Thursday, March 5, 2015

Steam Bent Spoon Blanks

Perfect crooks for spoon carving are rare in the wild, so I've taken to shaving blanks that follow the wood fibers and then steam bending them into the perfect crooks that my heart so desires to carve into spoons.  I lose some of the romance of searching for, finding, and working with a curve that was grown by a tree, but I gain a limitless supply of perfect crooked spoon blanks that are a true joy to carve.  

Because these blanks have no twisting, curling, or knotty fibers, they finish carve beautifully.  This makes it easier to leave the nice, long, consistent knife marks that are one of the calling cards of skillful spoon carving.

The process begins with a straight section of spoon carving wood and a froe.  I'm carving mostly red maple and paper birch these days.

I sight down the blank to orient the split in a way that avoids small knots.
Then tap the froe in...
and pull back...
to yield two halves.
I like to take a moment to look over the blanks and get myself oriented.

Then onto the shaving horse... create a flat face that perfectly follows the wood fibers.
You know you've got it right when the wood cuts cleanly in both directions and the grain runs in straight lines from one end to the other.
Not quite there.  Notice the tearing on the right hand side and the V shaped grain lines starting a couple of inches in front of the shaving horse jaw.  It is a little hard to see on the red maple, but look closely.

Grain lines that run from one end of the blank to the other tell you that the blank follows the wood fibers.

I trim the edges square to the face.  I like to keep the blank a little wider than the spoon I will be carving.

I scribe the blank to 5/8" thickness.

...and shave to the scribed line.

I like the grain pattern inside the bowl when the bark side of the blank is the top side of the spoon.  The top of the spoon will be against the bending form.

I mark the outside of the bend so that I don't get turned around when the blank is hot from the steam box.

Basic bending form shape with blank in position.

Half an hour of steam and a couple of clamps create the bend.

Twelve hours later the blank has set enough to remove from the form and start carving.

Some of the fibers tore on the outside of this blank.

I shave down below the torn fibers...

...and then follow the newly exposed layer of fibers from one end of the blank to the other.

That nice flat surface is ideal for layout.

The back of the bowl should begin a little bit up the curve, for looks.

If you carve them fast these bent blanks are soft, like green wood. which they are!  But you'll want to carve them fast because at close to 1/2" thickness they dry out quickly and become more difficult to work with.  I have a handful of spoons and spatulas that I have bent like this that are in constant use.  Over the past year and a half the bends have opened very little.

Give it a try!  Spoons carved from these blanks can be very thin because they perfectly follow the grain and the sinuous curves make for beautiful, sweeping shapes.

Here is a link to pictures of an eating spoon that I carved like this last year.


  1. What happens if such a spoon is put into hot water? Does it return to a straight piece?

  2. I have a spatula that I made like this two years ago. I cook with it all the time. It is in and out of heat all the time and gets left soaking in the sink for too long. The bend has opened a little bit, but it is not a straight piece of wood by any means and it seems to have stopped opening about a year ago. I also have an eating spoon that I stir my boiling hot breakfast with every morning which is the same shape as the day I took it off the form.

    I see the potential problem of the bends opening up from heat and moisture as a theoretical issue, but so far not a practical issue.

    1. You're right, Tim. If we're talking theoretically, even a naturally occurring crook is at risk of warpage when exposed to hot water. Once "over" bent, the fibers in the concave side are crushed and there is minimal return in practice.

  3. Good post....thanks for sharing.. very useful for me i will bookmark this for my future needs. Thanks.
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  4. Do you show somewhere how you steam the wood? Various methods out there. Wondering how you do it. Mike