(tools, sharpening, books, video tutorials and events)
Whittling and spoon carving are excellent therapeutic, productive, useful and creative activities and we hope the craft will bring all those benefits to those who take it up. However it’s even more important to stay safe when learning at home with no teacher to keep an eye on you, so we’ve written some brief tips for carving at home.
We have handouts!
Created by LGW coop member Graham O’Brian. These handouts will help you get to grips with the basic tools.
If you’re booked on a course and want to find out more about the day in advance (or if you’ve been on a course and want to reminisce), here are all our course handouts.
We use green wood (it’s in the name), this is unseasoned wood straight from the log, because it’s still full of water it’s softer and easier to carve. Any wood is worth a try. At London Green Wood we use mainly native hardwoods.
– Silver birch, rowan and sycamore are our favourites hardwoods.
– Lime and alder are soft and easy to carve. Fantastic for beginners. These remain soft even as the wood dries.
– Willow is soft, but very sharp tools are needed to get a good finish.
– Poplar is soft and easy to work, but has a high silica content that with scratch your tools.
– Cherry is also popular with our members, particularly for the colouring, but is more likely to split than other woods (so not suitable for cups, ladles etc. and more care should be taken in drying).
– Other fruit wood is also good and often has pretty colours and patterns in it. All are fairly dense, and therefore harder to carve but will give a brilliant smooth finish.
– Oak is very hard to carve. So we wouldn’t recommend it for starting out. It is good for bench or chopping block.
– Ash, sweet chestnut and elm are ring porous woods (where there is a visible difference between the summer and winter growth), they are not suitable for spoons or vessels that need to hold liquid. But they are perfect for stools, legs or handles.
When researching a new wood we use the Wood Database. This is an international database so some tree names differ to those used in Europe.
Woods with poisonous berries, eg. yew and laburnum, best avoided for kitchenware. But most trees growing in the UK are safe to use. The fine dust caused by machinery or sanding of all woods is a long term health risk, this is not the case with working green wood with hand tools.
During each national lockdown we gave away green wood to keep people busy with their hands at home. We continue to give away spoon carving wood for a donation to the workshop on our usual workshop days (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before 5pm and the first weekend of each month 1-2pm).
If you are buying wood online we recommend UK grown hardwoods, and that you choose the softer of these such as lime and alder as they will be dry by the time they get to you. Carving dry oak will be hard on your hands and your tools. Please, please, please don’t buy tropical hardwoods, it is important that craft skills can flourish without extracting the resources of the global south.
We recommend buying from:
These are all small independent business’ run by experienced green woodworkers, who only sell good quality tools and will give you friendly advice by phone or email if you have questions about tools.
LGW boycotts Amazon and similar retailers because of their extremely poor employment practices.
We teach with Mora 120 knives. These are not general purpose knives and should never be used for food or for splitting wood. They are made of carbon steel, this will rust if left damp or in contact with acidic items such as food. Carbon steel is softer than stainless steel and so is both easier to damage and easier to sharpen.
We advise against using any kind of folding knife for whittling or woodcarving, even one with a locking mechanism is not fail safe.
We also advise against carving with gloves on, or any type of kevlar finger barrier. We believe finger guards are dangerous because they encourage bad practice. Instead, develop safe habits that protect your hands (see Knife grips handout above).
Knives for kids
For small hands we recommend the Morakniv Scout No.39 SAFE, Mora Rookie or Mora Pro C Safe Knife. A rounded tip is essential (this really helps to reduce injuries) and a decent sheath for protecting both you and the knife in storage is important too. Folding knives, pen knives, swiss army knives, pocket knives etc. are not safe for carving wood because any lock can fail.
Hook knives (also known as crook knives or spoon knives)
The Morakniv 164 was redeveloped in 2019 and is now a really good value hook knife. As with all hook knives it comes with a left or right grind. The right version is predominantly for right-hand users drawing it towards yourself but left-handed users can use this knife by pushing it away with both thumbs. Likewise a right-handed user can use a left knife pushing it away from themselves. Using the ‘wrong’ handed hook knife is a slower but safer method, we particularly recommend this method if you are spoon carving at home with young people.
Morakniv also make double edged spoon knives. Please don’t buy these, they are unnecessary and dangerous.
Ben Orford is a blacksmith working in Herefordshire who makes lovely crook knives for spoon carving. For those wanting to invest in handmade tools, these are a good place to start.
Spoon carving set
Wood Tools’ spoon carving starter kit (their own axe and spoon knife with a Mora 106 straight knife) is the most economical way to get all the tools you need for spoons. We do not recommend this for young people.
Carving axes come with a left or right handed grind (a flatter surface on the side that hits the wood) or a centre grind (that can be used left of right handed). A side axe will cut more aggressively and a centre ground axe will allow for more detailed carving. One carving axe will do, whichever you choose is a matter of personal preference. An axe head should last for generations.
Father and daughter team, Wood Tools, have developed affordable axes made in their workshop in Sheffield.
Gränsfors Bruk axes are hand forged, expensive and amazing. For spoons and small projects: the the Large Carving Axe , the Wildlife Hatchet or the Hand Hatchet. The Large Carving Axe has an extra weight that makes it useful for larger projects such as kuksas and bowls as well as spoons. If you have small hands you will struggle to get a good grip on the Large Carving Axe.
We are also in love with the Kalthoff Small Carving Axe. We could go on…
We do not recommend using axes under 500g, especially not with children and young people. Very lightweight axes can be more dangerous because you have to compensate for the weight of the tool by swinging the axe harder and therefore with less control.
Sharp tools are safer. If you buy a knife it is essential that you also have a way to sharpen it. The stone from your kitchen drawer is likely far too course to use on woodwork tools.
There are loads of blogs and videos for instruction, this one by Paul Kirtley is a good starting point, as is this Introduction by Robin Wood which explains the theory of sharpening and introduces different sharpening stone options. Note that some sharpening systems must be used with water and not oil.
Green wood shrinks as it dries, this can cause warping and cracking. Once your work is finished dry it slowly, away from a heat source or sunny spot. The bigger, thicker and deeper it is the more important it is to dry it slowly to avoid cracking (a spatula is less likely to to crack than a spoon, a bowl or a cup are more likely to crack than either). You can slow drying down up wrapping your work up in a damp cloth, or in a bag full of wood-shaving.
Love your treen and use it. Wash up your spoons, bowls etc. as usual but never in a dishwasher and never leaving soaking in a basin of water. Dry thoroughly between use. Any time that you have differential drying (eg. a puddle in the bowl) you are likely to get cracking.
Oiling your work once dry will bring up the grain and keep it clean. Use an oil that is both edible and curing. This means an oil that hardens to a tough, solid film after a period of exposure to air, at room temperature.
TO USE: raw linseed/flaxseed, hempseed, poppy or tung oils.
ALSO: walnut, safflower, sunflower, soybean or rapeseed oils (semi-curing).
NOT: olive oil (non-curing, as are mineral, avocado, coconut, peanut and palm oils) or boiled linseed (not safe for consumption).
There are loads of books about whittling and green woodwork these days, but the most useful resource remains the classic ‘Swedish Carving Techniques‘ by Wille Sundqvist originally published in in 1990
Barn the Spoon‘s latest book Woodcraft is a great practical how-to guide with projects from beginner (mallet making) to advanced (chair making) which you can make at home. He sells a pack of 4 graphic Spoon Carving Postcards which illustrate basically all you need to know- knife grips, edge geometry, grain alignment and grain pattern. He also offers online membership to Spoon Club, which gives you access to a library of video tutorials.
Those who have been paying attention will know that London Green Wood are against using any type of folding knife, even locking knives, to carve or whittle wood. But despite his choice of tool, The Little Book of Whittling by Chris Lubkemann is full of fun project ideas to carve from sticks. Particularly good for families. We recommend following these projects with a more suitable knive (see above).
- Spoon Carving for Beginners, a library of 24 introductory videos complied by London Green Wood coop memberRichard Roberts, covering everything from choosing wood, to knife grips and sharpening.
- Spoon carving with Tom.
- Spoon club with Barn the Spoon and the Green Wood Guild (paid content).
- Getting started with pole lathe bowl turning, content by Sharif Adams.
- Video tutorials from Zed Outdoors covering everything from sharpening, to spoon carving, natural cordage, basketry, turning and fire lighting.
Events we recommend
Annual gathering of the Association of Pole-lathe Turners and Greenwood Workers. The Bodgers Ball is held every May in a different part of these isles each year.
The international celebration of the carved wooden spoon, featuring: masses of green wood, the best carvers in the world doing free demonstrations and paid workshops, campfires, a spoon gallery full of inspiration, local beer sold for charity and a wood fired pizza oven. Held in Edale on the first weekend of August. Sells out like Glastonbury.