How to carve a ladle


To carve your own utensils and cutlery is fun. They become unique pieces of art and carving can also be very meditative. In this post, I'll share how I carve a ladle. I've been carving it in fresh wood, the pro's of doing so is that the damp wood is much softer to work with than when it's dry. The con would be that you'll have to be patient when drying your finished piece, if drying too fast it will crack.

You need:

  • a sharp axe
  • Carving knife/small knife
  • Spoon knife 
  • pencil
  • chopping block
  • Snacks and something warm to drink
  • First aid kit with patches (hopefully no need to use it)

1. Choose your piece and call the landowner. I choosed a piece of silver birch that we had lying around. If I'd wanted to make a tablespoon I would look for a crooked piece instead, to get that nice curve. But in my (most biased) opinion, it's not as important in a ladle which will be a much sturdier piece than the spoon.

I choosed silver birch since when it's dry, it becomes very hard, beautiful and durable.

Once you've found your piece, call the landowner and ask for permission. When it comes to singular, young birches (in Sweden), there's seldom a problem. But you gotta make it right! Make sure to give your thanks properly.

2. Cut of the piece you want to use. Avoid twigs in your piece if possible.

3. Draw a line across both ends of the piece, straight through the middle.

4. Get your axe. Make sure that it's sharp! If you wouldn't mind patting kids with it - it definitely needs sharpening. Slice of two tapes of barch between the end of that lines you just drew. These will help when splitting the piece.

5. Put the axe in one of your neat lines and slam it with a piece of firewood.

6. Level the piece and cut away the core. If the core is left in the finished ladle there's agreater risk that it will crack later on. When I'm working with the axe I keep my workhand close to the axehead and work from the middle of the piece and downwards. Then I simply flipp the piece and repeat. The upper hand is kept curled up, supporting the top of the piece. As little fingers in the way as possible. Please, swipe among the photos above!

7. Draw the shape of your ladle and mark everything that you want to cut away.

8. I usually start by cutting out the shaft.

9. Mark around the scoop and cut it away.

10. Make more markings. Please note, that I left the "neck" of the ladle pretty thick. This is the part that will be subjected to most pressure, while wrestling a dough.

11. Keep working with the axe for as long as possible. It's a fine balance between going bananas and take away too much, or taking too little with blisters from endless hours of carving as a result. 

12. Switched place from our messy courtyard to the nearby forest for a better view. Creating beauty in a beautiful place. 

13. Knives. Now it's time to bring out you carving knives! I usually work with both carving- and spoonknives from Svante Djärv and Morakniv. The knives of Djärvs making are beautiful, easy to work with, I just love them (no paid ad, just happy customer). In Moraknivs' defense, their knives works perfectly as well, just a bit clumsy when working on small things.

14. Carve downhills. You'll get to flipp the piece around, but that's just the way it is. When carving "up hill" the knife might get stuck and you might break away more than you'd liked. Personaly, I'm not very structured in this part of the process. But I usually start with making the scoop. If the scoop is fine, the rest will solve eventually. The shaft is usually easier to fix later. Look for edges and facettes, these are the ones you want to smoothern out with the blade.

15. Cut away from oneself. I brace my thumb against the back of the blade and push in small motions. The closer the angle (between the piece and the blade) gets to 90° the deeper the cut. I usually work somewhere between 45°-10° - not that you meassure it, it's just to give you an idea. 

16. Carve against oneself. Sorry about the blurry photo (it's pretty hard taking selfies when carving), but I think you get it anyway. I work with the same motion as when I'm making a fist. In this way, I don't cut myself.

17. Carve with a spoon knife. Pretty much the same as the "carve-against-oneself"grip, but with a digging kind of motion when closing the fist. It's also a good idea carving across the fibers when using this knife. Otherwise you're likely to create splinters ruining the piece.

18. Hot drink and snacks. Bring something to raise that bloodsugar of yours! And something hot to drink if you're working outdoors. It's easy to get lost in time and space when carving, but it's also easier getting yourself cut when being tired and hungry. So bring snacks. A lot of them.

19. Here comes those lovely hours of simply making all those edges and facettes go away.

20. Dry. I put my carvings in a whiffy window or in a cold place indoors for a week or so. Some people put their carvings in plastic bags with paper/woodchips/dried moss, changing it and turning it inside out everyday in order for it not to mold. I guess it depends on what you're making. For a ladle, that whiffy window works just fine.

21. And what then? When it's dry? If you want to you can take away even more facettes, decorate it with carvings, polish it or paint it. I like fernish it with some ordinary oil for cooking. Dishwash your wooden utensils by hand and remember to give them some oil-treatment every now and then. If taken care of they will age beautifully and last for many long adventures in the wild.  

Do you like to carve? Please, share your work in stories and tag @tracelessintiveden. Let's spread the joy of craft-works!

Carve in peace!


Would you like to read more about crafting your own gear?