Thursday, January 30, 2014

Order of operations?

One subject that I have not found much advice on is the "order of operations" of spoon carving.  If you have ever watched with dismay as the diameter of your spoon bowl shrinks the more you work on it, you know what I am feeling.  Most advice, which I think is generally good, encourages you to move back and forth between the plan view (looking down on the spoon) and the profile view (from the side.)  You definitely have to keep both in mind as you work, as changes with one impact the other.  And that is where the mysterious shrinking bowl comes in.  If you define the curve of the bottom of the bowl before the profile of the rim, then when you remove material to shape the rim the overall diameter (the plan view) of the bowl will shrink.   I have a few serving spoons with tiny little bowls and long, fat bodies.

So is there a correct "order of operations" for spoon making?  After studying a few videos I generally don't think there is just one sequence of steps to follow.  But there are probably some good rules to keep in mind.

For example, Peter Follansbee in an episode of the Woodright's Shop with Roy Underhill, after splitting a branch, removing most of the bark, and drawing a center line and a plan view of the spoon, starts right in on carving the bowl of the spoon first.

Barn "The Spoon"Carder and Ion Constantin, on the other hand, both seem focus on hollowing the bowl last.

So for the most part, there is no one right sequence of steps in making a spoon, but I would say there are some things that I am trying to keep in mind:

  1. The shrinking bowl problem (as described above.)  In a recent email thread with David Fisher, he put the solution really well: "I guess the thing is not to undercut the edge of the bowl until you've carved the upper plane of the rim.  You can still carve along the entire outer rim of the spoon bowl first, but keep the cut at 90 degrees to the upper surface, then if you change the upper surface edge, the shape of the bowl remains the same.  Then you can carve the roundness of the back of the bowl."
  2. Working outside of right angles.  I find that I get into trouble if I define anything but the plan and profile of the spoon too early in the process.  For example, the transition of the underside of the bowl to the underside of the stem is a fun cut to work through, but if I focus too much on it before I have defined the upper edge of the profile view of the stem, the stem can get pretty spindly and weak.
  3. Don't jump to chamfer too quickly. I love Jarrod StoneDahl's recent spoon carving video for a lot of reasons, but one is how he saves the chamfers for the final step.  
  4. Leave some heft on the handle until the end.  You don't want the stem or handle flexing as you work on other parts of the spoon.  Ion Constantin does this.
  5. I like hollowing and even nearly finishing the inside of the bowl bowl while there is still some meat on the spoon.  I have more to hold on to, and I don't run into the problem of the bowl wall being too thin (well, not as much.)  Maybe Peter Follansbee's method deserves another look?  By the way, Peter is offering a spoon carving class this spring.  It is full, but there is a wiat list.
These days, my "order of operations" goes something like this: I firm up the "plan view" first, carving to the line. Then I hollow out a bit of the bowl, which lets me easily work on the profile of the bowl rim. Once I am happy with the rim of the bowl, I start moving back, working on the stem's transition into the bowl and eventually the handle's relation to the stem.  My goal is to make the upper edge of the profile view into a pleasing form. Once that is done, this sort of becomes my "reference plane."  I then go to work on the inside of the bowl, trying to refine the shape and finish as much as I can while I still have a lot of wood to work with.  Once I am happy with the bowl depth and finish, I carve away the underside of the bowl, keeping in mind the way the profiles of the bottom and rim of the bowl work together.  This is the step where I approach the final thickness of the bowl wall.  Once done, I then work toward the handle, this time on the underside of the stem and handle, again trying to create a pleasing form from the profile view.  Up until this point I have been focusing a lot on the profile view, though I certainly stop to check the plan view now and again, especially when I start removing material that is not at a right angle to the plan or profile view.  After drying, I refine the form, add chamfers, and touch up the finish.  

If any of you have insights, common problems, or suggestions, I would love to hear them.  Also, my "video" tab has a few carving videos that have been most helpful for me.  (Jarrod's is by far the most helpful to date.)


  1. Good day, your progression look really similar to mine. And Jarrod video is indeed really good!!

    1. Thanks for your input, David. I posted this question on the Spoon Carving Facebook group, and a those responses were pretty much along the same lines as my progression. Steve Tomlin also posted, saying he taught his steps at the last Spoonfest and would post on his blog about this some time soon.

  2. John Mullaney wrote up a nice piece on his order of operations, inspired by none other than Fritiof Runhall.