The People Have Spoken

What good is a wooden eating spoon?

If you ask the people who frequented my Etsy shop since its inauguration two weeks ago, not much. So far among the tally of items sold: cooking/serving spoons – 10, eating spoons – 0.

Redbay eating spoon.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system for an old spoon carver like myself. I’ve surrounded myself with an Instagram feed and Facebook Groups that include a daily abundance of carved spoons. I’d estimate that 90% or more of the spoons that I see on social media are eating spoons.

It makes sense if you’re a carver. Cooking and serving spoons are big. They take at least two or three times as long to carve as an eating spoon, and they take up a commensurate quantity of space in the kitchen. Once you get the spoon carving bug, you’ll probably start out with a few cooking spoons before quickly realizing that they’re going to consume every junk drawer in the kitchen if you don’t start giving some away. Sure, a few of the prized specimens will remain in the vase on the counter meant for oft-used utensils, but you’ll quickly settle on your favorites and the rest will stored in a dark corner, forgotten and forlorn.

Eating spoons, on the other hand, take up little of both your time and space. You can turn out a rather nice one in an hour or two. Unlike cooking spoons, for which a single spoon will suffice to prepare and serve an entire meal for the family, eating spoons are used in quantity. They’re cheap to ship and easy to carry to swap meets, so they make a convenient currency among spoon carvers. Most spoon carvers, therefore, will quickly switch from carving cooking spoons to mostly eating spoons.

But we forget, sometimes, how strangely the rest of the world views us and our wooden eating spoon habit. I know, sometimes it seems as though the whole world is carving spoons, but trust me: That’s just another social media bubble that we’ve created. “Normal” people think wooden eating spoons are weird. Eating spoons should be metal. They should stack neatly in a flatware tray, not lovingly displayed on a wall rack. They should have shiny polished bowls, not gently faceted surfaces from the hook knife. To “normal” people, the wooden eating spoon elicits imagery of a peasant sipping watery porridge from a communal bowl. It’s a relict of a bygone era.

The wooden cooking spoon, meanwhile, reminds people of grandma’s chicken and dumplings. Or grandpa’s peanut brittle. It feels nostalgic, but not antiquated.

The irony, of course, is that many of the most talented and creative contemporary woodworkers I know are spoon carvers. Check out the work of Maryanne, Amy, or Adam if you don’t believe me. My own work may not compare to theirs, but I can tell you that few things bring me as much joy as eating a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream with a little birch spoon that I carved for myself at Greenwood Fest three years ago.

Honestly, I think a wooden eating spoon is a bit like good beer or bourbon: You probably won’t like it the first time you try it, but if you’re motivated to like it, it’ll soon be one of those simple pleasures in life that you’re not likely to want to give up (and unlike beer or bourbon, you’ll not find yourself half-naked and surrounded by empties in the back of a pickup truck if you have one too many wooden spoons). Geez, I’m a terrible salesman. To conclude this subtle sales pitch, my little menagerie of eating spoons are patiently awaiting new owners. I’m rather proud of them. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I do if you give them an honest try. But I must confess, I doubt if I’ll be carving many more. As far as I’m concerned, the people have already spoken.

5 thoughts on “The People Have Spoken

  1. Hi Justin, a thoughtful post but don’t you think a little harsh. If I had the means (as I currently lack the talent), and the space, I’d get a set of eating spoons. Chances are most of the people popping in here are doing their own. I get the impression PF gets his hefty prices as he’s busted into the Art market. We have become standardised haven’t we and accustomed to thin stainless steel between our lips however I suspect there’s both a marketing thing (you need a profile in a wealthy non-carver market place extolling the virtues of wooden ware) and just a time thing. I doubt anyone is googling ‘wooden eating spoon’ but if they were, sets with a rack or a serving spoon(s) or bowls or kuksa might get more interest. Also if you could get into one of those poncy mail order gift, or foo foo fashion magazine outlets they’d fly out the door faster than you can make them.
    Something to think about but leave the spoons up in the meantime, they look good to me and I’m sure they’ll appeal to someone.

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    1. Hi Grameu. I appreciate your comment and regret that it has taken me over a month to get back to you. (I’m still figuring out how to juggle all that goes along with self-employment and still have time for basic courtesy). You are absolutely right that marketing – especially to the right crowd – plays a big role in the success or failure of a craftsman. Starting off, it’s natural to market to your own circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. Such has been the case for me. I quickly found that cooking spoons and coffee scoops were a big hit. Eating spoons have still been mostly a dud (although I do have an order for a couple of soup spoons this month!). My hope is that as I get some traction marketing some of my other woodenware, it will feel more natural for people browsing my shop to consider a wood eating spoon. In the meantime, I’m busy making plates, scoops, bowls, and cooking spoons, but eating spoons are on the back burner for now.

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      1. Thanks for the reply Justin, I haven’t cracked the eating spoon technique yet, too deep I think (but I like deep). Although I do have a few teaspoons stored in backpacks for eating or stirring coffee. I’ve made them, (and a couple of surprisingly effective knives) from light branches of pin oak. It’s incredibly tough so I’ve been able to work it down to c. 1mm thick for a very light weight and flexible utensil. Only problem is branch wood has a lot of strange tensions so I’ve learnt to wait until the wood is dry before finishing the handle.
        I use a teapot! but a good one is a lifetime purchase.
        You’re probably right in your main premise, kitchen utensils, boards and platters will turn over quicker, they make good gifts and they’ve never been fully replaced by metals and synthetics. Coffee scoops don’t surprise me, especially now as the love affair with plastics is finally growing stale. Every morning, as I mill beans for the stove-top espresso I get reminded that I need to make a bean measure and firmer, a Baanksia spoon serves to scrape out the mill without scratching.
        Good luck with the shop.
        G

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  2. You are so right about this. I think as a craftsperson it is so easy to get sucked into the things that are the most interesting to make, rather than what people want to buy. I studied pottery in college, and so many people made teapots, mostly because they are the hardest, most interesting thing to make, and they have lots of options to show off skills and so on. How many people use a teapot though? Most folks I know make tea in a mug in the microwave!
    I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve gotten started with spooncarving over the past year. I almost immediately started trying to make eating spoons, but do my friends and family really want eating spoons for birthday gifts? would they really use them? I think cooking and serving spoons are much more where its at. And I really love the coffee scoops you’ve been showing over on Instagram!

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    1. Thanks, I’m glad it rings true for someone else. I spend 15 years as a hobbyist woodworker before diving into it as a business. It requires a very different mindset that I’m slowly adjusting to. I can absolutely relate to your teapot example, too – I’ve bought many handmade mugs and bowls over the years, but never once considered buying a handmade teapot! (Because I’ve never use a teapot). And thanks for the compliments on the coffee scoops – I’ve been really surprised by the response I get to those. I never would have guessed when I started that coffee scoops would be my biggest seller, but so far that has been the case, by a long shot. I think coffee for Americans is as ritualistic as tea for Brits, so anything you make to give the ritual more reverent will be a hit.

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