Understanding Wood – Spoons & Spatulas

When you first start woodworking, one of the first things you have to learn is: how to read the grain, how to work the wood and what the limitations are. You soon start to learn when you have to make the wood and the tools do what you want, and when you have to change your approach and take a step back.

One of the first things that Paul got me to do when I started my apprenticeship was making spatulas and spoons. As you shape, gouge and carve the shape of such a simple and familiar object from a blank of wood, you are almost forced to appreciate the intricacy and character of wood.

Shaping SpatulaYou pick up what at first are unfamiliar, hard, metal objects which with time will become natural extensions to your body; the chisel, spokeshave, saw, hammer. You observe from every angle using your hands as well as your eyes as you are rapidly forced to learn the direction of the grain. With every cut you deepen your knowledge of the material you are working in. Not just a lump of wood, but the part of a formerly living and growing organism that moved with the wind and reached for the sun, resulting in the grain and knots you see before you. If you cut without thought you are rewarded with tear out as you catch the end of the wood fibres with the cutting edge. But when you go with the grain your shaving peel of leaving behind a smoothly cut surface.

With these you strive to reduce the block down to what starts off as an idea or picture in your head, and hopefully becomes a shapely, faceted and tactile object which will be useful for years to come.

This process suddenly brings into play nerves and muscles that you’ve never used before. You start the process of developing a sensitivity and dexterity that you only get through working with your hands, an interconnectivity with what you are working with.

This is something Spatulasthat is often missed in our technological age where we are used to pushing buttons on 2D screens. This is why we are seeing this stirring in people to grow something for themselves, cook or bake something from scratch, make something with their own hands that they can be proud of. And once you go down that road you start to appreciate the work of other craftspeople, the skills that have been developed and the texture and detail in handmade products that is missing in the mass-manufactured world around us.

So the best advice I can give is: get making and do it over and over again until you really understand it, really connect with it.

For more on carving a wooden spoons, see these blogs and this video by Paul,

Or for information on carving spoons from green wood with an axe and knife (of which I have done a little) see this video by Paul or visit the blogs of  Robin Wood and Barn Carder.


  1. I carved one spoon and one spatula. Perhaps I’ll try a few more. I look forward to following your blog and getting another perspective of Paul’s training and techniques.

  2. This is a timely blog post for me. I’m starting Pauls’s “Working Wood” books. I made a couple of spatulas, enough to learn the value of a template, how to set up and use a spoke shave, but not nearly enough to say I’d learned about working wood yet.

    Okay, back to the spatual mill for me. Clearly there are more lessons there.


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