I know that I've said it before, but here goes...If you want to learn about working wood, carve spoons. I was lucky enough to have Andy Jack helping me out recently after returning from a spoon carving class with Jogge Sunquist and he brought back some great tips about the tools, materials, geometry, and body technique. It's spurred me on to a flurry of production and now the hardest part of every meal is figuring out which utensil to use!
Early in my spoon carving, I used applewood almost exclusively. It's tough as nails and lovely to boot. When it's green, it carves relatively easy, so it's best to do as much as you can before it dries to stone.
The little paddle above can be made from relatively straight stock, and while it seems diminutive, I reach for it all the time when cooking. It does what every good tool should, it feels like a sensitive extension of my hand.
Here is another "paddle" that also has enough of a bowl to be a good serving spoon. The curved front also makes it very handy when cooking in a pan with curved sides. This one is maple and came not from a crook in the tree, but from a branch to trunk union. I've been using branching parts this way and having a lot of fun learning to follow the grain. If you do it right, the neck of the spoon is straight grained and strong and the bowl follows the grain as well so there is no short grain at the lead edge. You can't get much stronger, which lets me take away all that unnecessary wood.
Here you can see the "curly" area that is in every branch spoon where the wood takes the heavy turn. It's always fun to find.
Every time that I see a large limb in a tree that fell or that I cut, I can't help but think LADLE!! It's always an endeavor. This one out of maple took me nearly 5 hours to rough out. I know this because I started on it one night at 5:30 and the next time that I noticed my surroundings (yes, I know, my poor neglected wife) it was 10:30 and the rest of the house was dark!
I've taken to scraping and sanding the bowls lately, both to highlight the grain and sculptural quality, but it also makes cleaning easier.
And finally, here is an eating spoon from a crook. I've been working on the shape of these to get the proper feel in the hand as well as comfortably delivering food to the mouth. It's fun because when I'm done, there is surprisingly little wood left.
There are some great videos on Youtube.com if you search spoon carving. I think my favorite is the Romanian Carver, his motions are so effective and concise. And this fellow is great with all sorts of old technology and way more efficient with his hatchet than me. If these guys don't make you trek out into the woods, nothing will.
This photo reminds me of Sue's reaction to seeing me in a magazine photo, she said "They photoshopped your hands, they're never that clean!" I could think that it's retaliation for my obsessive carving during "our time", but I'm afraid it's simply the truth.