The Birth of a Ladle

I was recently commissioned to carve a ladle for a good friend. I don’t carve ladles very frequently, because how many ladles does one man really need? (I think I have three in my kitchen, which is probably one too many). I was happy to fill the request. Ladles are the tougher to carve than a regular cooking spoon because of the sweeping curves and the deep bowl, but that also makes them fun. The best part is finding the right crook.

You can’t just carve a ladle from a straight piece of wood. You need to find a branch where the grain follows the handle, then curves abruptly where the bowl will be carved. Otherwise, you will end up with either a weak bowl or a weak handle.

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You might be able to find a crook with the proper bend to it, but you’re more likely to find the abrupt bend that you need at a branch union. So the ladle begins with the hunt for a proper bend.

I had some red maple already cut up, and I picked out the bendiest piece that I had, but it wasn’t quite crooked enough. It will make a fine cooking/serving spoon, though.

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A walk in the woods yielded a nice piece of redbay (Persea borbonia). Looks like it has a ladle in it to me. A close relative of avacado (Persea americana), this stuff carves beautifully – as long as you’re carving with the grain – but it does have some wicked grain reversals that can make it a challenge.

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For most spoon blanks, I just split out what I need, but I’ve learned my lesson on Y’s. If you just try to split this out, chances are good that the bowl of your spoon blank will be destroyed. My method is to saw through the lower half of the blank until I get to straight wood.

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Saw on the red line.

Then you can split the rest of the way using an axe, a wedge, or a froe with no problem.

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I skipped a few steps at this point, but once you liberate your blank from the tree it’s just like carving any other spoon. A little axe work to remove most of the waste, then the rest is done with a sloyd knife and a bent knife and a lot of patience.

I finished this spoon up on my lunch break today. Here’s a few pictures. I can’t wait to deliver this ladle to its new owner. Mostly because I’ll be tempted to keep it myself if I don’t get rid of it soon. It’s quite a bit nicer than my earlier ladle efforts that I’m living with at the moment!

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