleased to hear Fritiof was a fan of Hazel which is definitely in my Top 5 favourite woods, recently i have been staining hazel spoons with tea it really brings out the grain.

I like cherry but it's uneven skrinkage is a irritating, i tend to make my spoon blanks with tangentally cleft wood so that the top of the bowl is orientated towards the bark. If the wood is straight and you allign the spoon so that you get nice symmetric rings in the bowl then the spoon should shrink symmetrically if you don't you get what i call a wonkey donkey (these spoons deserved to be loved too though). I also make the spoon wider across the bowl because cherry tends to skrink much more in that direction.

When travelling i use whatever wood i can get hold of = smaller diameter stuff, which will have more knots. If you have larger diameter wood then you can split it into quarters and then split out the middle bit than contains the pith, this usually removes most of the knots as well. This wood is of a better quality as the tree has a larger canopy which means it needs to lay down stronger wood and also has the resources to do so. The wood at the base of the tree is much tougher and has a more "intertwined" grain on some harder more fibrous woods this can be a hassle to carve but on Birch it is lovely. Now i am settled i am hoping to use larger diameter stuff.

From a sales point of view i find the spoons sell much better when i have a variety of different colour woods, one of the problems with pale wooods like birch/sycamore/willow is they show up dirt more easily, each time someone picks up a spoon i find myself hoping they've got clean hands. Being sat on the street it can be hard to keep the spoons clean - a lot of black dust comes from roads/cars i'm sat next to.

Tomorrow i'll write a bit about Green V Seasoned wood.

Fritiof Runhall

It was a real pleasure to meet Fritiof a spoon carver from Sweden at a course organised by Robin Wood his meeting has brought about many ideas which I thought it might be good to blog about. I generally try to blog about things not covered by other spoon bloggers because i know most of you read all of them so the next few posts will be stuff that stood out for me. One of the first things i noticed about his spoons were the beautiful long carved facets, Fritiof usually creates most of these with a drawknife on a dumb head shaving horse. I have often wondered whether the more bushcrafty of you out there have come across these contraptions? they are wonderful machines, if you have had a go on one and didn't find it good then the the one you used wasn't any good (or blunt drawknife). A shave horse makes things much faster, as you can clamp the spoon rock solid but you are also able to change it's position very rapidly and you can hold the drawknife with both hands giving you a greater amount of control. On a shave horse you use most of your bodies muscles from feet to hands which creates a lot of power and removes wood fast. You obviously don't need to use a shave horse and we had no horse on the course, but when at home making large numbers of spoons he does. I tend to use a shave horse when available for the back of the bowl, this is particularly for spoons made from straight wood, this means that to shape the back of the bowl you need to cut across end grain which can be hard work. I tend not to use the shave horse for other parts of the spoon as the type i have is not so good at clamping them (i have one with two arms rather than a dumb head), a horse that is very quick to make and quite a good comprimise between the two is the Mike Abbott lumber horse, though on his design i would prefer to replace the soft wood with hardwood for the arms and use good strong fixings. I was interested to learn Fritiof also uses a curved drawknife as i do, the curve should not have a tight radius, but allows you to round things more easily and also removes wood faster as the shavings on a round will be wider. wide + long shavings = fast. I also find concave drawknives very useful because they can get into a much tighter curve than a straight one. When on the road i cannot take a shaving horse around with me but i will get my one from storage soon enough, particulalry for increasing my ouput for the christmas market.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Had a great time as ever up Edale way with mr Wood (can't believe he changed his name to Wood just to sell more bowls). This time was particularly special as it was a very rare oportunity to meet someone who has carved more spoons than i have. I'm going to put up several posts over the next few days whilst thoughts are still fresh in my head, needless to say it was a very rewarding trip. It was also great to see Steve who has as diverse a background in green woodwork as anyone i know and is mower extraordinaire. It was also great to meet some other people in the flesh i had previously only known online.Many thanks to Robin for the invitation, spending a few days in such good company carving spoons is a beautiful thing.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Home Sweet Home/The Spoon Laboratory

Declaring the summer was over caused a heat wave, which has been fantastic. In the photo below is my new eating spoon, my last one broke after experimenting with using a dishwasher, i now don't recommend putting wooden spoons in the dishwasher! This dark brown spoon was made in birch and was the last one i couldn't sell from a large batch. I've been using it since August and it's been stained from making coffee and has now been oiled with walnut oil.

Thinking a change might be good i tried several different designs of eating spoons but i couldn't find one that worked better than my standard octagonal handled ones. Having said that i have been making extra long versions (between 9-12 inches) which have a lovely recurve in them, the recurve prevents you holding the spoon upside down by accident when in the dark, this only happened to me once and was hilarious, it also has a lovely balanced feel to it, has a greater reach and is brilliantly flambuoyant. When i get round to it i'll create a page of spoon photos and you can see a lot more of my different designs in more detail. The Spatula was a moving in present for myself i now own five or six spoons of my own, the other spoons in the rack are my friends spoons i made a few years ago.

I've got hold of a load of lovely London Plane which has a fantastic grain and some amazing bends that i'm turning into ladles, the knots are destroying my knives but sharpening now i'm in a house is ridiculously fast.  This is because i can store more tools such as my japanese waterstones, they cut so much faster than the DC4 ceramic i've got which is so hard it takes a lot of toing and froing. It's so good being able to use all my different spoons for research and development.