After our recent article about making a wooden spoon from a log, several people expressed an interest in taking our class on spoon making, so we’ve scheduled an additional class on Friday, June 1, 2012. If you would like to take it, you can register here:
Carving a wooden spoon by hand is relaxing and enjoyable, and the spoons and spatulas you can learn to make work very well in the kitchen and make great gifts. My family uses wooden spoons and spatulas in the kitchen on almost a daily basis, and we have a few that are over 20 years old and still in use.
In our one day hands-on workshop, you’ll make the four projects pictured above:
a stirrer made of pine (top in the photo)
a spatula (third in the photo)
a spoon (second in the photo)
and a ladle (fourth in the photo)
For the spatula, spoon and ladle, we’ll be using kiln-dried hardwoods. The hardwoods will vary from class to class.
In making the projects, you’ll be learning the basics of how to use a spoon gouge, a drawknife, and a spokeshave to shape wood. These are skills that will help you in other woodworking projects down the road.
You can register through our website using the link below:
This article is an excerpt from an interview with Frank Strazza on hand tool woodworking that was featured in the January 2012 issue of our SustainLife Quarterly Journal.
Ploughshare: Can you elaborate on why you have more of a hand tool focus?
Frank Strazza: Working with hand tools really does slow down the process to where you can understand how the tools work and how the joints work. It gives you greater sensitivity to your work because when you’re working with a machine, a lot of times you’re disconnected from your work. You’ve got on all the safety equipment—ear protection, eye protection, dust protection—which tends to disconnect you from what you’re doing. You don’t experience it the same way as you can with hand tools.
When I’m working with a hand tool, there’s a whole different feeling. When I teach woodworking, I try to get students to listen to the sound of the plane when it’s going through the wood. They learn to feel how much or how little pressure to apply. They have to look, and see, “Oh, the shaving’s thicker on this side, and it’s not as thick on this side.” They have to feel the blade protruding. “Is it coming out more on this side?” So they’re using their senses. They’re smelling the wood; they’re experiencing it. You get to experience the work in a totally different way, a way that you don’t with power tools.
And what’s interesting is, a lot of times, people have a misconception about hand tools: that it’s a slow, archaic way of doing things. It’s not that hand tools didn’t work, but they just didn’t keep pace with the industrialization of society. So hand tools slowly fell by the wayside, and power tools took their place. And also, what a lot of woodworkers do is set up a mini-factory in their garage. But I find that many students say, “This is what I want to do. Hand tools are just so much more enjoyable”. You can do that in a small space, and it’s safe. You can still get cut with a hand tool, but it’s going to be far less severe than if you were to get cut with a machine.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a workbench class, and one of my students was hand planing the top of his workbench. Just imagine, this is a hard maple top, and it’s 31 inches wide and seven feet long, and he’s been planing it for quite some time. Someone walks in and says to him, “Well, what is that? That probably takes at least twice as long to do it by hand doesn’t it?” And I kind of just laughed inside because he’s missing the whole concept here. There are some things that the best way to them is by hand. All woodworking can be done totally by hand. Only part of it even can be done with a machine. If your aim is to mass produce something, it may be worth it to set up a machine that can efficiently mass produce it, but the finest pieces of furniture that were ever built during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were done entirely by hand.
I don’t mind using power tools for rough stock removal, but hand skills are necessary to do the finer joints and the finer details, such as the hand planing of the top. The truth of it is, there really would’ve been no mechanized way to flatten that workbench top without a huge industrial machine that very few shops could even have. It would have to be something big enough to run the top through, in order to get it perfectly flat. But a hand plane will do it; it’ll get the top perfectly flat.
This past Saturday, The Ploughshare’s Woodworking School had a one-day spoon making class, attended by seven students. They each made a stirrer, a spoon, a spatula, and a ladle from kiln-dried woods (cherry, pine, walnut and mesquite) using simple hand tools. Everyone completed or nearly completed their projects in the class. The main thing left to do was sanding and adding a mineral oil finish.
As part of the class, Frank Strazza, the instructor, demonstrated how to make a spoon from a log. He started with a pear tree log about 5 inches in diameter that had just been cut a few days prior. Using a froe, a hatchet, a drawknife and several other simple hand tools, he made a large Swiss-style wooden spoon. Below are some photos, showing how he did it.
First he split the log in half with a froe and mallet.
Next he shaped the face with a hatchet, then carved the bowl.
Once the bowl had been shaped, Frank made several stop cuts (visible several inches from the bottom end of the log) using a hand saw, then removed the bulk of the waste material using a hatchet. He used a sweeping circular motion to make somewhat of a slicing cut.
Frank brought the work-in-progress back into the shop and continued shaping it with a drawknife. He used a shavehorse to hold the spoon. It’s basically a foot operated vice that grips the spoon firmly but lets you reposition it quickly and leaves your hands free for working.
For finer shaping, Frank used a spokeshave.
Below is the nearly completed pear spoon, along with a few other spoons made from firewood-sized logs. From top to bottom, the woods are black walnut, hackberry, peach, and pear. All that’s left to do on the pear spoon is wait a few days until it dries, scrape it with a card scraper, sand it, and apply some mineral oil to protect the wood and bring out its natural beauty.
It’s amazing to see what you can make from a rough log.
My son also attended the spoon-making class. Below is a photo of the spoons he made during the class, after he’s sanded and oiled them. He was pretty excited about the class. Although he’s been making spoons for a few years, he felt like what he learned in the class is really going to revolutionize the way he makes spoons.
Spoon making is relaxing and enjoyable, but it’s also a great way to strengthen your skills as a woodworker — particularly your ability to shape wood and learn to work with, rather than against, the grain.
[This article is based on an interview with Frank Strazza, Ploughshare woodworking instructor.]
Ploughshare: Can you comment on how woodworking fits into an agrarian lifestyle and the restoration of a local cottage economy?
Frank Strazza: In many ways, it seems like we’ve gotten away from simple tasks—working with our hands and using simple hand tools that people have used for generations. It’s only been in the past 50 or 60 years that people have really turned their back on the traditional ways of doing things and rejected the use of traditional hand tools for simple tasks.
Let’s take a hand saw, for example. Until about 60 years ago, when people would frame houses, they would use hand saws to cut framing lumber. A sharp handsaw will cut through 2×4’s as fast as a circular saw.
Suppose you need to build a chicken coop—I built a chicken coop with my children, and instead of using a circular saw, we used a hand saw. Now I’m building a shed, and I’ve been using hand tools because the shed is far away from any source of electricity, and it would take more time and effort to drag an extension cord out there. It’s faster to do the work by hand, but to do that, you need to have the hand skills. You also need to know how to sharpen the tools because a dull hand saw will not work.
Many people no longer have the skills to sharpen saws. When they try to use a dull saw, they say, “This doesn’t work.” So they use a circular saw instead because you can buy a brand new, sharp blade at the store for $10-20 and get on with your work. But if you have the skills to sharpen a handsaw, then with five minutes of sharpening, you can cut through wood very effectively and very quickly. Hand tool woodworking fits into an agrarian way of life because you develop skills that you can use in many different projects on your homestead.
As far as fitting into a cottage economy, I think there are many ways someone can make a living by making projects in their home shop using hand tools (and power tools). Working out of the home or home shop is very doable. Having made furniture for a living for years as a sole source of income, I can say it’s a lot of work, so you definitely need to love what you’re doing.