Every shop project has at least one process you hate. When I’m making spoons, it’s the finishing. About ninety percent of the utensils I make are from cherry, and overwhelmingly I use USP mineral oil to finish them. It’s food-safe, inexpensive, leaves a lovely glow on the wood, and is messy as hell. But, most importantly, it gets absorbed into the wood and helps keep the spoon from picking up odors and tastes from your cooking. It’s a “yuck” sort of thing that is repeated several times until the wood has absorbed about as much as it can. The spoons then sit and cure for about a week, after which they get thoroughly wiped down, and a final top-coat of mineral oil mixed with beeswax is applied. Then they get buffed and are ready for use.
The coating and curing I put on in the shop is not a forever varnish-style coating. There is a bit of upkeep required by the owner. So every once in a while, oil them again to keep them at their best.
I do not recommend using cooking oil. Many of those eventually become rancid. Instead, use mineral oil, as I do. You’ll only be using a few drops at a time, so there won’t be the sort of “yuck” factor that I get when I do a dozen or so all at once.
Properly maintained, a wooden utensil should last for years.
The featured image shows the current batch of treen destined to be Christmas presents for family and friends. Fall is treen season. I pause from other work to dig through the cherry splits for good spoon wood.
These past few years, I’ve been working through a bountiful stock of native cherry. It was cut about two years ago and is still not totally dry, but dry enough for me to use ( according to my moisture meter). The average length is 15 – 18 inches, but if I need larger stock, there are some unsawn logs available to me. For most of what I carve firewood length is excellent, and that’s what the cherry pile originated as; firewood. When my firewwod provider told me there was cherry in the load I instantly started digging for it. If you sell treen it’s essential to get an idea of what you can get out of a split, log, or plank. Wood, like I am working with, has bark, sapwood, wane, knots, cracks, and all sorts of imperfections in it. But, it’s gorgeous wood after you get rid of the faults. I begin the work by taking a maul and a froe to the large splits of wood. In reducing the bigger wedges, I have my first opportunity to evaluate what is inside. All that is rejected at this stage is lovely kindling for the woodstove. I gradually work the piece into a large blank, as you see at the top in the photo below. If there are no severe checks or significant splits in the wood, I can proceed.
Below the blank is a partially worked piece. The blank has been refined into a general the general shape of a dipper or deep spoon. Below the rough out is a completed spoon. With luck and some careful cutting, I can get several products out of one blank. The examples shown are a bowl scraper and a spatula. You do not always get lucky, and lots of time, there are hidden knots, cracks, or other flaws that mean you have one piece and a pile of kindling. I heat with wood; cherry kindling is always welcome. I use my jointer to get a flat surface if the splitting doesn’t provide one. After this, it’s off to the bandsaw to refine the shape a bit. Once upon a time, I did much of this work with a shave. Selling good volumes of treen at boat shows ( not everyone wants a boat portrait, you know!) dissuaded me from this. Not to worry. There is still much hand tool work to take a rough blank and turn it into an elegant spoon.
From firewood to present. It’s a nice transition. As I pulled the bright reddish cherry from the piles of cordwood I began to get excited. I recognized some truly prime wood among the common red oak. A tragedy in a way, because I was thinking of the gorgeous planks for cabinet work that were now reduced to cordwood length. At least now they’ll be used for a better purpose than use as fuel.
So, wooden spoons in stunning natural cherry color. A great Christmas present for a cook. don’t you agree?
Spoons boiling in a pot of water? Yes, this is tempering. The spoons and spatulas shown here are this year’s batch of Christmas and holiday presents for friends needing a new piece of treen – an old word for woodenware. The rough carving, shaping, and sanding have been done; the bowls carved first of course. Now comes the tempering to raise the grain so a final sanding and rubbing can finish the treen. The last step will be rubbing with a paste made from beeswax and mineral oil. The wood is from the cherry that my firewood provider told me was in the seven chords I bought this year. He casually informed me that: “…there’s a bit of cherry in there”. A bit turned out to be about twenty percent of a chord. Of course I couldn’t burn it. So, I have cherry blanks for spoons, bowls, spatulas, wooden forks, and other assorted treen for a number of years. I may even have to sell some.