Since building my own coracle in May, I’ve become hooked on trying heritage crafts. I discovered an organisation called the Heritage Crafts Association, who have published a Red List of traditional crafts in danger of dying out. So with my coracle complete, I thought it was time to try a new heritage craft – SPOON CARVING.
The word spoon is derived from the Old English word spon, meaning a chip of wood or horn carved from a larger piece. In Britain, archaeological evidence suggests that Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking people all used wooden spoons, the latter two being particularly great woodworkers. On our farm we have an Anglo-Saxon longhall, a magnificent demonstration of the intricate joints and techniques devised by our European ancestors. Our treewright Darren built the hall, and also owns a piece of ancient woodland that he manages for wildlife and sustainable materials. From here, he found me a chunk of green ash with which to start my spoony adventure.
The key to carving is sharp tools and soft, green wood. I sharpened one of the axes we already have at the farm, but decided to buy my own straight knife and hook knife from Mora, a Swedish brand of extremely high quality. I used local ash as it was readily available, but lime, pine and birch are also great.
The first step was to draw a spoon onto the wood, to use as a rough guide when hacking merrily away. Then, I used the axe to chip away at the sides until I had a vague spoon shape that I could start whittling with my knives.
I reached a point where the axe was just too large and clunky to start shaping the spoon, and then switched to my straight knife. This thing was brand new and SHARP so it took me a while to get used to the technique, but once I did it was unbelievably satisfying. Each cut would ease off a smooth sliver of wood, leaving a glassy finish behind.
I whittled away until the spoon outline was much sleeker and my hunk of wood actually looked like a spoon! Then – time for the hook knife.
After numerous YouTube videos showing me different techniques of using a hook knife, I started mastering the ‘vegetable peeler’ and ‘twist’ effect. The hook knife is a brilliant little device, but trying to find the perfect biting point took me some practice. Eventually, each slice made a tasty scraping sound as I started shaping the bowl, and finally I had hollowed out my spoon.
The last step was just to sand it down and oil it! I decided to carve a wobbly handle so the overall wobbliness would look more intentional. It’s not the most elegant or slender of spoons, but I’ve decided it will make a perfect ladle for lentil salads. The whole process was incredibly satisfying and I am completely addicted. Watch this space!