I wasn’t really intending to post on spoon carving but when Dean of Des Moines asked Peter Follansbee how to sharpen a battered spoon knife (hoping he could get an affordable second hand one) I thought I’d share how I got started into this craft without laying out for a pricy specialist tool at the beginning. There’s no hope of a second hand hook knife here in NZ so to see if this was something I wanted to invest in I went to the farmers supply store and got a cheap Chinese hoof knife and scorp. I have no idea what the cow cockies do with the latter but being badly made it provides a number of curves so is quite versatile, both are stainless.
Inspiration to try out this craft came from Peter Follansbee 17th Century joiner and green woodworker including spooncarver and then from links he put up: Robin Wood and the patriarch of the spooncarving revival Wille Sundquist and his talented son Jogge. Peter and Robin have done numerous posts on spoon carving and links to videos and other spoon carvers, Sean Helman is also well worth checking out. Their styles are varied but the basics remain the same. Robin Wood also points the way to making a hook-knife to suit your own needs (or from scratch) and more importantly how to get the correct temper using the kitchen oven, hardening is easy but tempering (not too hard, not too soft) sounds much more difficult the traditional way.
I was given a quality used knife (F. Dick) by our farrier but haven’t fixed it up yet and thought I might follow Robins instructions to bend it the other way to get the bevel on the outside. If I were to fix it up the way it is, I’d do the same as with the lefty one, ease the bevel with a round file then work through progressively finer slips to get as smooth a finish as possible. I’ve used the hoof knife for the straight and large wasting cuts, in lieu of a sloyd knife as well.
Well back to my story, the two tools cost NZ $20 (US $16 at todays exchange rate). They come with a factory inside bevel, which I have retained but adjusted with a chainsaw file and then smoothed them up with my partners diamond slips for sharpening her farrier hoof knives. Hoof trimmers run into a fair bit of grit with their knives so they’re not trying to get a mirror finish and these slips won’t get there but they give a dangerously sharp finish all the same.
The link to Sean Helman should open a post promoting his sharpening products which gives another approach to sharpening. There are two other farrier knives that can be handy but they don’t come cheap, still if you can get an old one…
I’ve since bought an affordable spoon knife made by Erik Frost, through Ragweed Forge. Ragweed Forge has a huge range of knives at very affordable prices to US citizens. Getting several sloyd blanks, Wille’s book “Swedish Carving Techniqes” and Jogge’s video “Carving Swedish Woodenware” all in the one order made it worth while to do an international order and reduced the crippling freight cost (same cost spread over several items, it wasn’t so bad).
To touch up these tools I use a ‘curved tool sharpening stone’ from the hardware store, sold for sharpening secateurs. This works well on both inside and outside bevels and it’s now time I found a source for sharpening compound to get that mirror finish with either leather or wooden slips.
So to get back to Dean’s problem, in addition to looking for a spoon knife in a second hand shop, see if there is something that can be adapted from a farm supply, farrier supply or saddlery/equine supply store, or see if your local farrier can throw an old knife your way. They’re the right quality of steel and temper and are up to most of the task.
I’ve got a long way to go both with my sharpening and my carving but heres some things I’ve made with the hoof knife and scorp and the latest item, using the hoof knife with the Frost spoon knife for the bowl (unoiled spoon on left). I’m not sure how tough the alder is so have tended to leave it on the thick side but the pin oak (Quercus palustris) is very tough and I’ve been able to get that quite thin and have even made a couple of pin oak teaspoons with the hoof knife and scorp. My understanding of Peter’s approach is to let the wood grain determine the form and Robin’s more often than not seems to tend toward consistent product. both approaches have there merits from my point of view but for now I prefer the wilder product that comes with Peter’s technique, I think that is probably more rewarding for us beginners as well. I also like keeping some of the elements that speak of the branch it came from, such as the knots, bulges and stippled surface just under the bark.